By Kim Fuller Published in 5280 Magazine
How a local doctor used the Centennial State’s epic terrain to prepare for one of the world’s most demanding climbs.
Dr. Tracee Metcalfe of Vail has a mountaineering resumé to rival any professional alpine explorer. The 42-year-old internal medicine doctor has climbed every 14,000-foot peak in Colorado, as well as Denali in Alaska, and served as a base-camp doctor for multiple expeditions in Nepal. All of that prepared her for the ultimate climbing feat this past May: Mt. Everest. Metcalfe was an expedition doctor for an Everest team and conditioned in the Rockies every chance she got. Here’s how she used Colorado’s epic terrain to train and hone her mountaineering skills for one of the world’s most demanding climbs.
1. Trek to Everest Base Camp
(9,300 to 17,598 feet)
For Metcalfe and her team, this journey took about 10 days, which allowed them to acclimatize over ascending and descending terrain.
Train Local: The trek is comparable (although much higher in elevation) to a two-week trek on the Colorado Trail. Top off your CT hike with a few fourteeners—such as Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive—for extra altitude training.
2. The Khumbu Icefall: Everest Base Camp to Camp I
(17,598 to 19,685 feet)
Completing the Khumbu Icefall means crossing crevasses on ladders.
Train Local: Before the trip, Metcalfe tightened up her ice-climbing skills on frozen waterfalls like the Fang in East Vail and dialed in endurance with long days of ski mountaineering on peaks such as Bald Mountain.
3. The Western CWM: Camp I to Camp II
(19,685 to 21,000 feet)
There are additional crevasse crossings on this broad and rolling glacial snow climb, and this is where elevation starts to play a big role in stealing climbers’ breath.
Train Local: Metcalfe says traversing steep ski slopes-—such as A-Basin’s Gauthier-—is a good place to start, but the best training is climbing the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska.
4. The Lhotse Face: Camp II to Camp III
(21,000 to 23,625 feet)
Sustained hard ice and snow rise sharply here: The pitch is about 30 to 45 degrees.
Train Local: Colorado’s vertical snow couloirs can help prepare you for this—think Dragon’s Tail in Rocky Mountain National Park and Bell Cord between the north and south Maroon Bells peaks.
5. Yellow Band and Geneva Spur: Camp III to Camp IV
(23,625 to 26,085 feet)
Snow and ice give way to a traverse across a 40-degree slope. Climbers must negotiate two rock features—Yellow Band and Geneva Spur—while wearing large mountaineering boots and crampons.
Train Local: Walk across steep snow faces in your full Everest footwear. Metcalfe headed to Silverton for exposed snow climbing.
6. South Col: Camp IV to Summit
(26,085 to 29,029 feet)
Climbers face a snow climb, exposed ridge, and the Hillary Step rock face on summit day.
Train Local: Some of the more challenging traverses between Colorado fourteeners—like winter connectors Little Bear to La Blanca or Mt. Wilson to El Diente—are solid conditioning. Metcalfe also completed the 40-mile winter Elk Mountain Grand Traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen four times.