/ Fitness for polar expeditions

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Calum Nicoll - on 11 Oct 2012
I am keen to get involved in polar trips. Starting off, I fancy doing something in greenland, maybe the nansen route.

However, I am not sure how fit I need to be. Would be unguided. I don't really have a reference point, I know quite a few people who've been to greenland, but just for mountaineering/short trips, not dragging a sledge for hundreds of miles.

What's a good source for info etc?

Also, why does everyone seem to go in april/may, is it more stable weather? Because I thought it was cold enough in the interior that the snow wouldn't melt, regardless of the time of year. Or is it just that in midsummer the start/end would consist of many miles of slush and rivers in the ice?
AlanLittle - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:
>
> What's a good source for info etc?
>
I recall Reinhold Messner's autobiography had some detail on the subject, partiualry wrt comparison with mountaineering
TheDrunkenBakers - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll: Only 1 tip, make sure that you can run faster than a polar bear, or faster than the slowest....er.....hmm....seal.
Denni on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

I never understand these "how fit do I need to be" questions.
So if someone says, you need to be able to run 10k in so many minutes, would you get yourself that fit then think you have reached the fitness level?

Get as fit as you can possibly be to the point where you don't think you can be fitter then try to maintain that standard for as long as you think you'll be going away to harsh environments, at least then you know that you've given yourself a fighting chance.
Mark Bull - on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

> What's a good source for info etc?

http://www.greenlandicecap.com/


> Also, why does everyone seem to go in april/may, is it more stable weather? Because I thought it was cold enough in the interior that the snow wouldn't melt, regardless of the time of year. Or is it just that in midsummer the start/end would consist of many miles of slush and rivers in the ice?

Yes, west coast is quite low lying so lots of snow melt, big rivers, bare ground etc. in the summer.



James Gilbert on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

It's not Greenland, but Jerry Kobalenko's book "Horizontal Everest" has lots of information about this sort of activity on Ellesmere Island.

He mentions that he didn't do massive amounts of training before trips, other than running quite a lot to build up resistance to repetitive strain type injuries.
iksander on 11 Oct 2012
Damo on 11 Oct 2012
In reply to iksander:
> (In reply to Calum Nicoll) Hook up with this guy http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/t.php?t=522898&v=1#x7046439

+1 :-))
Calum Nicoll - on 13 Oct 2012
In reply to Denni:
> (In reply to Calum Nicoll)
>
> I never understand these "how fit do I need to be" questions.
> So if someone says, you need to be able to run 10k in so many minutes, would you get yourself that fit then think you have reached the fitness level?
>
> Get as fit as you can possibly be to the point where you don't think you can be fitter then try to maintain that standard for as long as you think you'll be going away to harsh environments, at least then you know that you've given yourself a fighting chance.


Just get fit as possible and then go anyway - That might be valid if easy escape options are there. However, I would find it undesirable to discover that I'm not fit enough/going to take a lot longer than I thought, and thus starve/be rescued/have to abandon early, in the interior. If my chances are very low, it's better to know beforehand.

While I could undoubtably buy a sled and trek about the cairngorms in winter, or go over somewhere glaciated in europe, there's also a considerable investment in sleds and stuff just to get to that point.

So what I'm really looking for is someone to say, I did X expedition, before it I could pull 4 tyres for 20km in 4 hours on tarmac, or something like that, so I get an idea of how far off I am. Or even better to say it typically takes X force to pull a 80kg sled at X speed (I know this massively depends on snow conditions etc, a ballpoint figure).

For a benchmark of where I'm at, I carried a rucsac that initially weighed about 40kg for 600km this summer, at it's heaviest, I was able to carry it for about 15km of mountainous terrain/day. When it got light, about 12kg, we could do 50-60km of flatter terrain/day.
Rourke - on 14 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

I agree with Calum there, in that some kind of reference point is very useful in tailoring your training schedule. I know there is no correct answer, everyone is different and can see what the previous poster means by get as fit as you can but it is much easier to plan and motivate if you have an idea of targets

Have never been on a polar expedition so can't really add much, I would try and simulate what your body needs to be able to cope with train day after day to build up stamina. I personally running is the best and most efficient preparation (although I live nowhere near any hills) and I guess you will need to do some serious weight bearing stuff. Have also found some deprivation training (ie. training without food or water) helpful as again it prepares the body.

