The journey to the summit of Everest is grueling. The journey involves slow, methodical climbing over approximately two months of time that ends with a fleeting 15-minute window to enjoy the “Peak of Heaven”.
The climbing season begins with a bumpy flight on a plane to Lukla at 9000 ft. in the heart of the Khumbu. From there, I started the nearly 3-week ascent to Everest Base Camp, traveling by foot through remote villages until I arrived at the crowded Everest base camp. The bustle of activity at camp is a constant reminder of the large task ahead and emblematic of the teamwork needed to ascend this peak.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to conduct climbs all over the world, both personally and professionally. I’ve pursued summits in expedition style and alpine style and found common threads from all my adventures in the hills.
I’ve highlighted five most valuable lessons I’ve learned from climbing Earth’s highest mountain. These are lessons that I now apply to every adventure, ranging from weekend backpacking trips to mountaineering expeditions. I believe they can help you achieve your next backcountry challenge.
5 Tips from a Backcountry Guide
1. Remember the basics
It’s easy to have your previous experience and knowledge feel irrelevant in the face of a new climb, especially with Everest looming above. Looking up at any intimidating objective can feel as though you don’t have the experience to climb it. However, it’s important to remember in the face of such a challenge that all of the skills gained from other climbs are still relevant and important.
For me, recalling the steps I took to successfully climb other peaks helps me tackle new objectives. Whether you’re on Everest or Mount Rainier, every morning starts with putting your boots on, strapping into crampons, and organizing necessary gear. While the objective ahead may be large, concentrating on the routine and basics of any objective chips away at the larger task at hand.
2. Learn from others
One of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had was my introduction to the Sherpa guides. All the guides sat in a large tent and we all went around in a circle giving a brief description of our guiding experience. It was a room full with an astounding number of collective climbs, not only on Everest but other peaks in the Khumbu Valley and from all over the world. Being part of such an experienced team lends depth to my guiding abilities, and having so many people with such a strong climbing background makes for a safer and ultimately more successful climb.
This open mindset can be applied to any adventure in the backcountry, regardless of your experience level. Feeling open to reaching out to others for input is an important part of climbing any mountain and succeeding in any expedition.
3. Be ready to dig deep
Everest gains a lot of notoriety for not being a technically difficult climb. However, contending with bulky, awkward and heavy equipment and the hypoxic drain of climbing at such a high altitude is a significant challenge to overcome. Each step is laborious and slow. The pace can make the larger objective seem endless and impossible. It is not only a physical challenge but also a psychological hurdle to maintain moderate physical output for such a long period of time.
It’s helpful to concentrate on the smaller goals of each day, like reaching camp or to thinking back to your preparation and how it prepared you for the difficult moments. Taking care of yourself can make-or-break your ability to try hard. Bringing the appropriate gear to ensure a proper night of sleep and care for yourself will pay dividends when it comes time to climb. Eat and drink appropriate to your exertion, especially when in the cold or at altitude since these elements can kill your appetite. Just like a good night of sleep, being properly fueled will allow you to push yourself to meet your goals.
4. Climb with a purpose
Throughout my guiding career, I’ve been part of many people’s successes and failures. It’s easy to approach big mountain climbing with the singular goal of a summit. This “stand-on-top-at-all-costs” mindset means that achieving anything less than a summit can feel entirely defeating.
I encourage people to not have such a singular mentality but to find enjoyment in the process of climbing. This is easier said than done, but there are so many enjoyable aspects to being in the outdoors that don’t necessarily involve standing on a summit. Finding pleasure in the simple act of just being in beautiful places and pushing yourself yields a higher degree of accomplishment. The success is in enjoying the process, not solely the end goal.
5. Stay entertained
Many climbing adventures involve a significant amount of downtime and Everest is no exception. Whether it’s waiting for inclement weather to subside or attempting to rest between pushes, there can be many days to wait with no significant stimulus. Being able to read, watch movies, listen to podcasts, or play games with other people is essential to keeping morale high and not spending time overthinking the journey ahead.
Big backcountry objectives like Everest demand the right preparation, physical training and mental fortitude. Whether you’re traversing a lengthy backpacking trail, skiing a new backcountry objective, or snowshoeing to a new place, the tools needed to navigate challenges are the same. Lending the experience you’ve gained from one outdoor adventure and putting it towards your next trip can inform your experience and help accomplish your backcountry goals.