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Archive for the ‘Adventure Multisport’ Category

Five Keys to Improving Your Ice Climbing Skills

March 18th, 2009

The conditions continue to be great for climbing up in northern New England, so I’ve delayed my long weekend training for the upcoming triathlons to take advantage of some ice. We ended up back at the Flume, hoping to catch a climb at the Pool called Swain’s Pillar, a 4+ climb, but unfortunately it is exposed in the sun and got baked out (not to mention the riverbed was exposed). It would have been a great climb had it been in since you need to be lowered to it and climb up a nice ice pillar. As a result, we hiked around to the main crag at the Flume and climbed some grade 3 ice (which is normally grade 4, but given the warm temps and soft ice, it was more like a 3). We found an ice cave along the way (see videos below).

While climbing (and often times battling) up the climbs this weekend at the Flume, I got thinking about what it takes to improve your ice climbing skills. I think it boils down to five main things:

1. Natural ability- okay, this is something that is out of your control, but there’s no doubt if if you are a natural athlete and a natural climber, you will be a better climber. There are things you can do to fine tune your natural ability, which is where the next four come into play.

2. Practice, practice, practice- I firmly believe how you progress is a function of how often you go. The more you go, the better you become. This seems like a no-brainer, but climbing is one of those things that takes coordination and planning to do, so you need to be focused in terms of when you’re going to go. If you go once a week, don’t expect to see much improvement. Twice a week is much better, allowing the muscles a chance to adapt and you to work on your skills.

3. Rock climbing- You will only get better at ice climbing if you rock climb. With rock climbing, you cannot make your own holds, and you are forced to think about your moves and get your body into the right sequence. These skills are directly transferable to ice climbing, particularly on harder, more sustained and/or mixed routes.

4. Strength training- Climbing itself will allow you to become stronger, but you need to supplment it with a regular regiment of strength training. You don’t have to load on the weight, but rather work on more power movements that simulate climbing. It’s not about bulking up, but rather building explosive power.

5. Mental skills- Climbing more than any other sport perhaps, is a mental game. The reasons should be obvious– you’re dealing with a number of conditions that aren’t natural for humans all at once– being up high, ice in your face, getting balance and moving upward, often times extreme cold and wind, among other things. This requires you to tune your mind to deal with the adversity and remain focused.

Certainly there are other things that you can do to improve your ice climbing skills, but at an individual level, these are the main five.

Spring Conditions

March 12th, 2009

Springtime hit northern New England this past weekend, with highs soaring into the upper 40s. It made for some prime ice climbing at the Flume in Franconia Notch, NH. The ice was really wet and plastic-like, thus making the routes much easier than normal. My friend and fellow climber, Mike Coote and I did laps up several routes in the Flume. Here’s a few videos of the conditions.

We also ran into Susanne and Connie from NEMO Equipment as they were climbing.

I’m not envisioning this being the end of the ice climbing season 2009 quite yet. Certainly with the warm temps, we’ve seen things come down in the valleys, but in the ravines it should still be quite good for some time.

Cross-country skiing, however is another story…..Skiing was not great on Sunday at Bretton Woods, but nonetheless it was great to get out and get the HR up. It was also good to get Mike Coote skate skiing for the first time!

Take advantage of the spring conditions. This time of year is fantastic with the warmer temps and longer days with more sunlight so you can stay out longer. Most of us are eager to whip out our bikes and get ready for the cycling and tri season (which you should be doing anyway!), but don’t miss the opportunity to get out and take advantage of the conditions in March and April in the mountains.

It’s Fun to Explore from Your Armchair Sometimes

February 25th, 2009

Last night I attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s World Tour 2009, in it’s local stop at the Regent’s Theater in the Boston area. Attending the film festival is an annual event for me. It’s absolutely fantastic and reminds me of why I love adventure and the outdoors. Sometimes it’s fun to explore the outdoors as an armchair warrior. You get to kick back and see what crazy, fun and inspirational stuff people out there are doing. There were a number of films shown worth mentioning, but my favorites were “Psyche: Patagonian Winter“, by Andy Kirkpatrick and Ian Parnell, two British climbers who attempted to climb Torre Egger during the winter in Argentina’s Patagonia. Below is a short trailer.

Their story reminded me of my expeditions to South America, and the harshness of climbing at altitude. I never attempted anything quite as difficult as Torre Egger, but had similar experiences that they had with severe weather, being grounded at camp, dealing with health issues, among other things. One of the things that struck me most was their positive attitude throughout their experience. Mountaineering, like triathlon and other endurance sports is very much a mental game and having a positive attitude makes or breaks your experience.

