Words: Chris Brinlee Jr.
Photography: Jimmy Chin
“Standing on the summit of Everest is like being just one step away from outer space,” says Bill Allen. “The Himalaya are spread out at your feet while the earth’s horizon curves around you and the sky above is dark blue. Looking up is like peering into the abyss.”Bill Allen, the owner of guide service Mountain Trip, knows a thing or two about climbing the world’s highest peaks.
He’s completed the “Seven Summits” (the challenge of climbing the highest mountain on every continent) -- twice. His guide service leads expeditions to some of the world’s highest peaks -- including Mt. Everest.
Now 45, Allen splits his time between Ophir, Colorado and Alaska -- guiding heli-skiing and backcountry touring trips in the San Juans during winter, and running day-to-day operations for Denali climbs during the summer.
Here he lays out the basics for tackling the mighty behemoth that is Everest.
1. Tackle the Prereqs
An Everest expedition is not the place to learn mountaineering skills, or how your body acclimatizes. For a successful expedition, it’s important to have previous experience on high-altitude peaks like Denali and Aconcagua and typically climbers have either taken a mountaineering course prior to those expeditions or have developed those mountaineering skills on their own -- and tested them on several expeditions already.
The summit of Aconcagua is just under 22,838 ft., which is almost to the altitude that most climbers start using oxygen on 26,000-foot peaks, so it is great high altitude experience before heading to Everest.
There aren’t any shortcuts and climbers have to put in the work to get to the top.
2. Find a guide service
Typically, an Everest expedition costs $40,000-75,000 (most of which is spent in Nepal and goes towards permits, staff fees, travel expenses and insurance) which is a huge investment, so it’s important that climbers have a relationship with a guide and/or guide service before throwing down to climb the big one.
It’s not too much of an investment to go on a trip to Aconcagua, a training trip to Ecuador, or even a trip to Colorado for some ice climbing or mountaineering before committing to an Everest expedition with someone.
There are several really solid guide services in the US offering high quality Everest expeditions, but each has a slightly different company culture and program. There are differences in the sizes of teams, amount of Sherpa support, oxygen and general level of services; climbing with a guide service on other trips will provide insight on how they operate.
One thing to keep in mind is that you get what you pay for.
3. Train your heart outClimbing Everest isn’t something that you can train for a couple of months and then be ready, unless you start with a high level of fitness.
Climbers should know that they can go for 12-plus hours at high altitude; they must put in the time to train. There are ways to train smartly and efficiently; books like Training for the New Alpinism can provide insight into those techniques.
There are a lot of variables in climbing a big mountain that are out of our control--like weather--but our level of fitness is totally within our control. Ultimately, summit day on Everest shouldn’t be a “test of endurance.”
While the importance of physical training can’t be underestimated, mental preparation can play just as big of a role.
Everest expeditions require a huge commitment of time and focus away from normal life, work and family; you can’t worry about things that are days and weeks away while you are on the trip.
Don’t stress out about summit day, the weather, or the unknowns either. Just enjoy each day, do your best on each leg of the journey, and understand that you can’t control the weather.
4. Stay healthy
Staying healthy while climbing Everest is a crucial and challenging endeavor. Your body will be stressed; because of that it’s easy to get sick and it’s difficult to get well again.
The keys to staying healthy during the climb are eating good food, drinking clean water, and avoiding anyone who is getting sick themselves.
Many climbers will wear a buff to cover their mouth and nose -- which helps to avoid dust while providing extra humidity to the air you breath, helping to avoid the dreaded Khumbu Cough.
5. Stick together
Most teams begin their summit bid around midnight and try to reach the top by sunrise. It’s a long, but beautiful and exhilarating day.
Oftentimes there can be a lot of anxiety hinged around the final assault and if things aren’t going exactly to plan, it can become frustrating.
That’s why it’s crucial to work as a team -- not every man for himself. Teamwork will make everyone more successful.
Keep an eye on each other and remember that your Sherpa and guides are not invincible. Keep pushing forward and enjoy being on the tallest mountain on earth.
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