Climbing Mount Everest is a huge physical and mental challenge. I will spend 7-8 weeks living and climbing at extreme high altitude. As I climb higher on the mountain, the atmospheric pressure rapidly decreases, this means each breath I take will contain less molecules of Oxygen. My heart and lungs will have to work a whole lot harder to get the adequate amounts of Oxygen to my working muscles.
The success of an Everest expedition depends not only on those 7-8 weeks on the mountain but on the months and even years before the expedition. For my first Everest expedition in 2012 I trained for a total of 12 months, by the time I got to the mountain I was fitter than I ever had been, but every day on the expedition was still a struggle. Many questions ran through my mind, had I trained in the right way? Had I put enough hours in at the gym? What could I have done differently? Or is this just how hard Everest is?
At the beginning of April 2017 I am heading back to Mount Everest in an attempt to climb the mountain from the North side via Tibet. In total, I have been training for this expedition for the last 18 months, some aspects are similar to 2012 and some are very different.
Hike and Climb
Training in a specific way is important for any sport. If you are training for a marathon, you run. If you are training for a triathlon you cycle, swim and run. Training for Everest is no different, hiking and climbing are no doubt, the best way to train. For my 2012 Everest expedition I was based in Devon, I completed a lot of my training on Dartmoor and on steep costal paths. Since moving to Scotland in 2014 my training ground has amplified somewhat, it now include the glorious Scottish Highlands. My training in the mountains involves long days out in the hills, hiking with a heavy pack and aiming to cover as many miles as possible. Winter climbing in Scotland is also a great way to train for an Everest expedition. This season I haven’t been looking at pushing my grades, partly for injury avoidance, but also on Everest there are only a few technical sections which I know I have the experience to climb. Most of my days on the mountain will be long, uphill slogs.
Of course, training in the mountains is not always possible. If I want to train after work or I can’t commit to a couple of days in the hills, then gym training is great! This year I am lucky enough to be supported by David Lloyd gyms in Edinburgh, their quality of equipment and expertise has been a brilliant help. When I am in the gym I tend to focus on strength training and high intensity interval training (HiiT). When strength training, I do whole body workouts but in particular focus on leg, core and back strength. Exercises such as step ups, squats and lunges are a staple, even better with a heavy pack on. The aim when in the gym isn’t to bulk up, you don’t see many body builders climbing Everest. I won’t be needing big muscles, but muscles that can keep working hour after hour, day after day and week after week.
High-intensity training has been a big aspect of my training since my 2012 expedition. HiiT training can be completed on almost any cardio equipment in the gym, I tend to stick to the treadmill and then the exercise bike for variation. HiiT training involves exercising at a very high intensity for a short period of time, followed by an active rest period and repeated. For example, I aim to run at 90% of my max heart rate (calculated by 220 minus your age, my max is therefore 194bpm) for 2-4 minutes. This is followed by a rest period, I aim to drop my heart rate to about 60% of it max and then repeat for a number of sets.
When I was growing up I did a lot of swimming training and competing in club competitions. Since training at David Lloyd ahead of Everest 2017, I have rejuvenated this training technique in my programs. Swimming is a great way to train for general fitness, you can train so many different muscles in one session. Swimming is also a great way to focus on breathing and, breathing, is going to be my main focus on Everest. In the pool I complete swim sets where I reduce the amount of breaths I take over 25m, from once every three strokes to a whole length without taking a breath. I am no expert, I can’t be sure that this is effective training for altitude, but it feels like it is working and getting my body used to exercising on reduced Oxygen levels can’t be a bad thing.
Training my body for climbing Mount Everest is incredibly important for my chances of reaching the summit once again. As equally important is my mental strength and perseverance when on the expedition itself. In 2012, after I had been climbing in the Death Zone for almost 12 hours and I was approaching the summit, my body was ruined. It took so much mental perseverance just to put one foot in front of the other. At this point the twelve months of training were irrelevant and it all came down to my mind. Mental strength is so much harder to train and even harder to measure.
I am hoping that with my success in 2012, I will once again have the mental strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and if I am lucky enough to once again stand on top of the world.