Mountaineering in the Heat

UV Rays are reflected by the snow onto the climber

UV radiation reflects off snow surfaces easily. Maria Faires climbing Mt. Adams.

If temperatures are high when mountain climbing, hyperthermia can be an issue.

The body tries to balance heat gain and heat loss to regulate internal core temp. When the body’s ability to lose heat diminishes heat exhaustion or heatstroke can occur. Here are some tips to help you stay comfortable and avoid hyperthermia while climbing.

You will be in direct exposure to the hot sun and have reflective UV rays bouncing back to you from the snow surface.

UVA radiation is linked to skin aging and has some role in generating skin cancer.

UVB radiation can  also cause skin cancer, cataract and snow blindness.

The sun is much harsher at high altitude due to thinner atmosphere (which is our first defense against UV rays) and the rays bounce off snow.

Defend against the sun’s damage by wearing sunscreen. Apply every hour and a half. Everywhere! Sun rays can bounce of the snowy reflective surface and burn the inside of nostrils or ears and even up shorts. Use a mineral or a sunscreen that has a high percentage of zinc. Zinc acts as a physical barrier between the skin and the sun rays.

I also recommend zinc oxide used alone at high concentrations or combined with octinoxate (a chemical sunscreen ingredient that works very uniquely with the zinc) for the best broad spectrum sun protection. Both products I have linked to here are recommended by Beautypedia.

Cover up exposed skin. Wear a sunhat, sun shirt, white bandana on your head, a nose shield.

Control your layering to stay as cool as possible. Do not allow yourself to get too warm in the first place. You should always start of your climb or hike comfortably cool. Ask your guide for advice on what to wear on the upper mountain, particular what to wear on your lower body since changing pants on the upper mountain is almost impossible. If you mismanage your clothing choices and have too many layers you will get too hot and sweat.

On the way up to base camp, if it is over 45 degrees, wear shorts and layer the clothes on your upper body. Do not wear shorts if you are climbing somewhere that there is a real risk of falling since shorts won’t protect your skin. Remember to reapply sunscreen on your legs and up your shorts every 90 minutes.

Wear light colored, loose, wicking clothing which is better than heat absorbing dark fabric or fabric that isn’t breathable.

Hydrate well the week before you go on your climb and hydrate optimally during your climb. Follow the guidelines and avoid OVER hydrating. 3 liters for most women and 4 for most men per day is a general safe recommendation.

Evaporative cooling is effective so put some water or snow on your head or soak your hat in it. As the liquid evaporates it will help cool you down.

Replace lost salts by taking some salty snacks – salted nuts, Cheetos, pretzels, crackers. I do not recommend electrolyte replacements for mountaineers. Hikers may benefit because of heavy sweat loss. On the upper mountain heavy sweat loss isn’t as much of an issue. Most “pro” mountaineers do not use an electrolyte but choose a carbohydrate fuel instead. Do what works best for you though. And practice hydration, eating and electrolytes (if using) before your big climb to see how they make you feel.

Don’t push yourself (or other party members) too hard in hot weather.  Take regular breaks, drink regularly, and monitor other members of the group for signs of hyperthermia:

  • Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid pulse
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Headache
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Low Back Pain When Hiking, Backpacking and Trekking

Low back pain is a common issue amongst hikers, backpackers and trekkers.

Long days sitting at the computer with shoulders rounded forward combined with recreational weekend outings with heavy backpacks and long hours on your feet can lead to uncomfortable pack pain.

If you have recurring back pain, it is best to address back pain symptoms with a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist.

And in addition there are a number of things that just about everyone can do to help their pain.

Improve your posture

Poor posture can lead to changes in your spine, pressure on muscles, discs and joints as well as nerve damage that contributes to pain. When you practice optimal posture techniques during the day you are less likely to experience the damage that contributes to pain and more likely to hike with good posture. Here are some exercises you can do to help strengthen the deep neck flexor muscles.

Use trekking poles

Research has shown that using poles can help alleviate pain when walking. “Pole use increases balance and stability, distributes weight through the arms and torso, and decreases loading of the spine and lower limbs.” And, “Trekking poles decrease lower extremity loading and forces.”

If you aren’t sure how to use trekking poles properly, here is some great advice from REI.

If you regularly experience back pain, important features to look for are shock-absorbing poles and foam or cork grip with extended sections of foam that go 4-5 inches down the shaft from the grip so you can easily move your hands to adjust for various terrain.

Wear the right backpack

It is worth taking the time to get fitted to get a back pack that is the perfect for you.
It is imperative that you get one that has a chest strap and a hip belt. The hip belt should ride snuggly around your hips to cover the front of your hips. This takes the weight of the pack off shoulders and spine and transfers it to the hips so that the big muscle groups of the lower body can carry the weight.

Build your core strength

Your core is a complex of muscles that include the muscles in your back, spine, abdomen, glutes and hips. These muscles act to stabilize your spine providing a firm foundation for all the activities you do. When you hike, run, walk, jump, bend over, and turn, these muscles work together. They transfer force through your body and if strong and well trained, help prevent you from having back, hip, knee and even neck pain.
Strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight

Sometimes there is a muscle imbalance in the core and this can lead to pain. It is common to see the hip flexors being very tight and the glutes and other core muscles being weak from sitting for many hours of the day. This combination could result in an anterior pelvic tilt which can cause lower back pain as well as knee and hip problems.

When I work with clients, I perform functional movement assessments to identify these imbalances and correct them with stability and strengthening exercise, stretching and myofascial release.

I recommend devoting time every single day to working on your core to ensure the right muscles are activated as you head up a trail.

Here are some exercises you can do to improve your glutes and core.


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Oat, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Energy Balls

Oats, peanut butter, flaxseed meal, protein powder, honey and chocolate chips.

Makes 11 energy balls

My goal in creating these delicious morsels, was to include mostly nutritious food with a little chocolate to make them tempting.

Being that they are calorically dense, these little bites provide compact calories, carbs and a little protein to fuel the long-distance hiker or runner, backpacker, snowshoer, cross-country skier or mountain climber. Eat two of these an hour for the recommended amount of carbohydrate.

Oats contain the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which helps slow digestion, increase satiety, and suppress appetite. Beta glucan is linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health.

Oats also contain polyphenols that act as antioxidants to reduce the damaging effects of chronic inflammation that is associated with various diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes

Flaxseed contains the polyphenol lignan which has several properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antitumor activities.

½ cup old fashion rolled oats

3 Tbsp flaxseed meal

¼ cup chocolate chips, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp chocolate protein powder

¼ cup crunchy or creamy peanut butter

3 Tbsp honey

Mix the oats, flaxseed meal, chocolate chips and chocolate protein powder together in a medium sized bowl.

In another medium sized bowl, mix the peanut butter and honey together.

Pour the oats mixture into the peanut butter and honey mixture and mix well to combine.

Wash and dry your hands.

Using a 1 Tbsp measure, scoop out a level 1 Tbsp of the mixture and with your clean hands roll into a ball. These will keep well covered and stored in the refrigerator for a week or wrap well and freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition Facts
Servings 11.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 119
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5 g 8 %
Saturated Fat 2 g 8 %
Monounsaturated Fat 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 3 mg 1 %
Sodium 28 mg 1 %
Potassium 18 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 15 g 5 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 8 %
Sugars 8 g
Protein 4 g 8 %
Vitamin A 0 %
Vitamin C 0 %
Calcium 1 %
Iron 3 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.
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