Time to Climb: 5 Mountaineering Training Tips

Kylie Fly / 1-25-2022

Before every expedition into the mountains, comes much preparation. Every mountaineering trip carries the weight of a lifetime of gathered skills, confidence, technique and equipment. There is no shortage of try hard when it comes to high altitude climbing. Life above 10,000 feet is just harder on the body. Simple things like setting up a tent, cooking or tending to a minor injury can be perilous.

When I first attempted Pico de Orizaba in Mexico in 2018, we were shut down by dangerous avalanche conditions, high winds, zero visibility, and freezing rain that blew sideways and froze me nearly into a popsicle. But I knew then I would be back for another try, and could only hope for fairer weather this time. That’s the beauty of mountaineering, you plan and you train and you plan some more, only to accept whatever the mountain is willing to give. When my partner and I booked our tickets in October 2021, we committed to a trip in December just before the holidays. It was time for our serious training to begin. The following 5 tips will help train and prepare you for a mountaineering expedition.


It may seem obvious, but when it comes to climbing big mountains you do a whole lot of walking with a heavy backpack. Mountaineering is slow, methodical, and heavy. For most people, it’s less about speed and more about efficiency. We want to do our objectives safely and in a timely manner, especially with wild factors like weather and conditions, but getting outside to hike every day leading up to an objective is clutch. I prefer to wear the same pack I’ll be climbing in, loaded up with heavy rocks I found on the trail. Typically, my pack weighs around 60 pounds, and as uncomfortable as I am at home in my own backyard I feel much more prepared for the actual suffering that will occur on the climb far away from home.


Rock climbing is a major tool in the toolbox when it comes to mountaineering. Being familiar with rope systems, hardware, and maneuvering up and over scrambly terrain is a must. Rock climbing builds strength, both mentally and physically, as well as endurance. Rain or shine, you can climb inside and out to get your training in. If you can hang onto a crux for a good bit, chances are you’ll maintain that same degree of strength (and determination) when put in a difficult or unexpected situation in the backcountry.


Whether you like it or not, running is the easiest form of cardio that can be done anywhere, anytime. Short, long, fast, or slow–it gets the job done. Get going and hit the trails as often as you can. I’ve never been a big fan of running, as I tend to have really painful knee problems, but once you’re in shape to maintain a comfortable pace you’ll be much more grateful when you’re walking uphill for hours on end up a glacier in the dark. The more you run beforehand, the less you’ll struggle on location.


Stretching keeps your muscles flexible and strong. To improve your range of motion, you need to stretch regularly. You will not want to wake up sore on summit day because they did not stretch before or after acclimatization hikes. I make it a point to loosen up before I get out, and to wind down with some basic quick stretches on the trail. When you’re at base camp waiting for your summit bid, you’ll want to keep your body moving so you don’t crisp up and get achy. Keeping your oxygen blood flow at altitude gives you the boost of energy you need, decreases your stress and increases stamina.


Rope skills and knowledge of rope systems are necessary practices when you prepare to travel across glaciated terrain, into big mountains with complex routes. Ropes are often a tool you need to climb safely, but a rope is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Familiarize yourself with the alpine butterfly, prusik hitches, figure eight, double fisherman, bowline and overhand on a bight before you go into the backcountry. Many of these knots and hitches will come in handy throughout your mountaineering career and you’ll be grateful you know how to do them. Understanding when a specific knot is needed and in what situation is necessary to perform safely and efficiently.


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