One of the first topics we ever covered in the Mountain Fitness column was mental fitness. As we quoted in that original article we firmly believe that the mind is primary, an ethos and training philosophy made famous by Mark Twight and the folks at Gym Jones. It’s a creed we try to live by every single day.
No amount of physical prep, gear refinement or scouting can make up for a lack of mental fitness in the mountains. But attaining and honing this mental fitness is not easy. There’s no 30 Day Challenge or “life hack” that will make you the Jason Bourne of mountain hunting. No. The kind of mental edge we’re talking about here has to be earned and suffered for.
The problem is modern life is atrociously easy. We are rarely if ever exposed to any real “stress” in the positive, growth inducing, antifragile sense anymore. This fragility is slowly but surely killing us and may yet result in a generation that only experiences stress when their smartphone battery runs low.
The solution? As we proposed in Training the Mind, find and train for a crucible. To quote our own article:
“A crucible is defined as a severe test or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development. In short, something so mentally and physically transformational you are a different person on the other side.”
Most mountain hunts would fall into this category but our stance is a crucible should be part of your preparation not the hunt itself. Wouldn’t you rather redefine your “impossible” prior to that big trip you’ve been planning for months if not years?
There are countless events available year round here in North America so there’s no excuse for not fitting one into your “busy” schedule. Read this article if you actually believe you’re too busy to fit something like this into your life.
One of the hard parts here is finding something that has mountain transferability. In our opinion triathlons, road marathons, and obstacle course races don’t make the cut. There’s nothing wrong with these events if you’re looking to get fit but they simply don’t have the field transferability to pass muster as a true mountain hunter’s crucible. Nor do some of the shorter duration or hunt specific events out there like Train to Hunt or the Total Archery Challenge. These are great events to complement the training for your crucible but don’t represent crucible level challenges in and of themselves in our opinion.
We’ve put a lot of time and research into this topic for our own purposes and the list of events that make the cut is very, very short. To be included we felt it was essential the events were widely available and therefore accessible to those that don’t necessarily live in the mountains, didn’t require significant investment financially (mountain hunting is an expensive obsession after all), and put an equal emphasis on the mental and physical sides of the coin. Depending on where you think you need to “grow” the most there’s something on this list for everyone.
GoRuck Tough, Heavy or Selection Events
If you’re not familiar with GoRuck, spend some time on their website. Their packs are legendary but it’s their events that caught our attention years ago. They host a series of events across the US and Canada at varying distances and durations but the Tough, Heavy and Selection events are the ones that make the list. The Tough events last 10 – 12 hours and cover 15 – 20 miles, the Heavy 24+ hours and cover 40+ miles, and for the damned few Selection lasts 48+ hours and covers 80+ miles.
Why do the GoRuck events make the list? We could probably say that the time and distance covered is more than enough to qualify but that’s not the key. For one, they start at night. Yes at night, so right out of the gates you’re going to be uncomfortable. Second, you don’t actually have any idea what you’re in for, hence the non-specific duration/distance. This is a critical mental training tool. At some point the mountains will throw something unexpected at you and you better be able to deal with it. Third, these are not competitions, they are team events and unless you’re a diehard solo hunter most hunts are too. And finally, you’re wearing a 30-lb pack for the entire event. ‘Nuff said.
Photo Credit GoRuck
FKT (Fastest Known Time)
If you’re not a fairly serious trail runner, thru-hiker or hiker you’ve likely never heard of an FKT or Fastest Known Time. FKTs as they’re known have become increasingly popular in the trail/ultra scene these past few years and are basically “pick your own adventure” pursuits. These aren’t really “events” in the strict sense as they are entirely self-motivated, self-planned, and usually self-supported. Sounds like a mountain hunt doesn’t it?
The beauty of using an FKT as a crucible is their sheer simplicity. Pick a route and try to cover the distance as fast as possible. Wherever you live you can find a route. FKTs offer the ability to “compete” in areas that will never host races, whether due to wilderness area status or permitting issues. Many FKTs require navigation and route finding skills and bushwhacking, so these have phenomenal transfer both mentally and physically to mountain hunting. The holy grail FKT in our opinion? Combine an FKT attempt with some scouting and you just might the find the honey hole you’ve been dreaming of.
Photo Credit: Outdoor Research
StrongFirst’s Tactical Strength Challenge
The TSC is a crucible level challenge that should be on every mountain hunter’s radar. We selected this event due in large part to the sheer discipline required to commit oneself to a goal so simple, yet so physically well rounded and challenging. Compared to things like CrossFit or other HIIT style programming the myopic determination required to succeed at this challenge is on par with “sheep fever”. And the rewards you’ll reap are worth it. Combine a dedicated focus on this strength focused event with a good hiking/rucking program and you’ll be unstoppable in the mountains.
The TSC is as physically challenging as it gets. It’s a combined points event comprising a max powerlifting deadlift, pull-ups for max reps (strict pull-ups), and kettlebell snatches for max reps in 5 minutes. This is without question the most mountain/field transferable strength focused event available to the dedicated mountain hunter.
The Tactical Strength Challenge tests the three primary types of strength: absolute strength (deadlift), bodyweight-relative strength (pull-ups), and cardiovascular power endurance (kettlebell snatches). As we’ve written about before, this well-rounded foundation is key for long duration mountain hunts. The three events test a unique trade-off between these abilities. With various classes and divisions there’s an event category that suits your abilities and if you have access to a gym you can do this challenge anywhere.
Photo Credit: StrongFirst
Are these the only events you should consider? Hell, no. The whole damned point of a crucible is it should be personally challenging and meaningful. But we do feel that these three options represent some of the toughest mental and physical trials you could sign yourself up for. There’s a famous quote to the effect of, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. The key here is to put something on your calendar before your hunt that forces you to train. Something that will scare you, challenge you, motivate you and take you to new heights so that when you’re standing on that mountain looking out into the abyss of the unknown there’s not a single part of you that wonders, “Can I do this?” If you’ve chosen your crucible appropriately you’ll know the answer is YES.