Training for Denali – Tilling New Ground

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The wind snatches at the hood of my jacket. Every step sends burns of electricity up my quads and into my lower back, shocking me to the very core. We’ve been pushing continuously for over tens hours. I remind myself that everything’s going to be alright, even though I can’t remember the last time I felt the tips of my toes or fingers. My mind wanders, “Are people even meant to walk these portions of the Earth?” Surmounting the corniced ridge, I peer beyond at the next hundred feet. The terrain rises, then drops drastically. Could it be? The result of endless months of toil and cultivation? I stumble the final few steps to greet the immense summit with open arms. Alas… Consciousness rushes in as I open my eyes for the first time. Gasping for air, I sit upright in bed. Sweat beads down my forehead, stinging the corners of my eyes. Squinting out of the blinds, the lowlands and pine thickets of south Georgia separate from the early morning fog. Copious amounts of fresh oxygen fill my lungs, instantly reminding me of the recent fantasy I experienced. The calendar on the back of my door reads October 23, only 7 more months. Time to begin another day of training.

The better part of my life has revolved around pushing myself in the realm of physical fitness. Birthed into a family where regular dinner-table discussions revolved around the many fields of medicine, from radiology and cardiology to disease and treatment. Grammar school days, participating in a multitude of sports. College years, finding peace and relief through grueling, late nights in the gym. Two years of personal training and managing a small gym in Atlanta. And onto a more recent experience in physical therapy, and the world of specialized exercises for ailments. I now
realize, all of this exposure has been laying a ground work, built on an understanding and proficiency regarding discipline and the knowledge to improve the human body. As I near the age of 27, these tools seem vital now, more than ever. I will soon face one of the largest objectives of my life.

Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, stands some 20,320 feet, clinching the title as the tallest mountain in North America. From the Kahiltna glacier at it’s base, a route known as the West Buttress ascends some 12,700 feet in 18 miles to it’s breathtaking summit. Each year, less than fifty percent of climbers reach Denali’s crest. Inclement weather, altitude sickness, frostbite, fatigue and lack of proper training are culprits in keeping participants from fulfilling their dreams. Denali demands the physical capacity of an ox, mental fortitude of a monk and acclimatization of 747. There are no hired hands, hot showers, snowmobiles, soft beds or sherpas to help you along the way. Just your gear, a pack, the training you’ve completed in preparation to confide in, and one badass mountain. Each climber carries over 100 pounds of gear, clothing and food, split between a backpack and pull sled, to live off of for 3 weeks. So how does one prepare for such a feat?

As I write this, we’re approaching the first week of November and I’m in my official 9th week of logged training. Since Casey’s accident [additional blog post to follow, re-telling the story of our Mt Hood rescue] and my return to the Southeast in July, I’ve supplemented my loss of the mountains for lengthy training days in the gym along with running and cycling. Still keeping the ‘weekend warrior’ alive inside of me with continuous trips to the sandstone cliffs of Alabama and Tennessee, and the big granite domes of North Carolina. In early September, I decided it was time to get a jump start on the recommended 6-month training for Denali and set a regiment for myself. After researching the day to day tasks of climbing the West Buttress, I concentrated on five specific areas; aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility, stamina and recreation.This formed a weekly schedule that included:

2 Strength Training Days
2-3 Running Days
2 Cycling Days
1 Yoga Day
2-3 Recreation Days


September diet


October diet

Aerobic training is my fundamental focus thus far, which is very atypical of my life. I have put off performance cardio exercising, specifically running, in the past for simply being ‘active’, whatever that may have meant at the time; climbing, hiking, biking, surfing and so on. That time has come and gone, road and trail running has become as routine as brushing my teeth in the morning. Along with these, I’ve picked up a new past time, road cycling. Having several years of mountain biking experience, I decided to take up road cycling while separated from the mountains. So far, this has been the most rewarding of my cardio exercises, and the most painful at times, which perfectly explains why I keep coming back to it. Striving for a faster pace each time, working through a slight knee injury and reaching deep for those last few miles on long distance rides has taught me so much about myself and my potential in these first two months. Beyond the few mentioned, I row, ride the stationary bike and run one day a week in the gym before my workouts. I try to keep what I refer to as a ‘conversational pace’ when biking and rowing. What I mean, is I keep my cardio at an extended [30 minutes or longer] aerobic level while still being able to carry on a conversation with someone. This is crucial for lasting long periods of time exerting energy climbing Denali without crashing or pushing yourself to the brink. At the moment, my weekly cardio consists of (estimated average distances/time):

Road Cycling: 1 day – 60 miles – 4:15 hours
Road Running: 2 days – 4/5 miles – 45 mins
Trail Running: 1 day – 4 miles – 30 mins
Rowing: 1 day – 2000m – 8 mins
Stationary Bike: 1 day – 9 miles hill intervals – 30 mins
Treadmill: 1 day – 3 miles running/steep hiking – 40 mins

