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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.

 

 

 

Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park – again

I have just quit my safe, regular job and am about to throw myself into a mix-bag of study, relief pharmacy work, adventuring and more writing. Not a bad crossroad to be at, but for sure I have a lot of thinking to do. My wife has picked up on my need to think, re-group, find solace and train for the Ama Dablam climb that is looming. Supportive as always, Jette says, “I think you should go hug some trees for a few days…go on, bugger off.” *Witness Danish girl being rapidly Australianised.* I quickly agree and four short days after hanging up the white coat I am at the trailhead. I don’t want to sound like one of those try-hard Indian-mystic-hippy-Bhudda type but Cradle Mountain National Park is truly my sacred ground.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Me in mum’s jacket at 3 months old – Crater lake Jan 1978

 

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Fagus turning colour at Crater Lake

I have been coming here since before I could walk. My dad introduced many a young adventurer to nature here as he taught outdoor education. My childhood is peppered with memories of this place as is my adulthood – only a few months ago I married my best friend and fave travel companion in the shadows of Cradle Mountain. Yup, a pretty special place. But not only to me; the park is UNESCO World Heritage listed and us Tasmanians are fiercely protective of this area…so leave your guns and dogs at home please!

Despite having walked the famous Overland Track countless times the beauty of the deciduous Fagus still catches my breath. Before I even find my walking cadence I am at Crater Lake looking up at rocky walls which look as though God subcontracted the colouring to Picasso.

The hut at Crater Lake
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grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

The track past Crater Lake takes a dramatic uphill turn. Following a steep push I am at Marion’s Lookout, definitely starting to sweat but very much enjoying the feeling of my headspace clearing. It does not take long for these hills to clear my cache. An elderly guide is enjoying the views beside two Asian clients. The guide and I have a quick chat as the other two speak together in an undeterminable language. They look in admiration at my too-big-because-I-rushed-packing rucksack. Leaving, I farewell my chatty friends, hook my thumbs under the straps near my shoulders then follow my feet past Cradle Mountain. My mind in happily stuck in neutral by the time I stop to sit in complete silence whilst looking at my comforting mountains.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Soon I leave the high plateau to walk downwards through prehistoric looking palms into Waterfall Valley. A cheeky little wallaby watches me enter his grazing patch with a keen eye. Did I imagine him sighing in resignation before hopping away? Just before he disappears he gives me a second glance which seems to say ‘bugger off, I was here first…pesky humans’.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Thankfully I am the only one (human) here so I have pick of the campsites. I shun the new hut, with the cosy gas heater and fancy drying room, preferring instead to pitch my tent next to an old hut tucked away amongst a mystical Mrytle forest almost out of sight .

 

When I wake the next morning I realise why the new hut is where it is. My tent, the old hut, and all nearby trees are covered in frost which has no hope of seeing sunlight until at least midday. Nothing else for it, still in my sleeping bag I fish around for my cooker and make a coffee (sounds simple right, wrong) then I snuggle back down to read.

The second time I wake I decide it’s time to go waterfall hunting. My last time here was with dad, he showed me all the good waterfalls so, once fed and dressed, I dig up fond memories of this trip and amble through a few enjoyable hours pushing through untracked bush and hunting for a great photo. As I explore my mind dawdles across all manner of topic, for example;

1. If Jette and I have kids will I be fortunate enough to show them this area?

2. How do Giraffes drink water, with their long necks and legs wouldn’t it just come back out their noses?

2. When will we end this ridiculous cycle of extremist Christians hating on all Muslims – Extremist Muslims retaliating with violence towards all Christians and extremist Christians feeling more justification to hate on all Muslims?

3. Did I lock mum’s car?

4. Will I have it in me to get up the next big Nepalese Mountain? (A common mind-dawdle of late)

5. Should I move on to Scott Kilvert hut?

6. Why do I always put two twos in my lists?

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Late in the arvo while making coffee in the old hut a amiable retiree named Paul bursts in. Well, in reality Paul just walks in normally but as I have not seen anyone for some it feels as though he has just stormed in twirling a baton with a marching band behind him. Paul is trying to reduce his girth to tackle the Appalachian trail in America next year. We have a very brief talk but I am really not in a chatty mood. Deciding to move on I pack my things and hit the trail to arrive at Scott Kilvert Hut just on dark. Having managed to all but avoid conversation for a full two days, I struggle to hide my disappointment when I find more chatty people just waiting to make new friends. They are a friendly couple who have already established themselves at the hut. I decline their kind offer to play cards and beat a hasty retreat to pitch my tent on the helipad. Reading and listening to familiar mountain noises soon sends me off to a deep sleep. (Yes, all my gear is ready to grab in case a chopper comes and tries to land on my head in the night!) Early the next morning I wake…but soon I am lulled by the still.

At 10:30am I rouse myself enough to spend a blissful day on my helipad reading, photographing and snoozing. Who says training for a big mountaineering expedition needs to be hard work?! The following video is my entire day compressed into 13 seconds.

