DC: Mountaineering and ice climbing with Arc’teryx

Written by Alexandra Tilsley

Alina Zagaytova only had two weeks’ vacation for her Everest attempt, so while she waited for a clear summit day she distracted herself by working remotely–from base camp.

Alina, a local lawyer, summitted Everest in 2017. It was the last peak she needed for the Seven Summits Challenge. 

What makes Alina even more interesting, especially in a city full of career-driven people (no one ever moved to DC for the great skiing), is that she trained for and completed the Seven Summits while holding down a job as a lawyer. Not to mention, she trained in DC, whose highest point is a full 410 feet above sea level — only 70 times smaller than Everest!

Photo by Colin Rex.

In December, Alina shared her training trips and recounted her Seven Summits experience. To prepare, she took up running, swimming, and climbing, and regularly ran up hills with a tire tied around her waist. She spent as much time as possible out at Old Rag, and did some hypoxic training, like sleeping in a low-oxygen tent or biking with a mask, to get used to pushing hard at elevation. She also escaped to Colorado whenever she could.

The process, she admits, is not cheap, between the training, the gear, and the expeditions themselves. The average cost, she joked, was probably equivalent to the down payment on an apartment.

Photo by Colin Rex.

Other considerations include figuring out what food works for you — you don’t want to be testing this at 16,000 feet — and finding the right partners. She recalled the summit pitch on Denali, the hardest of the seven, she said, and how trust in her partners was critical.

“You’re roped up, and if one person falls, the only thing the partner can do is literally jump off the other side,” she said.

She also admitted that in tough stretches, her mantra is often: “oh shit, don’t die.”

Now that she’s completed the Seven Summits, Alina is focusing on rescue techniques and improving her technical climbing — and in fact, she returned to Mappy Hour in February to talk about ice climbing with local competitive climber Alex Novikov.

Alex talked about his experience at this year’s Ouray Ice Competition, and took us through some of the gear he’s using now. Training locally can be tough, he said, because DC winters aren’t always the best for ice, but he recommends White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah. Part of the skill of ice climbing, Alex said, is being able to assess whether the ice is good, so it’s important to be patient and wait for the right conditions–even if that means hiking for 6 hours to find ice, as he once did.

We learned a ton at these last two Mappy Hours, and we’re grateful to Alina and Alex for their expertise, Arc’teryx for the space and partnership, the American Alpine Club and City Kids for helping connect our community to new opportunities, Sierra Nevada for the beer, and YOU, our Mappy members, for turning out in a big way for City Kids in December. (Ryan left with three boxes of gear and a few hundred dollars that all goes straight to helping kids get outside. Awesome.) Can’t wait to do it all again in March.

Photo by Colin Rex.