Planning the first big climb? While regular training and sturdy hiking gear are the key necessities for a successful mountain expedition, there are a few important things that beginners are likely to overlook along the way.
Here’s some advice from someone who has had a quite a few misadventures on mountains, as well as tips to help you plan a safe and enjoyable expedition.
1. It’s not all about the ascent
You’ve probably been up that hill behind your house countless times, so much so that conquering steeper mounts has become less exhausting than before. But have you mastered the same agility walking downhill?
The first thing that any mountaineering coach will probably tell you is that walking down a mountain is often harder than hiking uphill. Therefore, exhausting the hill program on the tread mill is not enough. Practising downhill walking for long periods of time is essential. Ideally you should do your training on rough and rocky terrain. This will help you improve your balance and avoid skidding over rocks and grit.
Descending a steep mountain without having done any sort of training may lead to knee injuries and calf strains. It’s always a good idea to identify your body’s weak points and find ways of strengthening them prior to the big day.
2. Never underestimate the forces of nature
Mountain climates are known to be very unpredictable. It will be colder than you expect, even in the absence of snow. While it is understandable that you would want to travel light, items like waterproof trousers and a thick fleece can be life-savers. Despite all the strenuous walking that you’ll be doing, the cold will still creep into your bones.
Freezing temperatures and strong winds are obstacles that only a novice would be unprepared for. Mountain gear is expensive, but if you’re planning to take up trekking as a lifetime hobby, then it’s worth investing in weatherproof clothing.
If you do encounter strong winds as you approach the summit, proceed with caution. One strong gust can easily knock you off your feet. If need be, get down on all fours and scramble your way up.
3. Pack some munchies
High altitude sickness can lead to a loss of appetite and persistent nausea. Nevertheless, try to snack on something light on your way up. Treat yourself to some chocolate and gum sweets for that much-needed energy boost.
You will most likely feel famished once you start your descent. By the time you get to the summit, your body would have used up a great deal of energy. Remember that going downhill also requires a substantial amount of fuel.
Allot some space in your rucksack for snacks that are high in carbohydrates and nutritional value. These include mixed nuts, dried fruit, crackers, cereal bars and raisins.
4. Take short breaks
At first this might sound like a bad idea. Stopping for a few minutes will make it even harder to continue walking. Try not to collapse on the ground or lean against rocks. It will become very tempting to sit down, but by doing so your toes, or possibly your whole body, will get extremely cold. The only way to beat the freezing temperature is to keep moving.
Having said that, make sure to take short regular breaks as you’re going up. This will help you get acclimatised to the high altitude. Stand still, lift your chest and inhale the fresh mountain air.
If you’re carrying a heavy backpack, give your back and shoulders a few well-deserved breaks. Simply stretch your back and roll your shoulders back and down. And whilst you’re at it, stretch your legs, wriggle your toes, and take the next step forward with a confident smile.
5. Maintain strength of mind
Climbing a mountain also requires a good dose of psychological strength. It is important to approach the challenge with unyielding determination and optimism. However, once you advance into your trek, it becomes harder to uphold that willpower. As gusts of wind whip your face and you start feeling short of breath, a nagging voice inside your head will be urging you to turn back.
One thing to avoid is the temptation to keep looking up at the giant slopes ahead of you. This can be very disheartening. The least thing you’d want to do is get all anxious over the miles that still need to be covered. Focus instead on your footing and connect with the earth beneath your feet.
Another way of dispelling stress is to concentrate on your breathing. Take deep breaths through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Let the fresh mountain air cleanse your lungs. Controlled breathing also helps you lower your heart rate.
If you’re with a group, offer your constant support to your team mates. They might need it more than you do. Team spirit plays a vital role in such expeditions.
6. Absorb the view
This might sound obvious, but it’s not always possible to enjoy the view when you’re in the middle of a laborious trek.
Stop for a few minutes to admire the magnificence of the mountain. Give your body enough time to soak up nature’s energies. This will leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready to soar to the summ