Suggestions for Climbing Mt. Everest
by John and Ryan Dahlem
father and son, 67 and 40 years old
IMG 2010 Everest Summiters
This worked for us, and we always believed in listening to our IMG guides, doing exactly what they told us, talking with experienced climbers, observing, and keeping our mouth shut... a "yes sir" attitude.
The caveat to remember is that it is You climbing the mountain. After all the advice and consent, if a "cluster" happens, you must have the experience, knowledge, conditioning and smarts to take care of yourself.
- Train hard. Be in the best shape of your life and believe that you are.
- Weight lifting for the upper body is a necessity... pulling exercises to replicate what will happen on the Lhotse Face when using your ascender. Research exercises that mimic what you do when you are climbing. We suggest going on YouTube and searching under Mountain Athlete for some serious training exercises. Lots of exercises at that website, an example of which is the HAM hip mobility drill »
- Do interval training.
- Pulling tires up hill is still one of the best mountain climbing training regimens.
- Train using your ascender.
- Train on short ice and rock cliffs (crampons on) ascending and descending with ascender up and rope rappel down.
- Train on ladders for the ice field.
- Know how to arm rappel... especially those steep ice walls where it is in-between using a rappelling device or arm rappelling.
- Refine your rappelling skills with a repelling device.
- Practice your breathing skills and the "rest step."
- Refine and review (even if you think you know it all) your crampon skills... how are you going to attack the Lhotse Face? (Ryan did an incredible job filming our climb up the Lhotse Face. See the video ») French technique of flat footing (pieds a plat), duck walking (pied en canard), walking (pied marche), combination of duck and front pointing downhill (pieds troisieme), German technique of front pointing, American technique, cross over, combinations of side stepping and front pointing etc. Anti-balling plates are good to have on your crampons. Phil Ershler is the greatest crampon expert in the world.
- Learn how to walk downhill in the snow... don't lean back, bend your knees, stay upright over your hips, zig zag, shorten stride, use arms for balance, etc.
- Train in crappy weather... most of the climbers who turn do so in bad weather. Learn how to deal with wind, how to handle frozen goggles, stormy conditions, adjusting your down suit, head gear, etc. If you don't know, ask the guides and practice at base camp.
- Taper at the end of training period to gain weight.
- Near the end of your training do a "mental hike." You should be in good shape to take a climb like this: Mt. Baldy... start in the parking lot, and go all the way to the summit... four miles and 4,000' and then all the way back to car... tag it and then do the climb again... called a "yo-yo!" (don't complain... just suck it up... a nice 10 hours of getting your buns kicked.) Not pleasant, but will get you ready to handle the mental part of being tough. Remember it and how prepared you really are when the going gets tough on your summit day.
- As you begin to weaken on the long Everest climb due to weight loss, colds, etc., do some upper body exercises like push ups, curls with rocks, etc.
- Good training advice from Ed Viesturs »
- Sage advice from Alan Arnette (IMG 2011 Everest Summiter):
- Pace – don't worry, walk at your own pace.
- Preparation – be in the best shape of your life.
- Sickness – It is OK if you get sick, it happens, take care of yourself, see the doctors and rest.
- Personal Sherpa – a must.
- Extra bottle of oxygen on summit push is well worth cost.
- Stay at C1 on summit rotation.
- Purpose – have purpose for your climb and call upon it in tough times.
- Alan does a nice job in his video on how to pack for Everest... trek in, base camp, climbing gear, etc.
- Research your climb as much as possible... know how the trek to base camp works, read as many books as possible (my favorite is Kevin Flynn's Mt. Everest: Confessions of an Amateur Peak Bagger), see the IMG Video page or explore YouTube for great videos of the climb, talk with IMG people who climbed the year before (some comments are here), ask Eric Simonson as many questions as you can... do your homework.
- Don't be That Guy on your team. Have everything "dialed in" as the guides say... crampons fit, you know how your harness works, be sure your safety and ascender slings are the right length, etc. Get all that done in the states.
