Training to Summit Aconcagua
I am training to summit Aconcagua (the highest mountain outside of Asia). In this blog post I talk about my preparation in readying myself physically for the challenge that lies ahead.
I now fly out 4 weeks today to take on this massive challenge and I am incredibly focused right now.
Training is going well and everything is starting to come together. It feels all-consuming in the best possible way and I am loving this journey that I am on.
In this blog post I want to share my journey to becoming High Altitude Mountain Fit.
Mountain fitness is a unique kind of fitness that must be developed if your goal is to climb mountains easier and with less suffering.
My previous experience on Aconcagua taught me the importance of becoming very comfortable with a heavy load on my back for long hours at high altitude – and the patience required to crawl up a mountainside going at an agonisingly slow pace yet feeling like you are constantly in the red – it’s a process that cannot be rushed and one that requires a strong mind.
This time my goal is to perform better and suffer less. It is an All In approach.
Mountain fitness requires two main elements.
Mountain Fitness – The Engine.
Walking up hill for extended periods of time in the Uk with a rucksack on will place a good demand on your ability to generate oxygen via aerobic pathways – namely the heart and lungs.
Walking up hill for extended periods of time on Aconcagua with a heavy load on your back, on inclines as steep as 27-29% gradient and at high altitude will take that demand to a whole new level.
In recent months, a large part of my training to summit Aconcagua has seen me spending a large amount of time, finding time to build a stronger, bigger base of aerobic fitness.
I have been running (up to 15 miles), hiking in the UK Mountains (up to 18 miles) and completing tough, extended Assault Air bike training sessions. I have also made several significant mountain trips including the Tour Du Mont Blanc 110 miles (July), ascending Mount Toubkal (4167m Altitude October) and various high mileage hikes in the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. (August, September, October, November.)
Mountain Fitness – The Structure.
The second major element of my training to summit Aconcagua is increasing my strength endurance. This is more than just about having strong legs. It’s the joints, the legs, back, mid-section and shoulders. Carrying load for endless steps up and down hill can place a huge demand on the body. As such it is imperative that a training programme includes plenty of strength work to create the kind of resilience needed for long hours on the mountain.
There is no better training for this than getting out in the hills with a heavy pack on your back and putting in the miles.
In the gym environment Kettlebell and Sandbag training forms the main stay of this type of training.
I include movements aimed at developing hip and trunk stability, unilateral leg strength endurance, glute activation and ability to maintain good posture. It all serves to balance out the pack carrying and to “Do Different and Fill in the Gaps” for what the pack carrying does not cater for.
It was Mark Reifkind who developed the term “All Day Strong” and this is certainly true of the demands of climbing Aconcagua.
On my last visit to Aconcagua I had prepared by running and hiking combined with strength endurance training. I was very fit. Or so I thought.
Learn from Past Mistakes.
This time I have learnt from the past experience.
I have engineered frequent bouts of Simulated Altitude Training in recent weeks. This, I feel is providing me with a real edge.
I have been fortunate enough to have access to the Extreme Environments Chamber at the University for a number of simulated altitude training sessions.
So far I have completed 10 sessions of around 2-3 hours with the assistance of Gregor, Bobbie and some of the sports science lab technicians.
I have been performing exercise on a treadmill in the chamber with 16kg pack on and summit boots on inclines to represent as closely as possible the terrain on Aconcagua. The altitude has, for the most part, been set at 4500m which is just above Aconcagua Base Camp height.
I am adapting well and the sessions are feeling good with no side effects such as headaches.
On my first session I was reminded of the feeling in the head of exercising in altitude. A slight feeling of light headedness or fuzziness. Harder breathing and higher heart rates, yet walking only at 2km per hour! I am grateful for this as these are details that can be forgotten and then come as a surprise when on the mountain.
Today was a 2 hour session where the team took a number of expired gas samples, measured oxygen saturation and heart rate to provide greater insight into what my body is doing during such outputs. It’s incredibly interesting, empowering and confidence building. It’s also hard graft!
In addition I have rented an altitude tent from the Altitude Centre – London.
Altitude Training – At Home!
This is an amazing piece of kit and while not cheap to rent – means I can acclimatise further at night time while I sleep – or at least try to sleep as the Hypoxic Generator used to create the simulated altitude is noisy as hell – so ear plugs are being used.
The tent covers my bed in an enclosed unit. The experience of sleeping at altitude is one of having a dry mouth, waking more frequently, sometimes struggling to get to sleep and contending with the noise of the generator. But, it is necessary as things won’t get any better when on the mountain in real life in a few weeks’ time – you just have to get on with it!
I am aiming for 5 nights per week in the tent with 2 nights off.
All said and done at present I am training between 10-12 hours per week and am feeling great.
Some weeks will have higher volume than other days. Some days tougher than others. Especially while juggling a busy work diary and being a father to my son. You get out what you put in.
Two weeks ago I was out for around 10 hours on the mountains of the Brecon Beacons with 5 hours the following day. Perfect training for summit day as summit day will likely be at least 10 hours and it’s important to know you can last a long time without breaking down into an over fatigued state.
Aconcagua feels just around the corner and I am loving the immersion in the preparation, the mind-set and challenge it will bring to me very shortly.
Thanks for reading.