View Full Version : Tricks and Techniques To Get Up Miserable Hills

The Weasel
11-18-2002, 16:26
I think everyone I knew on the Trail had different techniques for making it up long ascents, or maximizing mileage. Here are three that worked for me:

(1) "Walk 100 and Pause". When I started a hill at the gap before an ascent, and I wasn't yet in real great condition, I'd count paces (2 steps) until I got to 100 and then take a "catch my breath" stop. Then I'd start again. If it got too hard to make it to 100, I'd shift to 50. That cut the hills down to size. Slow, but it worked.

(2) Chanting in my mind. I have a couple of chants/songs that go on long enough to keep me moving, but short enough to let me take a break. "The Ants Are Coming" (the old nursery school song) is one; I'd run through the 10 verses by chanting/thinking them, and then stop. Once I got better, I'd say to myself, "I think I can do TWO (THREE/FOUR whatever) "Ants", and I'd try to do that. It was a good way of keeping me going on endless ascents.

(3) Real Music. After centuries of opposition to music while backpacking, I finally gave in last year and got a Sony MD player. Others have used radios or CD players. I've found that my own mixes keep me going longer, and vastly faster: I am SLOW by nature, at 1.6 miles per hour up, down or level. With my combination of The Boss, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Blues Brothers (among others), this old body has been clocked doing 2.9 mph over an entire day, which is, frankly, amazing. I just read in Outdoor that a study showed cyclists increased their mileage by about 20% while listening to Metallica (honest!), which seems to support this.

Anyone else have similar/other tricks that make the miles easier?

The Weasel

11-18-2002, 17:04
For really long or steep (or both) ascents, I use a rest-step-chant method. This means I take a step, lock the lower leg, breath, chant, then take another step. The chant is the traditional buddhist one of, "Ohm mani padme hum". I say one word per step. It feels like you are going nowhere fast, but it is indeed possible to make long climbs without stopping for a rest or getting too tired. But, you have to be disciplined not to go faster. Of course, I look like a fool barely moving and chanting to myself. But, by not stopping for rest breaks (I will stop for view breaks), I manage to churn out the climb in a relatively efficient fashion.

However, I've found that I am needing the above method less and less as I get into better and better shape. It has taken a while, but I had a long ways to go. Now, I find myself only chanting occasionally on the longest climbs or towards the end of a long day.

11-18-2002, 17:58
I use variations of tricks used by Chris and The Weasel. I learned the "lock step" method on my very first AT hike when we decided to climb the Mt. Minsi side trail early the first morning. Can't say I ever thought to accompany it with a chant, though. Make sure you lock your knee fully, putting most if not all of your weight on it before you take your next step. Feel free to rest between steps.

I'm in better shape than I've ever been and have a better appreciation what it takes to hike up steep trails than I did when I was starting out 30-odd years ago. Some stupid song seems to wind through my head for hours to keep me going. On the uphills I may give myself a target to shoot for before I stop. For example, I pre-selected two stopping points for the 3,000 foot SOBO ascent of The Priest; the first at Cripple Creek and the second at a nice lookout. Needless to say, the chorus to "Up on Cripple Creek" kept wandering through my head. Since the guidebook made a big thing about the 37 switchbacks to the top, I counted these to keep me occupied (but I only counted 18 real switchbacks).

On shorter ascents I will try to push through to the top, "resting" by lengthening and slowing down my stride when I get to level ground. It's amazing at how fast you recover your breath and stride at that point.

Finally, I might even resort to counting the number of steps between blazes for a poorly blazed section, or counting my steps to know when I've gone a certain distance (about 240 steps for a tenth of a mile for me). Anything to keep me moving in the right direction.

You don't want to know about all the other stuff that rattles around in my head as I walk along. :o

11-18-2002, 18:57
I noticed that on the really tough days my wife and I tended to argue more than on days were the terrain was easier. It really made the miles go by, and after a while I started to suspect she was doing it on purpose! :)


11-18-2002, 19:03
Oh, I almost completely forgot this. We picked up a radio walkman somewhere in virginia and really enjoyed that, especially on rainy nights in the tent. When we go back to finish we plan on getting MP3-radio combos. I've done some research, and am pretty excited about the RCA Lyra RD1080. At 2 oz and 128MB (that's 4 hours) of internal memory, and the ability to add memory, it seems like the best bet on the market! Anyone with alternatives/opinions, I'd love to hear them...