Good luck
Damo on 15 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

I've never been anywhere near Greenland, but I've pulled various sleds during about a dozen Antarctic expeditions.

I think tyre pulling is the best home training you can do. The mechanics are slightly different than walking with a pack - which is better than nothing. You use slightly different muscles and involve your core much more intensely pulling a sled.

I trained four complete novices last year to do a Last Degree to the South Pole and had them pull tyres - two car or 4WD tyres, on grass, surface makes a big difference - for at least an hour three times a week, in addition to other fitness work. They trained well, and were mostly already generally fit. The LD is done in around eight days, usually working up distance, pulling a 30-40kg sled. These guys did well, but a 20km day was enough for them, so maybe that gives you an idea? Greenland the surface may be snowier and your skiing ability may help more - the more glide you get each step the less grunt work you need to do.

So if you're doing an unguided manhaul across the continent I would suggest building up tyre sessions over at least several months (ideally more) from 30min to 2hrs plus the occasional 6+hr session. The mental drudgery is as much of a problem as the physical work.

Work on your skiing. Any fool can suffer. Practice with and test all your clothing and gear.

For more Greenland-specific info, Google Alex Hibbert, find his blog and send him an email.
axht - on 15 Oct 2012
In reply to Damo:

I could write another book in response to this stuff but I hope this helps:

- Training for me is running mid and long distance plus hills, circuits, weights and road cycling. Not a fan of tyre pulling.
- The expeditions office limit the season to start 15 Apr (a mistake in my view) and so early trips are harder and the melt is underway by end of April on the west coast. If you're sure about your travel time, start on the west side to avoid worst of melt and make sure you make your helicopter from the east side, or ski into Isotoq.
- The interior is windy and snowy in the spring and flat and hard in the summer. The coasts are best in the spring.
- Note that bonds are now required for non-emergency pickups and permits are over 450 and insurance requires someone on team to have significant experience.

All the best with your plans.

Cheers
Alex.
nw - on 16 Oct 2012
In reply to alexhibbert:

scott2012.org

Worth a look.
Calum Nicoll - on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll: Thanks everyone, the advice is amazing! I have lots of questions, but will respond to posts invidually so it's easier to read.
Calum Nicoll - on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to Damo:
> (In reply to Calum Nicoll)
> I trained four complete novices last year to do a Last Degree to the South Pole and had them pull tyres - two car or 4WD tyres, on grass, surface makes a big difference - for at least an hour three times a week, in addition to other fitness work. They trained well, and were mostly already generally fit. The LD is done in around eight days, usually working up distance, pulling a 30-40kg sled. These guys did well, but a 20km day was enough for them, so maybe that gives you an idea? Greenland the surface may be snowier and your skiing ability may help more - the more glide you get each step the less grunt work you need to do.

That's helpful, thanks. So would you say that pulling two tyres is roughly equivalent to pulling a 40kg sled? (I realise it's massively conditions dependant). What kind of speed would you suggest you should be aiming for when training with a couple tyres? Cos I'm concious that I could slog along indefinitely at a really slow speed, and still not be fit enough.

> So if you're doing an unguided manhaul across the continent I would suggest building up tyre sessions over at least several months (ideally more) from 30min to 2hrs plus the occasional 6+hr session. The mental drudgery is as much of a problem as the physical work.
>
> Work on your skiing. Any fool can suffer. Practice with and test all your clothing and gear.

Absolutely, I am planning on hitting the gorms hard this winter and try to get slicker, I wouldn't be going till april after next at the earliest, psyched.

Thanks for all the help.
Calum Nicoll - on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to alexhibbert:
> (In reply to Damo)
>
> I could write another book in response to this stuff but I hope this helps:
>
> - Training for me is running mid and long distance plus hills, circuits, weights and road cycling. Not a fan of tyre pulling.
> - The expeditions office limit the season to start 15 Apr (a mistake in my view) and so early trips are harder and the melt is underway by end of April on the west coast. If you're sure about your travel time, start on the west side to avoid worst of melt and make sure you make your helicopter from the east side, or ski into Isotoq.
> - The interior is windy and snowy in the spring and flat and hard in the summer. The coasts are best in the spring.
> - Note that bonds are now required for non-emergency pickups and permits are over 450 and insurance requires someone on team to have significant experience.
>
> All the best with your plans.
>
> Cheers
> Alex.

