A good friend once called me a gear whore. This was and is true. I love researching the pros and cons of synthetics versus wool, learning about new equipment (like belay devices), and of course it’s fun to imagine all of that shiny stuff jangling off of me as I heave myself onto the summit ridge as a snowstorm bears down…
It doesn’t make much sense though to get a list of gear and start stockpiling it for the day when the sponsors call and tell you to get on the plane to the Karakoram. So until I get some actual experience, I won’t know whether I prefer a tube or a Grigri, or if I really need that crazy expensive Arcteryx soft shell I saw advertised in Alpinist magazine.
One thing is clear, though: the engine behind all of this gear is going to be me, and it turns out that you don’t need that much gear to get started.
– Heart monitor: I bought a Polar H7 Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensor last year when Clair and I were training for the 20 km de Paris. I didn’t really learn how to use it until I read Training for the New Alpinism, in terms of targeting a specific heart rate zone and why that’s important. I thought I knew what aerobic training in Zone 1 meant – I did not. I didn’t know that it was possible to jog so slowly, and for so long. Seriously, after thirty minutes of aerobic-pace jogging, walking feels like a sprint.
– Fitness app: I used Runkeeper for about a year, but I got sick of its limited features and its overall inflexibility. I wanted to set my own heart rate zones and be able to program my own interval workouts. I’ve used Runmeter for about a week now, and it looks like we may have a winner. The interface is dense but very customizable, and there’s more data in there than I know what to do with. Plus, all of the data that Runmeter collects stays in your smartphone; I send it to Strava just so that I can have a browser-based view of my data, but in the age of concerns about fitness data and privacy, I prefer to keep a low profile.
– Box step: I live in Potsdam, Germany, which has a few hills but nothing that you would call alpine territory. If I’m going to build the strength and endurance to motor up a mountain, I can’t get around the bemusing suffer-tool called the box step. I’m using an IKEA step stool that’s 48 cm / 19 inches tall, which means that it would take about 632 steps to cover 305 m / 1000 vertical feet. I haven’t yet done the basic fitness test that House and Johnston prescribe, which calls for seeing how fast you can ascend 1000 feet wearing a backpack and heavy boots. Suffice it to say that this sounds intimidating. These guys did it and lived to tell the tale, though, so at some point I suppose I will have to grow a pair and start stepping.
– Pull-up bar: There are tons of playgrounds in Potsdam, all within walking and cycling distance, yet there must be a nefarious conspiracy against building anything you can do a pull-up on. And don’t forget that northern German winters can be dark and cold in ways that make this Texan shudder. So I elected to get something like this, which has worked out just fine. When I started doing pull-ups in December, I think my maximum was two or three; after almost three months, I’m up to two sets of eight. House and Johnston outline a program on page 228 of their book for blowing yourself up and making a quantum leap in pull-up prowess. I’ll start that after transition training is over.
The rest of my training gear is stuff that I already had (backpack, books to load said backpack, a little set of dumb-bells, a yoga mat).
All in all, you can get started on alpine training with a minimum of stuff, and you don’t absolutely need a gym membership. I’ve focused on the (mostly) bodyweight exercises in House and Johnston’s core and strength program, and after five sessions I’m definitely seeing some impressive results. And it also gives me a sense of independence to be able to do most of these exercises without any tools; at its most basic, alpinism is about a human body meeting a mountain, and it feels good – for now – to focus on getting that body in shape.