Mike Fletcher is one of the 6-person team who will spend September in Zanskar, in the Indian Himalaya with the objective of making first ascents of hitherto unnamed peaks circa 6000m. The Montane Alpine Club Climbing (MACC) Fund has provided funding and access to cutting edge gear.
Expeditionary Alpinism is a wonderful thing. It is also a beast of jarring contradictions: Logistical hassle and chaos gives way to serene calm, which in turn balances on a knife edge as long as conditions allow. The monotony of insertion treks and base-camp life, ever watching the geographical and meteorological horizon for weather windows, allows for slithers of activity that can crackle with the electrifying excitement of standing where no soul has ever stood before. The list goes on and on.
Needless to say, there is something magical about breaking new ground; exploring possible routes, and finding a way to succeed using only the tools you have at your disposal - your wits, kit, and experience. To succeed you need to be fit and well organised as a team. In addition to basic fitness, lots of time on your feet, and lots of time on a rope out in the mountains pays dividends when it comes to going further, faster, and as departure time for the trip approaches the team is taking every opportunity to get out in the mountains.
There are more facets of physical preparation for an expedition such as this than one may think; you need to be fit, but also strong. You also need to have the technical abilities to apply yourself efficiently. My preparation for our expedition this summer has mostly taken the forms of:
TIME ON YOUR FEET
By nature, expect long mountain days. e.g. mutiny ski trips, or heading off wild camping for a few days at a time - you need to be able to keep going and going. There won't be many opportunities to hop in a taxi! Instead you will be hauling packs, ascending and/or descending for potentially numerous hours over loose or uneven ground. Everything has a physical cost - even the temperature can affect your physical performance by influencing your calorific requirements and comfort.
TIME ON A ROPE
You need to be practised and organised with all rope work for speed and safety. I have been practicing long multi pitch relatively easy stuff such as East Face of Tryfan, and multi pitch ice climbing in Norway. Derek Buckle and I were in Norway in Febuary - 10 days ice climbing followed by a week ski journey under Northern Lights went a long way to replicate the expected conditions, and the opportunity to experiment and practice whilst tired and cold will no doubt prove vital for our expedition.
This can understandably take many forms; mountain biking, running - because you need to be fit to enjoy it. This is a more relative factor than one may think; the least fit in any group will have a harder time, whether the group be out of condition or all Olympians. There is certainly a truism that whatever level you operate, whoever is the LEAST fit in a group has a miserable time!
And finally hours upon hours on the Climbing wall - (well realistically when you live in the Midlands you have to do it!)