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Training For Mountaineering

Training For Mountaineering

Training for mountaineering is critical for safety and success

What Is Mountaineering?

Mountaineering is the pursuit of recreation in the mountains.  This can take many forms:  peak ascents, hiking, rock climbing, ice climbing, trail running, backpacking, and skiing, to name a few.  Mountaineering is an all-encompassing word for all of these activities, with each of them being a subset of the whole.

Mountaineering often requires performing at a variety of intensity levels at high elevation in changeable weather. Proper training is the foundation for executing a safe and rewarding climb. While each of these activities may require a specific skill set, they all require a combination of movement efficiency, strength, and endurance.

Summit day on Mt. Whitney's Mountaineers Route
A stunning morning during a winter ascent of Mt. Whitney’s Mountaineers Route (14505’/4421m). Climbing this route requires learning a specific set of snow climbing skills but also requires endurance to successfully complete this 4-day climb.

PERFORMANCE =

Movement Efficiency + Strength + Endurance

Training For Mountaineering – Movement Efficiency

High On Mt. Whitney's Mountaineers Route
Train on talus, boulder fields, and loose off-trail ground if your mountaineering objective contains a lot of this type of terrain.

Performance in the mountains is highly dictated by movement efficiency. An efficient climber with low current fitness will always outperform a fit climber with poor movement skills.

When training for mountaineering, the most effective way to become efficient with your movement is to log time on the type of terrain you’d like to perform on. This is critical for success. Take every opportunity to train on terrain that resembles your objective as closely as possible. This includes walking on trails, soft snow, firm snow, talus (boulder fields), and loose off-trail terrain. It also includes technical terrain if your objectives include rock or ice climbing.

There are no shortcuts for developing movement efficiency. It takes time. The more time you spend on complex terrain the greater your gains will be. This is a much overlooked but critical component to consider when developing your training plan.

Rock Climbing Training
Top-roping laps at a local crag is an excellent way to train for long alpine rock climbs such as the North Ridge of Mt. Conness pictured below.
Stunning views high on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!
Stunning views high on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness, grade III 5.6 alpine rock climb! Enjoying epic climbs like this is the reward for the time invested in proper training.

Training For Mountaineering – Strength

Strength supports all other athletic activity because it allows you to do MORE objective specific training by developing tissue capacity. Strength training:

  • Makes bones, muscles, tendons and cartilage stronger, thicker and stiffer.
  • Develops effective and efficient transfer of force.
  • Creates a ceiling of capacity thus reducing the likelihood of injury.
  • Increases endurance by developing a higher ceiling of potential

Strength and endurance are strongly linked

Reaching the summit of a mountain requires taking thousands of steps uphill. Each uphill stride while wearing a 30lb pack places significant stress on the legs, knees, hips, and spine. This movement is essentially a single leg squat done at varying depths, which is dictated by the steepness of the terrain. Therefore, successfully summiting a peak entails linking together thousands of these weighted squats. Effective training in a gym will help make each step in the mountains use less energy because you’re developing a surplus of strength.

For example: “Marvelous Martha” and “Mountaineer Mike” are on a 12-hour summit day together. They will take thousands of steps, each of which pushes them towards their strength ceiling.

Marvelous Martha can back squat 160-pounds for 5 reps. Every step she takes uphill wearing a 30-pound pack uses approximately 25% of her strength reserve. She’s working at 1/4 of her strength ceiling for this climb.

Mountaineer Mike can back squat 60-pounds for 5 reps. Every uphill step he takes wearing a 30-pound pack uses 66.67% of his strength reserve. He’s spending the entire day working at 2/3 of his strength ceiling!

Which climber is more likely to perform better, all other things being equal?

Squat
Strength supports all other athletic activity. Supportive strength training is simple and helps build athletic stiffness and strength that helps boost performance and decreases the risk of injury.

Training For Mountaineering – Endurance

Kilimanjaro Summit Photo
Kilimanjaro is 19340’/5895m. Climbing Kilimanjaro requires fitness and endurance but no technical skills. During this magnificent 7-day climb the route passes through 5 climate zones starting off in a jungle and reaching an alpine environment. A proper training program focusing on endurance and loose terrain is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success to reach the summit of this spectacular peak.

