Preparing for Everest – 6 Months Out

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 ” 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 : 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 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 parts of climbing is all the gear! I know, I know … But if climbing Everest is not a great excuse to 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:

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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18 thoughts on “Preparing for Everest – 6 Months Out

  1. I have recently visited Nepal after having lived there 40 years ago during my childhood and was totally blase of the snow clad peaks visible from my house .Now the mountains beckon differently and my younger son and myself have developed ” Everest fever “. I guess I can get only to base of base camp!! Your coverage gets me to the summit .Thank you , Alan.

  2. Hi Alan,

    Just read your article. Another great read. Gets me back to thinking about my prep back in 2011. Living in New York City had its challenges as far as training. Lot’s of time on the stair master with a pack. I liked riding my bike for the endurance. I got it up to 7 hours at a time. Every month I’d drive up to NH and climb Mt Washington which was great training. Mentally it helped with my Everest summit day because from the South Col to the summit is about the same vertical as climbing Mt Washington so i kept that in mind on my summit day to keep the intimidation factor to a minimum….. With about 2 months to go, i actually stopped training for fear of getting injured. With one month to go, I ate pizza and burgers every day for lunch a dinner to try and gain weight..

    Zachary Zaitzeff

  3. Hi, Alan! I’ve been very busy for the last several months and haven’t had a chance to visit your blog, but I did today. I have a question for you: Have you ever considered covering Everest from Base Camp? Somehow I have a feeling that once you got there, you’d be compelled to climb, but I’m just curious to know if you’ve ever had the thought.

    1. Hi Kat, actually I can cover both sides of Everest from Colorado almost easier than if I was there. Everest Base Camp can be a difficult social environment for people poking their noses around with respect to schedules, illness, deaths, etc – and I fully understand since I was always somewhat suspicious of strangers coming into our camp asking questions. Also with the Internet it is easier to gain access to many viewpoints whereas if you are there you could be limited. Another issue is the cost of communications. I spend at least 4 hours a day on the Internet at home, plus phone calls, emails, etc. That level of communications would be pricey using sat phones and still not reliable using 3G at BC.

      That said, it would be fun to go as a “reporter” and get first hand interviews of conditions, look into their eyes and relate as someone who has been there four before. But is would be expensive thus requiring support.

  4. hi

    i loved your blog and it was a big motivation for me to climb everest. long story short i planned my climb in 2014 but now trying in 2013. all i have is will power.

    my current altitude is 6000 feet only and i train
    1. run 10 km in one hr everyday, it will be 20 km in 2 hr soon
    2. i carry around 50 pounds and walk on treadmill 5km in one hour with 3500 feet altitude gain
    3. i do heavy workout in gym

    i wish to go to nepal in dec end and stay there for rest of the time. i will hire a climbing guide for further training and maybe for few 6000m peaks. once i will be sure abt myself then only i take the final cal.

    it will be great help if you can guide me what i am doing wrong or right. can you suggest me some guide also. to be frank i dont have any experience of mountaineering but i am willing to go any length for this.

    thanks and regards

  5. Hi Alan,
    I am treking to Everest BC from Jiri in Autumn 2013 and your video, photos and general advice have me so excited about it. I am a humble trekker, but was really delighted by your comments about the trek itself. I won’t be climbing the highest mountain on Earth, but will love to see it and will enjoy every step of the journey along the way.

    1. Thanks for your comment Shane. As I always say, a trek in the Khumbu or anywhere in Nepal – will change your life! Have a wonderful time. Say hello to Everest for me 😉

  6. More thoughtfully distilled beta from you. Thanks. BBC and the Economist are stellar on the enlightenment to weight ratio.

    1. Great point Bill. On my expedition gear list is a Grundig shortwave radio I use to catch the BBC World each day. Loved hearing the unique stories that I would rarely hear at home.

      1. What is this “shortwave”? Some newfangled technology where one can access current news and entertainment without an internet connection? Imagine that!

        Seriously — I am starting to get organized for my own EBC trek in March and have been thinking about how I might keep myself occupied during downtime other than books. This sounds like a great idea, one I never would have though of myself. Can you recommend a make/model? I know nothing about radios. I would guess something light, durable, and runs on regular batteries so that finding a place to recharge is not a concern.

        Also, thanks for all your work keeping this blog going. Your enjoyment of adventure and the mountains really comes through in your posts and comments. I started tuning in during this year’s Everest climbs and it became a regular read, one which helped give me the little push I needed to actually book this trip that I have thought about doing for many years.

        1. Hi Guy, Yeah, you can get the news without big pipes! 😉 Funny.

          Sony and Grundig makes several models. Make sure you get one that runs on batteries, as you already noted. Also use your iPod earbuds to listen without disturbing tent/room mates.

          see or look for them on Amazon

          Also, I created an FAQ page for the trek that may be useful to some.

          Thanks for the feedback and have a great trek!

  7. It is almost as if I have been there – following your excitement in recalling what it was like! I love everything Everest – and I’m unashamed about it! I felt so fortunate to be able to trek to Base Camp in 2003 (that was MY peak experience) at age 63. A good thing I was not younger or I would have probably wanted to then train and try for the top.

  8. Thanks all for your comments. As you can tell Everest is in my blood! One day, I hope to retrace those steps of Mallory & Irvine (umm to the summit AND back?) but not next year. Perhaps I will go to Manaslu in the Fall however so covering Everest keeps the flames alive 🙂

  9. Delighted you are once again going to cover the Everest season in your own wonderful and very comprehensive style.For some reason our two worlds didn’t cross until the Spring of 2012 and what a joy it has been to follow you and your exploits since then.During the Everest window I could hardly wait to check your daily blog and when all the climbing and frenzied activity came to an end I felt as though I had had a bereavement (strong word) but a big gap appeared in my world. This year I was fortunate as it was replaced by the Olympic fever and having three sons acting as Games Makers the family became very involved.I have just watched your video re preparation and gear and how it made me yearn to tackle one of those “them there hills” but sadly my physical climbing days are over so the next best thing is to follow you in the coming months and weeks and hopefully raise more funds for your charity Alzheimer’s victims and their relatives.Each Everest season I seem to meet up with a fellow blogger and we have become friends. I never thought I would become somebody’s ‘ pen pal’ but with a common cause to share it has brought me a great deal of pleasure which has included a visit from the great Alan Hinkes and many personal tweets including the likes of Grant (Axe ) Rawlinson, Mark Horrell, & Duffy ex red arrow pilot to mention a few. Last year gave the UK four young Everest success stories,3 girls and 17yr old Matt. It is thanks to you Alan that many of these links have been formed and I thank you for this and look forward with anticipation to see what the next season might bring.Cheers Kate

  10. Good advice, Alan, as always. It’s probably also worth mentioning the last six months are actually less important than the preceding 2 to 3 years though. I was injured in the last 3 months before my expedition and could hardly train at all, but luckily it didn’t matter because I’d done enough prep before that.

  11. While I’m sorry you won’t be on Everest this spring, it’s good news for those of us who are your blog followers or armchair climbers because I know we will enjoy reading your excellent coverage. And, hopefully, you will raise more funds for Alzheimer’s research.

  12. Great reading and video. Excellent insight into the myriad (sometimes even tiny) considerations that could make or break an Everest climb.

  13. Alan, this is a great article that gets to the heart of the matter in just a thousand words or so. Thanks for sharing your experience and insight!

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