Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Personal Trainers guide to Climbing Everest Base Camp

One off the bucket list

I cannot describe what an amazing experience our journey to EBC was.   The views of the mountain, rivers and waterfalls were spectacular.   At times I would stop and just take it all in and would find myself quite overwhelmed.  The air was crisp and fresh, it felt like breathing in some sort of magic-organic vapour.  Sometimes I would just stop, look and wish that every person I knew and loved could've been there to share the view the beautiful vistas of sun bouncing off the snowy peaks.  I'll do my best now to give you a glimpse of my journey, but as always you have to do it yourself, to get the full experience.

Ready for the off

Once the Ufit Retreats team were all together in our Katmanhdu hotel, we had our safety brief from the guides from gurkha adventures.  The main points were:

  1. Eat and stay hydrated
  2. Eat more and drink more water
  3. Don't rush off.  The 'racing snakes' will suffer the most and the fastest.
  4. When you don't want to eat-eat!
  5. Stick to the mountain side, when passing moving cattle and people.
Our team leader Lizzie (follow @lizziewrighty on Instagram), had everyone's health and well being as top priority.  She remained vigilant, as the risks of attitude are high and no-one on the team wanted to suffer.  We all agreed to go at the same pace.  There was no winner.  We also agreed it would be wise to take diamox, to help reduce any symptoms of high altitude sickness.  

We left at about 2AM for a four drive to the airport, to catch a 20 mins internal flight to Lukla.  You'd think we'd might as well have carried on driving, but there was no roads where we were heading.  Not one!

On the first look of our plane, I have to say, I was a bit anxious to say the least.   The last time I'd got in a plane similar, was to jump out of it with a parachute.  This time though, there was no parachute.  

The landing run way at Lulka airport, was basically dug into a mountain and maybe 100m long.  Apparently the week before, a plane didn't hit the brakes hard enough and went straight into the crash wall at the end, killing three on board...and yes we found that out before boarding!

Top tip:  Pay attention to the guides.  They know better than you, even if you think you are super human.  Don't be the dickhead to let the team down, because you want to be an 'explorer'.

Lukla airport, you can see the edge of the runway, but not the shear drop at the end.

Follow the yellow brick road...

Annnnd they're off.  Walking through the town of Lukla, I was amazed by the amount of shops that sold everything we needed for the trek, from high end mountaineering equipment to baby wipes and jewellery.  I was like "if this is what it's like all the way, this is going to be a piece of piss".

The first leg was a bit of a shock to the lungs, but nothing too demanding, as it was only a three hour section, just to break us in slowly.  The first lunch was chips (like chips your mum used to cook in the kitchen fryer-proper old-school!), pasta in tomato sauce and coleslaw.  CARBS!   And it kinda continued like that for the rest of the trip.  We did managed to arrange a swap for the pasta with rice and coleslaw for cabbage.  But after 11 days, we were all pretty sick of the repetitiveness, the bloating and farting, which effected everyone from the first meal.  

What was interesting (if you want to say that), was the new movements, or 'poo-tine' (basically our poo timings, were completely knocked out of whack).  What I found was, after lunch within 20 mins of the 'trekking', I quickly went from 0-100 in need of a poo.  The reason, I've put this down too, is oxygen priority.  Your Central Nervous System (CNS) reacts to stress and demand.  So for instance, oxygen is needed for the 'smooth muscle' of the digestive system, but also for the muscles to obviously move us.  However there is obviously a reduction of 02 the higher the altitude.  The Body reacts by removing what it doesn't need right then and there then. Because the muscle and brain needs  oxygen, they take priority-digestion does not, sooo...

A Poo With A View (PWAV).  I cannot reiterated the necessity for squat depth and mobility training, in situations where you may get caught short in the great outdoors.
Top tip:  Work on deep squats-make life more comfortable for yourself.

When you think you're fit

I'd like to think I'm pretty fit and strong and am always up for a mental challenge.  Now however, I have another level of appreciation for strength, fitness and gile.  It seems that everything I've ever been taught (and have taught to my students), has pretty much been kicked right out of the classroom.  'Reps, sets and periodisation' to me now, almost doesn't exist.   Why the extreme change in mindset? Well check out an example of one of the local Sherpas...


I do now have a new appreciation for the adaptability of the human body.  Sherpas can typically start lifting loads on their heads from the age of 7 and when they're at their peak, can carry upto 150kg, up until they're 70 years old! Whaaat!  I know right-unbelievable.  I had a go with an 80kg load and thought my neck was going to snap and could barely stand up with it.  The guy that was carrying it had a least 20 years on me and about half the height.  Ridiculous.

Top tip:  Pack only essentials in your day sack and then add 3 litres (3 kg) of water to be packed on top.  Uphill; your day sack should be tight and high up the back.  On the downhill, loosen off the straps.

The Terrain on the way to EBC

It seemed that the terrain changed every couple of kilometres.  Going from really bad cobble, to dust, to mud, snow and rocks.  It was diffinately challenging for the ankle joints.

On the final day to the assent to EBC, it snowed.  As we were pretty much one of the last groups up, the snow got compacted by other peoples foot prints, causing ice to set on the rocks.