The goal with endurance training for mountaineering is to develop a program that progresses towards the physical requirements of our specific objectives. Endurance training accomplishes two things:

  1. Develops the cardiovascular and circulatory systems to effectively supply oxygen to the working muscles.
  2. Builds structural resilience in the joints (especially the hips and knees) and spine to handle the stress of the objective. 

As with strength training we build endurance through the stress/recovery/adaptation model. Each training session places stress on the body. With appropriate recovery, the body adapts and can support slightly more work. With a well thought out schedule, the body will continue to adapt to the new training load and your endurance will improve.

For example, your goal is to climb Mt. Whitney in 2-days via the Mountaineers Route. This climb requires ascending and descending from 8350′ to 14505′ over 14-miles. This is 6155′ of elevation gain over 7-miles to the summit, then the equivalent distance and elevation loss to return. Attempting this climb “off the couch” with no training will put the body into a state of deep fatigue with a high chance of sustaining an injury. However, starting with a manageable hike then gently increasing the distance and elevation, then allowing for adequate recovery between sessions, the body develops the capacity and resilience to climb Mt. Whitney safely, and have much more fun doing it!

Know your aerobic threshold

The most efficient way to develop endurance is to use a slow, steady approach maintaining a heart rate under your aerobic threshold. There are many methods for determining your aerobic threshold, but a great place to start uses the ‘Maff Method’ by subtracting your age from 180. In this method a 40-year old’s aerobic threshold is a heartrate of 140 (180 – 40).  A 40-year-old athlete would stay at a heart rate of 140 or below when training.

Training at or just under the aerobic threshold:

  • Develops the strength, size and pumping capabilities of the heart.
  • Enhances the structure of the capillary network throughout the body.
  • Develops metabolic adaptions to the mitochondria; the powerhouse of the muscle cells.
  • Increases the body’s effective use of fuel/food for energy at the objective pace at which you intend to climb.

To cross-reference this intensity you should be able to have a full conversation when training. If you cannot speak with complete sentences, then it’s likely you’ve moved above your aerobic threshold sweet-spot. Keep in mind, this is a great place to start and a good trainer can refine this and personalize a training plan based on your history and trajectory.

Aerobic Zone Training
Training in the aerobic zone.

Progression Is Paramount!

Progression is one of the KEY elements in any training plan. An appropriate progression allows the body to absorb the training, recover, then adapt to a new level of performance. For the body to gain strength and endurance we need to continually add stress to our training.

For endurance training, unlike strength training, we generally add volume rather than intensity to build our progression. Each week we add distance and/or elevation to our hikes/runs. On the first week of our training cycle we might complete 3 endurance sessions at or near our aerobic threshold heart rate:

  • 1st Session: A comfortable 5-mile hike carrying a packed loaded with 20-pounds and 1000′ of elevation gain on terrain as close as possible to our season objective. This hike took 2.5 hours.
  • 2nd Session: 4-mile trail run with 1000′ of elevation gain. This run took 1.5 hours
  • 3rd Session: 6-mile jog around the city. This run took 1.5 hours.

Week 1 totals: 5 hours in the aerobic zone with 2000′ feet of elevation gain.

2nd Week: Add 5-10% to this total.

3rd Week: Continue this progression moving towards your objective time/distance/elevation. You can use distance or time to build your progression. Both are effective.

Week 3 or 4: Rest week with a reduction in volume of 40%.

Final weeks: Leading up to your objective taper and cut the volume down by 20-30% per week.

What about high-intensity training?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is more specialized and complicated and therefore needs to be delicately programmed into your plan. Although useful in small amounts for specific circumstances, following the above recommendations will develop a high level of performance for mountaineering. HIIT does not replace slow steady training in an endurance program. Because of this HIIT is viewed at the icing on the cake but not something to be emphasized.

What about core training?

Isolated core exercises have very limited cross-over to sport specific performance in spite of what many in the fitness industry assert. The strength program suggested above with the squat/pull/press will strengthen muscles in the body to work effectively because they will work together. Beyond this, effective development of the core is achieved by practicing the sport you’re training for. A rock climber develops effective core tension by rock climbing. There are certain circumstances when a specific core strength exercise might be useful and a trainer can help work through a specific problem. If there’s not a good reason for doing it, then it’s not worth spending the resources on it.

