How to best prepare for a Mountain Climbing Expedition: All you need to know

Neeti Singhal

Last updated: 11-04-2023

The prospect of moving towards bigger challenges, whether in nature or any other setting, is amply exciting. It is also extremely scary. There is no debate about that. But the question is, does advancing from trekking to mountaineering warrant the same kind and level of preparation as moving into a new role at work, working towards a new goal in life or entering a bigger number on the age bar? Does pushing the limits in every sphere of our existence look the same? Well, yes and no, but mostly yes.  We may not be experts in the field of self-development overall, but we have some things to say about how you can best prepare to transition from hiking to climbing and take on bigger and better challenges when it comes to the outdoors. Here are some of our insights on how you can make this transition a little less scary than it is. But before we dive into it, we want to tell you that you have already been doing all of this in other areas of your life and you’ve probably mastered all these steps during the course of your existence – it only needs a little tweaking to fit the context. You totally got this!

(Note: Since you are on this page, we assume you know the difference between high altitude treks and mountaineering expeditions, but in case you need a refresher, read Differences between an expedition and a high-altitude trek)


So, let’s start with the biggest, and in our opinion the only, question that essentially needs answering before you head out to climb a big mountain. 


What kinds of preparation is required when moving towards climbing big mountains?

The broad segregation is, of course, the following, with each one overlapping with the other to reach overall readiness.

  1. Physical Preparedness
  2. Mental Preparedness
  3. Emotional Preparedness

 But let’s break down these broad concepts further for a clearer picture so we can draw up a clear set of actionables. 



This one is a no-brainer. Climbing mountains, and especially high mountains, is a physical interaction between you and the environment and hence it obviously demands high levels of physical preparedness. Climbing is like a physical conversation between you and the mountain, the grammar of this language is strength, endurance and flexibility – elements which can further be broken down into physical awareness, balance, and control over your movements.

While these may sound like very heavy words, there are tiny steps that could lead you to mastering these vague ideas. 


What does reaching the right level of physical strength for going on an expedition look like?

Major components to prepare for an expedition are long distances, steep inclines and thinning air which means improving your ability to function with lesser oxygen reaching your lungs with each breath. Since climbing involves complex movements and a stamina to sustain you through the long length of the activity (which can sometimes be stretched over weeks or even months in the case of 8000ers), some standard markers of good endurance to look for are:

  1. Ability to run 5 kms within 20-25 minutes – preferably on a slight  incline
  2. Ability to walk for at least 10 kms with a 12 kg backpack
  3. Ability to hold your breath for at least 40 seconds
  4. Ability to climb 40 flight of stairs with a 15 kg backpack
  5. Ability to do 4 sets of 15 push-ups each and 4 sets of lunges and squats of 30 counts each

(Read: Mt. Nun – Who is this expedition meant for to understand more about the kinds of challenges one can encounter on a mountain climbing expedition)

These are only some basic level indicators to suggest that you are on the right path and ensure optimum leg strength, arm strength and stamina. This is usually considered to be the baseline and anywhere above this level of fitness is only an added advantage to take your body on a physically demanding endeavor. Exercises to improve your lung capacity also go a long way to ensure success in high-altitudes.

If you are not at this level currently, there is absolutely no need to fret. It is all about practice and consistency. You can get on a training regimen and you should be able to get here in a few months’ time. 


What exactly do I need to do to get to an optimal level of physical preparedness?

The first thing to do is to take it slow. 

Do not try to do everything at once. Remember to make it a step-by-step process so as to gradually help your body reach a certain level of fitness. If you do not pace yourself and build up to this, your body will take it as stress and will stop to cooperate which is ultimately counterproductive for the task at hand.


A great performance in the gym does not ensure a great performance on the mountain. Head outdoors.

Great muscle strength is definitely a plus on a climbing expedition but success on high-altitudes is a mix of a lot of factors. Building strength and muscle endurance in the gym may not always serve you well on the mountain. Complex movements requiring finer muscle coordination and the right mental attitude may be key – which are not always gifts you carry back home from the gym. We have seen a lot of very strong people break to pieces on the mountains and it is not for the lack of strength. Some physical exercises which are great to prepare for mountain climbing include practicing in an environment as close to the one you are likely to encounter on the mountain as possible. Go outdoors. The best training to climb a mountain is to climb as many mountains as possible.

Some great exercises which do not involve buying a ticket to the nearest hill are climbing stairs with a heavy pack on your back to work the same muscle groups while climbing, cycling, swimming, jogging or running as well as weaving stomach crunches, lunges, push-ups, squats and other resistance based exercises into your regimen. Exercising with a training mask is also extremely helpful as it simulates the lack of oxygen at high-altitudes. 

Remember, doing too much is not the key but doing an assortment of different things is – rotate between your exercises.

