Ama Dablam

Training for mountaineering update

Training for mountaineering… What does it take to sit on top of tall, pointy mountains as featured in cliché motivation posters? To be honest, even though I have done it before, I still have no bloody clue. I’m completely making this up as I go! Maybe the last summit was a complete fluke. Maybe this time will be different…

In exactly one month I will be stepping off a plane in Kathmandu and heading off into the hills with a good mate of mine. Despite being busy with my studies, some relief pharmacy work and organising my book launch (scheduled for a week after I return, which will  be a challenge considering I slept for a month after my last climb), I am pleased to report that my training has come along apace. Since my first Ama Dablam training blog post  my fitness has improved immensely. My waist is 6 cms smaller and I am 7 kgs lighter. Finally I am starting to look less like Homer Simpson and more like the guy to the right!

I am swimming 3 kms two to three times a week. The last time I went to the pool I was super-motivated and busted out the first 1.5 kms without a rest. My lungs are feeling strong thanks to yet another wild theory of mine. You see, I figure that swimming is one of the best ways to train for a low oxygen environment. I have been trying to teach my body to function under ‘oxygen stress’ (my term)  by not breathing when I want and alternating between a breath every five and one every six strokes. Once I tried breaking my swim down into laps of ten. I breathed once every 10 strokes on the first lap, 9 on the next and so on. This meant that when I did breathe I needed  to be efficient. This hurt, but I could feel myself pushing through all sorts of uncomfortable I-want-to-breathe barriers. Surely all this helps my breathing efficiency. Maybe. Another wild Ben theory…

I have recruited a rag-tag ‘team’ of dudes to rock climb with. Once a week Davide, the barista from over the road, and his mate, as well as my paragliding buddy Juan join me to ‘hang out’ at the climbing gym. All the lads are new to the sport, but they love the challenge and excitement. I am loving the company, making new friends and fun of it all. Rock climbing is amazing training. When you get tired, you fall off. This gives a surge of adrenaline that makes it possible to go again and keep on climbing beyond normal tired.

On top of climbing and swimming, I train with the slack-line during breaks from my book launch and study work. I can now wear my rucksack (big red, naturally) with 12 kgs inside on the slackline. This is super-exciting considering I could hardly stand on the thing a few months ago. Also, if climbing does not work out for me, I can run away to join the circus as a tightrope walker.

Queue shameless brag video:


All those oft-forgotten balance muscles that sub-consciously twitch and keep us upright get an amazing workout on this contraption. I have found muscles down the side of my legs and in my bum, which I didn’t know existed. If you have absolutely no imagination at all, you may be wondering how slacklining would help with mountaineering. Below is a short video, which shows just how important balance is on mountains:


I think maybe the next goal for the slackline will be to do it as Jette throws slushy ice at me, or get her to spray me with a hose in the nighttime. She’d enjoy that!

Anyway, that’s the latest on my training for the big climb. Did I mention that the Red Rucksack now has GPS capabilities? As we climb I will be updating here via sat phone, and tracking our progress using a GPS spotter. The GPS SPOT will be stuffed in my pack and plotting our exact location to a very detailed map as we climb. Thankfully, Ama Dablam is near Everest so there are some amazingly detailed maps available of the region. You will even be able to see, in real time, which ridge line we are sitting on, and which cliff we are climbing. High tech gizmos meets Yak transportation. BOO YAH! Yeah…I’m starting to get excited, and I look forward to having you tag along!

Do you have any questions about the expedition? Do you want to know any specific details? Please comment below and I’ll try to answer any question before I go. Note: while I’m in Nepal communication will be one way, so I will not be able to see comments or answer any questions so get in now.

Thanks for joining me.


Ama Dablam – My mountaineering training regimen

Please do not get the wrong idea. I’m not writing this because I, in any way, think that I am some kind of fitness guru. Quite the opposite really; my view on exercise is simple: the more uncomfortable a training session is, the better it’s going to be for me. If you have an image popping into your mind of me in a packed gym running naked on a treadmill, well sorry, you’re thinking of the wrong kind of uncomfortable. That, or you’re some weird, stalker, beard-o-phile which is just awkward so please move on…anyway, what I mean is that my view on training is simple; the more I am sweating and gasping (and sometimes quietly sobbing) the better it is.