In Conclusion

We encourage you to enjoy the process of developing an understanding of how your body responds to training. The results will become apparent within weeks of starting out and motivation is rarely a problem moving forwards.

About the Authors

Simon Moore
Simon Moore is a mountain guide and founder of Vertical Ascents offering coaching and training for rock climbers, alpinists, skiers, and endurance athletes.
Training For Mountaineering, Kurt Wedberg
Kurt Wedberg is a 34-year veteran mountain guide and the founder of Sierra Mountaineering International, Inc. Based in Bishop, CA along the slopes of the beautiful Eastern Sierra, they offer guiding and instruction from beginning through advanced levels in:

Rock Climbing Mt. Whitney

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney via the classic East Face and East Buttress routes!

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney is an opportunity to ascend the highest peak in the contiguous United States via a route seen by relatively few people who visit this region. Mt. Whitney is the most popular of all the mountains SMI conducts trips to, and for good reason. Magnificent scenery and it’s setting along the crest of the Sierra along with its lofty elevation make this climb an unforgettable experience. The East Face and East Buttress routes are tremendous alpine rock climbs and the fact that they lead to the summit of Mt. Whitney make them all the more attractive.

The Approach: Hiking to Iceberg Lake

The journey begins at Whitney Portal (8350’/2545m). After final gear checks and loading rucksacks the team sets off for the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek. This “climbers trail” passes pine trees, willows, abundant wildflowers, and the Ebersbacher Ledges as it ascends a canyon that tops out at Lower Boy Scout Lake (10350’/3155m). The route continues past Upper Boy Scout Lake (11000’/3353m) to a mid afternoon arrival at Iceberg Lake (12610’/3844m) after approximately 6 hours of hiking. After making camp and an early dinner it’s time to bed down in the waning light so the team is ready for an early start to climb the East Face of Mt. Whitney.

The East Face of Mt. Whitney

Rising ahead of sunrise affords getting a jump on the day to maximize daylight. It also offers a stunning view of the Mt. Whitney massif bathed in glowing morning light reminding onlookers why the Sierra is nicknamed the Range of Light. A 45 minute hike over easy 3rd class terrain leads to the start of the route. Clothing layers are adjusted, sunscreen applied, harnesses are donned and climbers tie into the rope. This route is normally 11 pitches long with the hardest moves rated at 5.7, but it is not sustained climbing at this grade.

The Mt. Whitney massif bathed in the glow of morning light!
SMI guests Chris and Doug are tied in and ready to climb!

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney: The Tower Traverse

The first pitch rock climbing Mt. Whitney via the East Face is the Tower Traverse. This exhilarating start to the route entails traversing a ledge that leads to a small corner/chimney system, which is ascended for about 25 feet to the first belay station.

Chris and Doug crossing the ledge system on the Tower Traverse.

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney: The Fresh Air Traverse

Above the Tower Traverse the route ascends a prominent ramp known as the Washboards, which is mostly 3rd and 4th class. A short blocky pitch then leads to a tower that is down climbed to a large ledge at the base of the Fresh Air Traverse.

The Fresh Air Traverse is considered by many to be the highlight of the East Face route. A “step across” over a fantastic stretch of exposure on good holds marks the crux moves, which is followed by climbing a series of ledges. Solid hold on high quality granite combined with over 1000′ view below make negotiating the Fresh Air Traverse a truly exhilarating and rewarding experience!

SMI climbers at the tower atop the Washboards before the Fresh Air Traverse.
Crossing the magnificent Fresh Air Traverse!
Doug & Chris psyched on the exhilaration of climbing the Fresh Air Traverse!

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney: The Final Pitches To The Summit

Above the Fresh Air Traverse another 5th class pitch ends at the Grand Staircase. This is followed by a couple more short 5th class pitches before the terrain backs off to some 3rd class scrambling that leads to the summit.

Chris & Doug fire up as they finish the final 5th class pitch on the East Face of Mt. Whitney!
Stunning High Sierra views are the backdrop for the final scrambling to the summit!
A well earned summit photo after a extraordinary climb of the East Face of Mt. Whitney!

The East Buttress of Mt. Whitney

For those looking for more alpine climbing bliss we will stick around for another day and tackle the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney. This route strings together ten 5th class pitches on a direct column with sections of sustained 5.7 moves. It meets up with the East Face at the final 3rd class scrambling leading to the summit.

