How do you set off on a big-ass expedition trip like this? Well, there are two options; you organize it yourself, or you select an operator.
If you do it yourself, the planning needs to start a long time in advance, and not only do you need to find a team or arrange all the logistics yourself, but also need to take care of everything else, such as permits, equipment, risk management, leadership and so on. That is a story for another time, so I will not go into that here.
If you decide to buy a seat on a commercial expedition, it is essentially very similar to going on any vacation trip, like a holiday to the Canary Islands where you select a package trip and have somebody lese take care of the details.
So, in a similar manner, when deciding to go to the mountains you decide where you want to go, what level you want – is it 3-, 4- or 5-star, and then you buy a ticket. Simple as that 😁
With a mountaineering expedition, depending on your budget, you can go from the basics of having support only until Base Camp, all the way to having somebody else carry all your stuff, cook, fix ropes, and essentially baby sit and feed you cheese and red wine. Pretty much everything else except wiping your butt.
Right now the most expensive expeditions to Mt Everest, for instance, run easily over 120,000€, and there you may have a two-room 4m insulated and heated dome tent, a queen-size elevated bed, a small lounge area with big windows towards the mountain! But it doesn't stop there 😎 - the common area might consist of a 10m dome tent, a sauna, pool table, full bar and professional cooks. Plus there may be somebody who runs yoga classes every day. Pretty incredible, isn't it? And these are usually sold out!
Well, whatever option you choose, whatever level of support you decide to go for, you will most likely end up in the company of other people taking part in the same expedition.
An essential part of the success of an expedition - as everywhere else - is the team itself. If you buy a package trip, you rarely have an idea of who else will be on the team. I have had both really bad and really good experiences. Let's see what this expedition brings. At least from what I've heard, we have a very nice and small group. Plus 1-2 guides. We were planning to leave already in June 2021, but...well, you know what happened.
To be honest, going on an expedition such as this is of course a bit more complicated than a holiday package to the Canary Islands because of all he preparation, training and risks involved. Normally you would reserve a seat at least a year beforehand as it requires quite a bit of preparation; physically, mentally, socially and financially.
What is the hardest thing when being gone for 7 weeks? That you get to shower or wash your sweaty underwear and socks only occasionally? Nope. Or that you do not have the luxury of porcelain to sit on? The food? No, not those either. Those are just daily comforts that we are so used to, that are taken away for a while. You quickly get used to being without them – it is only temporary, in any case 🤣
The added bonus is that when you do manage to shower or wash your clothes you really start to appreciate something you perhaps do not even think about during your normal daily life!
No, without any doubt, at least for me, the hardest part is leaving. The moment when you're saying goodbye to loved ones. Those are moments you think about when you’re stuck in the tent for days during a snowstorm; how are they, what are they doing, and so on - they are the ones that make you home sick, the things you really miss, and I think it is good to acknowledge that beforehand, to know that it will happen. And it is guaranteed, you will have a lot of time by yourself!
Once you have said your goodbyes, and get on the plane, all that evaporates at least for a while. Because you are super excited to finally be on the road, towards something you've dreamed of and prepared for! 🤟🏻
So much is dependent on how well we acclimatize - well everything actually!
Beforehand, there is not really much you can do about that – especially if you live around sea level, which I do. And once you’re there, you need to pay close attention to what your body is telling you. For sure, there will be headaches and loss of appetite as we ascend, but that is all part of the acclimatisation process. Fortunately, it will take us a week to go from 2000m to 5000m, which should give us just enough time to get used to the thinner air at BC. After that we will start several weeks of acclimatisation rounds by gradually climbing higher up, while setting up and stocking the higher camps, and then coming down to rest at BC.
Above ca 5000m the body is steadily deteriorating, while acclimatisation tries to compensate. But above ca 7900m, acclimatisation is essentially impossible. You can stave off the deterioration only for so long.
The body just steadily deteriorates. There is simply not enough oxygen for your tissues to regenerate. Your fingernails stop growing, wounds take forever to heal, and you need weeks to get over a cold. You should eat and drink, but you simply have no appetite. The body uses up its stored energy.
The acclimatisation process simply takes its time, there is not much you can do to speed it up nor do something about it beforehand…
However, what you can do something about in advance is getting in shape!
But before getting into the details about training, I want you to remember something important. Train as often as you need to, not as often as you can. It may sound a bit counterintuitive, but keep in mind that we all have a finite amount of energy for handling physical stress and adaptation. Once you reach this limit, there is no more adaptation. So, bottom line, do not forget to recover in between workouts!
For me, all the preparation; planning, physical training, and getting the gear together are essential parts of the whole experience.
Typically you would start preparation at least a year in advance. Once the decision to go has been made, you need start by focusing on getting your basic endurance (aerobic) in order. A good way to do that is regular running, cycling, skiing, swimming and any other basic endurance exercise. That should start 1-2 years in advance as endurance takes time to build. The earlier you start, the better!
Once you get closer to the departure date (6-4 months), you bring in an increasing amount of hill or forest walking with a backpack, running, or cycling, to get used to similar movement and loads as on the mountain. Then, depending on how technical your climb will be you would also need to practice basic climbing skills, or any other special skills you may need where you are going.
In parallel it is worth doing some basic weight training as well, to ensure that your general physical preparedness is as good as possible. Big movements are good, such as squats, deadlifts, presses, pullups, pushups – and as many core exercises as you can stand! You should not necessarily go for maximums or personal bests – instead focus on longer sets of 5-8 reps, at 70-80% of you max, so that at the same time as you build your strength you also work on your muscular endurance.
What about my own preparation? I have been pretty active sports wise during the last dozen or so years. First there were several years of triathlons, then moving over to crossfit (functional fitness) and high intensity interval workouts. During the last 4-5 years I focused solely on crossfit, which culminated in a competition year mid-2018 to mid-2019, during which I did seven competitions in Europe and earned the unofficial title of fittest 50-year old in Europe 😜. But that was already a while ago, so can't rely on that anymore.
The last 18 months have seen less training volume as I have wanted to give my old body time to recover from the stress of the competition year. The pandemic has naturally also affected how much training has been possible.
At the point of writing this, I have about 1 month to departure. My target is to do at least 1 hill or forest walk per week (with an increasingly heavier backpack),1-2 runs or bike rides a week, with some weight lifting in between. Hill walks and cycling are my favourites as they very closely emulate the same movement patterns we will be doing on the mountain. At least one of each is longer each week, and I will keep increasing the length up to departure. Not forgetting good recovery in between!
So overall, I believe I have a good and solid foundation and one of my targets is definitely to ensure that running out of steam will not be a reason for me for interrupting the trip!
As for mental preparation – well there is not so much that can be done apart from talking to friends who are experienced climbers, using Google, looking through photos, and reading what books I can find. I.e trying to get a feel for what we are up against, and setting your expectation level.
So that's that, a bit about general preparation as well as my own! 😁