Injury and Mountaineering

Training for Everest is especially difficult because the training period is so long.  Most people take 6-12 months to train specifically for Everest, and of course the skills development and general preparation could take years.  But long periods of intense physical training also increase the risk of injury.  Just like marathon training, a big increase in weekly mileage over a few months can cause stress fractures, pulled muscles, etc.  In climbing, you have the added risks of falls, falling rock and ice, and weather related injuries.  Since the best way to train for mountaineering is to actually spend time in the mountains, in addition to serious cardio and strength training, some injuries become unavoidable.

I have now read multiple Everest preparation blogs, advising you to be “in the best shape of your life”.  If it only were so easy.  In a 12-months training period, for most of us, life gets in the way.  Work and family obligations, unexpected stress - like a new unplanned project at work, and unfortunately injuries.

In 2015, a week before I left for my climb of Vinson Massive, the highest mountain in Antarctica – an MRI showed that I had a broken auxiliary bone in my left foot.  Mountaineering teaches you to push through pain and discomfort, so before I knew there was an actual broken bone in my foot, I had hiked two 14ers in Colorado and ran 20 miles in a Ragnar relay race through pain.  In hindsight, that was pretty stupid.  My Antarctica trip was by all measures a success: an unparalleled adventure into a remote and beautiful continent of ice and snow; life-long friendships; and a most perfect summit day on Mt. Vinson, but the foot never properly healed. 

Six months later, as I was training for my Denali expedition in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, I was in a small hotel gym rushing through my morning workout to get to an important business negotiation.  To get the maximum benefit from a shorter workout, I decided that deadlifts with fewer reps but double my usual weight was the way to go.  My lower back thought differently.  I spent the entire Denali expedition in agonizing pain each time I had to bend down to set-up a tent or shovel snow (which you spend more time doing on Denali than just about anything else), not to mention the 60lb backpack and a 50lb sled I pulled up the mountain that didn’t help matters either. 

So no surprises, as I ramped up my training for Everest, all of the old injuries came back and just for fun, I added a few new ones, like getting impaled by a large falling block of ice on a WI-5 waterfall climb in Hyalite Canyon, Montana (photo below of right before the injury), that left me on the couch for a month over Christmas holidays instead of a climbing trip to Ecuador.  I am sure each of us who trains has similar stories, pushing through pain when you should have taken a rest, old injuries nagging at you each time you try to achieve a new PR.

Like for many athletes, the hardest part of getting through injuries is the depression that quickly sets in when you suddenly go from 10 workouts a week or zero.  The endorphins your body feeds on when you train hard, disappear and the immobility is hard to bear.  For me, this is incredibly difficult to deal with.

Surprisingly, what helped me get through injuries over the last three years and stay in good cardio shape for mountaineering has been pool running.  Huge gratitude to my running coach, George Buckheit, who actively encourages pool running as supplemental training for runners and as a way to keep training through injuries.  And of course, the amazing good spirits and dedication of my Capital Area Runners team members who train as zealously in the pool as they do on the track.  Photo below of a group of us pool running after an intense long-run that morning.

I spent countless hours of pool running before each of my big expeditions, Vinson, Denali, and now Everest.  Here is a video on how to properly pool run for anyone who wants to add this to their training regime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsamCiwQ9Ww

But sometimes even the pool is not an option.  In a stroke of bad luck, I got a bad respiratory infection the week before departing for Everest.  Most Everest advice columns tell you to bring antibiotics in the event of a variety of infections and illnesses you can pick up on the trek in or in Base Camp.  None of them contemplate taking antibiotics the week before you even get to Nepal.  By choosing the rapid ascent option for climbing Everest (i.e. cutting out two weeks of pre-acclimatization in Nepal by sleeping in a Hypoxico tent at home and flying straight to a higher altitude of Everest Base Camp), my body decided that the getting sick on the trek to Base Camp part should not be skipped no matter what.   Thus, I am still getting the full experience of the adventure!   

With rest being the only viable option as the last training preparation for my Everest trip, I have to admit that I do not feel even remotely that I am in the best shape of my life.  And the social media posts from those already in Everest Base Camp who are starting to feel the symptoms of the infamous Khumbu cough, give me shudders.  With trepidation, I hope that the years of training and climbing experience will come to my side when the challenges of Everest become real in the coming weeks.

Life has a way of throwing unexpected challenges at us and even the best training intentions get derailed.  So, to everyone pushing through injuries and sickness as you get ready for your upcoming fitness challenges, remember that rest, even if unwelcomed, can be your friend too.  We all come to the starting line with different life experiences, training plans, and injuries, but once the race starts, it is often mental strength that helps us push through the physical limitations.  As they say of mountaineering, and I think it is just as applicable to other sports, it is often 90% mental focus that gets you to your goal.

Why Climb Mount Everest?

During my Everest preparations, one of my friends said: "Everest?!  I wonder what drives you?  This got me thinking.  The answer is complicated, but may be one that is shared with others attempting similar challenges.

Love drives me, love of adventure, love of nature, love of big mountains and the love for the climbing community that has now become an integral part of my life.  A chance to spend a few weeks in the annual pop-up Mecca of Everest Base Camp is a unique opportunity, and the privilege to try to attempt this sacred mountain is one many climbers dream of and cherish. I counted that through my various climbing adventures over the last 4 years, I know personally 15 different people who will be attempting to summit Everest this Spring or will be working in Base Camp to support climbers. Some are climbers I met on previous trips, some have been my guides on Rainier, Antarctica, and Mexico Volcanoes.  A few others I met through volunteering for the American Alpine Club.  I am so excited to be joining them in a few weeks to share and support them in our common dream of getting to the top of the World.

