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Climbing Mt Everest - Training and Tips
Mt Everest South Col route - © alanarnette.com
Elevation: 29,035 ft (8,850m)
Mt. Everest (also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal and Chomolungma in Tibet) is the highest peak on earth, one of only 14 coveted peaks over 8000m. More than 4,000 ascents to the summit have been made by over 3,000 people as of 2009. In 2009, Body Results client Adam Geist, climbing with Alpine Ascents International, added his name to the growing list. A podcast of his experience will be forthcoming later this fall, in addition to training and conditioning tips to help prepare for the climb of all climbs.
The two main climbing routes on Everest include the technically easier Southeast Ridge from Nepal, and the less frequently-used Northeast Ridge from Tibet. The Southeast Ridge (Nepal) Base Camp is located at 5,380 m (17,700 ft) and takes mountaineers roughly 6-8 days to reach on foot with yak and porter support. The Northeast Ridge (Tibet) Base Camp is at 5,180 m (16,990 ft) on a gravel plain below the Rongbuk Glacier. While other 8000m peaks may be technically more demanding, the weather, altitude, time required to summit, and difficulties crossing through the Khumbu Ice Fall and over the Hillary Step make even the easiest route on Everest an enormous challenge.
Mt Everest North Ridge route - © alanarnette.com
The most common time to try climbing Everest is during April and May when winds die down a bit before summer monsoon season begins. After monsoon season the winds become less predictable and additional snow deposits make climbing extremely challenging. While most Everest climbers don’t carry more than about a 35-pound pack at any time, due to the extreme altitude, frigid conditions, avalanche hazards, and many days of repeated effort to reach the summit, it is one of the most challenging – physically and psychologically -- climbing experiences available.
A typical expedition will last about 2 months. After trekking several days to reach Everest Base Camp the process of gradual acclimatization on Mt Everest will begin. Teams go up and come down from gradually higher and higher camps until they are ready to try for the summit. This acclimatization process can take 4-6 weeks before a summit attempt is made.
Everest Technical Skills
In order to feel comfortable on the varied steep, sometimes rocky, and sometimes icy terrain you will experience on Everest, it is a good idea to include plenty of climbs that involve travel on crampons under all sorts of conditions, and over a wide variety of surfaces, ranging from slush to ice, pea gravel to rock, deep snow to crusty suncups. Be sure you are comfortable with extreme exposure and steep drop offs for long periods of time. Include plenty of technical rock and ice climbing experiences, so you are fairly comfortable following on alpine rock routes and Water Ice Grade 4 (WI4). Be as comfortable with jumars, ascenders, crampons, all your gear, and knot tying as possible, so that use of such gear is ingrained in your memory. With frozen fingers and diminished mental capacity you want all equipment use and technical skills to be as rote as possible. You will also need to be completely proficient with the rest step and pressure breathing so that on summit day you can optimize your oxygen uptake.
High Altitude Progressions
BodyResults WebTrainer client Adam G.
on Mt. Everest Summit, May 23, 2009
click to hear interview with Adam
A great way to get the skills set suggested above, and to see how your both body and mind perform at high altitude, is to experience other lower-altitude expedition-type climbs before hand. A good mountaineering progression for the novice climber aspiring to reach the summit of Everest would be to first tackle a 14,000 foot glaciated peak such as Mt. Rainier or a technically challenging 14,000 foot peak in the Rocky Mountains. Next, we recommend trying Alaska’s Denali (Mt. McKinley) to see how you handle several weeks in cold, snow and ice. Next, try to plan some sort of trip to Nepal prior to Everest to be familiar with culture, the local region, food, and logistics. If you can arrange for time to climb a peak of 7-8,000 meters in Nepal, that would also be very helpful. Assuming you have tested your acclimatization, skills, and conditioning, you’re ready to tackle the greatest challenge of all, Mt. Everest.
Psychological and Physiological Requirements
Perhaps one of the toughest things about climbing a mountain like Everest is keeping motivated for months. Plan to spend a lot of time in your tent, waiting for the opportunity to go higher on the mountain. Be aware that you probably will be socked in by strong weather for at least part of the time, weather that can intimidate you and weaken your reserve. You may have climbing mates who get sick, have to descend without you, or worse (heaven forbid) never come back home. At some point you will likely get sick yourself, yet still have to perform. You may be in top physical condition but get struck with something you never expected. Mental fortitude, an ability to roll with whatever comes along, and above all a strong desire to succeed are all vital to your success on a mountain like Everest.