Midlife moun­tain with Matt Gum­brell

Mt As­pir­ing

Adventure - - #209 - By Matt Gum­brell

Midlife - love it or hate it, it just hap­pens. The sim­ple re­sult of stay­ing alive for longer than forty or so years. It is too of­ten as­so­ci­ated with the word “cri­sis”. I’ve de­cided that a more apt term is “mid-life fo­cus”.

So, with my for­ties all but be­hind me, I al­lowed a lit­tle bub­ble of am­bi­tion to grow into a solid plan. I’ve al­ways been one of those slightly track­re­sent­ing tram­pers, want­ing to ex­plore and push the en­ve­lope a lit­tle. Also, our son had moved to Wanaka and fallen in love with the moun­tains – spend­ing ev­ery mo­ment he could ex­plor­ing and rock-climb­ing. The time seemed right to push be­yond the lim­its of my tramp­ing bound­aries and do some­thing al­to­gether out­side my com­fort zone.

I de­cided to climb Mt As­pir­ing/Ti­titea, if my son would come too. What an epic ad­ven­ture to share! “Heck yeah!” But we weren’t go­ing to be stupid about it. We quickly found that As­pir­ing Guides in Wanaka had an eight-day course that in­cluded sum­mit­ing As­pir­ing/Ti­titea, if con­di­tions and skills al­lowed.

There are things you can con­trol, and things you can’t. Fit­ness is one of the for­mer. I re­ceived the sug­gested train­ing sched­ule, and then, in my nor­mal slightly ob­ses­sive way, de­cided that I was go­ing to do much more - to exit my for­ties the fittest and strong­est I’ve ever been. Ig­nor­ing the rec­om­men­da­tion to start train­ing two months be­fore the climb, I started five months out. A Face­book search re­warded me with a group “Train­ing for the New Alpin­ism”. Now I could ask ad­vice of the su­per-hu­man peo­ple who scale Hi­malayan death-mon­ster peaks. Their holy text of the same name proved to be a 400-plus page book which en­abled me to form my five-month plan to quite some de­tail. I couldn’t wait to get started.

I’ve al­ways been a skinny guy. A friend once said, on see­ing me in shorts “Matt, you’ve got lucky legs” Huh? “You’ll be lucky if they don’t snap off and go up your crack!”. Well, those legs were in for a shock – the rest of me as well.

Alpine fit­ness train­ing in­volves many dif­fer­ent el­e­ments, in­clud­ing “max­i­mum strength train­ing”. One ex­er­cise is the clas­sic over­hand pull-up. I could man­age a few but started the pro­gram to im­prove. It in­volved adding more and more weight to my body as I did them. Over eight weeks, I strength­ened un­til I could per­form three pull-ups with a 30.5kg pack on my back. I was shocked. The same with weighted press-ups, leg raises, squats, ev­ery­thing. My shape changed. My pants started get­ting tight around my calves and thighs, but loose around my waist.

The other ma­jor part of the train­ing was build­ing my aer­o­bic fit­ness. I bought a sport watch with heart rate mon­i­tor­ing and did the hate­ful “max­i­mum heart-rate test” – ba­si­cally sprint­ing up a hill un­til you taste blood and want to die. From this I cal­cu­lated HR zones for train­ing. I ran for long pe­ri­ods, ridicu­lously slow, keep­ing my HR down in the tar­get zone. It felt stupid. But it was work­ing. My pre­train­ing “Alpine Com­bine” aer­o­bic and strength test put me in the “poor” zone. The next test was “good”.

I was grow­ing to love train­ing. Midlife aches were re­ced­ing as my core strength im­proved. The new strength made life in gen­eral eas­ier. I was en­joy­ing eat­ing more and more to keep my weight up.

Then “mus­cle en­durance train­ing” started. It was Novem­ber, two months to the climb, and it was the hottest Novem­ber in mem­ory. It’s all very well if you live near moun­tains – you can train in them. But I live in the hu­mid, sub­trop­i­cal north. The high­est lo­cal steep hill was only 150m el­e­va­tion. I started the eight weeks do­ing 600m el­e­va­tion-gain ses­sions, car­ry­ing 10kg up and down my 150m hill. Then grad­u­ally in­creas­ing up to 16kg and 1600m in a ses­sion. I would con­sume three litres of elec­trolytes, and still fin­ish de­hy­drated. I had to hose the sweat out of my train­ing pack. And then I started train­ing in tech­ni­cal boots with rigid soles. A whole new hate­ful world.

It all worked. My rest­ing HR was 55. Walk­ing up a hill felt the same as flat ground. On my peak train­ing day I car­ried 15kg (a gen­er­ous climb­ing weight) 29 kilo­me­tres in seven hours on rough track with 1400m el­e­va­tion gain - and hap­pily could still walk the next day. I feared I had over-trained. Was it all just a bit silly?

As the date ap­proached, my ex­cite­ment grew. Gear was checked and rechecked. I ob­sessed about the weather fore­cast.

As in­structed, I ta­pered my train­ing 10 days be­fore the course. It was nice not feel­ing as if I was al­ways in re­cov­ery from the lat­est work­out. Then af­ter four days, my legs be­came rest­less­they felt like they wanted to take them­selves for a run up a steep hill. I wanted to GO!

Fi­nally, I was in Wanaka and the first day of our course ar­rived. We quickly could see that As­pir­ing Guides were a great out­fit. Our guide, Cristina was ex­cel­lent but the weather was not. Af­ter a Novem­ber and De­cem­ber of per­fect con­di­tions, a slow-mov­ing trough sat in the Tas­man and promised to pump a strong moist

ABOVE: Sum­mit selfie - Im­age by Isaac Gum­brell

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