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Archive for the ‘Ice Climbing’ Category

Stepping Away from “The Grind”: Skiing, Climbing & Family Fun

February 21st, 2010

The importance of taking a mental break from “the grind” (I always hated that expression since nothing in your life should feel like “a grind”, but use it since it illustrates the point well) shouldn’t be overlooked. Often times we get caught up on our every day routine– including our dedication to our training– that sometimes we forget to take a step back and spend some time doing other things. I always recommend making sure you build in quality active recovery into your training and your life. Active recovery doesn’t just mean giving your body a chance to recover, but also your mind. Giving yourself a mental break during the course of your training is absolutely critical in keeping you fresh and energized for continuing to build for future performance.

This past week, I took a bit of time away from my usual routine and spent a week in the White Mountains of New Hamsphire skate sking, downhill skiing and ice climbing with some friends I haven’t seen in a while and my family. In fact, the best part of the whole week was getting my 4 year old and 2 year old on skis (both nordic and alpine) for the first time — the big smiles they had on their faces the whole time was most rewarding to see as a dad (especially a dad who has high athletic hopes for his kids!). Here’s a funny video of my two year old, Marco, enjoying his first time ever on skis:

As I always like to tell my athlete’s: retain the playful outlook and ambition of a kid and you can do anything!

I did manage to get 4 days of skiing and 3 days of ice climbing in– a great way to vary up my training from the normal swim, bike, and running I do the rest of the time. Skate ski conditions were absolutely fantastic at Bretton Woods (it never seems to stop snowing there), but alpine conditions left a lot to be desired at Black Mountain (lack of snow and warm temps definitely took their toll).

The ice conditions, however, were fantastic. One day of ice was spent on Silver Cascade, a relatively easy 4-5 pitch alpine climb in Crawford Notch. Normally it’s not possible to climb the ice in Silver Cascade due to sheer volume of snow, but we hit the conditions just right with little snow, so we went for it. Here’s a glimpse of the start of the climb:

The rest of the week I reconnected with some ice climbing partners that I hadn’t seen in a while and got some steeper routes in. Cave Route in Frank’s Amphitheater was fat, so Frank Ferucci, Paul Segal and I jumped on that.

Gary on Cave Route

Gary on Cave Route

Finally, towards the end of the week, Paul and I hooked up with Laura Russo and Ed Medina (who I hadn’t climbed with since 2002 or so– hard to believe), both of whom were getting on ice for the first time of the season. Champney Falls (a large waterfall gorge off of New Hampshire’s famous Kancamagus Highway) seemed to be the best place to go to get their legs under them and to work on some more vertical ice to help build up strength. We had a great day climbing for several hours, ascending several hundred vertical feet of grade 4 to 4+ ice. Good news: Laura and Ed had a great time and I could feel myself getting stronger as the day progressed– all in all, my strongest day out for the season.
I’m looking forward to getting more skiing and climbing in as the waning days of the winter approach. Late February and March, with the longer days and deep frozen conditions, represent some of the best days of the winter to be out. Get out and climb, hike, ski or do whatever sport that you enjoy and that allows you to take a step back from your normal routine. You’ll feel re-energized and ready to continue to take your training to the next level.

Five Things to Do to Get the Most Out of Your Ice Climbing Season

December 21st, 2009

ice climberFinally, we’ve gotten enough cold temperatures so that ice can finally form here in New England, and we can at long last start giving serious attention to the ice climbing season. Every year the season flies by (it’s only about 12 weeks long– at least here in New England), so making the most of the time is key. Here are five things to do to get the most out of your season:

  • Climb with a plan- Most climbers I know are recreational climbers and just head out on the weekend with no real plan. They’ve probably mapped out a climb or two they’d like to do, but that’s about as far as they’ve taken it. That’s great if you’re content being recreational climber, but if you’re looking to improve over what you did last climbing season or even in the course of the current season,you need climb with a plan. View the ice climbing season as a ‘season within a season’ and plan out specific climbs you’d like to send, then break down the season week by week to progressively build up your workout schedule and skills to achieve those goals. Periodization applies to climbers, just as it does to triathletes or other endurance athletes.
  • Work on your weaknesses- Often times we’re content just to climb and stick with what we’re good at. You could have the best swing in the world, getting sticks every time with you tools, but when it comes to landing solid feet, you’re just not quite there yet. Take the time to work on your specific weaknesses, perhaps for a set period of time while you’re out climbing. If you don’t, you’re weaknesses will remain weaknesses.
  • Learn a new skill- Set a goal to learn at least one new snow or ice skill that will serve you well with the type of climbing you like to do. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive skill set that requires a multi-day class (although doing so is great)– it could be a small skill; something that will add tools to your tool box for the type of climbing you like to do. For instance, if you’re into alpine climbing and you’ve never learned how to build a V-thread, set some time aside to do so.
  • Explore a new area- No matter how long you’ve been climbing, there’s always someplace new to explore. I’m not necessarily talking about some far away place, but rather right in your backyard. For instance, if you live in New England, there are hundreds of ice climbing routes in a several different areas, each offering their own challenges and little slices of beautiful terrain. Pick one that you’ve never been to before, and go check it out.
  • Connect with the climbing community- One of the best parts of participating in sports is the enjoyment of doing it with others. It motivates you and gives you people to share learning and experiences with. Climbing is no exception to this, with a vibrant community. One of the unique challenges of climbing is that it requires partners to do (unless you’re a solo climber, in which case think you have other things on your mind), and staying tied into that community so you have climbing partners is key. I’m a huge fan of online networking to link up with folks, but nothing can beat being face to face. A great place to do this (and knock off one or more of the other items I’ve outlined) is at an ice climbing festival. Whether it’s the Mount Washington Ice Festival, Ouray Ice Festival, Festiglace du Quebec, or numerous other festivals around the northeast or the US, make it part of your plan to meet at least one new partner.

Enjoy the winter & take advantage of the ice while it’s here!

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.

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?