So you’ve decided to climb a mountain. Or maybe you’ve gone one step further and signed up for this insane challenge.
Great. What next?
I’ll stay away from the ‘mountain climbing builds character’ bullshit and get straight to the point. Having climbed a fair share of mountains in my youth, I’ve realized in retrospect that making the decision is the easiest part. How you prepare for the mountain will decide whether you get to the top or not. There are 2 equally important components of this challenge that need to be addressed way before you even set foot on the mountain – the man and the machine.
“You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself.” – James Whittaker
Big muscles are not ideal for big mountains. The reason being that muscles consume a lot of oxygen during aerobic activity and oxygen is a scarce commodity, as you get higher. So bulking up shouldn’t be the goal of your training programme. Being able to carry your backpack for 8 hours under the scorching sun should be. If you’re not confident of dealing with this weight, another trick you could pull is packing as light as possible. The weight rule applies to you too. A few extra kilos in the form a brilliant beer belly or terrific thunder thighs only means you’ll have to lug that up the mountain with you.
No particular training directly translates to stamina on the mountain. Cross training is the key to getting yourself in shape. The regular trio of running, swimming and cycling should get you fit enough to tackle the mountain. The level of intensity of these activities depends on where you are right now and what your goal is. Mixing up a few other sports like football, squash, etc. would definitely be useful. The key is to get off the couch and do whatever interests you.
Contrary to popular opinion, strength and stamina although vital for attacking big mountains are not the biggest factors of a successful summit. Mental strength is. While on the mountain you’ll have to deal with cold, altitude sickness, loss of appetite, fatigue, headaches and various other obstacles. If you’re mentally not equipped to deal with this, you’ll struggle to make it. The only foolproof way to prepare yourself for a mountain is climbing another mountain. Try and start off with something small – between 3000m to 4000m, like Mount Fuji or Mount Kinabalu. These mountains are high enough for you to get a glimpse of the nasty beast called altitude sickness that you’ll be up against when dealing with taller mountains.
Many tall mountains like Kilimanjaro, Kenya and even Everest to a great extent require no hardcore technical climbing and the route to the top involves only uphill trekking (although that’s easier said than done). If you get yourself into reasonable shape, moonwalking up this mountain should be a breeze.
Mountain climbing is a rich man’s sport as most mountain gear costs an arm and a leg. However, your gear could save your life and (less dramatically) save you from a lot of discomfort.
The number one item on this list would be your shoes. Ensure that you buy sturdy waterproof mountain boots that will protect you from the cold. Sneakers aren’t an option. Wear your boots regularly over a 3-4 month period before heading to the mountains so that they take the shape of your feet and get comfortable.
After your boots, while on the mountain, you’ll spend most of your time in your sleeping bag. Most mountains are bone-chilling cold at night and it goes without saying that a warm snug sleeping bag enhances the experience.
Other than these, you’ll have to consider protection against the cold and the sun, energy while on the move and numerous other items. Get a hold of all items on my mountain gear checklist and you’re good to go.
And finally, as the East Africans say, pole pole!! (slowly slowly – conquer the mountain one step at a time).