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“Every mountain top is within reach if we just keep climbing”

Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp (EBC) takes effort, commitment and preparation. Over the past 3 months, Coach Michelle and I have been training with the goal of trekking 130km over 14 days, eventually reaching the height of 5,364m.

The trek itself utilises the main EBC trail that passes amidst mountain peaks, cultural villages and glacial rivers. So we found out, it is definitely an experience to take at least once in a life time. Views of the mountain peaks like Thamserku, Ama Dablam, and several other mountains in addition to the 8,000 meters plus, Lhotse and Everest, makes this trip incredibly rewarding.

Before you begin such a trek, you should be aware of what is required to complete the trip safely and effectively to maximise your enjoyment levels. One of the best ways to prepare yourself is to develop a training programme that aims to maximise your conditioning whilst keeping you strong to reduce your risk of injury.

A sample strength workout would look like this:

  1. Single Leg Split Squats – 3 x 8 reps (each leg)
  2. Straight Leg RDL’s – 3 x 12 reps
  3. Push Ups – 3 x 10-12 reps (weighted if possible)
  4. Pull Ups – 3 x 8-10 reps (weighted if possible)
  5. Lying Dead Bugs – 3 x 20 reps
  6. Side Planks w/foot elevation – 3 x 30s (each side)
  7. Farmers Carries – 3 x 60s
  8. Heavy Slam Ball Carry – 3 x 30m

A sample conditioning workout would look like this:

  • 60-90 minutes of gradual uphill hiking, carrying 8-10kg, keeping heart rate (HR) between 65% – 85% of HR Max.

During the programme, the intensity, tempo and variety of exercises would change depending on what stage the participant is at. Typically, we would require you to train for between 4-5 hours per week leading up to your trek.

Remember to always seek the advice of a professional when designing and implementing such a training programme, so as to ensure you are at the best physical condition when beginning.

Alongside your training programme, you must be aware of the risks of being at altitude. Travel to regions of high altitude can lead to medical problems, from the mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness to the potentially fatal high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). In short, the higher the altitude, the greater the risk.

So what can you do to prepare your body for such risks?

  • Learn about your destination—believe it or not, you don’t have to climb to the top of Mount Everest or ski the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps to experience altitude sickness. In fact, many people plan trips to high altitude destinations and may not even know it. An easy way to check the elevation of your destination is to use a site like veloroutes.org. Simply type your desired location into the search box, click “find elevation” and the elevation of that location will appear on your screen. A general rule of thumb is the closer you live to sea level, the harder of a time you’ll have when visiting higher altitude. Also, be particularly cautious if you’ve experienced symptoms of altitude sickness before.
  • Go to the doctor—after you’ve done your research and you decide you could be at risk for altitude sickness, book an appointment with your doctor or travel medicine specialist. If feasible, they may recommend acetazolamide, often marketed under the brand name Diamox, which is the most tried and tested drug for altitude sickness prevention and treatment. Depending on your risk factors, some doctors might advise you to pack ibuprofen (effective for relieving altitude-induced headaches) and ginger chews, capsules or tea, which can help quell altitude-induced stomach nausea.
  • Acclimatise slowly—getting acclimatised to higher elevations than you’re used to can take anywhere from 1-3 days at a given altitude. At the beginning of your trip, consider spending a night or two at an “intermediate” altitude before going higher. Also, take it easy for the first 24-48 hours of your trip and plan quieter activities before going all out with higher-intensity endeavours. This is easier said than done, but will help avoid headaches, so take it easy and rest whenever you need it. A well planned tour company should factor acclimatisation days into your trek.
  • Watch What You Eat and Drink—when all is said and done, complex carbohydrates allow you to maintain your energy levels—both important factors in preventing altitude sickness. So leave your Atkins Diet book at home, and plan on eating plenty of complex carbohydrates including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. And remember, at high altitudes you want to add water to your body, not deplete it. Avoid caffeine and alcohol—especially while you’re still acclimating—and drink at least 3 litres of water a day as a minimum.
  • Know the Danger Signs: consider descending to a lower altitude if you experience moderate to severe levels of these symptoms. Symptoms of altitude sickness can surface with even the healthiest athletes and are NOT a sign of weakness! Symptoms can include:
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Insomnia

The good news is, most altitude-induced symptoms are mild and can be avoided—or treated—by following the tips described above. However, in the unlikely event these above symptoms become unbearable, ensure you have the correct insurance package before you leave home. For our experience, we used the British Mountaineering Council for all our insurance needs.

I would recommend anyone who wants to test their fitness outside of the gym environment to give trekking a try. Whether you are starting off with smaller mountain ranges in Europe, or jump straight into the Himalayas, find yourself a coach with experience of what it takes to exercise at altitude.

At SPC we never leave any stone unturned in our quest to provide all our clients with the best training experience possible. One of the reasons Coach Michelle and I decided to trek to EBC, was to take our knowledge and apply it practically, allowing us to then provide education and information to help others.

If you are thinking of undergoing a similar experience, follow our contact page to find out how we can specifically help you.

Remember, use the gym for building your fitness, but never forget to set goals and test yourself in challenging environments outside of the gym.

Keep training smart.