(Read: Kalindi Khal, an Experience Steeped in Murphy’s Law for a lived account of all that can throw you off on an expedition)


Make fitness a lifestyle

We find that it helps immensely if you make being active a conscious lifestyle choice and weave it into your daily routine instead of getting on a training regimen each time you decide to do something as physically strenuous as going on an expedition. Generally remaining active just for the joy of a well-moving body is a habit worth cultivating so you are mountain-ready at all times. 


Also, be consistent.

Consistency, as a process of making any life change is most definitely the secret ingredient for success. But we also know that working out on a routine can get a bit monotonous and straight-out boring! And, unfortunately, there’s no standard practice to turn the boring on its head.  Each of us must find a way to keep ourselves internally motivated so as to not miss a day of workout – because one lazy day turns to two, five, a week and before long a month of inaction. 

I, personally, use comics to keep my drive up and make myself accountable for each day. I make a comic about the workout for the day each day so I have something exciting to end it with – always looking for a story to tell during my exercise is a great distractor from the monotony of movement that is necessary to strengthen any muscle. 


How to best prepare for a Mountain Climbing Expedition: All you need to know


For some people, the drive comes from sharing each workout session on Social Media, for some it is by joining groups on fitness apps to borrow from the group energy and a very privileged few are motivated without reason (the lot I feel most jealousy towards!). The point being, we all got to find our crazy when it comes to finding discipline.  


Give enough time for your body to rest

Although it is important to be consistent, it is also important to give your body some rest because, even though it transpires in secret, that is when all the repair work is happening – the little pixies sneak in and mend your joints and aches when no one’s looking. Down time is just as important as being all fired up, because a constant wear and tear from overuse without a chance to restore can actually make muscles weaker instead of stronger. So remember to mark out these days on your calendar as well. You can lay in and read a book on climbing on your off-day. I can even suggest a few if you are taking recommendations! Here’s my first one to start you off - read the article titled The Best Thing to do For Your Fitness is Nothing at All on Outside magazine – it is an extremely insightful piece on the importance of rest periods. If you aren’t convinced by me, I humbly hand the torch to the author of this article. 


How long before the expedition should I get on a fitness regime?

You, actually, would be the best person to answer this for yourself since it is a subjective matter depending on your current level of fitness and physical performance. If you are starting from scratch, we’d say 4-5 months of preparation is a bare minimum for your expedition to be enjoyable. If you are someone like our expedition leaders i.e. someone who is very physically engaged overall, then do what our expedition leaders do between climbs (check photo below!) because you deserve some rest before you push yourself into your next climb.



How to best prepare for a Mountain Climbing Expedition: All you need to know


Are there any dietary patterns I should be careful about?

Nothing specific. Just eat anything you would otherwise eat to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 



Success at climbing depends as much, if not more, on your mental strength as on your physical strength. Building your physical fitness is fairly straightforward – work on the muscles, make ‘em pop. But how do you go about building mental fitness since there are no physical markers to assess whether you are there or not, getting better at it or not or just even working the right mental muscles? 

Although not tangible, there are certain factors which come together to prepare you mentally to go on an expedition. If we were to break mental preparedness down into its elements, we’d say it is a mix of knowledge, training and experience.

(Read: A Night on the Rupin Pass: A Tale of Survival and Rescue for a lived account of how emergencies are handled in the mountains)


What about the mountain do I need to know to prepare for an expedition?

Everything. This includes reading about the various routes to climb to its top, equipment required to get there, a little bit of history of the mountain, where it is located to study the geographical features and the climate of the region, charting out routes, mapping out weather patterns, reading up about some of the major challenges you are likely to encounter etc. etc. etc. The list is endless. Basically, the idea is to devour any piece of information there is out there to consume about the mountain of your choice so it already feels familiar when you get there. Look at as many pictures of the mountain, the route, the terrain, as possible. Talk to people who have climbed it before and try to learn from their first-hand experience, watch videos, read books, look at maps – just about anything that will prepare you for this battle. 

You should know the face of the mountain and its many features like you know the back of your hand – where the boulder area begins, what the best campsites away from avalanche prone areas are, how many ice-walls you will climb on the way, the distance between campsites, the rock fall region, crevasse fields, what time of day is best to climb, what time of the year the mountain is most hospitable – in short, everything. 

Ask for information on rescue measures, steps taken in an emergency situation, know about the communication devices used, medical help available etc. so you can put your mind to ease and keep it from going on an overdrive imagining scenarios in the event of a catastrophe.

Knowing the mountain before you climb it is like knowing your enemy – no piece of data goes to waste and is directly or indirectly going to help you on the actual expedition. 

Gathering data and information plays a major, major role in being mentally prepared to take on the challenge. It will help you visualize the challenges and be better prepared for them. It will also make you more self-reliant on the mountain.

(Read: The Slender Ridge to Mont Blanc: Summit Story of my Climb to the Highest Peak in the Alps to know all that goes into planning an expedition)


What does training mentally for an expedition look like?