Ascending the East Buttress of mt. Whitney high above Iceberg Lake.

Rock climbing Mt. Whitney: The “Pee Wee” Pitch

One highlight on the East Buttress is climbing past the “Pee Wee”; a large protruding overhung block of granite.

The Pee Wee on the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney.
Climbing above the Pee Wee on the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney.
Second summit photo in as many days after a fantastic climb of the East Buttress!
No summit of Mt. Whitney is complete without adding our signatures to the register!

More photos from the East Face & East Buttress

View a photo gallery from this trip here.

Climb Mt. Whitney with SMI!

SMI leads climbs to Mt. Whitney throughout the year. Each route has its own unique experience from an ascent of the Mountaineers Route in winter/spring or summer/fall to a rock climb. Read more about our Mt. Whitney programs here.

Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge

High on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge

Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge is a fun and exhilarating way to climb this classic Sierra peak. Once considered a CA 14er, its current accepted elevation is 13986’/4263m. Nevertheless it is a lofty summit with outstanding views. The route features high quality granite with enough challenging and exposed moves to offer a thrilling sense of accomplishment.

Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge – The Approach

Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge is accessed from the North Lake trailhead at 9400’/2865m. The journey begins with a scenic 4.2 mile hike to Paiute Pass. This lovely hike ascends glacier carved granite benches past Loch Leven, Paiute, and several smaller alpine lakes to 11423’/3482m. Offering magnificent views it also gives access to Humphreys Basin. Leaving the trail the route ascends north over cross-country terrain to the base of Mt. Humphreys.

Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge

Longtime friend of SMI Ben Novak was Kurt Wedberg’s guest for this 1-day car to car ascent. Ben is a long distance ultra runner who has been climbing Sierra peaks with SMI for 10+ years. He’s also a veteran of our international destinations to Mexico’s Volcanoes and Aconcagua.

Doing the entire approach by headlamp the two opted to climb the massive south face of Mt. Humphreys to a notch that meets up with the North Couloir. From here the upper section of Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge is reached. On this day it offered spectacular climbing as the sun rose over the Sierra.

Upper NW Ridge of Mt. Humphreys
Looking at the upper Northwest Ridge of Mt. Humphreys from the top of the North Couloir.
3rd class gully on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge
Ben climbing the 3rd class gully on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge.

Roping up at the notch, the team ascended a 3rd class gully requiring the use of hands and feet that ended at a vertical wall. Careful route finding up the right side of the wall is the first of a handful of short class 4 pitches. The route climbs onto a spectacular ridgeline offering solid holds and spots of exciting exposure. This leads to the backbone of Mt. Humphreys Northwest Ridge. With the terrain dropping abruptly on either side the route looks improbable at first, but nevertheless a path opens up as one progresses higher.

Beginning the 4th class on the NW Ridge
Ben starting up the 4th class to gain the backbone of the NW Ridge of Mt. Humphreys.
Gaining the backbone of the NW Ridge of Mt. Humphreys
Ben gaining the backbone of the NW Ridge of Mt. Humphreys.
High on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge
Ben enjoying the high quality granite climbing high on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge. This route offers outstanding views of Humphreys Basin and the western landscape of the Sierra Nevada.
Thrilling climbing Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge
Ben enjoying the thrilling climbing on Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge.

The Summit and Descent

The summit of Mt. Humphreys is small enough to offer a dramatic 360 degree view because of its perch on a small point barely large enough for one climbing party. With clear calm weather there was enough time to refuel while soaking in the magnificent Sierra landscape before descending the NW Face to the SW slope. From here the descent through Humphreys Basin to Paiute Pass offered a leisurely and scenic way to wind down from this classic climb.

Topping out Mt. Humphreys NW Ridge
Ben climbing the final moves below the summit of Mt. Humphreys (13986’/4263m).
Ben Novak Mt. Humphreys summit
Ben Novak arriving at the summit of Mt. Humphreys (13986’/4263m) after a successful climb of the Northwest Ridge.
Kurt Wedberg on the summit of Mt. Humphreys
Kurt Wedberg on the summit of Mt. Humphreys (13986’/4263m) after guiding a successful climb of the Northwest Ridge.
Paiute & Loch Leven Lakes
Paiute and Loch Leven Lakes from the Pauite Pass trail just below the pass.
Lupine
Lupine’s in full bloom above Loch Leven Lake on the Paiute Pass trail.
Sierra Lily
Sierra Lily
Meadow Paintbrush
Meadow Paintbrush in bloom near Loch Leven Lake on the Paiute Pass trail.

