APEX NATIONAL BODY
Peaks & expeditions >> Peaks
Intended audience: first time mountaineers; general mountain enthusiasts; folks enrolled/thinking of enrolling for a basic mountaineering course in India, at any of the government run mountaineering schools
A line of mountaineers heading toward Mt. Blanc [Photo credit: Ashok Boghani
First things first:
Why to attend a Basic Mountaineering course:
Forge some amazing friendships, with people from all over the world
Listen (to your instructors and fellow students), learn (by observing: your body and mind (physical and mental reactions in times of stress), the nature (flora and fauna) around you, behaviour of instructors and fellow students), and enjoy (being in the lap of nature, company of your friends and instructors)
Try to find some meaning, from your experience at the institute, also called “experiential learning”. You might have to delve deep within you, and come out with some positives. For e.g. snippet from a blog on Basic mountaineering course at HMI,Darjeeling
Mt. Blanc bathed in a Lunar glow [Photo credit: Ashok Boghani
If you want to experience hell-in-heaven, then a course in basic mountaineering is your ticket to it. The first timers (folks visiting the Himalayas for the first time) have it hard, real hard. The novice, be warned, as there’s going to be suffering, real suffering.
The old timers/ relative old timers/ people ‘active’ in the outdoors don’t suffer so much. Don’t get me wrong, the pain still exists, the old timers just learn to live with it.
Mountaineer in a Paradise Glacier ice cave, Mount Rainier National Park (Photo credit: UW Digital Collections)
So, what should one do to minimise this suffering?
Follow the first rule of boy scouts: Be prepared.
There are 2 aspects to your Basic Mountaineering prep.
And, I would say mental prep is much more important than physical prep (but don’t commit the mistake of ignoring physical prep) .
Be cognisant of the below mentioned information.
What NOT to expect at these mountaineering schools:
Low student-to-instructor ratio
Latest and/or light weight mountaineering equipment and/or gear
That all fellow students have the right idea, what they have got themselves into. For e.g. Some NCC (National Cadet Corps) students in my rope at NIM did not know that this was a mountaineering course. They thought that were going to attend an NCC camp. These poor blokes, were ill prepared for this undertaking. One of them was carrying an heavy, aluminium trunk, stuffed with things that you absolutely do NOT need for the course. Of course, he had almost nothing of the required gear. And, these are the sort of guys, that suffer the most. Most of them fell ill, and had to leave the course.
What to expect at these mountaineering schools:
Moderately high safety standards
Some breathtaking scenery and vistas
Army style training: decorum ,punishment(s), “do as I say and don’t question me much” attitude of the instructors, ?? ??????? ?? ????? ????!
Shorts, sandals, and flip flops/slippers to be frowned upon, big time. This has something to do with the image of the institute. But what they don’t seem to understand is that if you are in trekking shoes at all times, then the chances of getting blisters increases exponentially!
Cosmopolitan assembly of students, from all over India, with some foreigners
Over stuffed student count. There could be more than 100 students, in a batch whose official limit is 40 or 60
Partiality shown to students from defence background, e.g. quite often one of the student from defence background is elected as Course In charge
You’re taught how to survive in the mountains. Mountains are tough, unpredictable, and many times overwhelming places to visit. How can one expect that they would have a gala time, in such an environment? Hence, expect the training to be intense and brutal.
Tip: Try practising a meditation technique, like Vipassana, to increase your level of concentration, and to be able to remain equanimous at all times. I can vouch that Vipassana works wonders!
Alaska Range [Photo credit: Ashok Boghani
Try to do as many of the following activities as possible.
Mountaineering is basically a lower body activity: you need to have great leg strength. Hence,
Start trekking (ideally long distance, multi-day hikes). And even more ideal is technical hikes, where you might have to cross a glacier, or climb an ice wall.
Start running and/or cycling. I prefer cycling, as it’s easy on the knees. Read more.
Start rock climbing: to increase your ability to negotiate vertical terrain, build upper body strength
Some info from NOLS.
High altitude mountain travel is demanding, no matter how fit you are.
Almost continual sunlight provides for long, busy days; your fitness goals should focus on being able to sustain a moderate level of exertion for hours on end rather than “quick sprint” fitness. Focus on a well-rounded routine that emphasizes stamina, endurance, flexibility and strength. Finally, don’t ignore the need for balance; this will serve you well in the moraine and boulder fields where the ability to quickly find your center of balance as you move from one step to the next will enable you to dance, rather than stumble your way through. Play with it. Good luck, and have fun!
Dr. Phil Watts, exercise physiologist at Northern Michigan University, has conducted research in conjunction with NOLS mountaineering courses in the North Cascades. The results of this study, in consideration of established principles of physical conditioning, have enabled development of the following general guidelines, which should be helpful in evaluating and improving your physical condition if necessary.
Aerobic (or endurance) capacity is a major factor in mountain travel and most course activities. An individual should have an aerobic capacity that would enable him/her to run 1.5 miles in 11 minutes or less to be well conditioned for extended mountaineering at moderate altitudes. Another useful assessment guideline is an individual should be able to run 5-6 miles in 40-55 minutes or less three times a week.
If you recognize a need for additional aerobic conditioning, begin at least 8-10 weeks prior to the start of the expedition and adhere to the following F.I.T.T. principle:
• Frequency -Exercise 3-5 times per week.
• Intensity -Exercise at about 60-80% of maximum effort. Use the “talk test;” if you are breathing so hard that you can’t converse with a partner, you’re working too hard – slow down a little.
• Time – Exercise sessions should involve an expenditure of about 300-600 calories per session. That’s approximately the equivalent of:
- 3-6 miles of jogging;
-10-25 miles of bicycling over rolling terrain;-20-60 minutes of other aerobic activities such as cross country skiing, swimming, etc.
