Lessons Learned – Part 2

So to follow on from my penultimate post regarding lessons learned, I thought I would carry on in a separate post due to my getting carried away writing far too many words in the previous one about my camera :).

So my second take away from my week in Arolla is a pretty simple one, and that is:

You really must train beforehand, and train hard.

No-one to my knowledge ever came down from a 20,000 foot mountain saying it was too easy. I have heard of plenty of (the likes of) marathon runners who have ‘failed’ trying to summit Kilimanjaro as they ended up fatigued or getting AMS. Bizarre almost, but true. And I don’t mean the word ‘failure’ here in its literal sense I should say. No-one, and I mean no-one, fails when trying to summit a mountain. The mountain either lets them get up there, or it doesn’t, and that’s how I believe it is.

As an adjunct here, the fantastic Alan Arnette blog on his Seven Summits for Alzheimer’s mission (http://www.alanarnette.com/), saw him recently have to abort his attempt on Denali. The group sat for a week at high camp at about 17,000 feet whilst being buffeted by snow and high winds, and eventually had to say “we have to go down, not up”. They had precious little left in the way of supplies, and the season was coming to a close, and to go further would have been to risk lives. They came down. Good for them. Failure? No way ever!

The debate on Alan’s blog afterwards centred around people saying “sorry to hear about your failure Alan” which is about the most insulting and ignorant thing I have ever heard. Do these people know what Denali is like? I mean, I don’t, but I am sure as heck that I respect it, and know and understand that to even try to attempt a mountain inside the Arctic circle at the north end of Alaska at temperatures up to -40 degrees (Fahrenheit or Centigrade, take your pick) is an outrageous thing to do in the first place. And as the brilliant mountaineer Ed Viesturs wrote in his outstanding book “No Shortcuts to The Top” (Ed is one of just a handful of people on earth who have climbed all 14 of the world’s >8,000m summits), “Reaching the summit is optional. Getting down is mandatory”. Enough said.

Anyway, getting away from my digression, in my case on this recent trip, I thought before I went that I was in reasonably good shape. I had recently (in the previous three weeks) completed a 90 mile cycling sportive, and had trained for that with about 400 miles cycling in the four weeks leading up to it. I had also been spinning and done a few other gym sessions at least once a a week. It wasn’t however enough, not for me. I ended up struggling up some of the strenuous climbs to the point of considering turning back, and to have to think that way for me, is indeed close the the aforementioned ‘f’ word.

The other thing about fitness is that cycling (and spinning classes, tough though they can be) is not at all like being in the mountains. Cycling certainly gives you good aerobic fitness and stamina, and some decent leg strength, but it is way different really, and misses out on two things.

One is upper body and also core strength. In Switzerland I was carrying a 25/30lb pack every day, and not being used to it, it made my shoulders ache after four, five and six hours. As a result of my shoulders aching, the rest of me found it harder to compensate, and more effort was put in by my legs to keep me going. My legs always felt fine in themsleves, but I found my heart rate was up to the max, probably at 90% or so for some considerable time, and that isn’t really sustainable for me, especially as I am no spring chicken anymore.

The other thing is that in terms of training for mountains, is that there is simply nothing that helps you prepare for them as well as mountains themselves. The ‘art form’ that is walking (steeply) uphill with a weighty pack on your back for hours on end is the best way by far of aiming to do just the same thing. Everything is exacerbated by altitude too when you are up there, and so if you are used to just doing it ad nauseam, then your body just does it, simple as that. It is the same with many things…

Take step training for example. I am (now) using a Stair Climbing trainer like the one pictured below:

When I first got on this thing, five minutes was horrible. It has a heart rate monitor too, and if you push yourself, then when you are at about 10 minutes of hard graft your heart gets to pretty high levels. Mine for example was getting to about 155 or so. I have now however been using it about three times a week for a month since I got back from Switzerland. Now after 30 minutes on there (which I couldn’t have even managed previously) my heart rate is at about 120, and it stays pretty constant for the last half of the time that I am on the machine.

So, to conclude, you have to do mountain training to not just ‘succeed’, but to be able to even attempt, let alone enjoy, your mountains. I should know this by now, and of course I do, but I really need to practice what I preach a whole lot better than I do.

I have a new gadget!

I have been known to buy the odd gizmo and gadget in my time. From Swiss Army knives with more blades than the entire Swiss Army could use, to kitchen gadgets which do everything but turn the cooker on for you, I have had plenty. They never really get used of course, but maybe that’s part of the appeal!

Take the journey to Kilimanjaro for example. I use an iPhone in ‘normal’ life, but of course the battery life is next to useless even when you have daily access to electricity. I knew that there was no way it would last me a week or more on a mountain, even if it was to be turned off for 99% of the time. So when I went there I took with me my old Blackberry, and before I went I bought me a nice gadget called a Powermonkey, which is a solar charger for your phone. Looked great, £60, sold! I took it with me and it basically never got used, but it was nice to have as insurance, and didn’t weigh me down too much.

