During the last few weeks since my last post, I have kept busy trying to keep busy. Like a ship that slipped its moor, I drifted away from a safe harbor back out into open waters.

My failure to reach my goal of climbing Mount Rainier was a significant personal setback. Weeks after the trip, I was still sore that I was unable to test my physical conditioning and measure the effectiveness of my training program. In conversations with a few of the guides and others, I realized that I was incorrectly framing the problem. My goal of climbing the Mountain was nearly impossible to reach in winter as the guides told us on the first day. By reframing, I recognized how much I learned during the trip. I enjoyed the winter environment and gained an introduction to more mountaineering techniques. Just as jumping in a crevasse didn’t make me an expert on crevasse rescue, participating in the winter seminar didn’t make me an expert on Rainier or winter expeditions. My experience on the Mountain was a deposit on a long-term investment.

The lessons to be learned from the trip were many.

  1. Would I participate in another program with RMI?
  2. Would I recommend the seminar to others?
  3. Would I make another trip with the Männer?
  4. Do I still want to climb Denali next year?

As I pondered my answers to the questions, I asked myself what step to take next. I scoured the websites of RMI’s competitors, I contacted a guide from a previous trip, and I researched other options. Could I afford another trip this year? What kind of trip would be the next logical progression? What kind of trip would achieve a significant return on my current investment (ROI)? While deliberating, I almost registered for expedition training on Großglockner, Austria’s highest peak. The expense and logistics were prohibitive so I decided to wait.

A frightening lull ensued. Unlike two participants in the winter seminar, I couldn’t afford a trip to Denali this year. I have to wait until next year.

Counting backwards, I reviewed my training plan for Rainier. Despite a few minor lapses, I successfully completed the plan. The New Alpinism prepared me well and gave me an excellent baseline.

I started to create a new plan for next year. I discovered that it was way too early to start a transition. I was uncertain what to do in the meantime.

I returned to the gym and started powerlifting. My gym buddies teased me saying the cardio machines missed my daily attention. After completing a three week progression, I was back to lifting my body weight. This excellent start to my off season should have inspired me. Instead, my motivation was low. Weight training is routine maintenance for me. I sought a new challenge. I wanted something to sustain my activity level while learning complementary skills.

While researching different options, I saw that a plethora of new climbing gyms in Berlin that had opened during the last ten years. Completion had lowered the cost of training, which previously turned me away. I also learned that I could use the local outdoor climbing wall in my neighborhood for a nominal fee. Furthermore, my local section of the DAV hosts climbs in the famous sandstone crags of Saxony.

As I reviewed the different options, I recognized the need for a course correction. Borrowing from the lean startup methodology as pioneered by Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, and Alexander Osterwalder, I considered a pivot, a change of strategy that makes it possible to test a new hypothesis about a product, business model, or growth target. In my case, I decided to apply an approach that I use in my professional work to my mountaineering hobby. Was I making enough progress to maintain my current trajectory for Denali or did I need to try something different? The exercise helped me determine why I perceived the Rainier trip as a failure.

On one hand, the trip didn’t give me a way to measure the effectiveness of my previous training plan. I was confronted with learning new techniques instead of assessing current abilities. The seminar flipped the build-measure-learn concept of The Learn Startup on its head. I was asked to learn when I really wanted to measure. The different techniques the RMI guides taught invalidated the product I had built.


On the other hand, the lean startup technique of validated learning made me aware that I was perusing vanity metrics. Summitting Rainier would have been a great achievement, but that kind of success was dependent on factors like weather or team composition that were beyond my control. The real test was to measure my performance against my own benchmark. Although I captured some data during my trip, I didn’t have enough data to make any reasonable conclusions. My analysis: I need more experience and further data.

Two months after Rainier, four months before my next transition phase, and a year before my next major climb, I’ve decided to pivot and preserve. Learning how to climb at a local gym will help me practice skills that I can use on Denali as well as keep me fit during my mountaineering off season. If I enjoy climbing and if my injury prone shoulders stay fit, new opportunities may arise. For example, I could consider taking a different route on Denali rather than the popular West Buttress route.

As I proved two years ago when I returned to mountaineering, I have time to conduct a number of experiments this summer. Before my next training plan starts, I can learn while doing. The iterative process will help me stay in shape, and it will give me valuable feedback to help me better preparation for my next expedition. At the end of each iteration, I can decide to adjust or abandon my strategy. This will reduce uncertainty I may have about tackling my goal of climbing Denali.


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