Getting in shape for JIRP can be a daunting task, but it's doable with a good attitude. The good news is that by working every day during the summer we get fit and stay fit- so once the program starts you don't need to worry at all. In order to arrive in Juneau ready to hit the ground running (so to speak), we suggest you think about both your cardiovascular fitness and your muscular fitness. It helps many people to have a goal to work towards. In this case our training goal is the hike from Juneau up to our first field camp, Camp 17. We'll all do this hike at the end of the first week of the program, some time around June 20th +/- 2 days.
Juneau is at sea level and Camp 17 is at about 4500 ft./1400 m elevation, right at the edge of the Juneau Icefield. The good news here is that the altitude itself won't be a problem- the very lower limit for altitude sickness is usually around 5,000 ft./1500 m. The bad news is that we have to hike up that elevation all in one day. 4500 ft./1400 m of vertical elevation gain while hiking is a serious undertaking for most people with a full backpack, even veteran hikers. We will cover the elevation over about 8 mi/13 km of trail, so it won't be impossibly steep, but it will be tiring.
Ski mountaineering is a gear intensive pursuit, and backpacks tend to get heavy. We will use a helicopter to transport your skis and boots from Juneau up to Camp 17, but you will have to carry your clothing, your food and water, your mountaineering safety equipment (harness, helmet, carabiners), your camping equipment, and the rest of the 10 Essentials (the items we never leave camp without). Backpacks for the hike up to Camp 17 can be up to 30-35% of body weight- again, heavy, but not un-doable.
Everyone trains differently for an expedition like JIRP, but we suggest you focus on both cardiovascular fitness and muscular fitness. If you live near some mountains, the very best thing you can do to train is to load up a backpack and go hiking! Start with just a day pack and a short hike, and work your way up towards a pack that is ~30% of your body weight and a day that covers 8 mi/13 km and 4500 ft/1400m. If you do this, you will be ready for JIRP.
If you don't live near mountains, you can still get in shape for the first hike. Pick your favorite cardio exercise (running, biking, swimming, rowing, etc.) and work up to doing it three-five days/week. Start easy now, and work your way up to a faster pace and more distance. Note: running stairs is classic and effective urban training tool for mountaineering. Check out your university/college stadium, they often have great staircases!
In addition to cardiovascular fitness, think about muscular fitness. If you're an experienced weight lifter, great! Focus on legs and core strength. If you're not an experienced weightlifter (many of us aren't), think about checking out your local climbing gym. Indoor climbing is great strength training, can be a lot of fun, and might even help you meet fun people who do trips similar to JIRP. If that's not up your alley, do some research on what might be more appealing. Crossfit, P90X, 80s fitness videos off youtube, whatever works for you. We’ve even seen mountaineers training at the gym, walking on the treadmill at slow speed with a backpack on. Every day of training you put in this spring will make the first weeks of JIRP that much less exhausting.
Training for JIRP can be a lot of work and might require you to try some new activities or do some things that look a little goofy. Just make sure to tell anyone who gives you a funny look that you’re going to the icefields of Alaska for the summer - that usually earns you a high five. And as we hope you've heard before, please be careful when starting a new exercise regimen. Missing JIRP because of an injury is very disappointing.