Training for a Mountaineering Summit

The best way to get up here is a good training program

One way of describing mountaineering is, “walking uphill while not feeling very well”. Another is a performance sport pushing mental and physical exhaustion. Since last year I’ve completed two Mt. Shasta (14,180′) routes and a Mt. Williamson (14,380′) summit and I am constantly trying to stay mountaineering shape. For those new to the sport it can feel daunting so I thought I’d share what I do and some advice from the mountaineering textbook “Freedom of the Hills”.

“Freedom of the Hills” Guidelines

Starting off, “Freedom of the Hills” has some great classifications for the types of training activities to work on and why:

  • Aerobic (running, stairs, hiking, etc.): Endurance for the climb
  • Anaerobic (sprint-training, etc.): Intense cardio to improve emergency response and performance given low oxygen
  • Strength (upper-back, core, legs and balanced upper body): Strength to move you + pack + gear up the mountain
  • Flexibility (calves, knees, torso and ankles): A lot of time is spent with calf/ankles stretched via rest-step. Snowshoes or post holing requires high steps working the knees
  • Technical Training: More practiced you are the more energy efficient you will be with your movements


In general the recommended process is to start with some baseline then increase strength and endurance incrementally. Then as you get closer to your goal you need to taper off. For me this means I try to peak my training two weeks before the event and take it light the weekend before. In the book’s example schedule they recommend 4-6 days of 40+ min. exercise a week. A minimum schedule would look like the following:

  • 1x high anaerobic exercise
  • 1x regular anaerobic exercise with weight
  • 1x full body or cross training for strength
  • 1x hike with elevation

My Experience

Ascending Mt. Shasta via West Face 2015

Mountaineering can often feel like endless stairs. As a result my knees and thighs take a lot of pounding. I work these muscles by bringing a weighted backpack on weekend hikes with high elevation. If your knees trouble you then squats might be good to add.

Given how often you are in a rest-step, the calves get very strained you placing most your body weight over the back leg. I’ve found running in the barefoot style builds up these muscles while adding flexibility. Additionally, I use running so I can perform better at altitude by training my body to be more efficient with its oxygen (running lowers your baseline heart rate).

Finally, I use rock climbing to improve my balance, flexibility and general body strength.


I’m always trying to figure out how to include more running into my training regime so I perform better at altitude. So far my weekly training schedule looks something like this:

  • 5x 30min high energy bike to work
  • 1x rock climbing 1.5 hr
  • 1x running 1 hr, occasionally sprint training
  • 1x hike (4-8 hr) – alternate weeks between high (3000’+ elevation gain and 10+ miles) and regular (1500’ft+ and 7+ miles). Both with a weighted pack 30-45 lbs.

Technical Trainings around the Bay

I didn’t touch on technical training, but if you live in Northern California I’d recommend these resources for acquiring new skills: