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Book Review

by Don Mellor
October 2014

I just finished reading Training for the New Alpinism, and I’m feeling equal parts inspired, enlightened, and useless.

It’s a book that does just what it promises: it explains in scientific detail what it takes to be an elite athlete in today’s mind-stretching world of alpine climbing.

The technical density of the book came as a surprise to me. Maybe I was expecting some rehashed advice about running stairs or lifting weights. My BA in English Literature didn’t really prep me for the science, and so I had to read it twice just to get hold of some of the concepts. A third time wouldn’t hurt, either.

Interspersed among the technical chapters, however, were high-octane adventure stories about the ‘research” behind the instruction. Here Ueli Steck tells us that he’s a control freak and that his two-hour forty-seven minute dash of the Eiger North Face was not some spur-of-the-moment antic; nothing, even the weather, he says, was left to chance. Mark Twight weighs in about his initial crush on CrossFit training, his own failed attempt to find a quicker route to fitness, and his ultimate admission that Scott Johnston was right about the relationship between endurance and intensity training. TINSTAAFL is the title of Twight’s essay about the importance of realizing that There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.P_164_Marko_on_Makalu

This is all about what they call “the new alpinism” It’s hard for a lot of us even to conceive of the mountain marathoning that’s going on out there. Eiger North face in less than three hours. Six days of continuous climbing on North Twin (in winter, after dropping a boot from half way up and finishing in an inner boot wrapped in athletic tape!). Eight days on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat, the world’s highest wall. Enchainments. Speed climbing. Gobbling up more hard climbing in less time and with less gear than we ever considered sane or possible.

This “new alpinism” isn’t following a line of fixed ropes as you push to higher and higher camps, acclimatizing on your way. Nor is it working some 5.13 flared crack above a port-a-ledge on El Cap. “New alpinism” is putting on a 35-pound pack and climbing non-stop till you get to the top. Sometimes you might grab a little shivering nap or maybe fire up your stove. But a lot of the time you just push on, telling your body to do stuff that most bodies can’t imagine.

Thus, this book is really the first to examine the distinctly more complex training requirements to make those bodies capable. And this is just it: changing our bodies – the capillaries and neurons, the muscle fibers and cell structures, altering things we may never even have heard of.

A little about the authors:

SteveHouseSteve House – If you really need me to provide his bio here, you don’t want this book. Just go back to your Facebook page.

ScottJohnston_lowresScott Johnston, on the other hand, iisn’t well known to most recreational climbers. Even though he has a proud resume of Himalayan and Alaskan mountaineering, he comes mainly from the world of swimming and Nordic skiing, both at the World Cup competitive level and as a coach. Most of us know that cross-country ski racers are probably the fittest athletes out there, and so his research and perspectives are absolutely applicable to alpine climbing. If ever you are in the Adirondacks and want to take a day off from ice climbing, go check out the college kids training at Mount Van Hoevenberg. You’ll come away feeling flabby.

House and Johnston make it clear that this isn’t just upping the reps or increasing the mileage – it’s a new game, one that doesn’t come without a huge investment. Nor it is intuitive. They make it clear right in the beginning that, “three forty-five minute Stairmaster sessions a week” will not do it. Instead, it takes a disciplined and difficult regimen of training that will alter both the anatomical and neurological structures of the alpine athlete. Like it or not, they say, “your results will be proportional to the time you spend in preparation.”

So much for the pep talk. Now comes the bulk of the book, the science and the reasoning behind a methodical and purposeful training routine. That preparation cannot consist solely of Great Range runs or maniacal gym workouts.

House and Johnston begin with the basic aerobic – anaerobic dichotomy, moving logically through the fuels of fats and sugars, the human body’s “functional and structural” adaptations to stress, strength training, periodization, and nutrition. These pieces come in logically sequenced, well explained packets, and most are supplemented by real-life experience as empirical support.

Again, the science is complex and I’d probably screw it up if I endeavored to summarize. Let me instead list some of the salient points that I’ll keep in my own training mind:

* It’s all about duration and frequency, not intensity. Maybe ninety percent of our training ought to be at a pace where we can still have a trail conversation.

* General training is every bit as important as specific training.

