Making the move between trekking peaks and expeditions
Are you an experienced trekker, looking to make the move between trekking peaks and expeditions? In this blog Di Gilbert takes us through how to make the most of your first expedition.
According to the Nepal Mountaineering Association, there are 27 ‘trekking peaks’ in Nepal ranging from 5849 – 6584m in height. Falling into this category are the popular peaks including Imja Tse, Mera Peak, Pisang Peak and Mount Cholatse and if you’ve set foot on any of these mountains you will know that they all involving climbing. As somebody once said, these should perhaps be renamed ‘limited bureaucracy’ peaks.
There are also another 299 mountain peaks open to foreign expeditions including 8 out of the 14 highest peaks in the world and include popular objectives such as Ama Dablam, Himlung Himal, Cho Oyu and Everest. Somewhat more substantial, these peaks often require greater planning, more preparation, last longer and have more bureaucracy.
Many people will successfully partake in at least one trekking peak before committing to an expedition peak but even with this experience, making the transition to the bigger hills can sometimes be intimidating and scary. There will be many questions needing answered which will only throw up more questions. Some things to keep in the back of your mind:
Break it down
An expedition comes in phases so break it down to manageable bite size pieces. You are a tourist around cities and travelling. You are a trekker as you make your way into base camp. You should be super confident and relaxed in these phases and should cause no issues.
You then embark on what I call the rotational phase and this is where most people flounder. It’s all about giving your body time to adjust to the altitude, adjusting to the in country diet, becoming familiar with the route ahead, ferrying equipment up and down the mountain and getting to known your fellow team members.
If everything has gone to plan up until now, you finally enter the summit phase. It is only now (never before otherwise you’ll mentally burn out) that you should start to think about summit day. Every step uphill will need to be reversed so be very aware that you need to keep enough energy for that. After the summit phase you then return to being a trekker and tourist.
Food and drink
This will be a very personal dilemma for you, but it’s vital to get the calories inside you and keep hydrated. With height gain, loss of appetite is normal so it’s important that you have food that you know you’ll enjoy. Personally speaking I hate dehydrated meals and although they are great for many people they don’t work for us all.
Look for food that requires minimum effort so things like cup-a-soups, couscous, cheese, crackers, porridge, salami, jerky and nuts all work well. A combination of sweet and savoury isn’t to be overlooked. Most people will not be able to consume the required calorie intact whilst moving around the mountain so when at base camp make a concerted effort to eat lots and lots. Not being a coffee or tea drinker, super concentrated juice sachets were a game changer for me. These are also great for flavouring water to be consumed during the day.
I actually enjoy carrying my own equipment up and down the mountain because I know exactly where it is and feel as if I am pulling my weight. Most companies will send out an equipment list but remember that this will probably be generic and are only suggestions.
I have my own equipment list which changes after every expedition depending on what I’ve used and not used. Try and carry the minimum up and down the mountain and remember everything has to fight for a place in your rucksack.
People don’t normally sweat at altitude because things happen so slow so you really shouldn’t be carrying too much. Temperatures normally range from extreme cold to extreme heat so be prepared to strip down and layer up. A good sleeping mat is essential and I combine with a foam one underneath. Gloves, socks and eye wear are probably the most important because there is a fear of these not drying out overnight or getting broken.
There is normally a lot of down time on expeditions. Cards, books, puzzle books, music and yes, speaking to real people always helps. I try to avoid spending time in my personal tent during daylight hours and will happily potter around base camp doing things – the litter pick always raises eyebrows.
If you are heavy on the electric front I would suggest taking out personal solar charging facilities so that you don’t become the team power hog.
For the vast majority of people on expeditions this is a trip of a lifetime. You have saved up, trained extensively, planned meticulously, used up all your holiday allowance and left your family and friends behind for an extended period of time.
Once you have adjusted to expedition life you will often find that you’re not alone and others are going through the same process. Get to know your team mates, because you might find that you have more in common than you think.
Di is a fully qualified Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor based in the Cairngorm National Park.
For nearly 30 years she has been providing training and instruction to budding winter hill walkers, winter mountaineers, winter climbers, alpinists and individuals training for 8000m peaks. For more information, please see www.digilbert.co.uk.