11-18-2002, 19:18

I own a Samsung Yepp mp3 player. It has 128 MB memory and weighs almost nothing. You may want to look into that. I love mine. :)

SGT Rock
11-18-2002, 20:49
The voices in my head keep me entertained:eek:

11-18-2002, 22:51
First i just wanna say HIKE YOUR OWN PACE! dont try to keep up with somone whos a faster hiker than you and dont slow your pace either. both can be dangerous. if your doing somthing yoru boyd is not accoustomed to your much more likely to suffer an injury. and i have a left knee to prove it! i mean sure durring some parts youll go faster and others youll slow down but just take your own pace and itll be fine. setting a reasonable goal is great, just dont overextend yourself or youll soon find yourself off the trail.

on another note, i somtimes sing in my head (not out loud or id have no friends :cool: ) or i go through old lines from movies or books or somthing. somtimes ive even half fallen asleep if im right behind somone else, i just stare at their boots and off i go, hours can pass and i dont realize it. i dont encourage people to go sleepwalking on the trail though. i dont think id ever bring music along with me on the trail. i like the total escape from siviliztion when im out there. but i have no problem if other people listen to music or do whatever, they could bring a miniTV if they wanted. most of the time i like to just think as i hike. a nice pondering makes the time fly by and gives me a nice relaxing feeling.

11-18-2002, 23:22
I'm so slow, I can actually see the trees growing as I walk by. Ain't that right HH. I have given up on trying to keep up with most other hikers Usually, whomever I'm hiking with will wait on me at top of the hill or somewhere. I know that's not fair to them either, but I would do the same with them if I had a fast set of legs.

I just go as far as I can and take a break. The better shape I'm in, the shorter my breaks are. Now, it takes a real Einstein to figure that out I know. I also have a tendency to stop just to see and hear what's going on around me. Usually nothing, but that's ok too.

I'm thinking of getting one those orange triangle's that they put on the back of the buggies in the Amish Country and attach it to the back of my pack. :D

11-19-2002, 09:03
i sing aloud, italian arias, old hymns, irish balads or german drinking songs, whatever it takes.

The Weasel
11-19-2002, 09:18
On the hardware side of this point, I love my Sony Mini-Disc player. It holds roughly 4 full music CDs, or about 60 songs/3 hours of music. In addition, I sometimes carry an additional disc or two, which weigh under an ounce each, if I really want variety in music. I'm not sure what that translates to in terms of megabytes. It weighs 4 oz, uses 1 battery AA for well over 60 hours (so far) of playing time. I use Bose ear buds, at 1 ounce.

The Weasel

Uncle Wayne
11-19-2002, 09:52
Hikerhead, you and I hike at about the same speed apparently. I've had snails pass me on the trail. I find my thoughts ramble a lot while hiking, especially on steep ups or downs. I can't say I do anything on the way up except think about resting once I make it to the top. On my last section hike I do remember while climbing up some of the steeper parts of the trail, thinking about the items I had packed and really trying to figure out "what could I have done without or better when packing." Of course it was too late for that trip but I have used those mental notes to lighten my load for next time.

And since I mentioned snails, Do you know what a snail says when he get to ride on the back of a turtle?


Trail Yeti
11-19-2002, 13:33
I might be weird, but I almost NEVER stop on uphills (unless there is a view). I just keep going....and going ...and going. If anyone is a runner they might use the trick I use. To keep your pace consistent breath in on your left (or right if you prefer) foot...as it hits the ground. Continue inhaling as your right foot hits, then exhale as your left foot hits again. Basically what you ar doing is breathing (either inhaling or exhaling) for 2 steps and then you switch...understand? This works great for keeping a strong pace...you concentrate on breathing and forget about everything else.
The only time this doesn't work is scrambling and on extremely steep uphills....you have to alter it then.
Also, when I am trying to make big miles, I find myself in what I like to call "THE ZONE":D I just let my mind wander and my body automatically walks, however, I am still aware of sounds and things that are going on around me. Rock or anyone else who has done some intense military training probably understands....
I learned it in ARS...you ignore the pain, miscomfort(is that a word?)
etc etc. If the situation requires it, you can jump your brain back into gear, and while you are In 'the ZONE", you will be amazed at how far and fast you have walked.
try it...

