Training for the New Alpinism:
A Manual for the Climber as Athlete
Steve House and Scott Johnston
$35.00 from Patagonia Books
“You can’t coach desire, and no matter how fancy your training plan or how high your stated goals are, it comes down to getting out the door and doing the work day after day.” – Steve House
Returning from a summer backpack trip in the Rockies, I was feeling great. I’d just walked the better part of 200 miles in twelve days, mostly above 10,000 feet, plus I’d spent a good portion of my early summer working on my fitness before the trip. I was determined to hang onto my fitness ‘til ski season. Of course, as soon as I returned home, the craziness of life took its toll, and the powerful glow of my trip fitness began slipping away. That’s when I found Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston.
The first thing to strike me about this book was its size; it’s big and heavy! All I’ll need to do is put a couple copies in my pack and start hiking, I joked. Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Training for the New Alpinism is incredibly nutrient dense and, like beginning workouts, is best taken in small doses. But as with a good workout plan, as you get into it, you quickly feel like you want more. Soon after delving in, the wife and family were giving me grief for the long sessions spent with the book. House and Johnston bring together decades of training, research and athletic/mountain accomplishments in their new book. Not only did they do their research, they live and apply the the practices put forth. Johnston, an accomplished world cup nordic skier and coach worked with House to help him achieve the fitness that helped him set a new standard for alpine climbing. The book brings together many ideas from a variety of training regimes to maximize their vision for alpine climbing. They approach fitness from a broad set of perspectives that range from the physiological to the nutritional and psychological.
Training for the New Alpinism is a book with which to develop a relationship, and I found myself rereading some sections multiple times. As your fitness and experience expand, so does your depth of exploration of the topics. It is a reference book to return to over the years as your understanding, fitness and goals grow.
In addition to the technical information, the book offers many a great story relaying success and failure of epic adventures. The photographs are stunning and inspirational in their own right. Guest authors contribute short essays to accentuate ideas and concepts within the book. These stories lessen the textbook delivery and keep it a lively read.
A particularly interesting concept for me was the difference between base fitness and target activity fitness and how to separate them and achieve higher functional gain prior to a big mission. There are clear timetables to help with planning workouts for upcoming adventures. Base movement diagrams to begin your fitness plans are explained in detail and progression strategies outlined. Remember, these guys are pros and are talking full-time dedication to fitness. Nonetheless, the book’s ideas and concepts are easily applied to us mere mortals as well. Even with working full time, shuttling kids and being on time for family dinner, in just three weeks, I have managed to incorporate many of the training ideas into my day and have felt quick gains in the base training session as I prepare for the coming ski season. A training journal companion book is available to organize and quantify your plans.
Multiple times during my first pass through the book, I wished I had read this book before the thru-hike I had just completed. The specificity in the nutrition section is amazingly helpful for food planning on longer trips. Easy to read tables catalog carb amounts in common climber type foods and provide calculation information for trips that last longer than a couple of days. The book really delves into how the process of eating can be a true success or failure factor for your objectives and how to steer towards success.
Basically, whatever your level, from elite athlete to aspiring wannabe, Training for the New Alpinism is an essential resource to move forward with your fitness and understand what’s next. It’s not a one-and-done read; this is a manual to return to as you increase your fitness and set new mountain goals. It also addresses the real crux of the issue, climbing mountains is a complex puzzle. It follows that if we increase the complexity of our understanding, planning, training, fueling, resting and recovering, we will be more successful in reaching our mountain goals and maximizing chances for success. – Michael Becker
this review of Training for the New Alpinism first appeared in OP Mag Issue 63