Rona looking back from summit of Sgurr Alistair, Scotland

The road to Everest: Getting mountain fit

Author: Robert and Rona

Robert and Rona have teamed up with Adventure Travel in an effort to document their preparation and attempt to climb Mount Everest from sea to summit. In their latest installment, they spend time getting mountain fit ahead of an attempt on the mighty Mount Elbrus…

The view north from Beinn Ghlas, Scotland

There is a picture on the wall of our living room showing a mountain rising, in relative isolation to the rolling hills around it and 3/4 covered in snow. This mountain is the current objective of our training, Mount Elbrus, rising 5,600m above sea level in the Caucasus Mountains just north of Georgia. The picture has been there for a good few months now, and the latest step in our goal to climb Mount Everest from sea level in 2018 is but a matter of weeks away.

As just our second expedition away from the UK, this is both exciting and nerve-wrecking. The logistics are mostly sorted. We have flights and hotels where needed, we are dropping our passports off in Edinburgh this week to apply for visas, and we have all the kit we’ll need thanks to Tiso, our gear suppliers.

The only thing left to do is make sure that we are in physical shape to get to the top of the highest mountain in Europe. This is no mean feat. After a difficult winter, where injury, weather, and employment all combined to limit our activities, (read about that in our last article) we have had some ground to make up in the last couple of months.

Thankfully our guiding company, Alpine Ascents provide a lot of information about what is expected of you, and advice on training and preparation, which gave us both objectives for the shape we should be in, and also how we might train to get there.

Rona looking back from summit of Sgurr Alistair, Scotland

As a result of this, our wall calendar now has weekly targets for what we should be carrying up hills on each day of the weekends that we are able to get out and about (Rona still has on-call weekends). The gym visits are piling up, each (hopefully) adding a little bit more strength or endurance, and each gym visit is accompanied by a coloured symbol on the calendar to help visualise progress a little bit more.

The target weights have been carefully calibrated (OK, guestimated) to slowly increase the weight being carried, while trying to protect Rona’s foot during her recovery from the plantar fasciitis. This has been helped by regular immersions in ice-cold water for 15-30 minutes at a time to encourage blood-flow to the tendon, and progress has definitely been seen.

All our efforts have been helped significantly by a marked up-turn in the weather over the last couple of months. While March was pretty dreich by any standards, April and the first half of May have provided a whole host of opportunities for walking. This has enabled us to get out and about a bit more, and get back to ticking a few more munros off the (incredibly long) list.

These have included fantastic days out from Bridge of Orchy to climb Beinn an Dothaidh, a series of days out in the Lawers to tick half of the munros in the range, on the road to Oban to get up Ben Lui and Beinn a’Chleibh, as well as closer to home with a trip up Ben Vorlich (at Loch Earn), and almost countless excursions to one of our favourite haunts, Ben-y-Vrackie.

Robert climbing the TD Gap, Cuillin Ridge

In particular, the weekends up Beinn an Dothaidh and Ben Vorlich were blessed with fantastic weather, with clear skies and excellent visibility. With the snow still underfoot on Beinn an Dothaidh, and bright sun shining on Ben Vorlich, we were able to put the litres of water we were carrying to the top to the back of our minds and enjoy the climbs. Of course, the good times can’t last forever, and our luck was pretty solidly out when we made another week-long trip to Skye.

The forecast had never been good, but booking in January we weren’t to know that would be the case. Regardless, our first full day was fantastic and enabled us to reacquaint ourselves with the stunning walk into Coire a’Ghrunnda, before picking up where we left off on the ridge the year before.

We successfully descended and then ascended the other side of the Thearlaich-Dubh gap which was pleasing as it is the hardest compulsory climbing on the entire Cuillin Ridge, before scrambling to the top of Sgurr Alisdair for some truly stunning views across the rest of the ridge.

The descent was cautious, but ultimately enjoyable, down a snow-filled Great Stone Shute to emerge into Coire Lagan and home. Unfortunately, that was the last walking we managed on the ridge, as that evening rain and snow arrived, and the cloud persisted throughout the remainder of our stay. Although frustrating, it is hard to be angry at Skye for long, and of course we will be back as soon as diaries and training schedules allow!

Robert descending Ben Lui, Scotland

Of course things haven’t been plain sailing for two months. Despite our best efforts, finding the time and motivation to get to the gym as often as we’d like as well as fitting in training with busy work schedules has remained a challenge. This can leave us feeling that we aren’t doing as much, or as often, as we ‘should’ be doing. This is unfortunately a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Once you have missed a week at the gym, it makes it that much harder to go the next time, and guilt at not achieving what we think we should be can be very destructive. At these times, I find it useful to take a step back and look at the wider picture. Last weekend, we went out on both days. The first day Rona and I were carrying 20 and 25kg respectively, and for the second, longer day, we were carrying 17 and 20kg. On Elbrus, we will be expected to carry 15kg a day over the similar height gain and distances.

On paper, it seems that we are amply prepared, but we also know from our experiences on Rainier that there are a range of factors that reduce your efficiency and capability on mountains. The altitude is an obvious, and thoroughly energy-sapping, example, but we have had experience of struggling with exposure when walking on glaciers for multiple days, and changes to food and sleep schedules can also play havoc.

We also found it quite disconcerting not to have either a map or clear idea of where we were headed on any given day on the mountain, and this can definitely make it psychologically challenging to keep going. Some of these things we can affect (we’re taking maps this time!), but we’re not taking anything for granted. However, in a month, we will be on our way to Elbrus and our first attempt at one of the seven summits! With luck, the conditions will be on our side, and we will be able to report back on a successful ascent.

We look forward to sharing it with you next time!

Rona & Robert

You can follow Rona and Robert’s preparation for climbing Mount Everest on their blog by clicking here.