- Our favorite pieces of clothing... buffs, Patagonia down sweater and the Marmot DriClime windshirt.
- Bring an alarm clock that lights up... cheap and lightweight.
- Bring warm snow boots for base camp.
- Climb the mountain one day at a time and one step at a time. Don't hurry and enjoy the process. "You can not control time!"
- Don't make big plans at the end of your trip, helicopter rides out, etc., (Al Hancock's sage advice)... just take care of business each day... remember your primary goal: "Climb Mt. Everest." You can always change your airline reservations later.
- GSM cell phones now work at Base Camp and can save you money vs. a SAT phone. If you still want a SAT phone, I suggest the Thuraya. Don't call home everyday as it sometimes adds to your homesickness.
- Listen to the guides and pick the brain of anyone who has climbed the mountain before... glean important facts from them and the experienced Sherpas.
- Find a buddy whom you can talk to, "bitch & stitch" as they say, and someone who will support you and even look after you. Are you drinking enough water each day, are you eating enough, time to do some active rest exercises, how do you feel, hang in there, a joke or two, "way to go" praise each day, etc. You be someone's buddy too.
- Don't rush, and walk at your pace, not the pace of your Sherpa or teammates. Get comfortable with pacing yourself... it is not a race as long as you can move at a rate that is safe for you, your Sherpa and guides. Don't get all caught up in your times climbing up the ice field, time from Camp 1 to Camp 2 to Camp 3, etc. Who cares and the only question is did you get there! There is no mandated time that you need to meet... you can be slow as long as you are steady and safe. Climbing slow is OK constantly stopping to rest is not. Find your rhythm and stick with it.
- RELAX and try to enjoy the day to daily grind... try not to think about the summit because it will always be there. Just be sure you are ready for it when the "bell rings." Realize that it is a long climb and be ready to spend over 60 days in Nepal if necessary. You can't control time, so don't let it control you.
- Take hikes on rest days to Gorek Shep or Pumori Camp 2... stretch your legs each day during rest times, even if you just walk up to the main base camp.
- Make lists of what to carry to Camp 1, 2, 3 and 4. Get your Sherpa or a porter to carry as much of your gear as possible.
- Practice in your down suit and know how to cool down during hot or sunny weather.
- Practice your sock combinations and be sure you have dry socks up top.
- Take a foam pad (Thermorest) up on your rotations and leave it at Camp 2 or higher if possible
- Your personal Sherpas stay with you while climbing, assist to carry some of your personal gear (within reason), walk at your pace. Be sure you take designated rest stops, carry plenty of food and water, etc. Create a rapport with your Sherpa... talk with them all the time and be firm but respectful. If there is a language problem, have Ang Jangbu assist you. Do not assume things; be proactive.
- Keep your harness simple... ascender, safety sling, rappel device (figure 8 is the best), etc. Be sure to duct tape your safety carabineer to the sling.
- Bring lots of cold medicine including cough drops. Cipro can be good for GI problems, but there is a Cipro resistant bacteria in the Kumbu. Bring several (4) "Z" packs (Azithromycin); doctors use it for all sorts of problems including colds (coughing up the green mucous) and Cipro resistant stomach problems. Bring an Advair inhaler or two too. As soon as you don't feel well, get to HRA ASAP... they are the best. If you want to use Cialis or Viagra, be sure to try it in the states at high altitude to see if it helps. I always use Ginkgo Bilboba (180 mg per day) prior to and during climbs... seems to help me with the altitude... research is mixed on its effectiveness. I am not big on Diamox, but if you do use it, it can help with getting a better night of sleep, and the suggested dose is a ¼ or ½ tab to start with. Take baby aspirin starting in base camp each day especially for the older guys.
- Minor cuts can really bug you at high elevations because they don't heal very quickly... suggest you clean them with soap and water, and I used some of my "Purell hand sanitizer" on them.
