Training to Climb the World’s Tallest Free-Standing Mountain
by: Stephen Scott
I am climbing 19,341 feet to the top of a volcano. Yes! Mount Kilimanjaro is a volcano (dormant but not extinct), but why? For me, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime to ascend one of the Seven Summits1 with individuals who look like me. So, why ascend to the highest point in Africa?
- To reflect on the relationships with those closest to me.
- To inspire my children, my family and my community.
- To encourage the next generations to breathe thin air.
- To immerse myself in the local culture of Tanzania. I love to learn about culture (food, language and music), history and geology.
BACKGROUND ABOUT ME
I have come to really enjoy an adventure! Whether it be the thrill of playing sports or simply exploring a nearby creek. The byproduct of my parents’ divorce was travelling between the two of them on school breaks. My mom and stepdad were big on the outdoors (car camping, backpacking, canoeing, snorkeling, etc.). They would tell you that I was miserable during the adventures and are surprised that I am now the most active out of my brothers.
Spending the school months with my Dad, I was able to develop a love for fitness and training. He was a middle school teacher and coach who loved working out (lifting weights and running). Maybe it was an inspiration of bodybuilders and movie stars of the 80’s.
Needless to say during my adult years, I have continued to remain active in the outdoors through: flag football, pickup basketball, volleyball, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, rock climbing, camping, canoeing, snorkeling and more.
Our journey to the summit of Kilimanjaro and back will occur over 8 days. I had previously researched training using Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism2. Twight emphasizes climbing light and fast through building power via cardio and muscular excercise. I completed one cycle of training (22 week cycle) after being notified of my selection for the Outdoor Afro Kilimanjaro team.
During the first cycle of training, I was informed of another great mountaineering book by Steve House called New Alpinism3. His book was very impressive with the amount of information provided around training plans, real world examples, science behind the training, prep for altitude and more. For my second cycle of training, I decided to implement House’s New Alpinism methods.
My training has been broken down into 5 phases based on the New Alpinism book. The total length of this training cycle is 31 weeks with training occurring 5 to 7 days a week. Each part builds upon the previous part to provide the optimal mental and physical needs for the climb. Each of the first three phases ranges in timeframe from 8 to 11 weeks.
- Transition: This is about getting your body ready (8 weeks)
- Base – Strength: This is about building strength so your body will be able to handle what’s coming (8 weeks)
- Base – Endurance: This is about switching the focus so your body can do longer activities (8 weeks)
- Taper: Will allow my body time to recover while maintaining the foundation built during training (2 weeks)
- Showtime: Put all the hard work to the test (8-day climb)
The biggest challenge for me in switching up methods was shifting from primarily using anaerobic system training to aerobic. These methods totally flipped my training due to my history of training for explosive movements with football and track. By switching to aerobic training, my training is slowly converting my body to use fat for energy versus carbohydrates. This system will be extremely helpful for the 8 day journey at a pole pole4 pace. I am putting my trust in the training plan to prepare me not only physically but mentally. Beyond the hiking and altitude challenges, one must be prepared for long days of hiking (up to 8 hours a day).
Is all of my training relegated to indoors due to my location in Minnesota? Not at all! Throughout my training, I have been able to train outdoors as well. Upon learning of my selection to the OA Kili team (June 2017), I started training by taking 1-3 mile hikes through my neighborhood pushing my twins in their stroller. I use work travels to Las Vegas as an opportunity to get elevation training in the Mt Charleston area (Mary Jane Falls and Fletcher Peak). Winters in Minnesota can be a buzzkill if you don’t find ways to cope. I was able to go cross-country skiing and hike snow covered trails in my ski gear. Recently, I have been utilizing the twilight hours (4am) to get in 3-6 mile hikes without interruptions to my family time.
KEY TRAINING EXERCISES
- Aerobic Threshold (AT) Heart Rate Zone 1 Rolling Hill Climbs (build my aerobic system base)
- AT Zone 3 (anaerobic system maintenance)
- Step Ups with Weight (build leg strength and balance for the uphill climb of Kilimanjaro)
- Scott’s Killer Core Routine5 (build core strength and stabilizer muscles)
GEAR USED DURING TRAINING
The North Face Ambition Shirt – Perfect shirt for staying cool during my workouts
The North Face Kilowatt Thermoball Jacket -Great warm hoodie for days above freezing in Minnesota
KEEN Durand Mid Boots – Nice sturdy boot for hiking
Thank you to The North Face and KEEN Footwear for providing gear for our journey!
- Seven Summits – The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents.
- Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, High, and Fast Paperback by Mark Twight
- Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House
- Pole Pole – pronounced Polay Polay – means slowly, slowly in Swahili
- Scott Johnson – world class Nordic skier who developed