View a photo gallery with more pictures from this climb here.

Contact SMI for climb Mt. Humphreys

Contact SMI to learn about guided climbs up Mt. Humphreys and the multitude of classic alpine climbs offered in the beautiful Sierra Nevada.

North Ridge of Mt. Conness

Stunning views high on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!

Alpine rock climbing at its finest!

We experienced a picture perfect day on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness to kick off the alpine rock climbing season in the High Sierra! With summertime now upon us the high alpine climbs of the Sierra Nevada are at their finest. Longtime friend of SMI Michelle Kemmer joined us for a climb of the ultra classic North Ridge of Mt. Conness on July 9. Consisting of 6 pitches of moderate 5th class climbing plus an exciting rappel in the middle of the route this peak is pure alpine bliss. From steller granite to magnificent views of the alpine lakes, meadows, and granite spires in Tuolumne Meadows the North Ridge of Mt. Conness never disappoints!

The breathtaking approach!

The approach begins at Saddlebag Lake, which is a short distance off the Tioga Pass Road. The hike takes us past alpine lakes on a trail decorated with native wildflowers as it ascends to the base of the North Ridge.

Stunning morning scenery ascending above alpine lakes en route to the start of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!

The beginning pitches and rappel of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness

We then roped up where the terrain narrows and becomes more exposed. A few short pitches in the difficulty range of 3rd to low 5th class led us to the first tower where two rappels lead to the upper end of the route.

Stellar granite and exhilarating views at the start of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!
Rappelling off the tower on the North Ridge of Mt. Conness.

The top half of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!

After short rappels the route presents four pitches of fun 5th class climbing on high quality granite with excellent hand and foot holds. Each belay station on the ascent reveals more exhilarating views en route to the 12590’/3829m summit!

Breathtaking backdrop approaching a belay station on the upper section of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!
Stunning views below are the reward nearing the top of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!
Hundreds of snowy peaks in the High Sierra provide the dramatic backdrop for a summit photo after a successful climb of Mt. Conness!
SMI founder Kurt Wedberg enjoying the picture perfect day after a successful climb of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness!

A complete photo gallery from this day can be viewed here. SMI arranges climbs of the North Ridge of Mt. Conness on any day between June 1 and October 15. Visit our website to learn about Mt. Conness and other classic Sierra Nevada alpine rock climbs. Reserve your spot today for a memorable adventure with our expert staff.

SMI Guides are back in action!

Mt. Whitney Summit!

SMI guides are ecstatic to be back guiding trips in the Sierra! We have spent this spring during the pandemic staying in shape, keeping sharp with our skills, and honing our craft. With things starting to open up again we are ecstatic to be once again outside sharing adventures in the Sierra Nevada with our guests.

The Sierra Nevada is our home, our back yard, and our favorite mountain range in the world. The possibilities for adventure and solitude are endless. Try ticking off some of our California 14ers on our Palisades trips, or the exhilaration from one of our classic alpine rock climbs. Learn to transfer your indoor climbing skills to the outdoor realm on one of our rock climbing programs, or discover pristine destinations in the Sierra Nevada through one of our customized backpacking trips! Whatever your desire the Sierra Nevada has it all!

During the month of July join any SMI trip in 2020 and receive a free custom SMI UPF 50+ Buff!

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB!

On October 4-8, 2019 SMI founder Kurt Wedberg led a group of intrepid mountain bikers to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB was a spectacular trip of a lifetime!  Five intrepid mountain bikers joined SMI founder Kurt Wedberg to climb and descend the highest mountain in Africa by bike.

Arrival in Tanzania

The team flew to Moshi, Tanzania.  After 26 hours of travel time and a 10-hour difference from the Pacific Time zone the team took a day to adjust and stretch our legs.  Exploring the Tanzanian scenery on our bikes proved to be the perfect way to accomplish this! Riding through the town of Moshi and into the countryside past sugar cane plantations and rice fields the team soaked in the landscape and got acquainted with the people of Tanzania.

