Peak Performance | Avoid Becoming a Trip Report Statistic

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn how to avoid accidents and injuries in the outdoors by properly conditioning yourself and taking notes from your experienced trip leaders.
Courtenay Schurman Courtenay Schurman
November 01, 2022
Peak Performance | Avoid Becoming a Trip Report Statistic
Photo by Courtenay Schurman.

Tricky trail conditions, iffy weather, and the adrenaline rush associated with epic adventures can all increase the likelihood of accidents. But with a little extra awareness and planning, you can avoid becoming a trip report statistic. To prevent accidents or injury during future trips, strive for good conditioning on urban terrain and work to learn from your leader. With help you will narrow the gap and increase your margin of safety in the mountains.

Pack weight

Early in our climbing career, my husband and I were routinely climbing Rainier with more than 50 pounds. By our last summit five years ago, we pared our weight down to close to 40. We learned from our mistakes and by watching others in the backcountry.

Leaders know exactly what to bring and what to leave behind. They pare their gear down to the essentials. They use everything they bring with them, and their only leftover food is for safety. They also have lighter-weight gear, having the experience and knowledge to know what is worth the investment. Newer outdoorspeople often carry “just in case” items without considering the extra weight. With this in mind, train with a heavy pack and make note of what you carry that others don’t. Over time, you’ll be able to pare your pack weight down, and since you’ve been training with a heavy pack, you may find yourself stronger than your leaders.

Experience and efficiency

The first time I climbed Rainier, I didn’t know about the rest step or pressure breathing. Above 11,500 feet when I started feeling nauseous, I would have shifted into using both energy-saving techniques. Now, at the first sign of nausea at altitude, I use smaller, paused steps and rhythmic pressure breathing without even thinking about it, while novice climbers huff and puff.

Your leaders will have more skill traveling over varied terrain than you do. When you may find yourself taking a step and sliding backward, or stumbling on rocks in your crampons, your leaders will be picking their way skillfully across the slope or confidently kicking steps. Novices expend far more energy doing routine alpine tasks simply because such skills are not yet unconscious; they require more thought and muscle memory development. With experience you will become more capable. Until then, focus on gaining additional cardiovascular stamina, strength, and power to ascend a mountain.

Psychological elements

One of our earliest alpine climbs was the exposed West Ridge of Forbidden. We were new to running belays, cleaning pro, dealing with exposure, and going without sleep. This led to relying on adrenaline on our second 18-hour day. It took several days to recover.

Leaders are familiar with exposure and the “thrill of the climb.” Novices may be taking a trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Fearing the unknown uses a lot of energy. Novices often use adrenaline, which can leave them drained for several days afterward. To avoid this physical and psychological drain, spend time in the mountains honing your technical skills.

Preparing for your next trip

Train with 5-10 more pounds than the heaviest weight you expect to carry on your hardest trip. On your conditioning hikes, practice traveling on terrain comparable to what you might encounter on your upcoming trip. Seek trails that provide you with opportunities to hone your skills. Practice breathing techniques, visualization, positive self-talk, and other methods to help prepare for the psychological challenges that come with time outdoors.

By getting in better condition than your leaders, you will be better prepared to handle the lack of experience and increased psychological demands in order to avoid becoming a trip report statistic.

Courtenay Schurman is an NSCA-CSCS certified personal trainer, Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified Nutrition Supercoach, and co-owner of Body Results. She specializes in training outdoor athletes. For more how-to exercises or health and wellness tips, visit her website or send a question to

This article originally appeared in our fall 2022 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive

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