we had excellent successes in Tibet-Sichuan this year (here & here) and the reason was based on one simple factor: everyone had put in many hours of training. no matter how much was invested in predicting conditions, sorting gear, refining logistics etc, it was trip-specific ability that brought results.
the interesting thing was that everyone came from very different training backgrounds: Yamagishi guides in the Alps all year, Paul has a long history of mountain ultras and alpine mixed, Dan is a hard rock climber, crossfitter and for fun carries concrete up scaffolding 12 hrs a day, and I blend trips in Japan with a periodized alpine program (the House-Johnston method). at the sharp end there were noticeable variations in some things, but in common was the denominator of volume – everyone could put out for hour after hour and do it again the next day. and the next.
leg weights, a pile of rocks, water, a strong pack and a steep hill to carry it up: the foundation for any climbing you can never have too much of.
break down any expedition climbing and the bulk of the energy expended is moving across mountain terrain under load and of all the things that suck its the one that sucks the most. being basic grunt-work, its also the one with the least excuse for failing at and the most potential to train. from another angle, its also the factor where increased capacity has the largest effect and perhaps due to consuming the most time on the mountain, its also the one where you get to think the most about it. i know i came away from both trips having actually climbed within my ability – but id pay any price to have had more capacity to carry heavier loads further and get less beaten up by it, even after several hundred hours specifically just for that.
now in the stages of getting back (slowly) into another training mega-cycle, thats where the tweaks will be made; of the available hours, to train the technical ability more efficiently so to leave more hours available for base-level loaded endurance.
to make this play out is simple. more efficient technical training means being more specific, increasing the difficulty and training in windows with a greater capacity for assimilation of technique. unsurprisingly this boils down to simply harder climbing from a well rested and prepared state.
upping the loaded endurance is simple too; more of it. bigger inclines that take longer with more weight – taken on incrementally to embed real improvement not just one-off feats. combine this with enough supportive training like strength and injury prevention work, but not too much as to waste valuable hours.
now none of this is original, being exactly what any well trained climber will say. what is original – to my training as it is to anyones – is the objective. the sooner that is defined and deconstructed the sooner the hundreds of hours preparation can be aligned to it.