North to Alaska: Training to Summit in the Last Frontier

A new rope team sets out to test their limits and unleash their potential in the far north

by John Toth, No Barriers Warriors Director


There’s an old saying in the military: “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.” It speaks to the concept that time and effort spent in hard preparation will reap dividends when things get tough. As many of our past participants of Warriors to Summits already know, dedicated, realistic, and thorough training before heading to the backcountry can pay off when the trail turns upward, boulders get bigger, or a crevasse opens up at your feet.

For 2017, we’ve put together an expedition plan that includes two increasingly difficult training trips and culminates in one epic expedition in Denali National Park and Preserve — where the team will attempt to summit Mount Brooks. Using the “crawl, walk, run” methodology of teaching progressively harder and more technical skills, the team will work their way toward the summit of Mount Brooks, getting used to the altitude and the rigor of backcountry life.

2017 Expedition Destinations

Expedition Training #1: Colorado

In June, No Barriers brought our team to Colorado to train on the slopes of Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains. With many of the participants coming from sea level, adjusting to a 5,000 to 10,000 foot change in elevation was the first challenge. Acclimatization is a process that takes time, and is not necessarily something they could prepare for in advance.

As the team settled in the shadow of the mountain, they learned some the basics of the backcountry — Whisperlite cooking, establishing camp, and leaving no trace in the wilderness.

Higher up, in the permanent snowfield of the West Face couloir, the team learned the basics of glacier traverse, proper use of the ice axe, individual and team movement, and, in the event of a slip or fall, self- and team-arrest. After technical skills training, the team, pushed beyond their perceived physical and mental limits, went one step further and headed towards the summit.

Expedition Training #2: Wyoming

The Wind River Range of Wyoming was our next training ground. Packs were heavier, distances longer, and the barriers more formidable as the team started to condition their bodies for the journey ahead.

An incredibly beautiful and inspiring part of our American wilderness, ‘the Winds’ are exceptionally rugged and challenging, offering miles of boulder fields, rushing rivers, and prime opportunities for technical training. All these factors, plus swarms of ravenous mosquitoes, combined to push the team to solidify a foundation of training while preparing for what’s to come in September.

The Journey Continues in September with Expedition: Alaska

For our culminating experience this year, we have chosen to climb Mount Brooks in Denali National Park and Preserve. The lure of the far north called to us as we planned our 2017 season, wanting to offer more exciting and daunting challenges to our participants. Mount Brooks, a deceptively hard, technical peak, with miles upon miles of boulder fields to cross, significant glacier fields to traverse, and an uncompromising environment, certainly offers that.

It will take a strong team to overcome the wilds of Alaska. Their experience with the altitude in Colorado and rain, rain, and more rain in Wyoming forged a tight team capable of supporting each other on their backcountry journey.

Brooks is not unlike the challenges our veterans face every day as they seek to overcome the barriers that follow their military service. They may overcome an obstacle or break through a barrier only to find another challenge laid out before them. Those swarms of harassing, nagging bugs only add to the difficulty, just like our day-to-day annoyances — bills, VA appointments, minor health issues — they never seem to go away. And just like our Warriors team, veterans need mental toughness, resiliency, and a strong community to support them.

For this team, developing mental strength, physical toughness, and resiliency has been part of the training plan all along, designed to help them reach their ultimate goal — the summit of Mount Brooks. We know the sweat of their first two trainings will pay off when they head north in September.