The only thing that could keep me from getting out of basecamp besides bad cardio is a lack of strength. After returning to the Southeast, I quickly devised a program for the muscle groups I use while climbing, in order to retain my strength away from the rock. Unfortunately, I am now beyond a plan comprised of five varieties of pullups and ‘gaston cable pulls’ and into the dominion of squats and deadlifts, interspersed with abdominal workouts. I’ve limited strength training to two days a week for the first two months to contribute to time management and avoid over exerting myself. On Day 1, I combine the stationary bike with rowing, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps and core. Then, Day 2 comes in with running, steep hiking on the treadmill, chest, legs and core. In an attempt to avoid looking like a Gold’s Gym poster boy and stay lean and trim, I keep each exercise to 3 sets of 10 repetitions with the same weight; lifting with muscle building in mind instead of mass gains. As a proponent of muscle groups separately in order to keep body parts even, I use dumbbells and attempt to isolate each leg or arm on every exercise. A core belief of mine stems that truly intensifies workouts and I believe I will see great gains from, is formulating a list of core and leg exercises to ‘super-set’ with the my normal routine. For example, each time I finish a set on the leg press, I follow it up with an abdominal workout, instead of resting. This keeps my cardio at a higher rate and contributes to the resistance of the workout. My weekly strength training involves:

Bike/Arms/Back: 1 day – 2:30 hours
Running/Legs: 1 day – 2:30 hours

September arms

September legs

October arms

October legs

However general to training for Denali, stamina and endurance earns an honorable mention in the list of primary focuses. Through my inquiries and research, it is imperative to be able to recover from long days, exerting energy and hauling loads, in an 8 to 12 hour rest period. This means day after day of demanding workouts and punishment, but still being able to perform at a consistent level. There are many goals I will be setting for myself to become as fit as possible for the ‘long haul’ but for now, I am focused on three things. One, a maximum of two rest days per week. Two, beginning each strength workout with cardio and ‘super-setting’ as many exercises as possible. Three, maintaining work in outdoor retail where I am on my feet 30+ hours a week helping customers and operating day-to-day functions. All of these contribute to my body’s adaptation to recover quickly and accommodate an active lifestyle.

There are many training programs from guide services and climbers for high altitude mountaineering. After studying several of them, I revealed, what I believe to be a common flaw, at least in regards to what I personally need; a focus on flexibility. When expectations call for pushing your body to it’s maximum potential for three weeks straight, wearing on muscles, joints and every fiber of your being, a twisted ankle, aching back or stretched calf muscle could easily be the difference between pushing on or returning to Talkeetna. Beyond the mountain, I believe it’s critical to care for your body during training by listening to it, stretching and taking periods of rest when needed. I’ve actively practiced yoga for five years now. It has allowed me to work through a surgery in 2009 on my right ankle where I was left with the addition of a plate and 13 screws. Now, I find further relief in the general health of my joints and my own mental tranquility. I plan to uphold my weekly schedule of yoga, a minimum of once a week and incorporate more as training amplifies.

Hot Yoga: 1 day – 1 hour

Last but definitely not least, is the necessity of recreational activities. What is all of this training, if you’re not having fun. No matter how fanatical all of this may sound, I keep try to keep things light and enjoyable. Singing aloud to Pandora’s Odesza’s radio on my last set in the gym, hitting corners like the Tour de France on my road bike or interspersing dance moves into the final miles of my run. ‘Work hard. Play harder.’ is a conviction, most of my friends can testify my lifestyle towards. Whether it be a long hike through the woods, a weekend of vertical mileage rock climbing, music festival with friends or day at the beach, I love movement in the great outdoors. I believe one of the more toxic things in all of this training is stagnation. How can someone live up to the long hours of mountaineering, drudging it out on steep slopes of ice and snow if they cannot commit to a diligent way of life at lower altitudes? At the moment my steady pastimes include:

Rock Climbing: 2 weekends a month
Gym Climbing: 2 days – 2 hours

My intention for writing this post, moreover this series, is to further explain my training at the moment, however introductory it may be for the goal, in an effort to influence others and their own summit dreams. Besides the “you can never start too early”, my motive for beginning before the suggested 6 month training period is to discover my current abilities and set a base for myself. In all areas of life, a solid foundation is quintessential to perseverance. Without it, one cannot conceive progress. A plant will never grow without plowing the soil first and ensuring the land is suitable to yield. There’s no doubting the first two months have been
tough, not as much from a labor perspective but from that of scheduling, time management and accountability. The addition of a training and diet log helped out tremendously. Nevertheless, I’m always open to a partner or trainer to keep me pledged to the next stages as everything amps up. So if they’re any other ‘flatlanders’ out there with big dreams in the mountains, you know where to reach me. Until the next installment of the ‘Growth’ series, keep reaching for more and doing what you love!

Joseph Hobby 10/30/15

Brave Explorations. Soulful Discoveries.


“Special thanks to GORE and their phenomenal Running Wear line! The Magnitude 2.0 Zip shirt is one of my ‘go-to’ pieces, whether cold, rainy or hot outside, this layer covers it all. You can find this product and more at

“Also a huge amount of gratitude to Caleb Courson and his talent behind the lens”


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