• Type – The activity selected should be “total-body” – involving the large muscle groups – and should be rhythmical and continuous; it should not be conducted in spurts like sprints and many team sports.
Progress gradually to avoid over-stress and injuries. Work on Time (duration) first, and then begin to increase Intensity.
Flexibility (range of motion) exercise is also important and should involve stretching for all muscle groups. Select a number of stretches for all areas of the body. Stretch “easy” -don’t bounce or over stretch. Maintain each stretch for 10-20 seconds and don’t hold your breath or strain. You should feel tension not pain. Stretching should be done before and after each exercise session.
Developing adequate upper body muscular fitness for your expedition can be relatively simple. Select a number of basic exercises for the upper body and abdominal areas such as push-ups, pull-ups, rope climbing,sit-ups, etc. Perform as many repetitions of each exercise as you can, resting between each exercise, then repeat. Do this basic workout three times per week or on alternate days. If you prefer working out with weights, follow the directions for the equipment you will be using or consult a reputable physical fitness text. Use strength training to supplement your aerobic program, not as a substitute for it.
While everyone has a certain amount of energy stored in the body as fat, excess body fat will increase the work intensity of all activities promoting early fatigue. Assessment of relative body fat usually requires one of several laboratory procedures and may not be available to many individuals. If you think you are significantly overweight, consult your physician about this well in advance of your course. Crash dieting would be a poor method of losing weight before your course. A good program of aerobic exercise, as described above and improved nutritional habits will usually suffice.
Some info from IWLS.
Examples of aerobic exercises include running, cycling, Nordic skiing, and swimming. Ideally you want to start your work out with a warm up of 5-10 minutes at 50-60% of your maximum heart rate, then continue for another 20-60 minutes at 65-80% of your maximum heart rate, and finish with a cool down of 5-10 minutes at 50-60% of your maximum heart rate. This should be practiced 3-4 times a week for up to eight weeks before your course start date. Good conditioning will not only improve your chances for success but will also improve the quality of your course. The possibilities are endless, so get creative and have fun!
Matterhorn from Monte Rosa hut [Photo credit: Ashok Boghani
Carry the right gear
Things that the institute provides, and you need not carry to the institute. If you do have any of these items, by all means, please carry them with you, to the institute.
Down feather jacket (full sleeved at NIM, half sleeved at ABVIMAS)
Sleeping bag (with a cover at NIM, without a cover at ABVIMAS)
Snow shoes (old Koflach at NIM, old and relatively new Koflach, Boreal and Scarpa at ABVIMAS)
Rock climbing/ PA (Perry Allen shoes) (provided only at NIM)
Rucksack (around 70-80 L)
Harness (old, Indian make)
Rope sling (to practice knots)
Plastic cover (to keep your stuff in the backpack dry) (provided only at NIM)
Wind stopper jacket and pant
1 litre polycarbonate water bottle (provided only at NIM)
Old school, basic, ice axe (you would need to do technical ice climbing with it, as well)
Helmet (good quality)
Matterhorn [Photo credit: Ashok Boghani
N.B. It is also worth ensuring that your clothing has a high CPF or UPF rating.
Warm Socks – synthetic/high tech or woolen. (2 Pairs). Should suffice for freezing temperature, at least. Best barnds are Mund (Spain. I use these socks) and Smartwool (US). Available at REI (US). Outdoor gear is available in India at Aventure 18, Wildcraft, and Avi Industries.
Trekking shoes. (1 Pair). Should have been well broken into. Avoid wearing new shoes, to avoid blister menace. Should be waterproof. Leather/GORE-TEX® body+Vibram sole works best! N.B. I use Quechua brand, which is neither leather/GORE-TEX® , nor does is has Vibram soles, but it works!
Lip balm (1 stick). A high SPF and mosturizing lip balm. Choose an 100% herbal one, like Himalaya lip balm (available at chemist stores in India).
Sun screen (30+ SPF) (1 bottle) .
Small & personal First-aid kit (optional).
Hunting knife (optional). The no. 1 thing to be carried by an outdoors man. But not really needed in the basic mountaineering course. In case, you are a professional outdoors man or just an outdoor enthusiast, and you are thinking of buying a hunting knife, my suggestion would be: the Gerber-Bear Gryll’s hunting knife, with a flint steel, and emergency whistle. And, I think that it’s also got the perfect weight.
Personal medicines (1 blister pack each of a Paracetamol, Ibrufen/Aspirin, Lomofen (for lose motion; available at most chemist stores in India)). All prescription and/or non-prescription medications you are currently taking. A broad-spectrum antibiotic prescribed by your doctor (this is required). For the unnitiated: Paracetamol is an analgesic (capable of relieving pain) for mild pain but not for inflammation (a response of body tissues to injury or irritation; characterized by pain and swelling and redness and heat); also used as an antipyretic (Preventing or alleviating fever). Ibrufen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used for relief of symptoms of arthritis,constipation, fever,as an analgesic (pain reliever), especially where there is an inflammatory component, and dysmenorrhea. Aspirin The acetylated derivative of salicylic acid; used as an analgesic anti-inflammatory drug (trade names Bayer, Empirin, and St. Joseph) usually taken in tablet form; used as an antipyretic; slows clotting of the blood by poisoning platelets.
Notes (Source Princeton University): Contact lenses can be a problem! Zipper pulls on all clothing and pack zippers. All clothing must be clean. Idiot strings on all mitts/shells. Nonfreezing laces on all boots. Defog all glasses and goggles.
It would be a good idea to practice some knots before doing the basic mountaineering course.