I personally did the whole trek in some Reebok trail running shoes.  I ran across the Artic in some (and a good set of seal skin socks for warmth and waterproofing), so I knew my feet would be fine.  I wanted light, comfort and agility, which I couldn't get from boots (though I did pack some just incase anyway).  Also, the Sherpas did this stuff in flip-flops, so if they can do it - I can  do to! (Could be the wrong attitude I guess).

Top tip:  Feet need to be comfortable.  Aim to change your socks every couple of days (great morale) and keep your feet warm and dry.  Use foot powder in the evening and pack crampons in your day sack just incase.

Accommodation on the EBC trail

'Anyone can rough it', is an old Army expression.  But if you don't need too, why would you?  Don't get me wrong the accommodation isn't ritz-carton standard and it is very basic, so take some luxuries to boost morale (I'd recommend a hot water bottle), but at the end of the day it was shelter (and not necessarily warm) and a mattress to lay my fat head on. We rated 'stars' based on if there was:
  • A western toilet
  • A sink outside the toilet
  • A shower (hot ideally and not a bucket)
  • Had meat in the evening meal
The only '5 star' we had was in Kathmandu, the higher up the mountain we went, the less the stars and none went over three. 

After a few days of not showering though, you kinda get over it.  Everyone's stinking and everyone's going to the toilet, pretty much in front of each other and just looking the other way.  We all turned into grot-bags and it seemed we were almost boastful about how long we could leave it before having a shower.  Now I know why a pig is happy in shit.

Top tip: Set expectations low.  Pack a sleeping bag liner and block the windows with your bags and anything else you can as soon as you get in the room (to stop the drafts)...believe me on this!

Take aways from the trip

The whole journey was an incredible experience, I couldn't recommend it enough.  I actually believe almost anyone could do it.  On the trail there were plenty of different body shapes, sizes, ages and abilities.  The trick is to go slow.  Obviously, the stronger and fitter you are the more you will benefit, but bear in mind any additional weight, is additional work.   But having said that, the fittest tend to go off first and suffer first.

The altitude did wipe me out on the inclines, I have to admit and at some points, I'd literally take three steps and then have to catch my breath.

Physically my body changed a couple of times during the trip.  I could see that I put on body fat in the first couple of days, but towards the end leaned up again (though these were only subjective observations, no formal stats were taken).

My resting heart rate went from 48bpm, to around 78-84 on the last couple of days.   My blood oxygen levels dropped from 98% to 86% at one point too.  Any explosive physical exhersion, even getting into my sleeping bag, would get me blowing hard.

Everyone at the end of the trek, suffered a sort of respiratory infection (coughing and spluttering).  I don't think it was specific to the altitude, but a combination of altitude, sudden changes in temperature, dust and fatigue.  

Top tip:  If you're training at the moment and cutting down on carbs like rice and pasta, start introducing them at least two weeks before the trek, to allow the body to get used to them again, as the menu is limited as you go up.

Lessons I learnt on the trip

  1. Say hello to everybody:  We had a very funny Canadian gentleman on the trip with us, who would talk to everyone and say hello.  Sometimes conversation went well and other times...it was plain awkward, but made it even more funnier to watch.  The lesson though was, you never know what may come just a simple 'hello', or bit of chit-chat.  Plus it's good for morale-for all parties.
  2. Don't sweat the small stuff:  Seeing the simple life of the local mountain population, was somewhat inspiring.  You think about the material stuff we have and the luxuries of modern western lifestyle, we can still find time to complain about.  This trip certainly gave a new perspective and I will now be more conscious to reframe any moans I might have. 
  3. The human body is amazing:  The abilities of the body to adapt to its environment is incredible.  To see Sherpas a good foot shorter and 30kg lighter than I, skip up and down the mountains with 15 crates of beer on their head, in flip flops, is more a sporting spectacle than watching 11 guys run around on a pitch for 90 minutes.  
  4. The power of human spirit:  Watching one lady in our team work her ass off, despite the agony she'd been enduring on her knees, was truly inspiring.  Seeing a 18 year old young lady, suffering badly with gastric issues from day 2,  keep pushing to the end without a single moan when she could've stopped at any point, deserves a 'she got balls' kudos.  Another lady, carried on walking, with a stress fracture (unknowingly) in her shin-the pain must have been unbearable. Lastly, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The first to summit Everest back in 1953.  How courageous must they have been to take on the unknown, relatively unequipped and which limited knowledge of the environment. Just WOW!
The Ufit retreats EBC 2019 team 

Would I do it again?

...Absol-friggin-lutely!  I would urge anyone on the fence about doing it, to go a book the ticket now without hesitation.  Visit Ufit retreats for more info on the next adventure.

If you want to check out my vlog on the entire trip, click on my YouTube channel and hit subscribe for more challenges.  Keep it real folks and good luck


If you would like some help and advice on trekking to Everest Base Camp, or any extreme cold weather endurance event, feel free to get in touch for a training support and preparation guidance.

For more information about and upcoming adventures with Ufit, just click the following link Ufit Retreats.


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