3 Peaks Challenge: Day 1 – Mt. Mansfield, VT

For those who aren’t aware, I recently participated in a charity mountain climbing event called the The Conservation Fund, with the total currently around $15,000.  Donations are still open if you’re interested in supporting this great charity.  We felt the charity and the event were well aligned, and that became even clearer as we did the climbs and tried to respect the fragile land around the paths we hiked and climbed.

Three Peaks Challenge where a group of us climbed the three tallest peaks in the Northeast US in three consecutive days.  Not only was this a physical challenge due to the actual climbing, it was also one due to all the driving you had to do to get to each mountain.

It was, in a word, amazing.  Below is a recounting of our first day on Mt. Mansfield, in Stowe, VT.  You can also read about Day 2 – Mt. Washington (NH) and Day 3 – Mt. Katahdin (ME). I try to share my experience on the climb as well as tips around gear, training, and – most importantly – mindset.

 A special shout out to The Clymb, where I was able to pick up most of my gear at amazing prices. I got some really high end stuff, and am glad I had it. If you’re not a member, join today (for free)!

I climbed with a group of coworkers, some I knew, and I some I knew of. This was really the most crucial ingredient – while what you pack matters a lot, the pack you’re with matters much more. These were all great people who really wanted to this event. There was no one there who was forced to do it, and no one who wasn’t taking it seriously. They are also all very nice (and funny) people, so if nothing else, pick your co-climbers wisely. When the going gets tough, you want good people around you.

We had a mix of experienced (e.g. two have climbed Kilimanjaro more than once) and inexperienced (most of us!) climbers, with folks coming in from all over the US (though not everyone was American). It was a good, mixed group.

We all met at the Stowehof Inn in the Stowe, VT area Thursday night, then took our caravan to a lot at the base of Mt. Mansfield Friday morning.  We hit the mountain around 9am, and were back to our cars around 1 or so. I don’t recommend the Stowehof Inn. It’s not cheap, and also not in great shape. The staff is really nice, but the place isn’t. The grounds are gorgeous, though.

The climb
Mt. Mansfield was supposed to be our easy / warm up mountain. It was in the sense that it wasn’t as steep as Washington, and wasn’t as technically challenging as Mansfield, nor was it anywhere near as long a hike as the other two (about half as long), but it had its own challenges – namely, the weather. It predicted to be our coldest day, though we were supposed to be in for rain the whole time. What we weren’t expecting was 60 mile per hour gusts above the tree line, or sleet.  In June. I actually got blown over twice. My face was so numb that the jerky I put in my mouth at the summit for some energy was too much work for my cold cheek muscles to deal with.

That said, the hike up through the forest section was great. It was a beautiful setting with water running through the path due to the rain. We crossed a stream, but you almost wouldn’t know it since we were basically always in water.  Really, though, it was gorgeous.

At the summit in the wind, sleet and cold

It was a real workout without being anything too tricky. It was raining, but not pouring. The temperature was cool enough to keep you from overheating, but not so cold that you might get in trouble.  That was the case for probably 70% of the climb, while the peak area was exposed, wetter and much colder temp-wise and thanks to the strong winds. It’s also home to some interesting rocks that are really tough to come down when wet. I barely made it down one rock face and caught my footing when another hiker’s feet slipped out from under him, sending him crashing against the rock, and sliding down toward me.  I was able to brace myself and stop his slide.  That was a good thing, or he’d have slid off another 20 or so feet.  Luckily, there were only a hand full of those rocks, and we quickly found ourselves back in the safety and comfort – relatively speaking – of the forest.

I actually ended up running down the last mile or so, which was fantastic. My virgin legs were a bit quivery (yes, I fell twice – once while trying to eat another piece of jerky while walking down a slope, and other time when jumping through a stream we had to cross, though I landed in a bed of moss and was actually really happy to have fallen given how great the water and moss felt), so using my muscles differently actually felt really good and a bit easier.  That was my favorite part of the hike, and a great note to end on.

What did I learn?
I learned some basics about hubris (like don’t eat jerky while walking down a slope), that good boots are worth every penny (I really lucked out with my close-out North Face boots that were both a good deal and a fantastic set of boots that stayed dry inside despite the rain and stuck to every surface I put them on, regardless of how much water was rushing over it).  I also learned that Gore-Tex gloves are crucial. I had two pairs of gloves with me, which was great given the cold (40s Fahrenheit) and wet weather. Unfortunately, neither was waterproof, so they made things worse. My hands hurt terribly, and really swelled up.  Of everything I wish I had, good, waterproof gloves were at the top of the list. I stopped at a ski and mountain bike shop in the Stowe area on my way to Mt. Washington and bought two pairs of Gore-Tex gloves (gotta love the off-season sales!).

So, what did I have?  A rain shell, quick-dry hiking pants that can convert to shorts, a hydration back pack (clean the bladder really well – mine tasted horrible, and made my stomach hurt), a baseball hat and a running hat, several changes of shirts of different warmths, and some snacks.  You don’t need a lot of food, but do have some things you can fuel yourself with that won’t get soggy.  Sandwiches aren’t a good idea.  Jerky and nuts are. Some folks brought M&Ms (I got some peanut ones for Katahdin) or a dark chocolate and nut bar.  I also had a couple of newbodi.es slow carb bars, which really worked out nicely with the mix of proteins, chia seeds and coffee beans.

I also packed all of my changes of clothes into gallon Ziplock bags, and threw in a couple of extra bags for wet/dirty stuff I would take off.  Honestly, grabbing those before I left for the trip was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever done in my life. No joke. OK, slightly exaggerated, but no joke.

Another thing I learned is about the pack I used. I had a 5.3 litre hydration back pack with a 1.5 litre water bladder. Others in the group tended to have larger bags, many of which looked fairly empty. That means wasted weight. I think a 6L pack would have been perfect as I had to squeeze things really tight, and act as a human vacuum sealer to get my stuff smaller.  Another 10% or so would have just lessened the aggravation.  What I did learn is that I drank less than I thought I would, and probably less than I should have, though I was fine.  That meant I could fill my bladder much less than I did, which makes it easier to stuff more clothes and gear into the main compartment.  I did that on the following days, but still had at least twice as much water as I needed.  If the water wasn’t making me sick, maybe I would have drank more.  Others in my group consistently ran out of water along the way.

I also had my prior learnings around compression gear reinforced. Since I didn’t train with hiking (I basically just have been running and doing other cross-training), my legs were getting pretty tired.  I had long compression pants and a long sleeve compression shirt on under my other clothes, and I could tell that they were helping.  When I got back to my car, I put on compression socks for our 2.5 hour drive to Washington, and knew I had made a good decision.  With back to back climbs, you need to use every tool at your disposal to aid recovery and keep yourself going. I’ve found compression to work wonders, and this climb only reinforced it to me.  I did compression-free on top for Katahdin, and I noticed the difference in how my muscles responded when they got cold. They were as cold on Mansfield, but didn’t seize up or slow down, and it wasn’t about freshness/fatigue.

Back to the base
In the end, Mt. Mansfield was too short to have any deep learnings about myself, the power of my mind or anything like that. Instead, I learned some lessons in logistics for the next day, and got a good sense that I’m in good enough shape and well enough trained for this event.

One down, two to go.

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About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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