How NOT to Train for Everest

Marcus Ruhl, bodybuilder

An Everest expedition lasts about two months with most of the time spent at over five thousand metres above sea level doing very strenuous exercise in thin, cold and dry air. Climbers burn about 6000 calories on an average day on the mountain, but during the long summit day this number increases to 15000 calories. Needless to say, you must train to give yourself a fighting chance to stay relatively healthy under the circumstances, not to mention get to the summit. I will not write about mountaineering training in this post – it is a given that one must learn how to climb, and practice their skills for a couple of years, before they come to Everest; in this post I will deal with training as a more general term.

Everest hopefuls begin to prepare for the ascent months and, sometimes, years in advance. They become more health conscious, learning to appreciate spinach and crowded gyms, so as to arrive at base camp feeling and looking like top athletes.

As the world’s highest mountain, Chomolungma demands a serious, respectful approach; it demands training. However, I believe each climber must address their particular weaknesses in their exercise regime and not just work out obsessively because that’s what their peers are doing. What I need to do to prepare for Everest may not be the same as what you need to do; you may not need to train as hard as I, or vice versa :); you and I may not have the same facilities to allow for quality training, etc. In short, the best way to prepare, I believe, is to make the most of what you are and have at your disposal. Don’t waste your time trying to become ‘An Everest Superman/woman, because in extreme mountain conditions tags and labels will not apply, and it will be your knowledge and understanding of yourself, which will help you survive.

How have I NOT been training, then? Let’s have a look. Unlike most Everest climbers, I don’t do running/jogging as it is boring to me as well as painful for my many broken and dislodged bones. I don’t cycle because I’d get killed before the climb if I were to attempt it in Kathmandu with its crazy traffic, and my clumsiness. I don’t do weights because my legs usually get excellent workouts trekking and climbing with a moderately heavy backpack, and I don’t expect to require bodybuilder arms on Everest. I haven’t been swimming, either, which would have been ideal for me, because there’s not a swimming pool in Kathmandu where I would risk doing that. I don’t even do yoga because I tend fall asleep in the middle of class.

So, have I actually been training at all? I’d like to think so. I believe, perhaps, naively, that the best training for climbing The Mountain is climbing mountains. That is exactly what I have been doing since August: I have climbed on five mountains of over 6000 metres in height, summiting three of them and getting good mind-and-body workouts on all. Each of the five mini-expeditions lasted about twenty days, which amounts in total to a hundred days at high altitude. Each of those days not only provided endless – inescapable – workout opportunities but also taught me something about the mountains and how I function in thin air. Those lessons, the sweet and the bitter, were, in my opinion, invaluable preparation for the climb of my life. When in April our expedition reaches the Old Chinese Base Camp, I hope that my body remembers what it must do to perform efficiently at high altitude; I hope, too, that, regardless of how my body adjusts, the weather, the environment etc, my mind stays calm and prepared for success or failure.

With just over a month to go before the expedition team meets in Kathmandu, I will be taking a break from the mountains. Again, unlike most Everest climbers, I intend to give my body some time to rest before pushing it to its absolute limit of endurance on The Mountain. While in St. Petersburg, I might, perhaps, indulge in my passion for swimming in both heated pools and icy lakes; I may try once more to make friends with the treadmill – although, our differences appear irreconcilable. When I return to Nepal, I intend to spend about two weeks in a mountain village teaching English at the local monastery, not only because I’m nice [because I’m not sure I am] but also because the way to the monastery is a steep climb uphill and, therefore, good training and acclimatization.

Should I have done more? Will it be enough? I don’t know, but I do feel comfortable with what I have done to prepare for the Chomolugma pilgrimage. I understand mountains a little better now and love them a great deal more than ever before. In my mind and in my heart I have always been climbing ‘an Everest’, and this time my body, ready or not, is just going to have to tag along.