Morocco’s cold shoulder: Climbing Jebel Toubkal

Instruct a man, you instruct an individual. Instruct a woman, you instruct a nation. (Moroccan proverb)

Checking into Morocco: The trip to Morocco didn’t get off too well when my flight from Munich was delayed the evening before leaving me with only two or three hours of sleep between repacking and a 6am flight from Stansted. It did work out in the end and Ryanair’s service levels didn’t fail to remind that you should not use them unless there is really no alternative. The flight was smooth and we landed a bit ahead of time leaving just the border to clear. Easier said than done. All foreigners have to fill a landing card, but there was zero pens available. So put a smile on and borrow one. Took me 20min in total (good I wasn’t in a rush I guess). Next stop was my rental car. At €50 for the two days plus petrol it seemed a good choice. Avoids having to go the center to get a lift for same or more fare in some dodgy old car. Especially on the way back the additional flexibility should come handy. The funny thing was first that you have to return the car with a quarter of the tank full and secondly cars needs to be clean in and outside. Given the state of the roads to Imlil (base village for Toubkal hikers) this means I need to get a car wash sorted prior to return or just pay some €12 for them to do it (I am certain that this add-on is a firm part of their profit margin ;o).

Getting to Imlil: With data on my BT mobile priced at £5/mb (!) I had little desire to use google maps or any data for that matter. So normal navigation by asking actual people (that don’t speak English all that well) was on the menu. Unusual these days. The signposts were close to useless due to lack of signs or them being all in Arabic. However, a petrol warden drew me a simple map that worked spot on. The 75-80km from Marrakech airport to Imlil to me about 90mins and allowed for a start at 1.15pm.

Hiking up to ‘Refuge du Toubkal‘: I had some bread first given I hadn’t had a proper meal since my Schnitzel at Munich airport last night and got water. Off we go and this time not with a crazy heavy bag, but say 15kg (the new camera & go pro & batteries adding back some of the saved weight from new equipment). Overall it required a moderate 4h 45min total to hike up ~1,500m over 10km distance to reach the refuge at 3,207m. This time I arrived at 6pm and hence before sunset. Many of the people I passed on the way would arrive 2h later or I didn’t see them at all (one English couple/friends I asked if they had torches given their speed would mean they finish in darkness and can end in tears).

The weather looked initially worse than back in December as it was snowing in Imlil already (1,740m altitude). However, not as much gusty wind and no comparison to the rain/snow storm last time. Views were limited to say the least given the precipitation. Most importantly though given the again tight timetable of two days, the forecasts were for fine weather Tuesday am and only little new snow (vs 25cm last time). Next bigger snow is only expected Wednesday pm (10-15cm). It was very cold though closer to the refuge (-10 degrees?) and even my ice climbing gloves didn’t cut the mustard. Good to have mitts as back-up though I will try the Muntain Hardwear ice climbing gloves to start.

Recharging batteries at the refuge: After check-in and some hot tea, I had to rest for a good hour to recoup strength. Been a long day. After a solid dinner (chicken, potato, carrots, soup, bread, tea) it was time to prepare for tomorrow (about 2.2km distance in steep upwards terrrain including just under 1,000m altitude gain to the summit at 4,167m). Breakfast at 6.30am. Not early enough for sunrise, but before the snow gets warm. Most importantly … I hope my watch will fix the navigation aspect this time (having failed miserably once before). The Toubkal route was the first thing I programmed when I got my Suunto Ambit Peak 3 recently.


One tip – don’t forget your passport: A Dutch / Moroccan couple left their passports in their Imlil hotel when they decided to go hiking at short notice. She had to get her mum to confirm passport details or be refused to stay at the refuge. That’s pretty stupid of the refuge people to say the least. You are a refuge for a reason and sending unprepared hikers back down in darkness is only asking for trouble. Not really an issue for international travellers, but be warned still.