SGT Rock
11-19-2002, 14:11
I know what you mean by the Zone. I start walking and at about 5-10 minutes I'm thinking "I've only been walking for 1/2 mile?", but after that my mind settles in that zen state where I think about anything but what I'm doing, and 2 hours pass before I realize I've covered another 4-10 miles.

As for going up hill, the rest step actually works, but it is SLOW, like 1 MPH.

And the voice tell me there is a hottub full of girls with ice cold beer at the top :p

11-19-2002, 16:57
Trail Yeti has summed things up well: Don't stop. If you have to go slow, go slow. Just keep on plugging away. Of course, one is obliged to stop for nice views or other pretty things found along the trail.

For me, I start to hit what Rock and Yeti refered to as the Zone around mile 16 or so. For some reason, the miles just before the end of the day just fly by and I can cruise miles 16 and up. Early on always seems to take a long time. And, no matter how far I hike, the last mile or mile and a half takes for ever and is extra tiring.

11-19-2002, 17:22
We found the best way to get up the hills for us was TO stop...instead of saying "we'll have lunch at the top of this hill" we would decide to take our breaks on the way up, have a look around, refill water, etc... It always made it feel as though the hill was broken into two smaller, much easier to handle hills, gave us a needed break, and then we could watch everyone behind us coming huffing and puffing along, and usually we got them to stop, too:)

11-19-2002, 17:27
I should have added something like, "Stop if you want to stop." I've just found that a slow, but continuous climb is easier for me (physically and mentally), than climbing at a rate which requires me to take breaks for rest purposes. Of course, taking a break for lunch or for other leisure purposes is a different story.

The Weasel
11-19-2002, 17:35
Uncle Wayne! Finally I've got the name for this thruhiker I passed on the trail!


The Weasel

11-20-2002, 22:03
I'll be glad to hand over one of my orange triangles to you. And don't worry about that Wes. We know he took that picture while being passed. hehe

Ain't it cool to go slow!!!!


Hammock Hanger
11-20-2002, 22:15
Ain't it cool to go slow!!!!

Hey buddy, is there any hidden meaning there?? :confused:
I personally don't stop till I get to the top. Unless of course it's one of those never ending 5 mile ascents. I just started using a little radio that a "friend" gave me. I sing out loud, scare away all the wildlife, clean out my lungs, and stroll to the top.:rolleyes: Hammock Hanger

Lone Wolf
11-20-2002, 22:43
There is no trick. Suck it up and hike! Pain is weakness leaving the body!

SGT Rock
11-20-2002, 22:49
True Lone Wolf.

Also, if you were in such a hurry to get somewhere, then why are you walking in the first place?

11-20-2002, 23:19
No!!!! No hidden message there you ol' hill runner you.

You'll have admin starting something again. :eek:

And you better tell what "friend" gave you that nice radio.

Opps, get back on the subject.

Hammock Hanger
11-21-2002, 00:35
Admin can't start anything, cuz he done gone away....

I just love them hills...

And "hikerhead" done give me the radio. :p


12-12-2002, 16:48
I use the 'turtle' method, "I may be slow, but I'm coming."

Sleepy the Arab
12-12-2002, 23:38
How did I get up the hills?

Swearing. Lots and lots of swearing.

12-14-2002, 17:12
And the voice tell me there is a hottub full of girls with ice cold beer at the top
I've tried that method. I always get depressed at the top though :(.

I always pick an object up ahead and tell myself reach that and you can stop. Then when I get to that object I tell myself the same about another object. This works for 3 or 4 objects, then I stop and rest for a minute. Repeat as needed. Actually works pretty good. I have an old (~3years) Rio500 64MB MP3 player. I listen to Phil Collins "In the Air Tonight" for big ones. Sometimes I foget about the object I'm hiking to and pass a couple more. Pretend your climbing K2, and then you won't feel so bad for being exhausted. Of course when you don't notice the person passing you who sees you making bottled oxygen respirator noises like darth vador, this can be emberrassing. Just smile and turn it into a coughing sound.

Pick a song that has a beat which allows you to climb the hill without stopping. Whether this means 0.5MPH, or 3MPH. When your getting towards the top, look for light filtering through the trees near the ground. This signals the top and gives you inspiration. Of course on those false summits this method can make you cry...