I also seem to have started a new trend of collecting watches. I bought me a cheapie Timex one for Kili, as I had heard that it is not advisable to walk around in Tanzania sporting a fancy watch (I wear an Omega Seamaster normally) for fear of getting it ripped off your arm by a mugger (they were probably right – Arusha was a pretty intimidating place at times I found). I then ‘retired’ my Kili watch as I wanted to keep it for posterity after I nearly lost it in a bike crash that I had (see my ‘Alain Jourdain’ post for that little story). I then bought another Timex with stopwatch stuff and the like on it for my bike ride. That one is still going strong :).

So this week I combined my trend for gizmos and watches and got me an altimeter! Yes well I needed one badly, obviously:) I did a bit of research, and looked at various options. Lots of them are ugly, all of them are pretty big, and they vary as what you get with them (e.g you can combine heart rate monitor functionality etc).

I plumped in the end for a Suunto. Suunto are a Finnish company who make compass products, diving watches, heart rate monitors etc., and seem to have a pretty good name. They are also known for their ‘Vector’ altimeter watch, which has been around for years apparently. What tipped it in the end was when I looked at Alan Arnette’s Everest blog ( http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/category/7-summit/everest-2011/ ) and saw in his kit list that he wore one too. That was good enough for me!

I looked at a multitude of different Suunto products and in the end plumped for the ‘Core All Black’, just because to me it looked the best and seemed to have the best balance of functionality (i.e. I hope to use the altimeter function in the Himalayas and take a photograph of it showing +6,000m when at Island Peak etc:)) and style. Well you don’t want something too silly on your wrist do you? 🙂 Here is a link to the watch (oh yes it even tells the time too):


I bought it from an internet retailer I hadn’t come across before, called Facewest. They do all sorts of outdoorsy stuff, including climbing and hiking gear, so I will use them again, as their customer service (having spoken to them on the phone too for a couple of things) was exemplary. I also was a bit worried that it would look a bit big, and quite frankly silly, on my wrist.

So having had a bit of a play with it, I think I have sort of figured out how to use it. It has all sorts of logs and the like for the altimeter, meaning that you can record journies and it will tell you what your descent and ascent was for the last ten trips, assuming you remember to set it etc., which it seems you have to remember to do manually.

So here is a picture of it on my wrist:

Stylin'' huh?

Is it massive? Yep. Does it look a bit silly? Probably. Will I use it? Who knows! I do like it though, so it is coming with me next week to Switzerland for starters, and we will see what it tells me in the Alps. I wonder if it has a button to show you how scared you are? Now there’s a great gizmo to have……

Alan Arnette Summits Everest!

I have been following a few of the Everest blogs recently, just because I am hopelessly obsessed about the place. In between reading several books of various expeditions, like ‘Into Thin Air’, ‘The Climb’, ‘Left For Dead’, and ‘Die Trying, I also have been watching the excellent ‘Beyond The Limit’ series on DVD, which was originally a Discovery Channel 6 part series about a successful climb in 2006. I just cannot get enough in my quest for more knowledge on what it must really be like to be able to climb it.

Anyway, there are some excellent blogs out there too, and I have been following three of them closely. The Everest season is in full swing now, as May is the (effectively only) month when people get to the summit, this being because it is the only safe weather window when it actually becomes possible to even attempt it.

I just wanted this to be a brief link for now to say that I am near ecstatic on reading the success of Alan Arnette, who has one of the best blogs I have ever read. Alan is an American guy who lost his Mum and two Aunts to Alzheimer’s. He is in the midst of doing the Seven Summits in 12 months to raise money and awareness for the disease. He has completed Vinson (Antarctica), and Aconcagua (South America) so far. His strapline for each post is “Memories are Everything”, which is extremely poignant. He tried to summit Everest three times previously, and got to within a thousand feet or less of the summit on each occasion, but at the weekend, 5am May 21st 2011 to be exact, he made it.

The link is pasted below:


The rest of Alan’s blog is fantastic too – brilliantly wtitten, extremely entertaining, and hugely emotional, stimulating and inspirational . I’d encourage anyone with a modicum of Everest interest to follow it. I’ll be following the rest of his Seven Summit attempts very closely over the rest of the year too, and have placed a link to it in my blogroll section. I’m giving some money to his chosen charity too, and there’s a link on his site for anyone who is interested in doing likewise.

All of this makes the dream more real to me. I shall keep reading with more than just a little bit of interest, and a huge amount desire and determination. This year will be a pivotal one for me in that respect in so many ways……..