One of the most frequent questions which come up for new time trekkers is how to prepeare for a high altitude trek in the Himalaya typically touching 4000 to 5000m levels. There are 3 basic areas of preperation, aerobic, strength, and mental.
Aerobic conditioning is important important as one is trekking in thin air, up to 40% less than at sea level. With good aerobic conditioning one is able to better metabolize the limited amount of avaliable oxygen bringing energy to various muscles and also reducing potential effects of Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS). The tnumb rule is to target one hour of aerobic conditioning at least 4 times per week for 2 months or more before the start of your trek. This can be brisk walking, running, cycling and swimming with the objective of jumping up the heart rate for a sustained period of time.
Apart from the physical condition it is also critical that the muscles most needed for a trek in the Himalaya are well-conditioned. There is no better activity than taking a back pack on your back and climbing up a hilly area. In the adsence of a hilly areas staircasing also cen be beneficial. This conditioning will make it easier for you to navigate up and down steep mountain trails. Unknown to many first time trekkers desending is quite challenging and tends to pose problem for trekkers. One solution to manage the descend better is to strengthen the quadricepts, the muscle which takes the load while descending.
As one starts one a trek the first reaction is going out of breath and wondering if one is upto the challenge of going on and on like this. It takes the body a good 45 minutes to adjust by being comfortable in operating with a higher hear rate. Another area of adjystment is to understand how steep trails in the Himalaya tend to be. Most trails across the Himalaya are connecting villages and they are set up to get from point A to B as fast as possible. On the other hands trails in parks where there are up’s and down tend to be have a low incline as they are for recreation use. This does take a lot more effort while climbing up and also lots of focus while coming down.
Mental preparation is often overlooked by many who have otherwise prepared well in all other areas. While trekking in the Himalayas is a safe activity on occasions unpleasant things can occur on a trek. You may get caught in a rain storm where the trail washes out, you might not sleep as well as usual, find the trek pace too fast or slow, miss the comfort of a shower and be without connectivity. There is no dought that everyone on an adventure trip will find life on the trail drastically different than life at home. The important think to realise is that all these areas should be looked upon a concern and not an issue. With the right mental preperation one can through the trek start managing the concerns. I like to term this mindset as getting ‘comfortable in being uncomfortable’.
The key objective should be look at the whole process as an adventure which is unscripted and be prepeared to experience whatever happens as an essential part of the journey. It doesn’t matter so much whether you actually reach your objective. Be prepared to find joy and fulfillment in all the moments of your trip, including the less pleasant ones that you hadn’t expected. Prepare keep a very positive frame of mind throughout your trip, along with good physical conditioning, will insure that you are ready to experience all the wonders of the Himalaya.
Founder and Director
Juniper Outdoor Pursuits Centre