No, I’m writing this because I thought it would be interesting for those who don’t have the chance, or desire, to climb big mountains to find out the process involved in getting those nice, smiley summit pictures that often end up captioned with: “BELIEVING! – is half of doing” or “AMBITION! – aspire to climb as high as you dream”. Also, I thought I would afford my climbing friends the chance to read about my preparation and to shake their heads with a pitying smile.

In the lead up to this climb I will post on various topics like the technology we use, logistics on and off the hill, communication considerations, the clothes and gear I’ll be using and the food we eat. If you have any other things you’d like me to write about regarding this trip just ask.

Since reaching the decision to join Mal on this October Ama Dablam mission I have launched myself full throttle into mountain mode. You may be wondering what level of fitness I’ll need to drag my sorry ass up this highly coveted peak. Or you may not be wondering, in which case why not check out my post titled Drunk Russians which talks about peasants being drugged by their government.

Before I climbed Manaslu in 2011 I read everything I could find about the beast and came to the conclusion that this climb was mostly a very steep walk without much pulling-self-up-ice-cliffs-with-fingernails action. Sure, there were some very scary bits that we ‘walked’ over (see below), but the whole staring-with-cold-eyes-at-vertical-walls-of-ice action was limited.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

While training for Manaslu I was living in Aarhus, Denmark with my then girlfriend (now wife) just across from the pool. Through research and first hand experience I know that, at altitude, limiting your load  is crucial to success. Hence in preparation for Manaslu I just swam. Cue Forest Gump voice, “I just sa-wam Jenny…” I swam so damn much, around 6-8 kilometres a week, that I would not have been surprised to have seen little gills forming on my neck.

Once a friend of mine, Andy Chapman, wisely told me, “You climb a mountain with your legs, Ben, not your arms.” This is so true. To this end there was also a lot of bike riding involved leading up to this climb. Not the flashy lycra-clad kind mind, but more the type where I nicked Jette’s bright blue City-girl bike (complete with basket and bell) and just rode around the place. I’d ride around town happily mumbling the three Danish words I knew as people openly laughed. Although I looked completely retardacious, the rusty chain and rotten bearings of City-girl just made my legs work that little bit harder for every kilometre I went.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

Ama Dablam seems to have a ‘few’ steps

So, my training plan. In the  expedition notes for Ama Dablam Mal has written: There are a number of technical rock steps to climb as well as steep snow slopes to the summit. This causes me some concern as I know that Mal is prone to that oh so common trait of many ‘proper’ climbers; that is to completely under state things. For example: I once spent a rather un-cosy night with Mal huddled in a tent at 7450 meters. Overnight we recorded a temperature inside the tent of minus 25 degrees celcius. In the morning Mal bounds out of his sleeping bag, turns on his Go-pro and looks into the lens with a wide grin. “Morning here at camp four, bit of a cold one last night…” So when he says, ‘number of technical rock steps’ I am preparing for the worst. I am not picturing steps like you have at home but more steps with a vertical face the height of a house…yeah, sorry Andy but I may need some upper body strength for this one.

The core of my training for Ama Dablam will stay the same as for Manaslu; swim Forrest, swim! Not only is it great for general fitness but it also gives my lungs a beaut workout which is great for gasping down rarified air. I am currently swimming around 4-6 kilometres a week and want to build from there. Thankfully a good mate of mine is training for a Marathon so we are able to keep each other honest at the pool. To complement this I have just put together a weights program to build upper body strength for those few rock steps that I am so dreading….okay, I stole my wife’s program and changed the weights.

