On April 1, 2013, only six months away, Kathmandu will be teaming with aspiring climbers preparing to head towards base camp on the north and south sides of Mt. Everest. I would love to be there climbing the north side, but alas (sigh) not in 2013; thus I will be covering the action from Colorado once again.
Most operators are now sending emails titled “Everest 2013” and starts with the sentence “Welcome to our spring climb of the world’s highest mountain …” The heart skips a beat.
It will be here in a blink so let’s take a look at what climbers are doing between now and then. There are three general areas: training, gear and mental preparation.
For most climbers, they have been training long before they made the financial commitment. Remember, climbers cannot be in the “best shape of their lives”, they have to be in “Everest shape”
Some are CrossFit devotees, others prefer long runs, then there are those who are in the gym most nights after work. But for all, the key is a balanced training plan with work on strength, cardio and stamina. During the last 6 months, if they are on a plan, it will be a time of peaking then resting all while avoiding injury.
I know for me, I focused on stamina as my primary goal the last six months with long days in my Colorado 14,000 mountains carrying a 40 pound pack. The good news is most climbers will never carry more than 20 pounds so doubling the load at half the altitude worked for me.
For some, it is time to double down to get ready. Six months is not a long time but doable if they are already in good shape. Again, a balanced approach is best: core strength, legs and calves, heart and lungs. Running intervals is an excellent technique.
But above all, it is be a mistake to think one can get in shape on the trek in or during the acclimatization rotations. Once at altitude, the body slows down, the nutritional plan is not sufficient to build muscle and sleep cycles suffer. Besides that, getting to Base Camp is one of the best experiences of the climb and a time to get to know your teammates and enjoy Nepal or Tibet; not a time to obsess over training – it is what it is at that point.
One of the best parts of climbing is all the gear! I know, I know … But if climbing Everest is not a great excuse to buy new stuff, I don’t know what is!
However, I hope that every single piece has been “field tested” by the new owner before they land in Kathmandu. Nothing reveals a climber’s experience than showing up with boots or crampons still in the original box. Or maybe they have just upgraded, I hope.
This is a good time to think about spending days and nights in base camp between rotations. What little things will make life more comfortable while gone? Perhaps books, videos of home, your iPod loaded up with music, movies and TV shows. Keeping a journal on an iPad or blogging? Think through recharging and backup, umm paper and pen! Want to call home? If daily then consider renting a sat phone or understand the limits of 3G on Everest (there are many).
In any event, the point is to try everything back home to make sure there are no gear surprises. Try everything on, especially boots. This is tough for climbers who don’t live near a mountain, but everyone lives nears the outdoors, so put them on and talk a long walk. Yeah, the soles will get scuffed up a bit but that’s the point. Learn how they feel, work out the sock system; make sure the crampons fit securely – can you put them on while wearing your heavy gloves? Remember that feet swell at altitude.
But of the highest priority, is to get the systems down cold. Swapping out layers, putting on crampons, helmets and goggles or sunglasses – all this should be second nature with no fumbling. Trust me if you are fumbling with gear while on the fixed rope, those behind will let you know …
However, all this is more about safety. The last thing you want to do is find yourself not having the right glove or layering system on your summit push when the temps are far below OF and the winds are nearing the cutoff point. Or discovering your goggles don’t fit with your helmet on or your hood is too tight. These are show stoppers at 28,000’.
This is a video I made in 2011 before my climb. I was very pleased with all my gear and today would stick with everything I said in this video.
So you have your gear, your training plan is on track but there is one last area that cannot be ignored – between the ears.
Often climbers will say that an expedition is more mental than physical. The split is unique to each person but it is safe to say it is at least 50/50.
To review the obvious; you are gone a long time from loved ones and the comfort of home, maybe 8 weeks. You are in an environment of extreme yet subtle pressures. You are dealing with the human dynamics of great, and not so great teammates. There are so, so many things beyond your control: weather, mountain conditions, route fixing, politics on the mountain.
But all this is easy compared to the day you take that first step into the Icefall or up the Lhotse Face. Or that first step up the Triangular Face from the South Col or across the traverse towards Mushroom Rock.
In spite of your gear shakedown, something always happens. Everyone gets sick at some point, everyone. And of course there are surprises – a crampon falls off, a glove blows away, your sunglasses break. How you handle these events go directly to your mental toughness.
Your training was outstanding, your friends and family admired your diligence, perseverance and technique. But once there, you wonder if it was enough. The doubts steal away your focus, your confidence. Each step higher feeds those doubts. Your body screams at the lack of oxygen, you emotions at the lack of control.
Time to forget the body and use the mind. Remember those days when you got up at 3:00 AM and took a 5 mile run in the dark … and rain … and cold in February? You hated it and questioned your own sanity but now you draw on that training and know you can push yourself farther than you ever dreamed. And you are living that dream, on Everest.
Six months to go. Still lots to do. But there is one more thing. Talk to your family. Tell them what to expect. Share with them those deep dreams, your fears; the reasons you are doing what you are doing. Tell them you love them. Leave nothing unsaid
These are a few resources that may help in preparing for Everest:
Memories are Everything