/ high altitude beginner!

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G1000 - on 12 Feb 2013
Hi all,
My only experience of climbing has been a stint of ice climbing on a frozen waterfall in Sweden and it didn't end so well! Other than that it has been scrambling in Snowdonia and walking rest of UK. I have the opportunity to try a (or more than one!) mountain in the Peruvian Andes late May/early June and i'm not sure where to start.

I don't really know how fit I should be (my arms are quite weak) and how to get fit for that environment. I'm slightly injured so it will take some time to get fit. I think there are beginner climbing mountains that have no vertical ice stretches and although you use crampons and axe, it's not technical. There seem to be a lot of options for difficulty levels, some stretching into vertical ice climbing. The mountains for beginners don't seem to be lower than 5600-5700m tho so possible altitude issues.

Any advice on training, how to know I am fit enough, anything I should try in the UK first and even if anyone has been there and can shed some light would be fab.

Thanks :)
radson - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

I kind of get a sense in these type of posts that your want someone to whisper in your ear and say everything will be right and you dont have to train too hard.

The truth is , the fitter and stronger you are, the more enjoyable will be your experience. A half-hearted approach will lead to a less than stellar experience. The American Alpine Institute has some good guides on training for Denali. You could use that for a starter even though Denali involves dragging a sled but the altitudes are similar.

and if you want a one-off measure of fitness. I think you should be able to trail run 10km in one hour. How's that for starters?

Have fun
davidbeynon - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to radson:

The way I always think of it is that no matter how fit I am I will be knackered and have a miserable time, but if I put in the time training I might actually achieve something while I'm at it.

It's impossible to be too fit for mountaineering, very easy to be too unfit.
mark s - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000: i went to everest b.c in 98.i was fit but it still hurt at altitude.
as for the altitude,go the doctors and get some diamox.i had it and had no problems
GridNorth - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000: There is no such thing as fitness for mountaineering at altitude you just learn to accept the pain. :) Seriously, the fitter you are the more you will enjoy the experience but there is no training for the affects of altitude. It will either get you or it won't. There doesn't appear to be much rhyme or reason to it. Gaining altitude slowly and staying well hydrated helps as does going to a moderate height before hand, say 3000 metres. If you can spend a night or two at 3000 to 3500 metres so much the better. Most seasons I have been fine apart from a mild headache and I have never really trained hard. One year however it hit me and I could hardly take more than 3 steps in succession and had to come down. Some people seem more susceptable than others despite being "fitter".
wheelo - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000: another vote for diamox
Bruce Hooker - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

Check out the base altitude - if you are climbing from the Altiplano this is already at 4000 m so a few days there helps acclimatize. Afterwards the important thing is to have enough time to acclimatize well - some head off for a week's holiday aiming for high mountains which always seems risky to me.
G1000 - on 12 Feb 2013
Hi all, thanks for the replies,

I'm not looking for an easy way out, just to make sure I get up there (and back down in 1 piece!). The last thing I want is someone telling me it'll be ok as I know damn well it won't be which is why i'm on here ;) Thanks for the guidance on fitness, I have some work to do to get there but I have 3.5 months

Regarding altitude, someone said about eating the cocoa leaves over there but it sounds like a bit of an old wives tale and I do remember hearing about Diamox somewhere a while back. Didn't realise GP would prescribe it to take away tho, thanks.

I fly into Lima and return home from Cusco 3 weeks later. So providing I get to Cusco in time to leave I have the space in between to do whatever/acclimatise etc and i'll not make any plans beforehand. I think the town Huraz is at 3000m mark so can sleep there and do some day hikes first.

Thankyou :)
Bruce Hooker - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

Coco leaves are what they make cocaine from and many of the local indians chew them all the time, so it's definitely not just a tale, some even have a distended cheek from having a wad in their mouth all the time. It enables them to work in mines that can be up to 5000m on a diet of spuds and the odd tin of fish... they don't live that long though. I never tried chewing the leaves, just never got round to it but some climbers did and it's been written about in reports. As for damox I think you can do without if you are in good health, fit and not too old. To acclimatise just keep as high as possible as long as possible, but don't rush it too much at first.

You should enjoy it alright, fantastic area.
Ben Briggs - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to Bruce Hooker: my favorite thing to do with Coco leaves was make sugary tea with them in the mornings. I'm not a morning person and it really helped , shame you can't get them in the Alps for the early starts!
Will Legon - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

Peruvian Andes are brilliant! If you're headed to Cusco first get yourself on the Lares trek for some acclimatisation - and add in a visit to MP - well worth it. There are different variations of the Lares trek - should be easy to book up in Cusco or a week or two before. Make sure you book three days that don't have you sleeping any higher than 3700m - try never to sleep more than 600m more than the night before.