Reaching North Africa’s highest peak: After a brief breakfast I set out at 7am. I think only the english bloke who also stayed in my room left earlier (5.30ish). This time I took the correct valley up and since it was daylight already it was hard to miss. Soon after me five Italian ski mountaineers followed suit as well as a British  group of three hikers. The snowfall hadn’t been too bad though there was some trail-breaking required on the less frozen parts of the route. Here the Italians on their ski’s had a much faster pace. Weather wise there were some clear patches early on, but soon clouds arrived, wind set in and temperatures dropped well below zero (eventually I had to put on my mitts). The route is pretty much a straight line up te valley until you reach the ridge, which you follow for anothwr 30mins to the summit. My pace was relatively moderate, but steady and I reached the top at 11.30am after 4,5h for the 1,000m altitude gain. Mission accomplished! Both the Italians and the English team beat me to it, but that’s not important (they went to bed after while I felt in strong condition to push all the way down). Thinner air was a headwind while physical fitness was rock solid. After an uneventful 30mins at the summit (for there was little to see unfortunately) and a few refreshments, I made my way back down and reached the refuge 13.45. Parts of the way down you can actually slide on your bum and I once more appreciated the GPS on my Suunto that gave confidence even when visibility dropped to 5-10m.

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Get me out of here! My desire to spend more time at the refuge (I had considered lunch) dropped significantly when I realised that ‘someone’ had opened the two dry bags I left behind (probably the same guy that charged me €2 for one cup of tea!). Nothing was missing (I took my money with me), but it’s just sad. I did let the guys know that this not cool, but the response only I got was that i should have put my stuff in (their) locker. Very helpful. This and the rip-off culture of Marrakesh really leave a bad image of Morocco (I have been advised since that outside Marrakesh its much better). By 2pm I was back on the trail, which remained largely snow-covered and new snow kept on coming. Without a single stop (apart from a few conversations with hikers heading up) it took 3h back to the car in Imlil.

Lost in Marrakesh: Driving the 80km back were uneventful. Life got a little trickier when I drove into the city center without a map or clue (still without mobile data). I found a parking space near the great square and took it gladly (€7/night were a rip-off, but I didn’t care after 10hours hiking and two hours driving today). Then quickly across the bazar and into the medina (old town) to hopefully find the Cafe Arabic that firstly sells a much desired cold beer (otherwise really hard to come by) and secondly has decent wi-fi. The latter was important as I still needed a place to sleep (it was 8.30pm by now). The issue is to find your way round the medina. Not even google maps works here. After trying my luck alone I ended up tipping a guy to get me there. Within 30mins I had my beer, spaghetti carbonara, booked a great hostel nearby and had caught up with events. Prices in this cafe are very much like home (i.e. expensive), food quality very average and the guests almost exclusively expats and tourists. But its nice and a welcome refuge from the craze of the buzzing markets. From there the maze continued and I needed one more guy to get me to the hostel (I paid him €4 to do so … so pretty much like an ‘Uber’ minimum fare (£5 in London) or a 15min taxi ride to the airport (MAD40) … but he wasnt happy still!).

Quality time at Equity Point Hostel: I checked in around 9pm. The value deal was for €9/night including breakfast. Respect though I would miss breakfast that is only served 8am to 10am. As most places in the old town, the building looks rather shabby from the outside. Once you get in, you’ll find plenty of space, a pool, a roof top and a bar (even showing Champions league with City beating Monaco 5:3 & selling drinks). The best thing about hostels is that you usually meet people and equity point didn’t let me down. After a quick shower I met 4 of my 6 room mates in the bar. On one hand two brothers from New Zealand (not that I would have guessed, Nico and Deniro?). Nico is an engineer involved in the new Tottenham stadium (to make some money for the next travel I gathered) and the other a lawyer who is about to start a 6mth job with HSBC in Hong Kong. They had managed to get hold of two local coats from €35 each today and now blended in well into the streets of Marrakesh. On the other there were two French girls who are teachers as I understood and just spent 3 weeks working in Southern Morocco (Clo & Julie). Over a few bottles of wine we touched probably on every main topic there is. Politics (in Europe, US and even NZ), refugees, religion, backgrounds (the brothers have been travelling a lot over the years), favorite travel destinations, socialism vs capitalism, Australian binge drinking and aggression, global warming, London’s drug culture  (list not exhaustive by any means!) …  you name it! One of the brothers had trekked to Everest base camp in January this year and so we had a good amount of chat on mountains and Nepal too. Loved every moment and really hope our paths’ will cross again!