The classic route that we will be taking up Ama Dablam involves a number of extended, exposed ridge line walks. Sounds easy right? You just walk up a dizzyingly high knife-edge and don’t fall off! Technically that’s right. From a climbing perspective alone, ridge-lines are not that hard, but (there’s always a but!), at altitude, under pressure in a fearful and hypoxic daze I will need good balance to come naturally.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

Some cabbage-smelling hippy slacklining

To help my balance I have been mucking about with a slack line. You have likely seen clusters of hippies hanging out in a local park with drums, bright pants, scrappy dogs and those rolled ‘cigarettes’. You probably have also seen them on occasion get energetic enough to sling a racket strap between two trees and try to balance on it, well, that is slack lining. It is incredible just how good a core muscle and balance-y workout this game is.

I am, however, doing it without drugs or drums.

Speaking of drugs, this brings me to my last point. I have *GASP* totally quit alcohol for the four months leading up to this trip.

Nothing worth doing is easy, well, apart from sleep and hugging loved ones. Oh and relaxing on…fair enough, lots of good things come easy but this sport which I so enjoy is not one of them.




Ama Dablam, the big decision

“We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!…nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” – The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI have been wanting to mention the expedition for five days but needed time to gather my thoughts and weigh up the pros and cons before worrying Jette.

Saturday night rolls around, I have been going backwards and forwards in my mind about this trip and really cannot make a decision.

Pros versus cons versus pros versus cons…grey Ama Dablam, the big decision

We are on a tram heading home after a lavish Korean dinner with some friends. I really did not mean to mention it so casually while surrounded by drunken people loudly discussing football. It kind of just slipped out.

“So, I got a message from Mal the other day…”

Immediately I have Jette’s full attention. I can almost see her ears pricking up. She knows what a message from Mal means.

“Which mountain?” She asks with a half chuckle.

“Nepal again,” I reply almost sheepishly, “Ama Dablam.”

“Okay, how high? What’s the deal?” Jette asks, now in full information gathering mode.

“Well, it’s around 6500 meters high, so lower than Manaslu but more of a climbing challenge.” I feel like a used car dealer but forge on, “the plan is to warm up on a few trekking peaks on the way in.”

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI’m honestly not sure if I can justify nicking off for 6 weeks, nor if I am up to the challenge.

“So what is the death rate?” Jette asks in a businesslike tone as if she were asking what’s for breakfast.

“No idea, ummm, much lower than Manaslu. I reckon,” Is my unconvincing reply.

Jette whips out her smart phone and starts tapping away.

“Right, so Manaslu is 2.77%, that sounds about right from memory, Everest is 1.52 and Ama Dablam, oh, only 0.43, that seems okay.”

“Yeah, seems weird googling death rates on a Melbourne Tram hey,” I chuckle, making light grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionof the situation.

“That’s for sure,” Jette replies with a wry smile. “So, main question, do you want to do it?”

“Dunno really. The timing is great, it is a mountain I have always wanted to climb and it could be a good carrot after finishing this management course.”

“True,” Jette nods. “Seems like a no brainer, go for it if you want.”

“Yeah, it does seem a no brainer, I’ll think it over for a few more days…” I lean over for a smooch, “Love you.”

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI honestly do love that girl. After all that I have put her through she still encourages and supports my need for adventure. Jette even said vows to that effect when we got married in March. “I promise to continue to accept and support your need to go off adventuring…within reason of course…” The ‘within reason’ excludes BASE jumping. Being a lawyer you would think that Jette would have worded that covenant far more carefully. We have a running joke about how I constantly try to find, and exploit, loopholes in our unofficial but very solemn agreement. Sometimes I wake up pinching myself at how lucky I am to have her in my life. Jette has to deal with a barrage of ideas being run by her that are as close to BASE jumping as could be. Ideas like, “So, Fab* and I are going to build a kite that can carry a person…I have this great idea involving a hot air balloon thing…Fab and I have this great idea for this bridge jump…” Currently Jette has (half) jokingly put a ban on Fab and I using the word ‘idea’ in any sentence…anyway back to the mountain story.

