Every goal has its timeline, preparation is important to achieve it, especially for a mountaineering adventure.
In late October 2020, the mountain was strongly calling me.
I listened my inner voice: I must go and see it! In the past, I always saw the mountain far away, but I intensely wanted to go into the mountain. I wanted to take the effort to climb and stand on the summit of the mountain, I wanted to experience first-hand mountaineering, so I firmly answered “YES” to the mountain calling. I decided to do my first mountaineering adventure in the upcoming summer 2021, a climbing season.
Most importantly, 2021 is my 10-year anniversary of being in United States. I wanted to use my first summit to celebrate this anniversary, as the best gift for myself, so I was even more firm in this big decision. I had great determination and was very excited to complete this journey.
I did intense research of Mt. Shasta in California, at 14,179 feet, a playground of mountaineers, attracting many climbers attempting to summit it from May to September. The south side (Avalanche Gulch Route) is the most popular and classic mountaineering route. My heart felt a deep connection to Mt. Shasta, so I picked it as my first mountaineering adventure destination.
Mountaineering is very physically and mentally demanding, with long hours spent working slowly up and down a mountain carrying a heavy pack. Often, you must use an ice axe, crampons and ropes to traverse hard snow and ice fields. Mountain climbing is not an easy task, especially for a height of over 14,000 feet. It combines aerobic, strength, core, endurance, balance and flexibility into one adventure sport, so usually the mountaineer is an athlete. However, I realized early in my planning that my fitness level was not ready at all, and I had not been working out. To achieve my goal to climb this mountain, I would have to work very hard and prepare for this big challenge.
Here, I would like to give special thanks to my friends Klinton and Jenny. Even though they did not take this adventure with me, their support gave me a lot of encouragement and confidence. At the preparation stage, I am particularly appreciative of Klinton, my training instructor, for providing professional advice, tracking my progress, and helping me to train and prepare physically for this adventure.
Because I would be required to carry a heavy pack, including personal gear and group gear, to go up the mountain and reach basecamp, it definitely would be a big challenge, particularly for tiny me, so we made a complete training plan. My strength goal was to be able to lift and carry a 40-pound pack, almost 50% of my weight.
Now, I’m glad to share my training progress with you:
- Month 1-2 (Late Nov. 2020 – Jan. 2021): I started to work out, did general training: sit ups, lift weights, push-ups, planks, step-ups, all to build shoulder, arm and leg muscles. I also kept walking long distances over long hours as my usual exercise.
- Month 3 (Feb. 2021): I saw some progress with my strength and endurance, added cardio training, swam 2-3 times per week and sometimes combined jump rope. During winter months in Chicago, I carried the backpack with weights around 20-25 pounds to walk outside in the cold weather, especially walking on the snow to practice, to make it more realistic to prepare for snow on the mountain.
- Month 4 (March 2021): I could carry a 27-30 pound backpack to walk/hike long hours already. I felt happy. I added weight to my routine workout session. But Klinton saw that it was still very hard for me to lift 40 pounds, so I was still well short of my strength goal, so he said we must push very hard when training. My muscles were shaking because of muscle fatigue, but I had to continue and could not stop. I would feel the burning sensation because I was building up lactic acid, a process I knew helped to increase muscle mass. Also, I lifted the heavy backpack at home every night, increasing the weight weekly. It was one method to gain strength in a short time. (In fact, Klinton and Jenny knew this hard training would stress my tiny body, and we discussed it many times. They understood this trip was very important to me, so they continued to support my decision, which I very much appreciated.)
- Month 5 (April 2021): I had reached reasonable fitness and saw the progress of my strength. However, Chicago and the surrounding area has no hills and mountains to practice, so I chose to carry the heavy backpack on walks 7-10 miles twice per week, and I would walk up and down three flights of stairs at the back of my apartment, still carrying the backpack.
