Conquering Mountains
An Alaskan Wilderness Dream Come True

At the most basic level, functional fitness refers to exercises that improve daily activity.  But what does “functional fitness” really mean to the individual? For some, it’s being able to chase and pick up their grand kids, for others it may be that they are looking to be more physically fit than they are now. Then there are folks that walk into the gym because they have a certain goal on their bucket list and they know our challenging training regimen will help them achieve that dream.

Brad Larsen is a longstanding member of Comal Active.  He’s in his early 40’s and it’s been his goal for many years to complete what is called the “Grand Slam of North America” which entails harvesting all four species of mountain sheep that reside in very different climates and terrain within our continent. Now, this isn’t your typical weekend out at the deer lease with a cooler full of beer and your best buddies’ kind-of-hunt! Pursuing these animals is extremely physically demanding and the conditions are typically extreme.

Brad’s first expedition, his hunt for the Dall’s sheep, was booked to take place in the Brooks Range of Alaska which is inside the arctic circle. As Brad put it, “There’s only one way in and one way out.  And that’s by airplane.” His small single-engine plane had to take off and land on a makeshift landing strip close to the river. His base camp was so deep in the wilderness, “you can’t walk-out, boat-out, or drive-out. It’s so remote even horses can’t get you out of there!”

This experience isn’t for the faint of heart, and going into it Brad understood he could be out in the elements for up to several weeks while on the expedition of a lifetime. While many things could go wrong, the last thing he would want to happen after paying a hefty price tag would be to start the journey only to find that he wasn’t physically prepared.  Brad would have to endure carrying more than 80 pounds of food, gear and supplies on 10-12 mile stretches between the various camp sites along the way.  All of this adventuring taking place at elevations exceeding 7,000 feet.

So how do you get into ‘sheep shape’ as Brad admiringly called it?  Brad began by shopping several area fitness establishments searching for the right fit.  He settled on Comal Active after discussing his plans with one of the coaches and feeling confident about being able to achieve the level of fitness needed to reach his goal.  With a solid plan in place, and 8 months to work with, he set out on a mission to get into the best shape possible.  Brad had previously been an Army infantry officer for six years and had done CrossFit before which he enjoyed.  At one point, he built a home gym and tried doing his workouts alone for a while but it just wasn’t the same. He ultimately found the social aspect, the bonds created within the group fitness setting, and that extra push you get from being in a crowd were all missing from his training.

Over the better part of a year his training included working out at least three days a week at Comal Active.  Additionally, Brad supplemented with extra running to build endurance, dragging a tire to simulate the muscle fatigue his legs would endure climbing in the mountains and rucking 4-5 miles each week where he ultimately built up to carrying a 75# ruck sack. When the time finally came to make the trip, Brad was ready!

In late August of 2017 it was time to make the trek.  After flying into the heart of Alaska and hopping on a smaller plane for the flight into base camp where his guide was waiting, Brad unloaded his gear and prepared for the long hike the following day. With weather and temperatures cooperating in the mid 50’s Brad and his guide set out on what was to be a 10-mile hike over the course of the next 9 hours to get to spike camp with 70# packs, walking sticks (which he was told are a must have) and a rifle in tow. At one point during the hike, the pair spotted two grizzly bears! Now you know that old joke, that you only must be faster than the slowest guy in the woods? Was Brad ready to test his fitness? All kidding aside, fortunately there was no need to run from the bears, at least not this time.

The first night at spike camp brought on new challenges. The temperatures dipped into the 20’s, and staying warm enough to sleep even with plenty of cold weather gear became a problem. Brad said he took to wrapping rain gear over the foot end of his 15-degree rated sleeping bag and it was still barely enough. On the second day, it was time to climb the mountainside in search of Dall sheep. Fortunately, the guide had been in the area on another hunt a few days earlier and already had a good idea of where the sheep might be found. The plan called for a 2,000-foot climb to a vantage point that looked in to three adjoining mountain bowls below. This is where Brad said the cold got really got extreme. Not only was the temperature in the low 30’s but the wind on the mountainside made its way through every bit of cold weather gear he was wearing.

To make things even more challenging, they had to shed much of their precious gear once it was time to make a chase after the sheep.  This is where that mental toughness and grit that CrossFit can help instill surely came in handy.  After spotting some animals about a half mile away, Brad made a clean kill with his rifle at around seven o’ clock that evening. He had done it!  He had his first of four sheep needed for the Grand Slam.  But as it is often said in hunting, the real work begins after you pull the trigger.  The men had an enormous amount of work ahead of them, and due to the remoteness of their location and surrounding wildlife, much of it quite dangerous. 

It took over an hour of tedious climbing just to get to the opposing mountain where the trophy sheep had fallen.  They would need to skin, quarter and load-up the meat which all took until 1:00 AM the next morning. With a long hike out ahead, they chose to setup a make shift tent with only a tarp and spend the night near the kill sight, not exactly well-sheltered from the elements or the wild animals looking for an easy meal.

The following morning, they began to grind-out the long hike back to spike camp which was nearly five miles away and on the other side of the mountain. Each was carrying almost 80# of meat and gear.  They slowly trudged their way back climbing extreme terrain on the mountainside and fighting the elements to get back to camp where they rested until the following day.

Their stopover in spike camp added another twenty pounds of gear per man bringing their total load to over one-hundred pounds.  Finally, it was time to get themselves, their gear, and their trophy, back to the base camp which was still another 10 miles away. As Mr. Murphy would have it, Brad’s backpack broke almost immediately due to the extreme weight.  He would have to improvise a repair but the uneven distribution of weight made his job much more difficult.

They were already looking at a hike, in the rain, the whole way back so this was certainly not the luck they needed to start the journey home.  This final trek back to base camp took almost a full day.  Putting one foot in front of the other, each step was a painful challenge and required every bit of strength and determination he could muster.  Cold, soaked and exhausted but full of accomplishment, Brad had made it back after the hunt of a lifetime!

So, if you have that dream, something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but it would take being in the best shape of your life to get there, come talk to us at Comal Active.  It doesn’t matter how big or small you think it is, all you need to do is decide and we’ll take care of the rest!