But it's not that simple, what drives me also is fear, fear of failing - and not just in a summit attempt, but in a bigger sense of the word, as a person. It is the fear of not being good enough to climb the tallest mountain, of not having enough skills, experience, fitness, or mental toughness.  The fear of failing to be a valued team member, to be strong enough at high altitude and in extreme winds and cold to come to the help of others on my team in the event of any trouble. It is the same feeling I had showing up my first day at Harvard Law School, what if someone in admissions made a mistake and it turns out I do not actually belong here?  By the end of my first semester at HLS, I got comfortable that not only did I belong just fine, but that I was able to thrive in Harvard’s rigorous intellectual environment.  Will I find the same answer after a few weeks at Base Camp and a couple of rotations to Camps 1 and 2 on Everest or will this new experience be entirely more humbling?  We shall see....

What drives me also is an inner sense of motivation, an urge to work hard, to push myself, to overcome challenges and a certain restlessness from sitting still for too long or lacking a purpose.  These personality traits that I developed throughout my life have now become so intertwined with who I am, that I do not cope well when I don't appease them.  Learning English when I moved to the US from Ukraine at the age of 13; working hard to get into a good law school; succeeding at Harvard; and then spending 7 years of 80-hour work weeks with endless all-nighters and perpetually canceled personal plans as I learned the ropes of high-profile mergers and acquisitions – it is no surprise, that I learned determination and perseverance.  But as I think about it now, I didn’t just learn those qualities through life experiences, but over the years, I actually became dependent on them for my mental happiness.

When I discovered Mountaineering in 2007, it was an instant attraction. The challenging, goal-oriented nature of it, is exactly what motivates me, what give me purpose and a sense of happiness.  It has become both the addictive drug and the treatment for mental and physical malaise that I feel when I don't have a challenging goal in my life.  I enjoy and depend on having a motivating reason to get out of bed in the morning, and what better reason than the coveted mountaineers' dream of getting to the top of the tallest mountain in the World!

Will this be the ultimate challenge that will allow me to free myself from the dependence on setting goals once and for all, or will the experience of climbing Everest just reinforce these personality traits?  Guessing it's the latter, but so excited to find out in just a few weeks...

Girls' Climbing Weekend in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

   -      By Maureen (Mo) Buckley

When I call Alina my climbing wife it’s not just because we both love mountains.  We met on a mountain, I have spent more time in a tent with her on a mountain than anyone else and she is my number one belay partner.  So our first choice for a weekend away will usually involve climbing!  But when you live in the Northeast (Canada in my case) in November the only place to climb is south…so off to Nevada and Red Rocks we went. 

Red Rock Canyon is located just 20 miles from the Las Vegas strip.  The following description on Mountain Project, in my opinion, perfectly sums it up: “Red Rock: a few thousand routes, generally warm weather, every kind climbing from short sport routes to big 20-pitch outings, nearby Las Vegas for off-rock activities. Who could ask for more?”

We opted to forgo the dirtbag lifestyle this weekend and booked into one of the casino resorts located between the strip and the rocks thinking that we might enjoy the spa and/or swimming pool after a hard day of climbing.  Of course we did neither, choosing instead to spend more time at the rocks, with just enough time to get back to the hotel to shower, eat dinner and get some sleep before we were up early again.  With only 2.5 days of climbing we wanted to maximize our time outdoors.  After getting in late and acquainting ourselves with the nearby Whole Foods we set off to Calico basin for an afternoon of top roping.  A short walk from the car to the crag coupled with a few hours of climbing some 5.6 to 5.8s was exactly what we needed to shake off the jetlag and outdoor climbing cobwebs.  We also met one of the colourful locals who offered some unsolicited advice on my climbing technique!  But what can I say, the dude was right and once I made the adjustment to my foot placement everything started to feel right

Day 2 we were met with sunshine so back we went to Calico basin to take on Physical Graffiti – a crack climb.  Ugh, crack is definitely my nemesis.   Physical Graffiti is a classic 5.6 trad climb but there is another 5.9 route just to the right of it that we thought we would try first – oops!  Epic fail!!  So back to the 5.6 route it was – still tough but manageable.  That afternoon we headed over to Pine Creek Canyon to climb Birdland – 5.7+ and 6 pitches.  With the sunshine brought the climbers and the route was busy.  So instead of the traditional 6 pitches we climbed it in 5 and were rewarded with some fantastic views at the top.  Even the sprawl of the strip looks pretty when you are hanging off some sticky rock.

For our final day we met up with our old friend Jonathan Schrock.  The goal was to start on Cat in the Hat and see where the day would take us but Mother Nature had different ideas. Rained off the first pitch in a complete downpour (the sandstone is fragile so no climbing during or after it rains) we could have headed to the spa at that point but instead we had Schrock make us some bullet-proof coffee out of his van and teach us some rescue techniques.  An excellent end to a weekend filled with tons of laughs, fresh air, pumped muscles and alpine knees (of that is just me) we were now armed with new skills and techniques just in case we need them on our next Mountain Girl Power adventure!!