The three arabic words I picked up …

‘BsaHa’ – cheers / May god give you health

‘Jamal’ = Camel

‘Djellaba’ – Traditional Berber robe (what the two kiwi’s wear in the picture)

Key takeaways: Visit this place in central turkey (I forget the name Clo ;o), Brasil (Julie lived there for a year also teaching i believe), New Orleans (best nightlife ever according to Nico), don’t work for Australian farmers (they rip you off apparently though farm work doubles the length of your stay I learned), take a solar charger to Nepal and buy a local SIM.

After six hours sleep and an actually painless transfer to the airport (I even had time to get the car washed … out of principle) it was time to say good-bye. I guess I have to come back to see the ‘other Morocco’ one day.

وداعا

(‘wadaeaan’ – goodbye)

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Winter ascent & bivouac Totenkirchl, Austria (2,190m)

‘The adventure starts where experience ends’

(Paul Koller, Austrian Mountain Guide)

I wanted to use some of my time on family ski holiday to prepare for Lhotse, pick up some new skills and expand my comfort zone somewhat. I turned to the Austrian alpine guides and ended up on a two-day tour with a very seasoned, local guide Paul Koller. He had been on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Everest (3 of 14 8,000m peaks) and completed the 7 summit series (several peaks multiple times). Born and bred in the Kaiser-mountain range he took me to his favorite peak – Totenkirchl (100+ ascents and has ascended & descended from Stripsenjochhaus top summit in one hour). The trip left no wishes open …

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We set out from his home after checking the gear. From my original pack I left my soft shell trousers, ridgerest and one of the axes behind … but added a tent instead. Best guess about 20kg were waiting to be carried up the hill. The starting point of the route is the ‘Griesneralm’ at about 1,000m (leaving 1,200 to climb). We used snow shoes throughout the first day (make MSR are best in Paul’s view … funny enough Irish made though US origin … as was the stove & tent of the same brand – https://www.msrgear.com/ie/). Its great walking in these with their broad step and spikes though it took me a while to get fully used to them. Particularly some steep sections required some trust in the gear, as I was tempted to swap snowshoes & ski poles for crampons & axe.

The hike took us about 3,5hours for 2.2km until we reached our ‘camping ground’ right underneath the guide fingers at 4pm. There was, however, a lack of snow leaving too small a platform to put the tent. We enlarged it manually by shovelling more snow from above. Once the tent was up the usual procedure of melting snow, re-hydrate and eat began. I was terribly hungry and it felt that I ate most of my provisions including a pack for two of Tortelloni. By 6pm it was getting dark and we began to prepare for the night. Paul took some great pics of our orange shelter glowing in the night.

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Next morning we started neither too early nor too late though seemingly a bit behind Paul’s agenda. By 7.30am we were walking. This time equipped with crampons and axe to maneuver the steep terrain and the technical climbing beyond (i.e. we would definitely need it). It would turn into a hard, but fulfilling day that certainly expanded my comfort zone significantly. Be it to trust the frozen snow, climbing with crampons on rock, abseiling. What Paul lead-climbed looked spectacular to say the least and left me feeling comfortable all the time.

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We reached the peak at around 1pm. An hour behind schedule. The views were spectacular and together with a bit of sun made for a nice resting place. We also entered our names into the summit book. The last entry was from 30 October 2016 making this the first winter ascent of the season. Then came the abseiling. It has been a while since I did this with crampons (takes me back to Mt. Blanc I believe), but slowly I got the hang of it. We abseiled down the steep rock, but Paul also showed me a light version of abseiling used to descent from high camps quicker than walking the zig-zag in crampons. The whole trip took us 8h 30mins. Once back at the Alm, we enjoyed a good meal, beer and an ‘Obstler’ on the house.

… and here the go pro cut … bit shaky at times, but some good footage too! Enjoy.

Thank you Paul. Hopefully we meet again soon and I can pick up a few more skills after a really good session on Totenkirchl. There is plenty to catch up after all ;o)

Cairngorms winter mountaineering ft. Di Gilbert

Every man dies, not every man really lives. 