- Do you go down the Khumbu valley or stay at Base Camp when you get sick? Both ways have their positives and negatives. We suggest if you get sick or hurt early in the trek or climbing rotations, go down to Pheriche and rest up and then be prepared to get back on schedule with your rotations when you return. I liked staying in Base Camp because I knew what I was getting with food and sanitation, could sleep in my own tent and plan my own active rest days. Listen to your guides s they usually know best.
- Equipment list... Lots of good lists available. Be sure to follow IMG's Everest gear list, but you can get additional good ideas from past summiters. One of our favorite equipment lists was done by the IMG 2009 summiter astronaut Scott Parazynski.
- Alan Arnette also has a great general gear list »
- Be sure to write your name on all your gear and your stuff sacks that you place in the rice bags that will be carried by the Sherpa porters to Camp 1 and Camp 2... they sometimes get mixed up with other climbers' gear.
- Practice using your down suit from Camp 2 to Camp 3 and get an early start to beat the heat... learn how to take the top down of your down suit and tuck in the arms, etc., when the sun comes out.
- Suggest you go only to Camp 1 the first day of your summit rotation and then onto Camp 2 early next morning.
- Use clear goggles, regular goggles, sun glasses, regular prescription glasses, swim goggles (don't fog up as much, etc.), and practice what to do when they get fogged up... take 'em all up the mountain.
- Be sure to have a good hood that will cover a great deal of your face... practice using your hood down low and know exactly how to tighten it up in windy weather (can be tough over oxygen mask so be sure you practice at base camp). Feathered Friends down suit is like having a sleeping bag on your head which is big time when the weather turns on you. Practice your head cover combinations to include, oxygen mask, buff, balaclava, wool cap, goggles, head lamp, helmet (I didn't use after C3), sun screen (put the sun screen on before your leave Camp 4 even though it is dark... you don't want to mess around when the sun comes up and it also helps with the wind burn... have someone put it on your face "after" you have your oxygen mask on), etc. If you are bald, put some on your head, but be sure it is the type that if it gets in your eyes it won't irritate you for example: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55
- If your sunglasses have a nose cover (which I highly recommend for the whole trip... even if you look like a dork, your nose won't burn) practice with it and with your oxygen mask on.
- Don't worry about the weather and try not to be a prognosticator on what the weather is going to do... listen to your guides and "pull the trigger" when they tell you too.
- Listen to your lead guide on what to wear under your down suit and be sure you have practiced with those clothing combinations prior to the summit push.
- Practice with your face mask and oxygen system in base camp to include headlamp, gloves, etc. Walk around for awhile with the O's (not all the way to Gorak Shep though... he! he!)
- Take the food that you will eat... be sure you are comfortable with that food... practice what you will eat on summit day when you do your first rotation to Camp 3. It seemed on the summit push most of the climbers were using Gu... take at least 5 large packs (check out a product called a Gu Flask... makes it so much easier to take in the Gu as long as your keep it close to your body to eliminate freezing). Many also sucked on hard candy to overcome the dryness of the oxygen mask (Greg's suggestion).
- Have a thermos with hot fluid... we suggest a sport's rehydration drink (Nuun). Take enough water for "you" to climb for a possible 12-hour-plus day.
- Take preplanned mandated rest stops and be sure you coordinate with your Sherpa prior to leaving the South Col where and when you are going to stop.
- Get the best and warmest down suit you can and be familiar with all the pockets, etc.
- Have your Sherpa carry your water if possible.
- Study the summit route...know where the major points are... Triangular face, Balcony, Tenzing's Step, South Summit, Hillary Step, etc.
- Leave Camp 3 early for Camp 4 to get the sleep and rest you will need for the final same day push.
- When you get to Camp 4 "force yourself" to drink water and eat... no excuses and this is where a good buddy comes in... Sherpas tend to leave this up to you so get someone that will kick your butt and be sure you eat enough... you will probably have three in a tent, so get used to that at Camp 4.