Another of my favorites was “The Last Frontier: Conservation and Exploration in Papua New Gineau”. Below is a short trailer.

This film in support of Rivers in Demand, told the story of a group of American kayakers and conservationists, led by Trip Jennings, who kayaked one of the world’s last unexplored river’s in New Britain, Papau New Gineau. Besides the amazing white water and scenery, what made this film so special was the emphasis on local cultures and the importance of saving those cultures and the world’s critical ecosystems. I should also point out, another cool thing was that the kayakers in the film were using tents supplied by Nemo Equipment, owned and operated by my friend Cam Bremsinger. It was great to see the tents in the footage.

If you have an opportunity, get out and see these films, and explore some of the great film, literature, and other art coming out of the Banff Centre up in Canada. You’ll carry the inspiration into your own workouts and every day life.

The Case for Winter: Multisport at it’s Best

January 28th, 2009

gary-ice-climbingI’m a huge fan of the winter. It’s a great time to diversify your workout routine, get outside and explore. I have many friends and colleagues who don’t like winter, mainly because they choose to hibernate. (Hibernation is for bears). I also have many friends (and some clients), who continue to do the same activities they do in the summer, except they do it indoors on a machine. Don’t get me wrong– it’s important to continue to train your sport year round depending upon what your goals and objectives are (I myself spend lots of time on my bike trainer and in the pool during the winter), but at the same time, it’s important to supplement those workouts with other activities to challenge your body in new ways, vary up your normal activities thus making it more interesting, as well as take advantage of the conditions are around you. There’s no better opportunity to do so than the winter.

If you’re a triathlete, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or any other type of endurance athlete, here are some ideas for winter outdoor activities that you can do:

1. Nordic skiing- There’s possibly no better exercise in the winter for endurance athletes. Nordic skiing is a low-impact, full-body workout where it’s easy to manage the intensity levels. I prefer skate skiing since I like the motion and the speed, but classic cross-country skiing is also fantastic. In the winter, I substitute some of my runs with cross country skiing. I also continue to run in the winter, but find skate skiing a good way to break up the routine as well as give my body a break from the pounding of running.

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

Skate skiing- hight intensity and fun!

2. Hiking/snowshoeing- Winter hiking is much more fun than the summer. Not only do you not have the black flies, but there are also fewer people around, not to mention that hiking in the winter is much easier on the body since the snow pack is soft (not hard, like the rocks you typically hike on in the summer). Winter hiking is an aerobic endurance workout, but also an anaerobic endurance workout, especially if you are carrying a pack going up steep terrain. I will often intentionally load up a heavy pack, find a steep mountain (typically in the White of New Hampshire) and feel my hear rate go up and my glutes burn up as I take steps up the peak. While you can choose to go hiking up a mountain, you don’t necessarily need to be gaining vertical height in order to go hiking in the winter. There is great hiking in many cities, mainly in parks. In fact, my wife (in the photo) and I went out for a snowshoe today in Great Brook State Park, which is right outside of Boston. We got a great workout on relatively flat terrain.

Leslie snowshoeing-- great winter workout for endurance atheletes
Leslie snowshoeing– great winter workout for endurance atheletes

3. Backcountry skiing- One of the best (and most fun) winter activities is backcountry skiing (skiing at a resort is okay if you conditions in the backcountry aren’t good). Backcountry skiing develops your aerobic endurance (since most of the time you need to skin up what you’re going to ski down), as well as your strength and balance on the run down (particularly in the backcountry where there are more obstacles you need to manuever around). Living in New England, it’s a bit tough to find great backcountry ski conditions, and when you do, it’s a limited window, so I don’t go as much as I’d like. However, when I do, it’s always a fantastic adventure, and one where I come back exhausted and exhilirated.

4. Ice climbing- “What?!”, you say, “ice climbing?!”. Yes, ice climbing. And, no, it’s not as dangerous as you think. Of course, you need to understand the basics of climbing and how to safely climb. Once you have mastered that, ice climbing is a fantastic aerobic endurance (yes, aerobic), as well as anaerobic endurance workout. Ice climbing develops core strength and balance, as well as forces you to sharpen your mental skills and stamina (many claim that ice climbing is 80% mental). In the winter, I try to ice climb once a week, not only because it’s a great workout, but also it gets you outdoors and to places you wouldn’t otherwise see (such as the ice-filled ravines of Mount Washington, NH).

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

Climbing at Echo Crag, NH- great aerobic (yes, aerobic) workout

I’ve listed just a few activities you can do in the winter– there are certainly many others. What winter outdoor activities do you like?