Amanda Cossey teaches you how to fuel for multipitching by remembering a time when she got it all wrong
WORDS: Amanda Cossey, IMAGE: Tom O’Halloran
I have always loved mulitpitch trad climbing. The scary bits, the suffering, planning the rack to take, food and drink rations, timing of pitches and the approach to the route are all awesome. Echo Crack (163m, four pitch, grade 25, trad classic in the Blue Mountains) had for a long time been high on my list of routes to do. So, although I was not back to peak climbing shape (courtesy of the demands of a one-and-a-half year old daughter, Audrey) and I hadn’t trad climbed for two-and-a-half years, I jumped at the chance for Tom and I to head out and bag a quick New Year’s Eve ascent.
Our plan was to be quick, carrying as little as possible. And that’s where our planning stopped.
Audrey was chatty as ever, interrupting our all-too-brief pre-route discussion that morning, so we were a bit fuzzy on the details, who had packed what and how much food and water we had. We threw a quick rack together and carried most of our gear on our harnesses which were thrown over our shoulders, with just ‘the essentials’ in our smallest daypack. Thongs were our compact (and as it turned out, brave) approach shoe of choice for the run down the stairs and up to the base of the route. There is an unbelievable amount of rubbish and glass at the base due to the lookout above it, making thongs a bit treacherous. We made it to the base in 20 minutes, keen to get on the wall. Before we pulled on, we had a quick sip of water only to realise that our entire ration for the whole climb, for both of us, was 500ml. Whoops. Wasn’t it me who wrote about the importance of hydration a few VL issues ago?
Water is vital for every metabolic process in your body. It takes nutrients to your cells and transports waste away from them, allows muscle contractions, helps regulate body temperature and maintain our blood volume. Climbing Echo Crack in the middle of summer was definitely going to take some sweat and therefore would result in loss of fluid. The potential for dehydration was high. We estimated it would take us an hour per pitch and added on an extra hour to get to and from the car. A combination of over-excitement, first time parents distraction and miscommunication meant that we missed our fueling and hydration planning, leaving us with 50ml/hr of water each and no snacks. Double whoops. Retreat was never an option, we were going to have to climb very, very fast and it would be thirsty work.
The first two pitches were quick and not too tricky or demanding. We got to the start of the crux pitch a couple of hours after we had left the car and three-and-a-half hours post breakfast. Tom was starting to get hangry. And we started to feel a bit thirsty. Our psych and faith in our ability to get to the top however, remained high and we pulled on to the crux pitch, running on the fumes of breakfast. The climbing was completely awesome and extremely physical. Technical, puzzle like sequences, tricky, slippery, hand, finger and foot jams, super body position dependent slink moves and powerful laybacking had me puffing and power screaming to convince my unfueled and under-watered body to keep doing moves. I hit the belay feeling completely psyched but quite dizzy and utterly parched. We sipped another 50ml of water each and fantasised about drinking buckets of the stuff, rivers of sports drink and oceans of milkshakes.
Climbing essentially takes short anaerobic efforts, a bit like doing intervals. Fueling and hydrating for these efforts is crucial if you want to maintain the high level of physical exertion and mental clarity needed to complete a route. When dehydrated you start to feel you have to try even harder than normal (your perceived exertion increases), you will feel more fatigued (or pumped) than you should, your heart rate increases and you will feel hotter (as your body’s ability to regulate heat is impaired). Your concentration starts to slip and you find your feet popping off footholds and your fingers fumble for what should be jugs. Combine these effects with the lack of snacks and the last grade-22 pitch was looking a little harder than it should have. Lack of refueling on the route meant we were burning through our carbohydrate (glycogen) stores. These stores fuel approximately two hours of moderate- to high-intensity exercise. After that, our stored carbohydrates are used up (glycogen depletion) and if we haven’t been replacing this fuel by eating and drinking we can hit the wall or as it is known more illustratively, we can ‘bonk.’
So in a mildly dehydrated, wall-hit, bonk-like state, the last pitch was a fun, very much more epic than it should have been, struggle. My movements were sluggish, my feet clunked centimeters away from the footholds they were aimed at and I assumed the zombie climbing state. Executing tricky slabby moves, pulling lips and traversing 150m off the ground, in zombie mode took a mammoth effort of glazed-eye concentration. But the Echo Point kiosk was calling so we pushed on. We topped out as fast as we could and desperate for a drink stumbled through the tourists only stopping once, a tantalising 10m from the Echo Point bar, to politely pose for a photo with some Indian tourists, who were very excited to see real life rock climbers.
Our Echo Crack fueling and hydration plan was lacking and we were very lucky the route was relatively short and well within our climbing abilities or we would have been rapping off and crawling back up the stairs. Luckily, we topped out, just a ‘little’ less comfortably than we could have.
The thing about communities is that they share knowledge and experiences. And in that spirit we bonked so you don’t have to. All you have to do is follow these principles and you can avoid the bonk:
- Be realistic, take your route seriously and understand the conditions. PLAN for the weather, route length, difficulty of climbing and estimated time on the wall.
- Budget for 300-500ml of water, per person per hour of climbing.
- Aim for 30-60g of carbohydrate per person per hour (read your food labels and use an app such as Calorie King to work out what you’re eating).
- Some light and portable snacks good for multi-pitching include;
- Dried fruit & nuts
- Peanut butter, honey or vegemite sandwiches
- Muesli bars or nut bars
- Sports drinks
- Sports bars or gels
- Muffins or brownies
Amanda is sponsored by Black Diamond, Evolv and Beal, you can find more about here at www.nutritioncollective.com.au