01-01-2003, 19:27
I chant ..Drill ye carriers drill carriers drill"

well every morning bout seven o'clock..
there were twenty carriers aworking on the rock...
the boss come along and said "KEEP STILL..
but come down heavy on your cast iron drill
and drill ye carriers drill.

well It's work all day for the sugar in your pay..
down around the rail way ..
and drill ye carriers drill
and BLAST and FIRE..

well our boss man is gene mccann
and by god he was a damn mean man...
last week a premature blast went off
and a MILE in the SKY went BIG JIM GOFF
and drill ye carriers drill

well It's work all day for the sugar in your pay..
down around the rail way..
and drill ye carriers drill
and BLAST and FIRE..

well next time payday came around
Jim Goff a dollar short was found...
when "WHY" asked he the commish replied
"you was docked for the time you was up in the sky"..
and drill ye carriers drill

well It's work all day for the sugar in your pay..
down around the rail way..
and drill ye carriers drill
and BLAST and FIRE..

well cook was a good man to the ground ..
he married a woman bout six foot a round ..
she baked good cakes and she baked them well..
but she baked them as HARD as the holes of HELL
and drill ye carriers drill

well It's work all day for the sugar in your pay..
down around the rail way..
and drill ye carriers drill
and BLAST and FIRE..

So every morning bout seven o'clock there were twenty carriers aworking on the rock..
the boss come along and said
"KEEP STILL but come down heavy own your cast iron drill
and drill ye carriers drill ..
and BLAST and FIRE!!!

Bad Ass Turtle
01-01-2003, 22:16
Like someone else said, I use breathing. I even have my breathing categorized (it's goofy, I know)

Normal Breathing -- A deep breath in for two steps, a deep breath out for two steps. This is for walking that's fairly flat.

Intermediate Breathing -- A breath in for one step, a deep breath out for two steps. This is for a slight uphill.

Advanced Breathing -- A breath in for one step, a breath out for one step. This is for steep uphills. I find that when I get into advanced breathing, it helps me to slow down so that I can make it all the way to the top, slow and steady, without needing to take a break.

Amazing what kinds of things your mind will come up with when all you have to do is walk, look around, and think.

01-02-2003, 11:48
Interesting turtle ..I do the same breathing excercise...

in town I do my deep breathing next to the fresh coffee beans at the kroger store....I love the smell of the coffee...Folks look at you kinda strange but aren't most hikers kinda strange

01-12-2003, 04:24
I set mini goals for myself...
"Lunch at the top"
"Breather at that tree" - a tree 100 or so yards ahead

A girl I was hiking with prefered threatning the mountain.
"I'll **** on you and not dig a cat hole!"

01-12-2003, 09:58
Maybe a bit odd, but Baltimore Jack might understand. One of the times when I get the most enjoyment of a cancer stick is after a long haul up a hill. I use it as an incentive to talk myself up the hills. Just a habit engrained in my head over the years, just like coffee and a cig, they just go together for me. I'm sure there are healthier ways, but GORP isn't incentive enough for me to finish the climb :)


01-13-2003, 22:32
I am with Sleepy... lots and lots of cursing get me through! The F-word is frequently in my breath as I exhale! Also, and unfortunately for me, I have a tendency to get nursery rhymes and kiddie songs stuck in my head. Stuff like "The Wheels on the Bus." I guess that is what I get for working in pediatrics!!! Every now and again, I can branch out to big hair bands, oldies, and other catchy but annoying tunes. I also find that setting short goals (like the curved tree up ahead) helps. I may not stop at them, but it is an easy out I give myself if I have to stop!

01-18-2003, 09:36
At the risk of revealing myself as a gear weenie, I really like watching the feet tick off on my Casio altimeter watch on a steep climb.

Sometimes I feel like its my personal coach who is providing me with positive feedback. If its been calibrated and I've checked a map recently, I tend to count feet gained until I get about 500 feet from the top, then I count down the feet left. If I haven't looked at a map (but I usually can't resist) I'll be happy just knowing I am making progress.

I've only used it on trips of a week or less. Perhaps I'd go back to Wolf's suck it up approach on a longer hike. I'm not sure about that though. Those false summits can be heart breaking even when you are in good shape.

Rick B

01-18-2003, 10:32
I believe in a better life through chemicals, namely caffeine and Ibuprofin. Soma rations will be handed out at 7:00 for green and brown classes.
Please do not shove in line. Other than that I take long day's and rest short but often. Either rest under 5 minutes or at least a half hour.