(William Wallace, Braveheart)

Training in Scotland had been highly recommended by my Lhotse guide Tim. Scottish winter is known for its harsh conditions (cold, wet, windy …) that will help you learn how to operate your gear and manoeuvre in such environment. Off to Scotland then! My guide for the three-day tour was Di Gilbert – quite some name in the Scottish mountaineering world and beyond having completed the seven summits, all 284 Munros (all Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet or 914m) and for her relentless positive attitude and perma-smile as I would find out.

Leaving London on Aussi-day, then 12h bus ride to Aviemore

Before I set off it was time for a catch up with my good friends David, Isaac and Arndt in Pimlico. Much to discuss as most of us had met at the AC/DC concert last time – ages ago. And not to forget there was also Australian National Day (26 January). Cheers then!

Team Australia for the evening

There are many options to get to Aviemore (540 miles north of London), the main city in the Cairngorms, all of which were shorter than the 12 hour coach ride I picked. However, it was overnight (I actually got six hours sleep), it was a direct connection from Victoria station (the other one being the sleeper train from St Pancras @ 11hours) and why not – it’s not that I am short of time.

I woke up just before we arrived in Glasgow. It was still pretty dark and would initially not get much better as the bus continued further north. Fog and frost all over. In fact, my Suunto watch went off several times with storm alarm (it would be right eventually). However, from 9am the sun came out and revealed a magnificent landscape. Amazing.

At 11am and completely on time we arrived in Aviemore. Across the road was all the mountain shops one could need, but my desire was for a solid Scottish breakfast at ‘The Coffee Corner’ near the bus stop. Bacon & egg roll and a tea … and I hscreen-shot-2017-01-27-at-08-25-07ad finally arrived. Now off to the accommodation at the ‘Old Bridge Inn’ and fingers crossed my gear from Keswick arrives on time. I’ll need every bit of it.

Beautiful bike ride to Loch Morlich  & Glenmore … bring on the colours

A box full of gear was waiting for me right at check-in. X-mas had come early! I was also alone in my bunk bed room (well, until Adam joined me later at night) and enjoyed unwrapping the ‘presents’ (Scarpa Phantom boots & two Petzl Quarks being my favorites). By 2pm I was done and it was time to get active.

I hired a mountain bike nearby (GBp15 for the afternoon) and set off to Glenmore (route planned with Suunto – love this device!). What an amazing 20km there and back culminating in Loch Morlich in Glenmore Forest Park (pictures speak a thousand words). The trip wasn’t very long at just about two hours as night falls early up here and by 5pm its dark. Time to rest and get some food at the Old Bridge Inn pub. Relaxed atmosphere, good service and tasty food (be it a bit pricey for what it is). Had a good chat with four lads that came together to honour the life of the one’s deceased dad. Anyway, I didn’t last very long and after a bit of reading it was time to call it a day.

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Day 1: The basics, hiking up Cairn Gorm and … it felt much more like winter

We had agreed to meet up 8am and so by 7am I was up. Last check of the gear and a chat with Adam, who arrived after my bedtime last night. He is a Scot and guides two girls up here. Di arrived on time with her trademark big smile just as I had my make-do breakfast (can of tuna, avocado & banana). Quick chat trough required gear for the day (we would return home … so no need for sleeping bag) and the broad plan for the day. Cairn Gorm (1,245m) was the target alongside a general skill check – orientation (map & compass), using crampons & axe and loads of helpful little things as I would find out later.

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Hike to Cairn Gorm (way back not fully captured … forgot to switch watch back on ;o)

We set out from Cairn Gorm ski station at 9.15am. Initially we followed a path uphill before crossing over to a ridge. Crampon training was on the menu. First rookie mistake – my crampons weren’t adjusted to my new boots and the cord too long (to be fair, they were also too long for my old boots). Then Di explained the basic technique where by you aim to point your foot downhill so that all the whole crampon has good grip, how you turn and how you use your axe in different ways. The hike was steep, but short and crampons came off quickly.

Tip: Don’t use a leash for your mountaineering axe as it creates a massive trip hazard when you use crampons (bad idea at altitude in particular) and makes switching sides (as you zig zag up the mountain) cumbersome.

