Photo: Gary on the summit of the Grand Teton 13,775 feet, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Photo credit: Gary Christensen collection.

Sweat rolls down our foreheads and into our eyes. The steep, rocky trail offers no relief from the mid-day sun; not a breath of wind, 92 degrees and humid. Reaching the top of the 200 foot climb, I turn to Gary. He sees the question in my eyes and without hesitation says, “Let’s do it. I got one more in me.” I smile, wipe the sweat from my eyes with my handkerchief. We drink some water, and head back down for another circuit.

Gary is my personal training client at Inner Circle Fitness, the studio where I work in Long Lake, Minnesota. His goal was to climb the Grand Teton in Wyoming.   In his mid-50s, Gary is reasonably fit, healthy, leads an active life, but has no experience rock climbing or summiting a peak like the Grand. For two months we worked on rehabbing an old shoulder injury to prepare for the rigors of rock climbing.  We trained to improve his cardiovascular fitness with interval training and his strength with resistance training. Most importantly, we worked on endurance where progressive workouts became more rigorous as his fitness improved. On July 15th, I received a text from Gary: no words, just a picture of him on the 13,775 foot summit of the Grand Teton.

At an altitude of 13,775 feet, the Grand Teton is a serious climb. There are no easy routes. Rising 7500 feet above the valley of Jackson Hole, it’s accessed by an arduous six mile, 6000 vertical foot approach hike. Gary’s route to the summit has 500 feet of roped rock climbing above 1000 foot cliffs. I’ve been there. Beginning with my first ascent at age 15 with my dad in 1969, I have climbed the Grand seventeen times by eight different routes. Most recently, I climbed it with my son in 2019.

Photo: Gary climbing toward the summit of the Grand with a 1000 foot drop below. Credit: Gary Christensen collection.

As a personal trainer and adventure athlete, I know what it takes to train for big objectives. Whether your adventure is ice climbing a frozen waterfall, scuba diving in the Celebes Sea, thru-hiking the Escalante desert, a week of backcountry skiing in the Rockies, or kayaking the Salmon River your objective is the same: have the experience of a lifetime and come home safe. To do that, you need to be healthy and fit. Many adventures by nature are physically and mentally challenging. Being prepared for the challenge gives you the confidence and margin of safety enjoy your trip. 

I create custom programming with the client’s ability and objective in mind. My training programs follow a similar progression. First, assess my client’s overall fitness. I test for strength, mobility, flexibility and endurance. I check for muscle imbalances and compromised joints. Based on this assessment, we start with a base building program: strength training to adapt the muscle to increased loads; and address any muscle imbalance and compromised joint issues.  The next phase is to add intensity to the training by increasing resistance, duration, tempo and limiting rest between exercises.  Over the course of the program we talk about nutrition and healthy lifestyle.

The final phase of training is adding sport specific training. This is what Gary and I were doing at Hyland Hills ski area. Over the course of the final month before he left for Wyoming, we worked up to five mile, 1500 vertical foot hikes with a thirty pound pack. We did this once a week spending another day building strength and a third doing high intensity interval training to improve endurance and his ability to burn fat as fuel. Each client, all sports, every adventure has its own unique specific training phase.   

Photo: Gary training at Hyland Hills on a hot June day.

Over the years, I have helped my clients (from ages 50 to 75) train for variety of adventures: multi-day hiking trips, rafting trips, cycling across the United States, their first triathlons, ultra-endurance races, and mountaineering. I have had the privilege of being part of their journey and contributing to their success. It is not just about the particular trip or adventure. It is also about building a healthy lifestyle so you can continue to do the things you love to do.

Gary was back in the gym this week. He was thrilled about his climb. “It was bigger, harder and longer than I expected.” He said with that excited look I know so well. He had a great time and he came back safe. He is ready for more. Gary has an alpine ski trip planned for Jackson Hole in January and a helicopter supported, Canadian backcountry ski trip in March. We are training for the next adventure.

It’s about the journey, not the destination. Most of my adventures are successful, but some are not. Even that success is fleeting. That is why I love the training, planning and preparation that goes with each new adventure. Training and the adventure are opportunities for self-discovery, mental, spiritual and physical growth. If I can help you prepare for your next adventure please contact me at http://steve, Younger every year.

Photo: Parting shot of the Grand Teton rising above the valley of Jackson Hole.

Leave a Reply