Timing in life and in mountaineering can mean the difference between success and failure. In alpine mountaineering you want to time your summit bid to take advantage of the cold, environmental factors, good weather, light, and desired time to be on the summit. As an example on Mt. Rainier in Washington State most climbers leave base camp around midnight to summit between 7-10AM. At night and early morning is when the snow is hardest making it easier to climb, harder for snow bridges to break, less avalanche danger, and less chance of rock fall. Leaving early also ensures more daylight in the event of an emergency. Sometimes leaving too early might mean icy conditions near the top which could be dangerous and less sleep. The trick is to leave at the right time so you arrive at the summit before your turn around time with enough time to get back to camp safely. Your optimum wake up time will depend on how fast you climb, how long it takes you to get ready, and your comfort level. Here’s a rough formula to calculate your wake up time:
1. Figure out the number of miles/kilometers to the summit and multiply by 30 min = Distance estimate.
2. Figure out the elevation gain to the summit and multiply by 60 minutes for every 1000 feet of elevation gain = Elevation estimate
3. Add Distance estimate + Elevation estimate X 20% for Murphy’s law or multiply by 1.2 = Round up to nearest 30 minutes, Get Accent time
4. Divide Accent time by 1.5 to arrive at decent time.
5. Add Accent and Decent time by how long you think it’ll take you to get ready (it takes me just over an hour)
6. Subtract by 12PM (the time I want to be back in base camp) to get your wake up time.
7. Take it a step further by figuring your ¾ point mark to the summit and turn around time.
Here’s how I do it from Camp Schurman on Mt. Rainier:
Distance = 1.5 x 30 = 1.5 hrs
Elevation Gain = 4500 approximately = 4.5hrs
1.5 hrs + 4.5 hrs x 1.2 = 7.2 hrs rounded up 7.5hrs Accent time
7.5 hrs / 1.5 = 3 hrs 45 minutes decent time.
Time to summit and back 11 hrs 15 minutes
Desired time at camp 12PM – 11 hrs 15min + 1hrs to get ready = 11:45 PM
This assumes a base level of fitness, as with all estimates measuring and using prior experience then applying your own numbers into the formula works best. As you climb pay attention to the times it takes to get ready, climb up, down, and take breaks, this will help tweak your wakeup time and have a safe climb.
You can also use this formula to get from trailhead to points or tweek it to calculate driving times.