In October 2005, I was sitting on a bus at 4,500m/ 14,764m above sea level in the Peruvian Andes with an international group of young travelers. We all began a conversation about all of the adventures we would like to take at some stage in our
lives. One of the girls on the trip, a mid-twenty year old girl from England, told us all how she had always wanted to climb the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest. My friend and I took one look at her and said to ourselves, if she thinks she can climb Everest, than maybe we can climb Everest! Our dream was born.
So, after our South American adventure, we returned to Ireland and decided to explore the idea of Climbing Mt. Everest. Even though we had very limited experience with high altitude, we knew that we wanted to do it as quickly as possible, so we planned the date of May 2008. We set out our plan to climb four mountains on four continents in one year as well as raising funds for charity. We would start the challenge with Mont Blanc 4,810m in June 2007, then Mt. Kilimanjaro 5,895m in September 2007, Aconcagua 6,962m in
January 2008 and the culmination of the climbs with Mount Everest 8,848m in
May 2008. Not only were we setting an optimistic goal in our climbing, we also
set the target of raising €70,000 to build the Mt. Everest Primary school in Uganda with
Irish Charity Fields of Life.
We knew we were going to need help to be successful so we sought out professional advice on all fronts. This included our physical training we would need to do in order to reach our goal of climbing the world’s highest peak. I was told that, in terms of training, I would have to follow three phases in my training; base, build and peak phases. This required different types of training than I had previously completed before I started this process, however I was willing to place my trust in my trainer and did everything he recommended. He was that good that he joined us climbing Kilimanjaro to get a better idea of the activity we were doing. The goal he set for me was to improve my Vo2 Max test, which tests the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual. So, a plan was put in place to achieve at high Vo2 Max, while also working to increase my lung capacity to be able to take in as much oxygen as possible.
In January 2007, I started the base phase of training. I would train six days a week with one day completely dedicated to rest. For two hours a day, five days a week, I would do a mixture of jogging, lifting weights, walking uphill on a treadmill, stair master training and bike work. On the fifth day of the week, I would pack a bag with about 10-15 kilograms of weight and head out to the hills for four to six hours of trekking.
I also took different training trips to the Alps, Scotland and Wales. The majority of those training trips were spent in the Scottish Highlands, training on Ben Nevis and the surrounding mountains in the winter to get a sample of the harsh conditions that Scotland can provide in the winter months. Scotland provided me with all of the different training needs I had, I could complete long, hard treks as well as practice my technical winter climbing skills, all in difficult conditions. Training for Everest was not easy.
After six months of hard training, and after completing the climb of Mont Blanc in June 2007, I moved into the build phase of my training. I added in more weight lifting sessions, an extra hour a day in the gym taking me to three hours daily, and spent more hours weekly in the hills, sometimes even adding multi-day treks. I would go out to the hills in Co. Wicklow in Ireland and trek for six to eight hours, set up a tent, sleep, and then wake up and do it all over again. And, I was now carrying 15 ““ 25 kilograms in my backpack. I also began to run some of the trails in the Wicklow Mountains, sometimes running a 9 kilometer trail three times consecutively.
After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in September 2007, we mixed up the training again, adding one interval training session per week. I continued with the high level of intensity and added 10-18 kilograms of weight to my backpack during my gym sessions. With the added weight on my back during my gym training, combined with the increased weights I was lifting, I was beginning to really see the difference in my overall fitness levels. Every eight weeks I would take a week off to let my body fully recover from the intense training and this level of training continued all the way until we climb our third mountain, Aconcagua.
Once I returned from summiting Aconcagua in January 2008, I had two months before I would fly out to the Himalaya’s and take on the 72 day ascent of Mt. Everest. For those two months, I would maintain a six day a week program and would not take a week off until the final week before flying out to Kathmandu in March 2008. I was adding in interval training five days a week and would head out on the hills one day a week for six to eight hours carrying 20 – 30kg in my backpack. I would go to the gym, jog 10 kilometres and then do an hour long spin class, or interval session on the stair master or treadmill. This was my final chance to push my fitness levels through the roof, giving me the confidence of knowing that I was physically capable for the climb ahead, and when you are faced with something that has so many factors you cannot control, I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to be the best at things I could control.
When we got on the flight for Kathmandu, Nepal in March, 2008, I was at my peak level of fitness and felt prepared for the task ahead. It would take two weeks to trek into Everest Base Camp, followed by six weeks of climbing up and down Everest, acclimatizing to the lower levels of oxygen. We would eventually climb up and down five times, one of which would take us all the way to 7,200m at Camp Three, high on the Lhotse Face, before coming all the way back to Everest Base Camp to recover. Once my body adjusted to the low levels of oxygen, we would take seven days to push all the way to the summit of Mount Everest and back down again. And on the 23rd of May, 2008, I became the youngest Irishman to stand on the summit of Mount Everest at 29. During that final seven day push to the top, I lost twelve kilos of body weight, however, all of the hard work I put in during my training paid off as I was able to reach the summit in eight hours from Camp Four and return back in four hours. Throughout the entire journey, I had to battle my own fears and sometimes I struggled mentally at times, but my physical preparation helped me push past my fears and achieve my dream of standing on top of the world.