Walking Up to the Sky

How to prepare your body and reach new heights.

My next big expedition is hiking Europe’s highest peak: Mt. Elbrus in Southern Russia. It is one of the 7 summits of the world, which comprise the mountains with the highest point on each of the seven continents. This dormant volcano’s summit is located at 5642m.a.s.l and it is the 10th most important peak in the world. The weeklong expedition can be quite an adventure due to high altitudes, intense temperatures, and changing climates.

I will be doing a three-part series about my hiking experiences in Russia. In this first article, I will share how to physically prepare for hiking and reaching superior heights.

How high is high?

Normally, as you drive in mountainous regions, you feel your ears pop because of the pressure. You have probably also felt this in an airplane or if you have ever gone scuba diving. In mountain terms, high altitude is divided into three scales:

  • High (between 8000ft/2,438m and 12,000ft/3,658m)
  • Very High (between 12,000ft/3,658m and 18,000ft/5,487m)
  • Extremely High (18,000+ft/5,500+m)[1]

Research on altitude and its effects on the human body are continuously increasing. For now, there is no explanation why some people get altitude sickness and others don’t, or why some people are more susceptible than others to these changes[2]. However, it is important to understand that there are life-threatening risks to hiking in high-altitude, like altitude sickness, acute mountain syndrome and pulmonary edema (when fluids build up in the lungs)[3].

A good acclimatisation is crucial as you transition your body and also to prevent any mountain-related diseases. In addition, your preparation is key not only to enjoy your expedition, but also to insure that you are being safe, smart, and ready for what is coming up.

PPP: Previous Physical Preparation

You need to train your body for any type of hiking, but even more preparation is going to be needed if you plan on hiking in higher altitudes. Calculate at least two months of workouts, especially if your hike is several days long, or if you plan on hiking over 3500m.a.s.l. The mountain we will be hiking could take up to 7 days, and we are going extremely high. Here are some training recommendations to prepare your body:

  • Stairs, Running, and Interval/functional training: Get your cardio going! These exercises will help you learn how to breathe and control your breath. Additionally, cardiovascular exercise will train your heart and bring its rate up. This type of workout will help deal with the stress of limited oxygen levels at higher altitudes[1]. Going up and down stairs is important to gain leg muscles, but don’t forget about your upper body and core: these are important to maintain a strong and healthy spine and to carry any extra weight (i.e. your day pack, several liters of water, etc). As your weeks advance, start increasing the amount of days you workout (I would suggest 2-3-4 times a week) and start adding on some extra weight too, like going up and down stairs with your backpack on.
  • Take weekend getaways and do long hikes. Taking previous excursions will help you gain endurance. Walking several days in a row for extended hours is important since sometimes a day of hiking can last between 10-12hs. The more your body gets used to these long days, the better. If you are new to hiking, this is also a good opportunity to get your logistics down and to get familiar with your equipment.
  • Yoga: You can definitely use a good stretch with all that training, but even more so, yoga will help you notice your breathing patterns (at rest and during activity). It will also increase your awareness of bodily sensations, which is important especially when you are exploring new environments. Pranayama exercises will allow you to develop your lung capacity and breathing control, which in altitude, is a basic skill.

Hiking in altitude is not to be taken lightly: it is hardcore! And it is so much fun. If you have any type of medical condition, check with your doctor beforehand. I would recommend you always travel with a certified guide who has a mountain rescue certification and emergency oxygen. Otherwise, prepare your body adequately: go up and down stairs those stairs, gain muscle strength, take some short hiking getaways, and practice yoga. All these combined will prepare your body and your mind to reach new heights.

Check out this article and more on Healthy is Hott

 

Sources

[1] Braverman, J. (2017) “How to train for high altitude hiking”. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/360485-how-to-train-for-high-altitude-hiking/

[1] Curtis, R. (1999). “Outdoor action guide to high altitude”. Princeton University. Available at: https://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Braverman, J. (2017) “How to train for high altitude hiking”. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/360485-how-to-train-for-high-altitude-hiking/

 

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