* You can’t try to maintain peak-level fitness for any length of time; instead, you must aim to reach your peak fitness just in time for your project.

* Recovery takes a long time. House tells of having to bail on a big Himalayan route because he hadn’t fully recovered from Nanga Parbat a full twelve months earlier.

* Endurance exercise burns fats. Intense exercise burns sugars. Every high-intensity burst is really costly, as it switches the fuel over from fats to sugars, which aren’t so plentiful in storage.

* Keeping records helps.

* Be patient. Progress is gradual and it results only from the cumulative effect of many, many hours of productive work.

I wonder how many of you NEICE.COM ‘ers are actually aspiring to do the high-end routes in Alaska or Patagonia. I wonder if most of you (like me) are instead thinking about a winter scoot along the crest of the Presidentials (those aren’t yeti tracks – Alan Cattabriga came by before breakfast) or maybe you want to take a whack at Emilie Drinkwater’s time on the Adirondack Trilogy. Whatever the goals, I think the House / Johnston book would do you well. Your pack might feel lighter, and the route might feel easier. And you might just make it back for happy hour.

Now a small complaint. Every time I would sit down to write this review, I’d find myself so inspired (OK, a little shamed as well) that I’d put it down and go for a short speed hike up a little rocky bump near my house in Lake Placid. It happened again today. The wind on top was pushing me around a bit, the year’s first snow pellets were biting my face. But no shit, there I was, alone, eyes closed, fantasies flipping back and forth between House’s climbs on the world’s big peaks and my own plans for an early season run on Agartha.

Steve House and Scott Johnston
Patagonia Books, Ventura California 2014




Baxter – Fall 2014

Conditions Report!

October 12-14, 2014

Some years you find ice to climb in October, other years you are hiking in your underwear. The weather started out cold on our trip and we were hopeful, but this was not an ice climbing year. We still had fun and explored some new areas to the Northwest of Baxter Peak. The Northwest Basin is simply amazing and worth the 8 mile approach. Below are a few photos from our trip. Enjoy!

Doug Plateau 2

Doug on the Northwest Plateau headed back to Roaring Brook after exploring the Northwest Basin. Yes, underwear time!

Alfonzo enjoying some early season ice two years ago on October 13th

Alfonzo enjoying some early season ice two years ago on October 13th

Photo Gallery

*Click Photos to Enlarge

- Doug Millen


Franconia Notch NH

What happens when you get  a ton of rain over a snowpack, and than a cold front moves through…Omega in April…that’s what!  Here again it proves that you have to anticipate and be ready for unique ice climbing conditions. Peter Doucette has been following the conditions all winter and taking advantage of the unique conditions as they happen. Peter and Adam were ready and got a 3:45 am start for this adventure. Perfect!  What great  ice climbing. Just look at the photos…great bonded ice, and the lighting could not be any better. Fantastic late season ice climbing. Remember…It’s not “OVA” till it’s “OVA”.



Peter Doucette

Adam Bidwell

 Photos by Adam Bidwell and Peter Doucette

Also see  Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!




Join the 16th Annual Catskill Ice Festival

February 7, 8, 9, 10, 2014

This year again there will be multiple clinics on all the skills and techniques you need to get out on ice – from basic skills, to dry-tooling, to glacier travel techniques.
Slide shows on Friday & Saturday evening.  Slide shows will be held at Rock and Snow at 8pm.

The demo gear will be located at Rock and Snow – so you can try out the latest Harnesses, Ice Tools, Crampons, and clothing from the best companies. You know them – Black Diamond, Petzl, La Sportiva, Outdoor Research & Rab.


Friday Night: Catskills Aerial

Join local guide and guidebook author, Marty Molitoris as he shows you an aerial view of the areas we all know and love, and some new ones as well…
Held at Rock & Snow, 8pm

Saturday Night: Kevin Mahoney

Northeast climbing in the winter, and first ascents in Alaska and Nepal.
Held at Rock and Snow, 8pm will be there with hot soup and Doug’s Helicopters will be taking aerial video of the climbing. Hope to see you there.

More here…


 Feature Photo: Brinton Price climbing in The Black Chasm – RAS

Smuggs Ice Bash 2014 – Recap

Smugglers Notch Ice Bash kicked off with an awesome evening at Petra Cliffs!  There was an great line up of competitors ready to crush the route set by Matt McCormick and Peter Kamitses. There’s no where else in the Northeast you can go to see this kind of show!