The team poses in front of a relief map of Kilimanjaro on a bike tour in Moshi, Tanzania
Meeting the beautiful people of Tanzania on our bikes.
Tanzanian Bike Shop
Bike shop in Moshi, Tanzania.
Riding past sugar cane and rice fields outside of Moshi, Tanzania.

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB – The Climb

Kilimanjaro is the only place in the world where it is possible to pass through five climate zones in as many days; starting in a jungle and ending in an alpine environment.  Each zone is distinct and reveals new magnificent scenery of this exotic landscape.

Kilimanjaro massif
Kilimanjaro from the town of Moshi, Tanzania

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB – Day 1:  Ride to Camp 1

The team began at the jungle trailhead at 4570’/1393m.  All of our equipment was sent by porters allowing us to go light.  Team member’s carried water, snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a couple clothing items.  The route is a dirt road used as an emergency access path for park service vehicles.  The grade goes from mild to steep as it winds its way through the jungle slowly gaining elevation.  After about three hours the route breaks out of the jungle canopy at 10000’/3048m revealing views of this vast and beautiful landscape.  Six hours of riding brought us to our arrival at Horombo Camp 12200’/3719m.

The team starting the beautiful ride through the jungle.
Kilimanjaro MTB 2019 team arriving at Horombo Camp, 12200’/3719m.

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB – Day 2:  Ride & Explore Kilimanjaro

Today was an acclimatization day.  Drawing from our over 30 years of guiding high altitude peaks worldwide including 3 summits of Mt Everest and 33 climbs of Kilimanjaro we have learned that the safest and most effective way to acclimatize to high altitude is to “climb high and sleep low”. This helps the body begin to produce red blood cells that will in turn aid in successfully acclimating to the newer elevation.

Starting from the Horombo Hut today’s ride was a loop that ascends one trail, then going cross country it connects to another trail.  It offers the opportunity to ascend to over 14000’.  Dressed in rain gear for the intermittent rain the team would experience all day the team ascended through the Moorland.  Passing Zebra Rocks (13225’/4031m) the team veered cross country tp connect to the Marangu Route, which would be the trail leading to high camp and summit day.  At this elevation the path resembles a dirt road in width and the gradual grade makes for excellent riding.  Reaching 14000’/4267’ the team took a good break in the midst of a wide open stunning landscape while replacing calories and rehydrating.  Then it was back to Horombo Camp to recharge for the next day’s move to high camp; Kibo Hut at 15485’/4720m.

Zebra Rocks (13225'/4031m)
Zebra Rocks (13225’/4031m) during an acclimatization ride on Kilimanjaro.
Hike-a-bike through the Moorland
Melanie on a hike-a-bike over a ridge to get to the next section of riding.
Breaking storm in the Moorland
Taking a break as the storm started to break en route to our next trail a short distance below.
MTB at 14000'/4267m on Kilimanjaro
The psych is high as the team reaches 14000’/4267m on Kilimanjaro!

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB – Day 3: Ride to Kibo Camp

Weather cleared for the move to Kibo Hut (15485’/4720m).  With a dark blue sky above and the Kilimanjaro massif in front of us our route was mostly on a wide gradual path.  Moving into the Sub-Alpine climate zone the vegetation thins out opening spectacular vistas across a moonscape decorated by volcanic rock.  After 5 hours of riding we arrived at Kibo Hut with plenty of time to relax, hydrate, and prepare for summit day.

Horombo Camp
Kilimanjaro MTB team mounting bikes for the ride to high camp.
Terrain through the Moorland
Riding the trail through the Moorland. The route gets wider here with mixed rock and dirt.
MTB riding in the sub-alpine zone
Riding through the open 15000′ sub-alpine zone on solid dirt decorated with volcanic rocks.
Kilimanjaro's Marangu Route leading to the crater rim.
Feeling strong in the thin air at 15000’/4572m! The Marangu Route to the summit is visible below the cloud cap covering Kilimanjaro’s crater rim.

Summit Kilimanjaro MTB – Day 4:  Summit Day!

Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro requires an “alpine start” at midnight.  Much of the terrain indicates “hike-a bike” because it is much steeper than previous days.  After several hours of ascending the route approaches the crater rim at a landmark called Gilman’s Point (18652’/5685m).  The next part of the route was to traverse the oval shaped crater rim. We were able to ride our bikes once again because the terrain dramatically flattens out on the crater. At the next landmark, Stella Point (18885’/5756m), we got our first glimpse of the breathtaking sunrise. The growing pre-dawn light revealed spectacular views of the African plains, the crater, and the origins of the glaciers that still decorate the flanks of Kilimanjaro. We also got our first glimpse of the summit of Kilimanjaro, which is called Uhuru Peak.

Stella Point at sunrise
Arriving at Stella Point (18885’/5756m) in the predawn light. Kilimanjaro’s summit called Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the skyline behind.
Sunrise from Stella Point
Stunning sunrise over the African plains from Stella Point (18885’/5756m).
Kilimanjaro MTB Summit Sign
A well earned photo at the summit sign on the Roof of Africa!

Kilimanjaro MTB Day 4: The Glorious Descent!

Celebration ensued upon reaching the summit!  A magnificent sunrise and stunning views from the Roof of Africa were followed by many pictures.  It was then time to prepare for the amazing descent.  The descent was in 3-parts:  the ride around the crater rim, descending to the Kibo Hut, and the return to Horombo Camp.  Riding around the crater rim in the rarified air above the clouds was exhilarating.  Dropping off the rim the route is steep and rocky.  Carrying bikes through this section the trail below is sandy and steep.  Arriving at the Kibo Hut in the warmer air team members changed clothing layers, rehydrated, ate some snacks and inspected their bikes.  Then it was time to mount up for the thrilling descent down to Horombo.  A distance that takes several hours by foot was covered in about 90 minutes!

Team Kilimanjaro MTB ecstatic on the summit of Kilimanjaro
Team Kilimanjaro MTB ecstatic on the summit and ready to start the epic descent!
Riding from Uhuru Peak, the Roof of Africa
Starting the epic descent from Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro!
MTB high above the clouds
MTB riding on Kilimanjaro’s crater rim high above the clouds and the African plains!
MTB navigating the flanks of Kilimanjaro
Negotiating the steep descent at 17000’/5000m on the flanks of Kilimanjaro.
MTB Kilimanjaro descent
MTB Kilimanjaro descent with the satellite peak Mawenzi in the distance.
Riding into the Kibo Huts 15420'/4700m
Riding into the Kibo Huts at 15420’/4700m.

Kilimanjaro MTB – Day 5:  The Return to the Trailhead

After an epic ride from the Roof of Africa the team celebrated with a hearty meal and a Kilimanjaro beer!  Sleeping at 12200’ felt low after our time at high altitude.  Having slept soundly and well rested the team was psyched for one final downhill ride.  Passing in to the jungle zone and the trailhead the team decided to continue riding through villages as children waved.

MTB at Horombo Hut
Back at Horombo Hut and ready for the final descent through the jungle.
Kilimanjaro MTB team photo at Horombo Hut
Team photo with the beautiful Tanzanian staff that supports SMI’s Kilimanjaro climbs.

An 8 minute video recap of the epic MTB descent of Kilimanjaro!

View a complete photo gallery here.

Are you ready to experience Kilimanjaro MTB?

Contact our office to learn more!

The Climb

Kilimanjaro MTB was an idea conceived by longtime friends of SMI Tristan Gonzalez and Anthony Morasco.  During several successful climbs on California’s 14ers they talked with SMI founder Kurt Wedberg about the idea of bringing mountain bikes to the top of Africa’s highest mountain.  Kurt began leading expeditions to Kilimanjaro in 1996 and has successfully summited it by 7 routes.  In the process he’s not only learned this mountain like nobody else but has cultivated many close friendships in Tanzania making securing permits for this amazing journey possible.

Kurt Wedberg & the staff on Kilimanjaro
SMI founder Kurt Wedberg with the beautiful staff on Kilimanjaro.

Preparation and training

Kilimanjaro MTB requires preparation and training just like any mountain climb.  SMI’s home base in Bishop, CA has an abundance of excellent mountain biking terrain for all ability levels available throughout the year.  Here are a few favorites:

Wintertime highlights

6 Great Winter Mountain Bike Rides around Bishop
Volcanic Tablelands Loop
Buttermilk OHV Road

Summer highlights

White Mountain Peak Trail
Owens Gorge Loop
Lower Rock Creek Trail