Q & A With Steve Plain - The Difference Between Doing the 7 Summits in 4 months instead of 4 years

Posted by Matt Eaton on

Hundreds of people every year are attempting to climb the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. The "7 Summits" in some ways is almost falling into the "adventure travel" market now and not the mountaineering scene. Saying that though, it is still a serious undertaking not just in the technical skill and fitness to climb peaks like Denali and Everest, but also in time and money. Most people would aim to accomplish the 7 summits over the course of a few years and one must always be ready to turn back on a peak and return another season meaning another two months in Nepal next year (bummer).

I'm sure for most people it would almost be easier to take a year off work and just get them all done in one hit, however training for mountains is time consuming. If you're going to the effort to spend two months in Nepal to climb Everest you want to know you're in complete fitness before you leave. So when Steve Plain announced he was going to attempt the 7 summits in under 4 months we started to get curious as to his strategy. Not only logistically handling such a big undertaking in such a time frame, but with handling his body.

High altitude climbing is taxing on the body and you can spend months or years preparing, and sometimes months to recover from peaks like Everest. So what is the difference between climbing the 7 summits in four months instead of four years? We got to hit Steve up while he was between Elbrus and Denali to ask him a couple of questions about his body and how he plans to treat it. To try and get an understanding of what is probably the real "crux" of this project, and that's how he plans to back up mountain after mountain with little to no recovery time and particularly how he plans to climb Everest while coming straight from a winter ascent (fingers crossed) of Denali. 

 Steve Plain Project 7in4 - summit Mt Vincent with Surf Lifesaving Flag

 

Q. You’re attempting Everest last on your 7in4 project, normally when climbers head to 8000m+ peaks they obviously try to be at their peak fitness but also with a bit of extra body fat on them. Although Elbrus shouldn’t be “too” taxing on your body, climbing Denali in the winter is sure to take a lot out of you. I know the obvious answer is to “eat lots of food” but what’s your strategy after those two peaks to make sure you’ve got love handle reserves for Everest?

 

A. I guess my answer to this would be two fold. Firstly I am not a great proponent for the theory of carrying "inbuilt reserves" (or love handles) into these large expeditions. These climbs are tough enough without carrying dead weight around. Instead I prefer to start out at my ideal weight and try to maintain that weight throughout. 
However, knowing that it would be inevitable that I would lose weight over the course of a trip like this, I did specifically try to increase my body weight a bit before I left, but increase with functional weight (i.e. muscle) as opposed to dead weight ( i.e. fat). In the 6 months prior to departure I shifted my training focus to more strength based work, while still maintaining base load endurance training. I managed to put on about 6kg over that time without increasing body fat. And I do feel fitter and stronger for it.
To try and maintain condition and weight throughout this project I try to keep training where possible, while also trying maintain a good diet, which is easier said than done.These long expeditions typically involve a lot of sitting around, so I try to use some of that time to keep training and keep eating. 

 

 

Q. Mountaineering makes you really skinny and is the best weight loss program out there but a lot of the weight lost is in muscle. Usually when climbers get back from peaks their muscle mass has dropped quite considerably and they have to spend time just getting it back to their body’s average amount again. After shivering away in Russia and Alaska how do you keep the muscle on? Surely sitting in airports and planes doesn’t help…

 

A. Yeah, spending days shivering in a tent or sitting stationary in airports and planes is not a great way to maintain strength and fitness. Similar to the previous question, I try to combat the inevitable weight loss and fitness loss by continuing to train while on and in between each climb. It can be difficult with the environment and facilities available but even if it is just half an hour of push ups and sit ups in the tent each morning, it all helps. I get some interesting questions when people here me grunting and groaning in my tent in the mornings but it's all good fun. Then on rest days in beteeen each climb I try to find a local gym or even park playground where I can continue trying. There is a lot you can do with even just a set of monkey bars at the local playground. 
That being said, I have lost about 4kg so far and noticed a reduction in strength as a result. And I will undoubtedly loose a few more kilos over the coming weeks so it is just a matter of trying to maintain it as best I can.

 

 

Q. A proper recovery for a peak like Denali is usually around 4-6 weeks but you obviously haven’t got that long. Although a winter ascent of Denali might be the crux of this project as far as weather conditions and the technical aspect of the climbing, Everest is still going to be perhaps the most physically demanding. This question ties into the first two but what other strategies have you got to make sure you’re jumping at the bit sitting in Everest Base camp and not just sore and weary?

 

A. Yes, I'm expecting Denali will be the crux of this project and will be very taxing, but I think to a certain extent it will help in our lead up to Everest. It will toughen us up mentally and on mountains like Everest, the mental drive to keep pushing on is just as important as the physical ability. It will also help us acclimatise to the cold and the altitude so hopefully when we get to Everest we can shortcut the normal acclimatisation program and push up quicker.
In terms of normal recovery times, with the training I have been doing I have tried to maintain a high workload and get my body use to backing up day after day with few rest days. Last year I did a practice expedition to Lhotse and in the lead up to that I climbed Mera Peak and Lobuche Peak just to try and simulate some of the fatigue I will be feeling when I get to Everest this year. That practice expedition went very well and I even managed to trek the 62km from Everest Base Camp back to Lukla in a single day, under 12 hours, after coming straight down from the Lhotse summit. And once home I was back to full training within a week. That gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to back up for Everest this year after coming straight off Denali and the other climbs.

 

 

Q. Cold air and high altitudes are a slow death to lungs. I know this may seem like a funny question but it’s quite normal to come back from mountaineering trips and be coughing for the first week while your lungs recover. Have you got any little strategies or tips heading into Everest? I’d imagine starting Everest with the Khumbu cough wouldn’t be the funnest thing…

 

A. With my trips to the Himalayas and other regions to date, I've been fortunate not to experience the Khumbu cough and hope I never will. I'm a big fan of wearing a Buff pulled up over the back of my head, around my ears and over my mouth. It's not the best fashion statement but is great sun protection and also helps filter and moisten the air you breath in. Breathing through a Buff while trekking and while on the hill has worked for me to date and so far, touch wood, kept the Khumbu cough away.

 

Steve Plain Project 7in4 pre gear shot 

We really want to thank Steve for taking the time out to talk to us. It's been so great not just to watch his progress, but also to watch the momentum and the publicity he is getting spread from local newspapers to the major news channels as his project progresses. Steve is supporting Spinal Cure Australia and the Surf Lifesaving Association with his project 7in4 and has already done amazing things for both of these charities. We want to wish Steve all the best as he heads over to Alaska. We hope the conditions are not too harsh and that he can stay safe and climb hard on Denali. 

  

If you want to find out more about Steve Plain and Project 7in4, including his charity causes and life GPS tracking click HERE

If you want to visit the Project 7in4 Facebook page and get the latest news and video updates from Steve click HERE

 Steve Plain Project 7in4 Kilimanjaro Summit


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