- Month 6 (May 2021): I continued training: cardio sessions to improve the fitness of my heart and lungs. I started to wear my mountaineering boots and carry a 35-40 pound backpack to walk/hike 10 miles up to four hours again, to build up my endurance and make more realistic practice of the actual mountain climb. By this month, I can lift the 40-pound pack. I focused more on upper body strength, which was my weakness, so at my workout sessions, I did a lot push-ups.
- Month 7 (June 2021): I felt I had made big progress physically through my hard training and effort, reaching a good level of fitness. I began to do regular exercise to maintain the result as the time grew closer to board the plane, waiting for my big day.
As part of weekly training plan, every week I would add weight and time to my training, all the way to the maximum, to build strength and improve my core and endurance. I got into good shape to accept this big challenge. Usually on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday my time is more flexible, so these three days I maximized my use time to go outside to practice strength and endurance.
|50 mins cardio |
session of swim;
Walk long hours with heavy
pack to practice endurance
Use gym machines to build leg,
arm, shoulder muscles
| 60 mins |
|60 mins |
|50 mins cardio session |
Carried the heavy pack
to walk 7-10 miles nonstop
|Long workout session as usual (more focused on push-up since April 2021)|
Carried heavy pack on stairs back and forth 40 mins
till my body cannot endure anymore
I did not change my diet much, but I added more meat and protein. However, I could not do elevation training because Chicago and nearby areas have no any hills and mountains for me to practice. This was too bad, but I accepted this situation.
During this preparation, I felt my body was stronger, healthy and fit. I had a strong feeling: the mountain changed me already, physically and spiritually, so no matter what, deciding to climb a mountain was one of my best decisions of my life.
In May 2021, I started to shop for clothing and gear for my mountaineering adventure. How exciting!
My gear list includes:
- 1 pair mountaineering boots
- Layering: Tops: Shell Jacket (Arc’teryx), Down Jacket (Fjallraven), Fleece Jacket and base layer (Patagonia); Bottom: Climbing pants (Patagonia) and base layer (Lululemon)
- Osprey AG 65L backpack
- Sleeping bag (Mountain Hardwear, down filled, lightweight and compressibility, 0F/-18C)
- Sleeping pad (Big Agnes R-Value 4.5)
- Wool hat and sun sat
- Gloves (1 pair waterproof, insulating gloves + 1 pair fleece liner gloves)
- Trekking poles
- Glacier glass
- Headlamp with fresh batteries
- Hiking Socks
- Locking Carabiner
- Sunblock and Lip Balm
- 2 Water bottles (1 Ouart each)
- Eating Utensils: Bowl and spoon
- Gaiters (Mid-calf height, I rented at The Fifth Season in Mt. Shasta, CA)
- Crampons (Rented)
- Ice Axe (Rented)
- Climbing Helmet (Rented)
- Wag Bag, Hand Cleaner, Toilet Paper, Wipes
- Snack and lunch (Protein Bars + Granola Bars + Trail Mix + Hot Dog)
- Small size medical kit
- Gopro 9 and Iphone
- Power Bank
- Tent/group cooking gear/climbing ropes/climbing harness (when I meet the group first day, the guide would distribute)
However, Mt. Shasta has a unique climbing condition this year, as it only received 47% of normal snowpack, which has created extremely dry and hazardous conditions for certain routes. The original, most popular route Avalanche Gulch is very dangerous due to these conditions, so we had to transition to the Clear Creek Route to climb instead. This route does not provide a quintessential snow and ice skills focused mountaineering experience, as we will be climbing up trails, rock and scree with occasional patches of snow or ice. But I still decided to go even after I got this information, because my mountain was calling me strongly. I must go and see it! I don’t want to miss this great opportunity!
My mountaineering trip, plane tickets, car rental and hotel were all set. I was physically and mentally ready for this big challenge. Hey, my dear mountain, it is my time to achieve my commitment! I can’t wait to see you in person!
Ready to go go go!