10 Questions with Leigh Ann


Enjoying my UL Down hoody underneath Steven’s Pass chair lift. Rough winter to hone snow skills!

  1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?

Most of my thoughts revolve around some aspect of the climb, it’s nearly impossible to stop thinking about! From training, to being terrified of how cold it’s going to be, to wondering if I’m training correctly, to figuring out the best clothing system, I can’t get away from it!

Normal climbing season prep involves training hikes, but I don’t usually start ramping up until right before spring where this year I started in late December. I’ve never prepared so much for one particular climb or with this much weight in my pack. I usually concentrate on going fast, which is not the case here. Slow, heavy, and steady wins the race!

  1. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three new Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?

I bought my first pair of bibs for this trip and I’m totally stoked on them! Per usual, I had to buy a handful to find the right ones. The glass slHYPBLU_D1ipper ended up being Mountain Hardwear Drystein bibs. These things are awesome! They’re meant for climbing (alpine and ice) unlike most, which are generally built for ski touring. The difference is that they’re super light and articulate well at the knee for high stepping, something climbers do but skiers don’t.

Even though I’ve had some serious issues with Patagonia’s clothing this season, I’m super stoked on two items I’ve purchased. The Ultralight Down Hoody and the Active Mesh Boy Shorts. Do yourself a favor and don’t even look at the price of the Down Hoody. Ha, I knew you had to look! It’s F*CKING expensive, but unfortunately one of the only lightweight down jackets that actually fits my athletic build. Yes, I tried the very similar, cheaper Patagonia jacket and it’s apparently not meant for women with strong shoulders or arms and the same goes for so many other down jackets. I literally flexed my arms and then basically felt like the Incredible Hulk about to send 5,000 goose feathers shooting through the air! Although it’s a pretty funny image, it was a bit frustrating. I guess at least the super-duper expensive jacket that actually fits is kind of like my new wooby.


  1. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?

Food! Nutrition is such a vital part of this climb and directly correlates to performance and recovery. One, there is the big question of how many calories do I need? This number depends on current weight, lean mass, and energy expenditure, so it’s not as simple as “everyone should aim for 4,000 calories a day.” It’s much more complicated and individual than that. Two, there is the issue of long endurance days at high altitude. This trip requires a ton of fuel, however, altitude affects the way your body burns fuel and affects appetite. Things that taste good at sea level don’t taste the same at altitude. Luckily, I have some high altitude experience and generally know my likes and dislikes although preferences can change from trip to trip. It’s a balancing act of bringing enough of what you’ll actually eat, but not too much.

  1. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?

Plantain chips and nuts and dried fruit mix. I generally prefer salty and bitter foods over sweet, so it’s critical that the majority of my snacks are on the savory side rather than sweet like candy bars and cookies.

  1. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?

I haven’t really added anything totally out of the norm. I generally have a high training volume so I’m constantly trying to stay fueled with whole foods and performance products (protein powder, gels, BCAAs), it’s just the type of fuel has shifted a little. I’ve added more carbohydrates into my diet to accommodate the higher volume of endurance training, but honestly I’ve been trying to add carbohydrates for several months now, which has proven to be difficult. However, with this type of training I can’t really get away with it anymore. I found myself losing motivation halfway through a long workout, which is not like me and not good for training. Now when I say increase, I mean going from a low carbohydrate diet to what’s considered “normal”. I normally eat a ton of fresh veggies (an absurd amount really), protein, and a modest amount of carbs.

One specific product that I added, thanks to the suggestion of fellow trainer Jim Hein, is Generation UCAN  Superstarch. It’s a slow burning carbohydrate powder that you mix with water. It’s been an awesome addition to my pre-workout routine!

  1. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?

Crevasse rescue. In general this is the most complicated glacier climbing skill and one I already knew. However, adding HEAVY packs and sleds complicates things a lot. I realized when we practiced the self rescue side of crevasse rescue (hanging ourselves off the Mountaineers roof) that all of my practice prusiking up ropes had been done on a rock rope, which is typically a larger diameter than a glacier rope. Using prusiks toIMG_2055 ascend a glacier rope is ridiculously hard! The prusiks are either too tight and are really hard to move with big gloves or their too loose and slide, making ascending nearly impossible (yes, correct size of prusik cord was taken into consideration and tested). Since the West Buttress route on Denali involves fixed lines (fixed ropes that help with ascending), we all have to have ascenders, which allows us to travel up a rope without sliding back down. After some testing we realized it made a lot of sense to use our ascender and a tibloc or traction pulley in place of prusiks. This required a whole nother round of testing! Now we’re super confident that we can quickly and easily get ourselves out of a crevasse if necessary. Let’s just hope we don’t actually have to use this skill!

  1. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.

Socks and baselayers. For some reason these items have been the most difficult for me to settle on. I have a pile of base layers that I’m still contemplating, as well as waiting for new, light weight ones to show up in stock. I have a few different styles of socks being delivered this week and I hope to make that decision as soon as they arrive.

  1. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?

No big noticeable physical changes for me. Honestly, I’m surprised how much muscle mass I’ve been able to hold onto with the endurance training. I’ve made it a priority to continue strength training, however it looks a lot different than what I was doing. I went from training Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk), strength lifts (back squats, press, deadlifts, etc.) and CrossFit-style workouts 5x a week to 2-3 upper body (high volume) strength training sessions and 1 lower body (high intensity), 2-3 heavy pack hikes, 3-4 circuit, interval, or CrossFit workouts a week. Just like my fuel, my training has just shifted priorities from strength to endurance.

  1. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?

My favorite on the current reading list:

Nutritional Needs in Cold and High-Altitude Environments: Applications for Military Personnel in Field Operations,

Bernadette M. Marriott and Sydne J. Carlson, Editors;

Committee on Military Nutrition Research, Institute of Medicine

I like to nerd out on these things. Again, thanks to Jim Hein for pointing me to this resource!

  1. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?

A successful climb will be one where we feel like we gave 200% of our effort, while walking away safe and happy. It’s about the experience, not about the summit. I look forward to sharing this experience with these ladies!