- Understand the oxygen you will need... start at 2½ or 3 and turn it up if you need more on tough sections... don't be afraid to pay for an extra bottle... can make a big difference.
- Know how to clear your mask of ice, etc. Be sure your Sherpa understands how to clear your mask... it freaks you out when all of sudden you can't breathe due to a clogged mask.
- Be together with other climbers and help each other... encourage each and slow down if necessary... just keep moving and you will get there. It seems that those who don't make the top are generally alone with their Sherpas... be with someone.
- Use your walkie-talkies... keep in contact with the lead guide... ask for help when you need it.
- I never used my ice axe on Everest... check with your head guide on this (I liked two hands on the fixed line on the Lhotse face-big help for older climbers)... you will need a helmet for the ice field and the lower part of the Lhotse face and that is about it. I never used my Gortex for Camp I and Camp 2. I used my own minus 20 down bag at Base Camp and had an extra minus 40 bag carried to Camp 1 and Camp 2... big help. Your Sherpa will carry that up the mountain to those two camps for you. I used my walking poles as high as I could.
- There is a 25' rock wall about ⅔ of the way from the Balcony to the South Summit (Vern Tejas calls it "Tenzing's Step") that is tough and some consider harder than the Hillary step... ask other veterans about this and be prepared... take it nice and easy, and once over that, you can start to "smell the barn (summit)."
- Know and practice your glove combinations... do you know how to use your mitts with as ascender?... not easy. You should be all right with good gloves and hand warmers, but bring your mitts... if your fingers start to get cold take care of the problem ASAP!!
- A good suggestion on staying warm summit night... sleep in your down suit... put your big boots and the liners in your sleeping bag. If you leave at 9:00 p.m., start getting ready at 8:15 p.m. The first thing to do is to open a couple of hand warmers and stick them in your liners and also place another set in the gloves you will be using on the summit push. We suggest you not use your mitts out of camp as they are difficult to use with the ascenders (Arnette used BD mercury Mitts which fit into the ascender). Take the warmers out of your boots before you put them on and place them in your mitts which you may need later. Most of those hand warmers are now good for 10 hours. Know how to use hand warmers. They're easy for mitts because you can just grab them with all your fingers. Learn how to pull your fingers out of your regular glove fingers and grab the hand warmer while your hand is still in the glove and you are using it with the ascender not easy, but can be done.
- This may sound funky, but practice what you are going to do on the summit: "standing hero shot with your ice axe," taking special banners with you, who will take the photos of you, who is carrying the camera and will the batteries be warm enough, what you will say to a video camera, etc. Be sure your Sherpa (have them carry your camera) knows what you want in advance because you are usually too bonked to remember anything. This saves time on the summit, and you don't want to come down saying, "I should have done this or that..." You might even write down on a small card what you want to do and carry that with you along with your Lama post card from the coughing monk in Pangboche... he! he!
- Getting to the top and down to the Col is your goal. If you can get down to Camp 2, that is super, but don't push it; don't try to be a hero and push to Camp 2 if you're not up for it. Going down the Lhotse Face is a bitch when you are tired or bonked.
- Don't "puss" when the going gets tough... "flick the switch," stop, drink, eat, stay in emotional control and regroup! Be mentally tough and realize that it is going to be June regardless of how you feel now, and think about how you will feel then if you don't summit. If you "bonk" though, call base camp and ask for input, ask your Sherpa, and make the right decision.
Finally, tipping. I would have never made to the summit without the sage advice and encouragement of Phil Ershler, the organizational skills of Ang Jangbu, the proactive coaching of Greg Vernovage, the encouragement of Justin Merle in tough times, and most of all my Sherpa Danuru II... no way would I have even been close to the summit. I jokingly say (but it is probably true) that I would have never even climbed the stairs of the Hotel Tibet without everyone's support. So "man/woman up" and do the right thing and be generous... not a time to be cheap.
Remember... "IF YOU THINK YOU CAN THEN YOU CAN!"John and Ryan Dahlem, IMG 2010 Everest Summiters