Hanging around in Centennial Hut, NZ mountaineering course.


Plan ahead: If you want to climb Everest, you’re going to have to be in fantastic physical shape. Fitness won’t fend off altitude sickness, but will enable more oxygen to reach your body. Basic fitness training should start well in advance with plenty of cardiovascular training in the 12-month run-up to the climb.

Running: Ed Viesturs, an American climber attempting all 14 of the world’s 8,000 metre peaks and involved in the 1996 IMAX expedition on Everest, recommends a programme of running seven to eight miles (or about an hour) per day, on hilly terrain, four days on, one day off. If based in the city, run on a treadmill with a rucksack.

Weight-training: Viesturs recommends a weight-training programme for developing upper-body strength, which you’ll require for carrying your 12-15kg pack and clearing ice and snow for tent platforms.

Take supplements: Glucosamine Sulphate and Omega 3 and 6 oils for joints are helpful, as well as a mountain of dietary supplements to make up for the vitamins you will miss out on without fresh fruit and vegetables. Boosting the immune system is also vital, and antioxidants help in that department.

Practicals: ’The best training to climb a mountain is to go mountain climbing,’ says mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd. Expedition leader Gavin Bate likewise recommends regular expeditions to lower altitudes as part of your training. ‘Start with lots of hill walking, then Mount Kilimanjaro is a good example of a mountain to start on, because it’s high and will get you fit. Then I’d say to climb Mont Blanc or Ebrus would be the next step up. Mix that in with plenty of long-distance running when you’re closer to sea level and you have a good training plan to work with,’ he says.

Gain weight: It’s advisable to gain an extra stone in weight, as you can expect to lose up to 20 per cent of body weight on Everest.

The health hazards

A climber’s health is paramount, and never more so than in the rarefied atmosphere of Everest.

Here are some of the common health concerns you can expect on the mountain:

Alpine trench foot: Keeping feet dry is very important. Climbers lose toenails, especially on the descent, if they are not cut short.

Coughs: A hacking cough caused by dry air can stick with you the entire expedition. It can be so bad you’ll cough up throat tissue.

Cuts: Wounds don’t heal at altitude, they get worse. You’ll see lots of people with plasters holding their fingers together.

Altitude sickness: The primary concern of mountaineers. As altitude increases, the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000ft (3,658m), there are 40 per cent fewer per breath. To compensate, your breathing rate must increase a great deal, even at rest. The body can also overcompensate by allowing blood vessels to leak in the brain or lungs.

Appetite: As the altitude increases, body function is streamlined to preserve vital organs. The stomach is not a necessity, so it ceases to digest food.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): is the result of ascending faster than the body can adapt to Hace (High Altitude Cerebral Edema, fluid on the brain) or Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, fluid in the lungs). Both conditions are caused by the combination of high altitude and low air pressure which leads to fluid leaking from the capillaries. Initial signs of AMS are a headache, accompanied by dizziness, nausea, fainting or weakness, difficulty walking or sleeping, and confusion. Pulmonary edema at an advanced stage can be recognised by what’s known as the Death Rattle, when breathing rattles at the end of each breath. This is quite literally the fluid in the lungs rumbling, and by this late stage, the sufferer is drowning.

Frostbite: An initial sign of frostbite is a cloudy white colour of the skin. This means that the tissue is frozen, but not yet dead. Treatment is no more advanced than the patient removing their boots and shoving bare feet into the armpits of a warm person. Advanced frostbite is when the flesh appears black. At this stage, nothing can be done to restore blood flow.

Hypothermia: The core body temperature drops to such a degree that life is endangered. Overwhelming feelings of lethargy encourage a sufferer to fall asleep, resulting in death. Wrapping a patient in blankets is not going to raise body temperature, which is why two bodies will wrap together in a sleeping bag to restore warmth.

Broken bones: A climber who is injured on the mountain needs to be capable of getting him or herself down to help. Some medical kits now carry morphine to enable the patient to descend to a level where help can be reached.

Sunburn: A real hazard on Everest. The sun’s reflection, coupled with excess time spent panting for oxygen, means that a sunburnt roof of the mouth is common. It makes eating almost impossible. Sunburn of the nostrils also occurs.

Thrombosis/embolism: Altitude can thicken the blood to a consistency akin to custard. This can further complicate frostbite, due to the inability of thicker blood to flow to fine capillaries. The humble aspirin thins the blood and is a mountaineer’s trusted tool.

If all else fails… The nearest hospital to Everest is in Pheriche, which is one full day’s hike from Base Camp.

The mental preparation

Don’t rush your build-up. Before an expedition you should be accustomed to spending long periods at high altitudes and in spartan conditions, and be able to cope on your own. Being self sufficient is an important mental leap for the prospective climber to make.

Understand it won’t be easy. Since the 1996 disaster, terminology has shifted and guides are known as ‘facilitators’. This is to dispel the idea that you’ll be hauled up the mountain for a fee.

Be prepared for lots of ‘down time’. Of approximately seven weeks spent on the mountain, only about 21 days are taken up with climbing. The rest are given over to acclimatisation and rest days. Learn to relax while you have the opportunity. You’ll need the energy stores. Impatience is a mental obstacle to the climber.

Accept that you won’t be mentally alert on the mountain. Above 8,000m your mental acuity drops to 30 per cent of normal levels. Basic arithmetic (crucial when negotiating the oxygen flow rate) becomes virtually impossible.

Be ready for hallucinations. These can be blamed on the combination of hypoxia and fatigue. In Reinhold Messner’s 1980 solo attempt, he imagined an invisible companion climbing beside him. In 1933 Englishman Frank Smythe reported ‘two curious looking objects floating in the sky… one possessed what appeared to be squat underdeveloped wings, and the other a protuberance suggestive of a beak. They hovered motionless but seemed slowly to pulsate.’

Picture yourself on the mountain, succeeding. Cathy O’Dowd works at visualising herself into the challenge. She says, ‘I always try to look around, to look back at the view, rather than focus on the next step. I take pride in what I’ve achieved already, rather than what I have left to do, and I find that leaves me motivated to keep going.’



Here is where i’ll mention canyonning, climbing in NZ, Aconcagua, and more recently Crossfit  and pack marching etc.

I will update this monthly:

Fran time, body fat, diet,

put in a photo of canyonning

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