We then moved into more technical terrain that required a bit of climbing. Very slippery so axe, advanced ‘knee technique’ and at times rope were required to be on the save side. Conditions, mainly just foggy in the beginning, got a little harsher as we moved uphill when light snowfall kicked in and temperatures went below freezing (-3 degrees at Cairn Gorms weather station 1,245m). Visibility was poor throughout, but Di insisted that there are usually great views (the next day would indeed prove her right). After the summit and my navigation training (you guessed it, I failed my first test) we headed for the Ptarmigan restaurant (named after the prevailing snow chicken bird) for a well deserved hot chocolate before making our way down (Chelsea were winning 2:0 in the FA cup while we descended). Altogether some 9-10km. Great day.

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Map Cairn Gorm (1:50,000)

For dinner I followed Di’s advice and headed over to Cairngorms Hotel. Quite busy and indeed good value as suggested. I was quite satisfied after my chick’n’dip starter and required strong will to finish off the salmon afterwards. Could fall asleep right here …

Basic navigation: map & compass

Di had advised me to get a Ortlieb map pocket and a Silva 4 compass. She brought a 1:50,000 & 1:25,000 scale map of the Cairn Gorm along. All set. Using the map & compass was explained as we hiked (makes it all a bit more real). Starting point was a given (I am not yet that advanced and my army knowledge all but faded). From here follow the steps as I show below to determine your bearing. Most important though … think. What rough heading should you expect, are you heading up or downhill, are there any fixed features or large contours to look for etc.

1 – connect start and destination with your compass / ruler (A to B so to say, in this case from number 1,245 to 1,151 as example)

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2 – spin the compass wheel so that its lines are aligned with the map (north facing)

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3 – read your bearing (40 in this case) from the yellow highlighted are on the wheel

4 – keep the red in the bed (north facing needle to point at N on compass) and walk

Knowing where you are headed is good and can be well supported by your watch (love Suunto), but you also want to know how far to go. For that you measure the distance using the ruler and pace your steps. On flat terrain I do about 60 double steps for each 100m (again, watch helpful especially  in more rugged terrain). More important than getting your steps right is te accuracy of you distance measure on the map. Ten wrong steps put you ca 7m offside, while one millimeter on the map adds/reduces your estimated distance by 50m (1:25,000 scale). In bad conditions that can quickly become a problem (and naturally I would have missed my target on my measure ;o)? Pacing is also a great technique to create you own data / reference points in case you get lost.

Day 2 – Off to our bothy adventure, Ben Macdui and the promised (stunning) views

I woke up 7.30am to prepare food for our 36hour bothy trip. Adam also made it back from his night out with the girls he guided (4am) and looked reasonably fresh. Gear was much unchanged from yesterday other than sleeping bag & ridgerest and technical climbing tools.

Our starting point was once more the Cairn Gorm ski station at 10am (its Sunday after all). We hiked for about 3km, today with great visibility and still not much wind, until we reached a steeper wall. Time for some snow/ice/rock climbing!

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The gully Di had picked proved a little tricky in the beginning with lots of unsettled snow (‘swimming’ as she described it) and further up too much rock for her liking. On the other hand, we did get to climb a smaller ice fall (with some extra exercise added as my go pro fell off my helmet and forced me to climb back down the ice fall) and had more solid, frozen snow further up. Loved every moment of it.

After a short break for refreshments and to remove our technical gear, we made our way to the Hutchinson bothy. Some 7-8km hike across Scotland’s second highest mountain (Ben Macdui @ 1,309m) and frozen Lock Etchachan that took us until 5.30pm (so just after sunset). To our pleasant surprise the bothy’s stove was in full swing thanks to Simon. He is a tree surgeon from Surrey and here to add some more Monroe’s to his list (52 so far, aim is 100 by April). He also had his fatbike with him that is apparently great to ride in snow – I have to try it some day. Evenings in such huts or bothy’s aren’t very long usually. Eat, drink and sleep (after a 7,5h hiking day also fully deserved!). Well, we did chat a little bit …

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New additions to my kit list after this trip 