Haha, write the book, I'd definitely buy it! You're doing the kind of stuff I'm aiming for in a few years, so I'm curious how fit you are pre-expedition, i.e how much running/hills/cycling you're doing, and in what kind of time?

Insurance/bond info very helpful, thanks.

Calum

Calum Nicoll - on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll: Also, I see that some folk carry a rucsac in addition to a sled, why is this? Personal preference, or to help their skis maintain traction, or just to make it easy to grab jackets/food on the go?
Damo on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:
> (In reply to Damo)
> [...]
>
> That's helpful, thanks. So would you say that pulling two tyres is roughly equivalent to pulling a 40kg sled? (I realise it's massively conditions dependant). What kind of speed would you suggest you should be aiming for when training with a couple tyres? Cos I'm concious that I could slog along indefinitely at a really slow speed, and still not be fit enough.
>

A few variables in there:
- size and weight of tyres, some modern tyres look fat but are very light. I guess SUV type tyres are best, but maybe start with car tyres
- surface, it really makes a difference. I live on a farm so pull on rough grass and dirt, my clients were pulling sporting fields (short grass) but lots of people pull on tarmac/bitumen roads. Grass gives a lot of friction, so ups the 'weight' quite a lot. Whereas tarmac/concrete is quite easy, as are some hard dirt tracks.
- flat? I also used to go uphill for part of my session.

I'd say two SUV tyres on grass is very (very) roughly equivalent to a 40kg sled on 'average' ice surface. Even in Antarctica it can get several inches of snow, or it can be slippery hard blue ice, or just mm of fine grained snow like sand over harder ice, which is not great.

One of my clients (the fittest one) just said he did around 4km an hour on short grass - faster with morning dew! On the actual LD trip we did no more than 3km/h, on average. On the ice I think you want to work up to average at least 4km/h if you can. This assumes something like five sessions of 90min with 10min breaks in between - all of which is, again, variable between people.
Damo on 21 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:
> (In reply to Calum Nicoll) Also, I see that some folk carry a rucsac in addition to a sled, why is this?

Very few, if any, do this in Antarctica. I know some people like to have certain gear, like crevasse-rescue gear or camera, snacks etc in a daypack.

For North Pole trips I know some have been wary of losing their sled down a lead, so have survival gear in a daypack. No idea about Greenland.

Obviously on a mountain where you are pulling a sled (Denali, Logan, Vinson GBF etc) then you have the sac anyway, and can use it as a hauling harness.
axht - on 22 Oct 2012
In reply to Damo:

I'd say the benefits of a rucksack are applicable anywhere, icecap or sea ice. It gets weight 'forward' which helps for clearing rubble or sastrugi and means you can have safety gear with you should you need to lose the sledge. There are plenty of slots in the Antarctic to lose a sledge down unless you do the easy road-mapped bits (sadly most common these days....)
axht - on 22 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:

The answer to this is hard. There's no doubt that a relatively fit 'weekend athlete' with a full time job could cross a basic icecap width on a relaxed schedule. If you wanted to start doing big trips at the limit of potential pace, things like 15 overgrasp pullups, marathon sub 3-hrs, 10k sub-35 mins shouldn't make you nervous. Apples and oranges.
Dave - on 23 Oct 2012
In reply to Damo:
> (In reply to Calum Nicoll)
The mental drudgery is as much of a problem as the physical work.
>

I think Damo hit one very important point here, it is easy to neglect and difficult to address the mental aspect in training. I've done a bit of pulk pulling in Greenland and Antarctica on climbing/sking expeditions and for me the most difficult aspect is the mind-numbing tediousness of dragging heavy weights across a flat white landscape. I don't think I'm mentally up for an icecap crossing or similar, though I can manage a few days of pulking if I know there is a treat at the end if it, like a mountain. Perhaps if you do enough of it you reach some Zen-like state and it all makes sense ?

paul_stjimmy - on 26 Oct 2012
In reply to Calum Nicoll:
Are you planning on doing this solo Calum or after some expedition team mates?

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