Mountaineering Training | Starting Your Expedition Healthy

Posted by: | October 28, 2013
Categories: *Mountaineering Fitness & Training

Illness is the enemy of every climber.  You have trained countless hours and are in the best shape of your life, but if you start a climb already sick, the climb you were prepared for can become infinitely harder.  Health on an expedition starts before the climb, before the team meets, and before the marathon of travel to get to your destination.  Start your trip healthy by making sure you are thinking about your health and your immune system several weeks before your trip even starts! 
 
Remember to “taper” your training before the climb. Ease back on the hours and intensity of your workouts during the last week or two before your trip and make sure that you are rested, recovered, and ready to go.  It’s always tempting to push the last few workouts, but doing so can lead to arriving tired and predisposed to getting sick before the climb begins.
 
Most climbing trips begin with an airline flight, whether across the U.S., or across the globe to South America, Nepal, and beyond.  An airplane full of people from all over the world is a big test for your immune system, and it will need all the help you can give it. To keep your immune system strong, don’t forget to start hydrating a day or two before your flight as well.  Airline cabins are often pressurized to higher altitudes than we are used to, and consequently, humidity in the cabin is also much lower than our normal environment.  Good hydration before your flight will help get you through the flight in better shape.  Lastly, don’t forget to get up and move around.  A few hours of sitting in your airplane seat can leave your legs feeling stiff, sore, and perhaps swollen; not an ideal start to a climb!
 
Once you are back on the ground, try to adjust to your new environment.  Often, the hardest part is adjusting to a new time zone.  Do your best to adjust your routine to the local time right off: eat your meals at standard times and try to stay awake until a normal hour.  Besides a time zone change, you may also be dealing with new and different foods.  Right before your expedition isn’t the best time to be adventurous with your food.  Be mindful of what you eat, especially when traveling abroad. Make sure that food, especially meat, is thoroughly cooked.  Beware of fruits and vegetables that are unwashed, or have been washed with tap water.  Soil and tap water in other areas can carry bacteria and viruses that our systems aren’t accustomed to dealing with.  Along the same vein, be careful with drinks.  Drink bottled water if in doubt, and ask for drinks to be made without ice (which is usually made from local tap water).  Use bottled water to brush your teeth as well.  If you are dying to spice it up and try the local delicacy, the time to do it is after the climb.  
 
If you arrive feeling a bit off, don’t stress.  Take the time to rest, recover from your travels, and refuel.  This will make all the difference if you are balancing the line between getting sick and staying healthy.  Vitamin-C supplements, Zinc, Echinacea, and innumerable other immune supplements are available.  Bring your favorite, and use them prophylactically during your travels.  Traveling can be the most stressful part of your climb.  Once you are in the mountains, routine takes over and all of your training pays off! 

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Views of Mt. McKinley from the plane on the way to Kahiltna Base Camp (Linden Mallory).

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