 

Once darkness falls I crawl into my sleeping bag having not said a single word for 24 hours. To think that some people go to expensive Thai Buddhist retreats for the same privilege. At 1am a curious possum wakes me by rustling against my tent, I stick my head out to shoo him off then look up at the shadow of the mountain where a huge wave of cloud is rolling down at me in slow motion. 20 minutes later my tent is flapping like a single aunt at a Greek wedding and the rain is pouring down.

Seven sleepless hours later I get up.

The storm seems determined to grow. I pack up all my now wet gear, fold the tent, stuff it all into my trusty red rucksack and get out of there. It truly is a cold, wet, miserable walk…but I love it. Just before finishing I make two short videos showing the wild weather.

 

I am done and back in mum’s car which thankfully was locked, I’m warm and driving home, fully relaxed, recharged and ready to face a few new life challenges, not least of which is figuring out just how Giraffes drink*.

Regarding the wild weather, don’t worry, it has not put me off from my special bush time. I just see it as good training, kind of a preview of coming attractions, for the Nepal expedition.

 

*Regarding the Giraffes I did find out. Check out this link In my search I happened upon the answer to another question which most people are too afraid to ask here.

Paragliding at Bright

grey Paragliding at Bright

 

A short video diary of my recent weekend paragliding at Bright with my mate Juan and some very cool freaks!

 

grey Paragliding at Bright

Melbourne Formula 1

Melbourne Formula 1

A few weeks ago I was riding my motorbike to work, nothing out of the ordinary there. I had just cut between the lanes to the front of the lights when I heard an unbelievable humming sound. It sounded like an angry hornet and kept getting increasingly louder at an alarming rate. I looked around frantically and not without some concern as it sounded like I was about to be rear ended in a spectacular fashion by some kind of superbike on steroids. The sound kept on getting louder until it passed by to my left with a roar. When the sound dimmed, leaving my teeth chattering, I realised that I had just heard my first ever Formula One car in person.The little bogan* in me was dancing around, grinning, with a massive car-stiffie, that engine sounded otherworldly.

My commute goes right past Albert Park, the road around the lake is normally a sedate amble past a large duck filled pond, for a few week of the year it is turned into a Formula one track for the Melbourne Grand Prix. Scaffolding is put up for the stands and workers busily make the road smooth and set out tyre barriers. The transformation is quite spectacular….not as spekky as the race though.

Whilst at work that day I was chatting with a colleague Jan about these amazing vehicles and she mentioned that her apartment overlooks the lake and asked if I would like to come to her F1 Party…”hell yeah Jan!”

Fast forward to sunday of St Patricks day, I am walking to Jan’s place, past green adorned pubs spilling embarrassingly drunk patrons and following my ears towards the track. Jan’s building if right on the southern corner of Albert park overlooking the lake, from her 14th storey balcony you can see five corners (about 1/3 of the track). Arriving a little before the race I cracked a bourbon can and watched a concerned circle of ducks huddling in the middle of the lake as they tried to figure out what to do next. The F1 Cars did their warm up laps as we watched a brilliantly choreographed flight by the Air Force roulettes, then an F14, F16 16 or some kind of big, loud war planes buzzed over close by. The intimidating array of (empty) bomb holders under the wing along with the noise made my very glad that he was on our team. I missed the race start as I got into a heavy discussion with a friendly, purple haired lady about sustainable energy solutions for Australia (don’t ask).

To give you all an indication of how damn close we were to the action check this little Tv to track film I threw together:

 

As you can hear, even from that far away the sound of these impossible machines is ear splitting. The ducks had all fled leaving a few confused seagulls on the lake. From our vantage point we could see both the track and a highway, note how the F1 cars make the normal cars seemingly stand still.

 

About half an hour later I had seen enough, my little inner, dancing bogan had collapsed from exhaustion and I headed for home. Sadly towards the end all I could think about was how cool it would be to fly a motorised Paraglider over the whole show next year…gawd that would annoy a few people!

 

 

*Bogan – (Adapted from wikipedia) The term bogan is Australian and New Zealand slang, usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for an individual who is recognised to be from an unsophisticated background or someone whose limited education, speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplifies a lack of manners and education. They hold a deep love of motor sport, wheelies and tuck their cigarettes under their sleeve while drinking bourbon from a can and swearing profusely. 

Fun times paragliding Torquay

As a beginner pilot I need the perfect conditions to go paragliding torquay. If the wind is too strong I may not get down easily and conversely if the wind is too low I may not get up! I also need a low tide so I can ‘bomb out’ down to the beach. Consequently I get to spend a lot of time para-waiting, that is sitting around watching more experienced pilots having fun whilst keeping my fingers crossed for the perfect conditions. Example; yesterday the wind was okay for me to fly in but there was a very high tide and, being something of a conservative pilot, I do not like flying without a second landing option.

Anyway, in lieu of me flying here a a nice little video I smashed together of some good friends having fun in the sky…enjoy

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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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