I took myself by surprise when I capitulated to my wife’s demands and agreed to spend 2 weeks of hard-earned vacation time hiking up to the World’s highest mountain, Everest, and forgoing the luxury safari I’d been planning (I seem to recall her use of the phrase ‘once in a lifetime trip’ on several occasions – a phrase we grossly over-utilize in the ‘Take Photos Leave Footprints’ household to justify every trip we take).
But it wasn’t until immediately after we’d ‘pulled the trigger’ and booked the trip that I actually decided to research how difficult it would be. The two hours following completion of the tedious booking process remain somewhat a blur; but needless to say I frenziedly disappeared down the YouTube rabbit hole and by the time I’d surfaced the excitement I’d earlier felt had been replaced by an ominous feeling of foreboding.
From what I could gather I should have started intensive training 3 months ago and by this point I should have been in peak physical fitness. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed that this was indeed not the case (the half bottle of wine I’d consumed whilst watching the videos didn’t help either). Instead I was left with three months to achieve what YouTube had reliably informed me would take a very minimum of six.
But exactly how reliable are all of these Everest Training Video Diaries you can find online? I decided at this point that I’d put the YouTube vloggers to the test. In doing so I wanted to use our upcoming trip answer three simple questions:
- Do you really need to be the superhuman that some online resources make out you need to be in order to reach Everest Base Camp?
- Is the trek really as hard as many vlogs make it seem?
- How long do you actually need to prepare yourself physically for a trip to Everest Base Camp?
In this post, and having now (Spoiler alert!) actually reached Base Camp myself, I’ll seek to answer these questions and hopefully provide a little guidance on what you can expect.
Establishing a Baseline
Let’s start with a glaringly obvious statement; everyone looking to climb to Everest Base Camp is starting at a different level of fitness. Whilst it might be an obvious statement it has obvious implications. I therefore thought I’d take a couple of moments to let you know about my unhealthy lifestyle and vital statistics before I started training so that you can get some sense of what I was working with in the months preceding the trip and where your current fitness levels are in comparison:
- Age: At the time of the trek I’d just turned 35
- Weight and Height: 169 pounds and 5’ 10”
- Resting Heartrate: 71bpm
- Lifestyle: I hadn’t been a member of a gym for about 10 years, get nowhere near my 5-a-day, drink way too much wine, and sit behind a desk all day at work.
It’s safe to say I’m not exactly going to be the next cover model for ‘Men’s Health’ magazine.
My Training Regime
The very next day after my YouTube ‘wake-up call’, T-3 months, I took the terrifying step of joining a gym. It was a scary step as I came to the sudden realization that because of this ‘holiday’ I’d be replacing polite conversation and libations in the pub for 3 months of hard graft and excessive sweating in the gym. Put simply, the day I signed up for the gym was a solemn day. So what exactly did my exercise regime consist of for those three months?
- Rather than take the obvious step of hiring a trainer I decided to go it alone; mostly because the prices for trainers in central London scared me.
- Based on the available equipment, and on the fact that I have an occasionally dodgy left knee, I decided that I’d focus my efforts on two key pieces of cardio equipment; the stair climber (which seemed like an obvious choice given the herculean task lying ahead) and the elliptical.
- I decided that I needed to be realistic in terms of how often I’d work out. When based in London I opted for three, progressively more intense, 1-1.5 hour sessions a week at the gym followed by a hike every Sunday that lasted, on average, 4-5 hours (and on occasion I wore a weight vest for these walks like this one). When on business travel I tried to keep to this same schedule except I sometimes exchanged sessions in the hotel gym for laps in the pool.
- During the last three weeks of training I wore an altitude simulation mask to the gym so that my body could get used to operating at lower levels of oxygen. Based on this experience I can highly advise that you don’t go all out on the stair climber whilst wearing the attitude mask after an evening of heavy drinking the night before…trust me. If you’re interested in purchasing yourself an altitude mask then you can find the one I bought here. Just be aware that you’ll get some very strange looks in the gym.
- I didn’t really change my eating habits but I did vaguely attempt to cut down on alcohol consumption (going to the gym three nights a week meant three less chances to go to the pub).
After the 3 months I was fairly satisfied that I’d stayed on track. I was finding it easier to sleep at night and was genuinely waking up feeling more energetic. My resting heartrate had plummeted from an average 71bpm to 57bpm. It didn’t feel like I’d overdone it on the workout front at all but I’d managed to lose about 10 pounds. But many YouTube videos suggested this would still not be enough….now for the moment of truth.
Reaching EBC takes about eight days from Lukla (the gateway domestic airport to the Everest region). It’ll also take 4 additional (and lengthy) waking days to descend back down to Lukla for your flight to Kathmandu. For the purposes of this ‘investigation’ I’ve focused solely on the eight days of ascent. Those eight days include two days for altitude acclimatization when you’ll endure short, steep walks to a higher altitude during the day followed by a descent back down to sleep.
I wore a FitBit throughout the walk to collect data on steps walked, floors climbed and calories burned and, for your viewing pleasure, the table below provides all of that hard earned data for your consumption and analysis:
|Day||Trekking Time||Steps Walked||Miles Walked||‘Floors’ Climbed||Calories Burned||Altitude (Meters)||Altitude (Feet)|
There’s no getting away from the fact that there were some tough walking days (Day 2 and EBC ‘summit’ day spring immediately to mind), but what did all of this data, and my experience on the trek, tell me?
- You don’t need to be the superhuman that some online resources make out you need to be in order to reach Everest Base Camp! With a decent level of general health you too could reach Everest Base Camp. We saw plenty of hikers who successfully reached EBC and who appeared less physically prepared (on physical appearance only – I wasn’t asking everyone I came across to disclose their BMI and resting heart rate), were significantly older (up to around 70 years old is my guess), or were significantly heavier than my baseline. My personal opinion is that mental fortitude plays a much bigger role than physical prowess!
- The trek undoubtedly has moments of physical (and mental) hardship; but if it didn’t then it wouldn’t have half of the allure it does. That said there wasn’t a moment where I thought I’d have to quit because of physical difficulty. Put simply, I found summiting Kilimanjaro much more physically demanding and I was a much younger man when I did that. The true hardship of trekking to Everest Base Camp actually comes from the unpredictability of altitude sickness and that, unfortunately, is not something you can train for.
- I would genuinely suggest that many of the online vlogs and video diaries overplay their hand when it comes to how much training you’ll need to successfully reach EBC. My personal opinion is that no more than 3 months training is required as long as you’re starting from a baseline similar to mine (less if you’re starting from a better baseline than I was).
So don’t be put off by the many blogs and videos online that over-dramatize the EBC experience. All of that drama makes for excellent reading/viewing but might well put you off attempting the trek yourself; and it shouldn’t!