Feel ready

Feeling physically prepared is one big part of being mentally confident about climbing the mountain. The confidence in yourself does wonders to keep you motivated when things start to look rough. 


Practice mindfulness

The other thing is to practice mindfulness – a long word for the ability to remain in the present without letting your mind wander. Being able to concentrate on the task at hand is a skill especially important on a mountain because you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings and any minor shifts in it. 


Make following through a habit

Setting small goals and achieving them is another way to train your mind to believe that you can follow through no matter the task. Building discipline is a mental practice before it is a physical undertaking. 


Be curious

Familiarize yourself with all the gear and equipment that you will be using on the expedition. Practice with it – small things like wear your thick gloves and practice opening and closing the lever of the jumar. Wear your harness to see what it feels like to have something tied to your waist. Make checklists for things you need. Check and recheck your checklists. Overprepare. The tools for your trade must feel like an extension of your body – you must be able to use them with ease without fumbling. Practice putting on your heavy snowboots on the lower reaches of the mountain. Be curious always.  

(Read: Deo Tibba: 300 Metres to the Summit to know all that can go wrong on an expedition)


How does experience help prepare for an expedition?

Given how physical the sport of climbing is, in addition to the extreme conditions imposed by the terrain and weather as well the altitude, performance on a mountain depends highly on constant communication with your body. Knowing how to read signs, knowing how well you do at what altitude, what your body’s experience is in different regions is extremely helpful to understand what steps you need to take in order to support your body to push itself. 

Start by doing smaller treks, advancing to longer treks with a fair bit of altitude gain and then moving towards multi-camp climbing expeditions. To understand our take on systematic progression from hiking to climbing, read The Rating Scale of Bikat Adventures.



What’s emotions got to do with it, you ask? What elusive character is emotional preparedness, you wonder? Well, we are here to tell you just that. You know the discomfort you feel on deciding to step out of your comfort zone? That is an emotion. The joy you feel on getting to the summit. That’s an emotion as well. The fear while you are climbing the mountain. Emotion, too. Climbing is a very emotionally driven exercise and needs high levels of emotional strength. The following are some pieces of advice an emotionally strong person will give you on the matter. 

(Read: If Donkey’s Can Fart Without Shame, Why Can’t We? for a gendered perspective on climbing high mountains)


Vanity will eat you alive

There is a lot that the mountains give us. The one thing they ask for in return is humility. The right mental attitude to climb any high mountain is the one that reflects modesty, reflection and introspection. It is as much of a journey inwards as it is upwards.  

(Read Unfinished Business on Friendship Peak to know the vices of vanity!)


Be ready to fail

As important as it is to do everything you can to succeed, it is also vital that you prepare for failure. It is the nature of the mountains to be unpredictable and to throw your way any challenge that they can; accept defeat graciously. Not fighting defeat in the face of an adversity will help you make wiser decisions on the mountain. It is true that climbing requires a lot of investment in terms of time, effort, money but it is important that you enjoy the journey instead of chase an end goal, that of reaching the top.

(Read: A Deeply and Distressingly Personal Tale of the Horrors and Hilarities on Chandrabhaga 13 to get a sense of how altitude and the mind together play dirty tricks on you on an expedition)


Be a team player

As much as it is an individual journey, climbing is also a team sport where you need to rely on the combined effort of each member in order to succeed. Playing to each person’s strength and working together is what will eventually lead to success. It is important to place the team over your individual goals – remember, the mountain’s always looking! If you look a little bit into the history of climbing, you will learn that almost all catastrophes on the mountain have been results of making it into a competition, a race to the top instead of it being an immersive experience. A healthy attitude is the one that looks at climbing as not a way to conquer the mountain but to immerse yourself in the experience without worrying too much about the outcome. The mountains don’t ask for much – only that you don’t forget to pack your humility and your spirit of a team player in your sack. 


And lastly, remember to have fun!

(Read: WEATHER or NOT: Our Successful Summit of Mt. Nun in the Summer of 2021 to get a holistic sense of how to define success on an expedition)


Is there any way that I can learn climbing?

Yes, there is. India has very good systemic and infrastructural support to pursue climbing which only keeps getting better with increased awareness of the sport. There are 5 premier institutions in India that teach mountaineering. Their month-long courses not only help to master all the factors mentioned above but also equip you to develop the right technique and the skills required to climb mountains. The five institutions are: 

  1. Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Kashmir and Ladakh (founded in 1983)
  2. Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling (founded in 1954)
  3. Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarakashi (founded in 1965)
  4. Atal Bihari Vajpai Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali (founded in 1961)
  5. National Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Arunachal Pradesh 


We hope that this article helped you answer some of your questions on how to prepare for an expedition. If you have any more burning questions on the topic, leave them in the comments sections and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


See you in the mountains!

Neeti Singhal

A psychologist, a developmental researcher, and a constant seeker of stories, Neeti is usually found Read more

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