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.

 

 

 

4 Responses to Ama Dablam – My mountaineering training regimen

  • Lew says:

    Woah, this looks like hard yakka. I’ve trekked, completely guided in the Himalaya, but haven’t attempted to climb any mountains. I thought about trying Island Peak. Seems to be a beginners option.

    I look forward to hearing more!

  • Congrats on making that ‘no booze’ commitment. Sounds like a pretty awesome challenge. Hope it all goes well :)

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