During the first decade of the new millennium American alpinist Steve House hit international headlines with a series of challenging and innovative ascents on some of the world’s toughest mountains. After bringing single push speed climbing to Alaska – most notably his continuous push ascent of Denali’s Slovak route with Scott Backes and Mark Twight in 2000, Steve went on to push the cutting edge of Himalayan alpine style mountaineering with ascents like his solo of K7’s SW face in 2004 and a year later his extraordinarily committing first ascent with Vince Anderson of the Central Pillar on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat.
Following a nearly terminal accident in the Canadian Rockies Steve has devoted his time in sharing his knowledge on training for Alpinism. His latest venture together with renowned coach Steve Johnston is called Uphill Athlete. As well as disseminating free training information on their website www.uphillathlete.com the pair also provide a whole range of coaching advice including highly rated seminars and workshops. Their latest workshop will be held in Chamonix on Saturday 19th August and will cover everything from self assessment and goal setting, proven methods of improving your aerobic capacity, diet/training modifications proven to increase long-duration endurance performance and advice on how to build out daily, weekly, and monthly workout plans. You can find out more about the workshop (including access to a newly discounted price) at www.uphillathlete.com/product/chamonix-mountain-performance-workshop/
Climb caught up with Steve to ask him about the importance of training for alpinism and his thoughts on some interesting recent developments.
Steve the last few years have seen a few notable changes amongst Alpinists – not least a raising in the speed and fitness of many of the top performers – Ueli Steck and Kilian Jornet for example – why do you think this has happened and what can your average Joe and Jane alpinist learn from their achievements?
Athlete’s like Kilian Jornet and Ueli Steck are/were big adherents and beneficiaries of organized training methodologies backed up by a lot of knowledge. I interviewed Kilian Jornet about this. Kilian studied exercise physiology and used coaches, and Steck relied heavily on his coach. There are clear ways to improve that are open to anyone no matter where they are starting from, as long as they make a commitment to being consistent with their training and have enough time (usually a minimum of 5-6 hours a week for people starting out).
Both Kilian Jornet and Anton Krupicka, two of the World’s best mountain runners have been transferring their skills to mountaineering, what can we learn from other mountain activities and mountain athletes beyond the narrow world of climbing?
Mountaineering, as your readers know, grew out of the renaissance, not out of sport. But while I’m a big believer in the personal benefits of spending time in the mountains, more and more people are coming to recognize the athletic side of climbing and treat it as sport. If you look at running, where these guys come from, it is organized around training and racing – has been for 100 years. So when people come from that culture (in all fairness, KJ’s dad is a mountain guide and hut guardian) where training and racing is so important and start climbing mountains, you can see the benefits their fitness brings.
Ultimately climbing in all forms combines fitness, skill, and judgement in varying ways dependent on the climb and situation on that climb. So fitness takes people far on a route like the North Col on Everest, but it would be less impactful on a technical route. In fact, Ueli himself pointed this out to me when he told me that he took 5h30m on the ’38 route with Kilian and 3 days later climbed it in 3h 44m with a much younger and less aerobically fit Swiss climber. Here is what he wrote:
“Both times i was leading the entire route and i was making sure the rope was always tight. Both times I was not close to my limits, it means I forced both of them as fast they could climb.
If you keep thinking more about it it’s super super interesting. I would minimun lose 1h on a 50 k run to Kilian. I think we are still very far away from the perfect alpinist. Can you imagine we could transfer Kilian’s endurance into technical climbing.”
With your own climbing how important was training?
Not a quick answer to that one. My training was very important because I’m not an athletically gifted person in any way. (A fact my former coach Scott Johnston will vouch for.) Without Scott, and without my approach to systematic training, I wouldn’t have achieved anything that I did after about 2004, the ascent of K7, because starting with that year I was simply at a very, very high level of fitness.
What is Uphill Athlete and why did you set up it up?
Uphill Athlete is a platform for openly sharing proven training knowledge for the sports of alpinism, mountaineering, rock and ice climbing, ski mountaineering, skimo racing, and mountain running. We offer free educational resources, sell well-designed training plans, and coach amateurs and experienced athletes to maximize their fitness and succeed in the mountain sports they love.
Steve you’ve been out of the headlines for a while, are your own expedition days over, or are you still getting out climbing and if so what?
I suffered a massive fall back in 2010 and, to be frank, I’ll never be able to reach that level of fitness I had from 2004-2010 again. This is in part due to nagging issues from those injuries, but also because my priorities shifted after that. I decided that I had done enough climbing in my life but wanted to give back to my community in some way. Training for the New Alpinism, the book, and Uphill Athlete, the website, both came directly out of that desire to do something to help others achieve their potential in the mountains. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, my wife and I had a son in 2016 and I’m finding my experience with alpinism has been great training for making critical decisions in a state of sustained sleep deprivation.