  • Rope knife (could come handy … and you won’t have time to find not to mention open your Swiss army knife when you need it)
  • Few small carabiners (for compass etc)
  • New lightweight harness (mind will never ever fit over my downsuit!)
  • Smaller dry bags (one large one is just not handy to move gear in & out your backpack … especially not if you do that on a steep wall 8,000m high with wind)
  • Glove retainers for my new ice climbing gloves (best gloves are of no use if blown away)
  • Tenacious tape (to fix rips in your clothes etc … crampons aren’t exactly extending the lifetime of your trousers) & aquasure for permanent fix to garment
  • New hiking poles (those you can take apart for better drying)
  • Robinson’s squashed for drinks (for when you get sick of tea or to prevent that)
  • New lightweight thermarest on top of ridgerest
  • Pick & axe protectors
  • Small anchor / wire to secure go pro (mine fell off when my helmet hit ice)

Day 3 – No storm warning from my Suunto … storm it was nonetheless

The night in the bothy was alright be it that I did wake up a few times from either hard floor or a companion falling off the bench they slept on. The sky, which was 100% clear in the evening and even early morning, was now clouded. Di had already mentioned yesterday that the weather would get worse especially in the afternoon (good call!). We left 8am and climbed up past Loch Etchachan to Loch Avon (has something of a fjord). From there we hiked up gully to get us back up on the plateau. I used the time to get friendly with my go pro’s voice control … with mixed success although I am sure that Di is now proficient in all basic commands.

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Distance slightly overstated … switched off only after Di hit the gas pedal ;o)

Once out of the gully the wind picked up markedly (Di estimated 30m/ph) and goggles were in order. I have to say that the experience was pretty spectacular and I felt good about having Di around. You get lost in such conditions all too easily (15m visibility?). Also happy with all the gear. No cold feet, hands or anything (well, the cheeks a little). After 4.5h we were back at the car and headed for a soup in the valley before I checked out of the bunk house and waited for my bus home. Sadly (but will be back in mid-March)!


Thanks to my guide Di Gilbert for the wonderful three days, the fun and the skills!



How to prepare for a climb into the ‘death zone’ (8,000m+)? (I)

First of all – you have to watch this video (link) for some amazing footage of Everest (and Lhotse) and Ama Dablam in a helicopter flight from Kathmandu. Maybe the madness grabs you too!

Many people ask how one prepares for a climb above 8,000m. I don’t claim to be an expert, but let me share my training regime and some thoughts around it. Starting point for my considerations was that I live in London and have limited time to train elsewhere (at least initially). I planned my training around two main blocks: fitness + endurance and outdoor, environment + equipment. Today I will focus on the fitness aspects only, which apart from helping you hike also help to keep fit (sick on the mountain often means expedition end).

Fitness & Endurance training: My starting point wasn’t too bad, but not grerat either. I had quit smoking about a year earlier and had spent my three month gardening leave in summer 2015 walking some 1,400km in Ireland, Spain & Italy. However, all that fitness disappeared pretty quickly as I settled back into office life resulting in my first ever belly. I felt fat for the first time in my life (where i enjoyed a mostly asparagus like shape). While I was still working full time, I spent around 7-10hours per week training and around 25-30hours since January. My preference is to mix workouts (better for body & mind) and not to forgot the fun aspect. Injuries, unfortunately, became a regular companion (hamstring, pulled muscles, inflammation, …) and Ibuprofen a necessary ‘dessert’ all too often.

Sample trainings plan (full time)

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Sample trainings plan (while working)

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  • Run & cycle outdoor: While still working I ran some 10km to / from work (right through Hyde Park & along the Thames). Get a Strava account and see how you improve your times on key sections (great challenge for commuter runs). Since the injuries I prefer the Boris/Santander bike to reduce the impact. Key positive: Its real, you can slot it in anytime and its free. Key negative: Running caused me injury (calves/hamstring) all too often and so I had to switch to the treadmill (have now decided to take up running school as I have poor technique on top of an ageing body).

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  • Barry’s bootcamp: Being generally sceptical of gym based workout this was not my own idea, but suggested by Chanel. A typical work out involve 50/50 interval training on the treads and floor workout to condition body & core. Cost is GBP20 for a single session, but with a multi session package and company discount this drops to about GBP15 or thereabout. Key positives: Interval training conditions your cardio well and group pressure / push from trainer (moderates the session through mic) push’s your limits. Early sessions start at 6am and slot in nicely before work (you wouldn’t believe how popular they are!). Key negative: Little scope to work on endurance (running intervals are usually 4-5mins before you switch back to the floor) and clearly not at all reflecting outdoor conditions.