*Fabio or Fab is a great friend of mine and my main co-conspirator when it comes to stupid, but really fun ideas.  

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionWhen climbers write about their exploits they regularly forget to mention the people at home. Last time on Manaslu while descending we didn’t update the blog for a few days as the route had changed so dramatically, due to beautiful sunshine we enjoyed on the ascent, that we were not really sure when or how we would get down to base camp. As my emergency contact Jette suffered terribly during this silence. Whenever her phone rang she thought it would be bad news. Jette’s situation was not helped by a work colleague who spent half an hour explaining in gory detail why the descent is the most dangerous part. By the time I called Jette from base camp (by the way her phone showed “Ben-emergency phone” and caused her to rush out of an important meeting in tears) it took me a few minutes with my grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionsunburnt tongue, altitude affected voice, crappy satellite reception and fatigued voice to convince her that I was really me and that I was completely safe and everything was okay. “I love you and will be home soon.”

Previously whilst acclimatising there were days when Mal and I were relaxing in the tent, eating Snickers bars, doing Suduko challenges and casually growing more red blood cells. I figured that it would be silly to send an email with no news but later learnt that Jette was imagining random rock falls and other calamities during these times of no contact. No news is not always good news.

Over the next few days I grapple with why I would want to freeze my ass off, scare myself silly, put my system through high altitude torture for weeks and cause my loved ones concern just to climb a silly mountain. Jette and I have settled in a grey Ama Dablam, the big decisioncomfortable home near the beach, all my high altitude gear has been shipped back from Nepal and packed away and I have been considerate enough to grow a decent belly for Jette to snuggle up to during movies. We have plans for the future which involve our own business, a house, maybe kids. A settled life. I am really happy with where I am and look towards our future with puppy-like glee. Why don’t I just go to a tropical island and have my hair done in those fetching little plaits?

Genetics. Maybe this is all a quirk of genetics. My father suffers a similar condition. He regularly nicks off into the Tasmanian bush to trek and explore only to return with cuts, bruises and more recently, a dislocated pointer finger. Dad is approaching 70 and continues to be a seemingly unstoppable force. Mum has always said that she would rather tolerate this than be married to a boring slob drinking away his life in front of the television. I am inclined to agree, but can only hope that Jette’s understanding continues as long as mum’s has for dad. Early indications are hopeful.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionFreeze frame. Research suggests that voyeurs record things not always for a sexual kick but because they fear the passage of time. Maybe there is something in this. Before I had done any climbs I used to read books about mountains – a lot – and formed the misguided opinion that people who climb do it solely for those few moments at the top. I have met a few people like that, but honestly they are completely missing the point. I certainly remember the feeling when we ran out of ‘up’ and turned around to see the whole world splayed out like some surrealist painting. More important I remember moments; when Soph and I made a stupid film dedicating the expedition to ‘The Foundation for Land Rights for Gay Dolphins’; when Mal and I played thin air guitar on the trek in; Norbu, the cook’s assistant’s boyish glee when I gave him my ice axe as a present; my first proper shower in 7 weeks…freeze frame, full definition, never to be forgotten moments. This is the big attraction for me. To step away from the ordinary and to bathe in the stunning clarity of those moments, the friendships and the memories.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionSo anyway, cutting to the chase. Am I going?

You know how couples often have children around two years apart? I reckon this is due, in large part, to the fact that two years is about how long it takes for a mother to forget the anguish of childbirth and for her to start looking back with happy, misty eyes at baby photos, small booties and tiny cribs. To forget the pain that baby’s big head caused. Guess how long it has been since Mal and I last swung on ropes together?


Recently I have been finding myself looking over Nepal photos with happy, misty grey Ama Dablam, the big decisioneyes so, to use a metaphor I’ll regret, I guess my vagina has healed. With the full support of my lovely wife (who may just be looking for a break from my ‘ideas’) I am off on another adventure in October.

I will keep you updated and plan to blog all the way in and up as long as we can arrange the technology.

For now it is time to hit the gym, this belly is not going to fix itself!

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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