And DO take Diamox. Lots of controversy on this one since it's never been properly researched as a prophylactic for altitude but there's plenty of evidence to suggest it works. (If you get some try it for two days at home first while you're well to see that there are no nasty side effects beyond pins and needles and making soda taste crap - and also it's a diuretic).

Head up to Huaraz asap and book yourself into Joe's Place - Google it - you'll find it. I take people walking and climbing and used to sell this as an itinerary - http://www.will4adventure.com/peru_cordilerra.shtml - I'd thoroughly recommend it. I don't sell it nowadays so feel I can be objective in my opinion. You can climb ishinca and Urus from more or less the same base camp. If they work out well and you have time head to Pisco.

While in Huaraz also spend time in the Californian cafe. Happy days!

Oh - and it's bloody cold when you set off up a glacier at 0300 in the morning - I recall wearing almost everything I owned including my Rab down jacket - remember you'll be short of breath and walking very very slowly and hardly generating any heat for yourself.

Finally Google safeinlima for good, cheap accommodation in Lima and shelek trek for trek logistics etc in Huaraz.

Have a good one! Will
G1000 - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to Will Legon:

Ohhh cool, you've been there!
So what do you think of Vallunaraju? What sort of difficulty am I looking at? Someone said there is no real ice climbing? I heard Pisco used to be easier but it's now harder due to receding glacier? I'll look at the others you mention too.

I'm at Cusco at the end as I fly back out of there. :)

Very excited, i've never been to glaciated mountains like that and it would be a dream i've had for ages to get up there :) Shame I don't have longer to get fit (take me a while longer as I have an iffy shoulder atm but fingers crossed that i'll get it right enough) but silly flight prices came up so I thought i'd go and see Macchu Piccu etc then remembered i'd be in such an amazing mountain range that i'll probably stay in the Cordilleras the whole time ;D
milkyjoe - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

+1 for getting reasonably fit before you go. Proper hillwalking (ie 4-5hr+ days with several hundred metres of ascent) would be more use than trying to do lots of running, though if running is all that time allows then it won't hurt. Fitness won't actually help ward off altitude sickness - I've known marathon runners get cracking headaches on first going up high - but having built up your leg muscles a bit and got used to walking all day will definitely help.

Don't underestimate the benefits of acclimatising gradually. If you're doing any exercise at all then the maxim of not sleeping more than 600m higher than the previous night is a good one once you're above 3000m. A good way to fit some of this in would be touring the Bolivian altiplano or the Cusco area. Just don't go back down for more than a day or two before heading up again.

Also good, and well worth doing in their own right, would be some of the many stunning hikes to be had in Peru (not just the Inca trail!! Though it is spectacular if you don't mind traffic). Another vote for Valle de Lares (though it may have changed in the 13 years since I was there, eek!). Basically the Incas built good paths all over the mountains in that are, so any good local agency that does hiking should be able to put something together. In my experience, and this was a few years ago now, local tour/adventure agencies will know much better the less-crowded more interesting options rather than international companies that prefer to offer certain well-recognised destinations. Might be better to ask other travellers for recommendations of good companies in Cusco/Huaraz/Arequipa once you're out there, if you can afford the time.

Anyway, enjoy! I got my first proper taste of mountaineering in Peru, getting to a 5900m summit before I'd even done anything over 3500m in Europe. We would have got to 6000m if it hadn't been for 40cm of fresh snow to break tracks in too... I wouldn't want to repeat the soft boots/old crampons combination though, or the old fencepole I was given as an iceaxe! I'm sure equipment has got more available in the intervening years...
mattrm - on 12 Feb 2013
In reply to G1000:

I always like the fitness levels on the Alpine Guides website - http://www.alpine-guides.com/mountaineering/fitness-levels.htm

But the simple answer is, everyone acclimatises differently and differently each time. So take it slow for the first week. Pick low peaks and ramp up the height slowly.

As for fitness, the fitter the better. Ideally you need to be aiming for being able to do several days of exercise back to back. Basically lots of long hill walks 8 hours or longer, 20-30 miles with a heavy pack and lots of up and down. If you can do that two days in a row that's all the better. If you can't manage that, then lots of running, swimming and riding. Again, the longer the better. It's all about building up endurance.
G1000 - on 13 Feb 2013
Thanks for the advice guys. I hope the equipment will have improved since the fencepole! :/ lol That looks a good website, i'm going to set some targets as it's too easy for time to drift by and to have not made big pushes. I'm going to get myself to Wales and see what my current fitness status is and then work from there!
I'm thinking of getting some Diamox to take just in case (rather have something than not), then trying it at home to see how I am with it in terms of side effects. I'm thinking of ordering from Dr Fox as they are probably cheaper than usual pharmacies (presume you can only get it from GP on private prescription aswell)?

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