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  • The Altitude Centre: Based near Bank station in the city it was a perfect match. You can run/cycle/row in a hypoxic chamber simulating 2,700m altitude (15% oxygen level) and there is an altitude pod that simulates up to 6,000m (very popular with hikers headed to Kilimanjaro). Won’t help you to acclimatise for the ‘death zone (8,000+)’, but at least your oxygen saturation is adjusted to about 3,000m. Key positives: Train at almost 3,000m altitude during your lunch break! Good selection of solo and moderated interval training sessions to push your limits. Key negatives: The three month event prep package at GBP175/month isn’t exactly cheap.

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  • Trube: My good friend Tibo suggested this app to me sometime late summer last year. Currently only available in London, you can order trainers to come to your home (or any other place). They offer personal training, boxing, kickboxing, pilates, yoga etc. About GBp35 per session for an 8 session per month package. I often used the app to fill early morning slots (isn’t it nice to wake 5.30am for a boxing session in your living room ;o). Key positives: Super flexible and efficient. Motivates you to get out of bed when you have a 5.30am appointment before work. Very affordable for 1:1 training even after recent price hikes. Key negative: You need to have the space and its not as effective as working out in the gym.

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  • Muay Thai & regular boxing: Boxing conditioning is great for your cardio. I got into it through Trube and then switched to gym based training. Muay Thai I now train mainly in ‘Fightzone London’ in Bethnal Green under Jose Varela (European champion 2014, World champion 2015, interview video) and with my Trube coach ‘Super’ Shane Campbell (active MMA fighter, video). Boxing I do mainly in the old fashioned, but great, gym ‘All Star Boxing’ on Harrow Road and sometimes with my other Trube coach, Shahid from Morocco. Usually 1.5h – 2h conditioning, bag, shadow boxing and sparing sessions. Killer – they are called KO circuits for a good reason! Key positives: Usually gyms offer midday, evening and weekend sessions. Nice to train with people (you don’t get this in a gym like Barry’s) and its not too expensive. Really good all round conditioning that makes a difference. All Star charges GBp8-10 / session and Fightzone’s GBp60 monthly membership works out to GBp7.50 too. Key negatives: Prepare to get hit. Prepare to get told off (and listen or you face push-ups).

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‘Super’ Shane Campbell

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‘Gym’ chez Rocket’s living room

  • Indoor & ice climbing: Cedric, who I spent most with talking about the trip and who joined me on my ‘interview’ with my Lhotse guide Tim up in Lake district back in October, got me into climbing being the keenest sportsman alive! We went to Westway, which has some very good indoor climbing facilities. Some proper hot shots train here including the UK national team. Beyond the traditional indoor climbing I also booked a few ice climbing sessions at Vertical Chill based in Ellis Brigham’s outdoor shop in Covent Garden. Again, not really required but its great to ‘be able t dance on you crampons’. Who knows when it will come handy … and I love it anyway. Key positives: Gets you into some basic rope techniques, securing yourself, belaying others, abseiling and lead climbing etc. So you get some technical skills should you need them either for rock or ice. Very good also to improve core strength! Climbing drains your arms in no time if your technique is off (against common thought you are meant to climb mainly with your legs). Key negatives: Helps your strength, but will unlikely be required on Lhotse and doesn’t do much for endurance.

westway

vertical-chill

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Westway climbing wall

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Vertical Chill

  • Tennis: The initial drive for that was to have a joint sport with my (now ex) girlfriend. I liked it and had quite a few 1-1 training sessions with John at close by Paddington Rec. Gets your heart-rate up and hitting this little yellow ball is just a great feeling. Key positives: Good for cardio and different to just working out. Key negatives: 1-1 training not cheap at GBp45/hour, otherwise you’ll need to time your session with a partner, and good luck finding a free court after Wimbledon was on TV!
  • Working out at home: Working out at home is certainly a cheap option and with a few accessories (I use weights, matts, abs roll, finger board) you can easily put together an hour of work out. Key positives: Cheap & super flexible. Key negatives: Needs a lot of determination … certainly in the early hours.