The winners of the 2014 Smuggs Ice Bash Indoor Comp. at Petra Clif

The winners of the 2014 Smuggs Ice Bash Dry Tool Competition at Petra Cliffs

The Dry Tool Competition Winners



1st – Alexa Siegel

2nd – Andrea Charest

3rd – Lindsay Fixmer



1st – Whit Magro

2nd – Will Mayo

3rd – Roy Quanstrom





Photos: 1.The competitors  2.Alexa Siegel 3.Will Mayo 4.Andrea Charest

Video Recap of the Competition


There for the festivities was the American Alpine ClubFurnace IndustriesUS SherpaOutdoor Gear Exchange and Health Warrior. Before and after the comp, Dry Ice Tools and tools from Black Diamond and Cassin were available for demos on the climbing wall.  To top it off, raffle prizes were given away, sponsored by Crag-VT!


Hot beverages and hot soup!
Courtesy of NEice and Outdoor Gear Exchange

NEice was proud to sponsor a women’s beginner clinic on Saturday led by Andrea Charest.  The clinic was free to all participants and judging by this photo, it looks like everyone had a blast!  And of course, hot soup was waiting for everyone who came down from the notch after a day of climbing.  There were great clinics offered all weekend from Steep Ice and Mix climbing to Alpine Climbing to Double Rope Techniques by guides including Tim Farr, Steve Charest, Mike Bauman, Matt Bressler, Mark Puleio and Michael Wejchert.  Guest guides this year were Whit Magro and Lindsay Fixmer!  Demo gear from all the major manufacturers were there and Smuggler’s Notch Inn was packed with people checking out the gear.  By the end of the morning on Saturday, -all- the ice tools on -every- table were headed out for the day.


Michael Wejchert gives some mix climbing tips during Sunday’s clinic.

Once the demo gear was out, the reps and guides were psyched to get out and climb.  Kevin Mahoney and Michael Wejchert spent their Saturday on Dominatrix (WI4+/5 M6), put up by local hardmen Alden Pellett and Dave Furman in 1998.  It was one of the hardest mix routes during the late 90’s and sent with straight shafted tools at the time.  Hats off.  Lindsay got her first taste of Vermont ice with Steve Charest as her tour guide while Matt McCormick and I decided to head to the Blue Room. When we reached the top of the notch, we were greeted by strong wind gusts and snow.  It was definitely a full-on day!  It was great to see everyone out, climbing or snowshoeing and skiing the road and embracing the Vermont winter.


Kevin Mahoney on the Dominatrix.
Photo by Michael Wejchert

Saturday night, Lindsay Fixmer showcased a little of her singer/songwriter talent and entertained the crowd with a song about women in climbing and the guiding world accompanied by photographs.  It’s not often the guest presenter brings a guitar!  That was followed up by Whit Magro.  He presented a slide show about climbing at home, traveling to bigger places, then heading back home to climb after those experiences.. and then doing it all over again.  More great raffle prizes were handed out and Smuggs Bash teeshirts thrown into the crowd.  We all love free swag!


Lindsay Fixmer and her guitar Saturday night


Climbing clinic at the Mystery Wall.

On Sunday, the temperatures plummeted, but mere -7 degrees wouldn’t stop this festival.  I headed up the notch with Lindsay for a women’s clinic along with Jess Jablonski.  Despite the cold temperatures, these women spent the day laughing, climbing and learning.  It was a great group of gals and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to teach and climb with them. This year was big!  And it will only get better and better with Andrea and Stephen Charest running the show!  With that said, NEice extends the biggest of thanks to Andrea and Steve for all they do, not just for the Vermont climbers but the entire northeast climbing community and making the Annual Smugglers Notch Ice Bash a huge success.  We love being apart of it!


Photo by Michael Wejchert

More photos of the event on the Smuggs Ice Bash facebook page.  LIKE them to make sure you are ready for next year!

- Courtney Ley /

Featured story cover photo by Sam Simon Imaging. Competition photos by Doug Millen. Other photos by Courtney Ley and as noted.


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