Expedition leader and SunGod Ambassador Jon Gupta shares his top tips for successful high altitude adventures…
Whether you’re eyeing up Everest or a weekend regular above the treeline, adventures at altitude present a unique set of challenges. So, when it comes to planning high altitude adventures, who better to ask than someone who spends the greater portion of their year at or above 8,000 metres? SunGod Ambassador and high-altitude guide Jon Gupta shares what he’s learned from his own expeditions and his tips for getting it right…
So who is jon gupta?
British mountaineer and high altitude guide Jon Gupta is a true man of the mountains. In 2012 Jon became the first person to summit Ama Dablam 3 times in 7 days, all from basecamp, including the second-fastest recorded solo speed ascent. In 2018 Jon helped mastermind the world record-breaking 'Project 7in4' expedition, helping Steve Plain summit the highest mountain on each continent in the fastest time ever. This summer alone, Jon’s highlights include summitting Everest for the 4th time, Lhotse, K2, Manaslu, Ama Dablam and more.
1. Choose the right team
“Bringing a team together for a big expedition is hugely exciting. Very often, it can be months and sometimes years in the planning process for many of my clients. Working alongside local guides, porters and cooks is a key component of these expeditions. Having the right team makes a considerable difference to the overall enjoyment of the trip and is fundamental to success. I’ll always try to ensure that I utilise the same core local team for each trip I run irrespective of which country I am in. I find this is hugely beneficial to all involved.”
2. Having the right gear will be the difference between summiting or not
"Having the right kit is of paramount importance, but knowing your kit is considerably more important. Over the years, I have refined my kit lists and often recommend (insist on) very specific items. For example, the Black Diamond Lobster mitt is just sublime on these extreme mountains. Having the right kit can very often make the difference between being not only warm and comfortable but also summitting or not. While some items should be of high quality, some can just be personal favourites like a well-worn fleece or favourite hat. Medical supplies and first aid items also fall into this category."
3. Attitude is everything
"These big 8000m expeditions are long - usually between 4-6 weeks. Taking care and looking after yourself is of paramount importance. We try hard at basecamp to stay as hygienic as possible and not to contract and spread any illnesses. The aspect which many people often underestimate is the mental side of these long, arduous trips. In our busy lives, we are not accustomed to having hours, sometimes days, with very little to do. While waiting for the right weather window, keeping yourself occupied with books, games and washing clothes is essential for wellbeing!”
4. The art of acclimatisation
"The art of acclimatising, although well documented, is still relatively unknown. In recent times, old traditional methods have given way to a new age of faster acclimatisation and even pre-acclimatisation at home using hypoxic tents. My firm favourite though is an acclimatisation rotation to allow the body to adjust and make changes to the changing air pressure. These rotations remove some of the unknowns and create familiarity with the route and camps which can be hugely beneficial. It also allows you to move kit and equipment around the mountain without having to do it all in one push. Almost everyone operating on big mountains uses a strategy of ‘climb high, sleep low’ in a series of bigger rotations.”
5. Fuel well and fuel right
“Food is fuel, so good food on an expedition is essential. Along with incredible meals provided at Basecamp, I always ensure that I bring a few extras from the UK. Personal favourites include cheese, Pringles, nuts, banana chips and biscuits – these can be considerable morale boosters! On the mountain, it’s imperative that the food is as good as it possibly can be. For main meals, go for boil-in-the-bag or freeze-dried and make sure you’ve tested your favourite brands/flavours ahead of expedition day. Before an expedition, I’ll often speak to the clients and ask them for a few personal favourites to ensure sure that they make it onto the extensive supermarket list. Percy Pigs, a personal favourite of mine, come on every expedition!”
6. Consider your electronic setup
“From receiving weather forecasts to keeping in touch with home, electronics are an important part of any big expedition. On the mountain, I’ll use radios/walkie talkies, Garmin InReach devices and satellite phones. Whilst at basecamp there are solar power charging facilities, Wi-Fi setups and in some camps, even movie nights! I always remind my clients that lithium batteries are far superior to alkaline ones, so I ensure that these are readily available for head torches and similar devices.”
7. Hire a local agent
"For high altitude ascents, a key element in the planning stages is having an outstanding local agent to work with. Local agents are experts in their area and make life 200% easier when planning an expedition in a sometimes unfamiliar location. This then allows time to concentrate on both the bigger picture and the finer details that make up these unique trips. High altitude expeditions are huge and there are just too many moving parts for one person to micromanage every aspect!”
8. Consider logistics
“In the build-up to these big trips, I’ll go through everything together with the agent and liaise daily to ensure that we’re all on the same page. This includes everything from how many oxygen cylinders we require to the masks and regulators as well as any spares. There are also discussions on how many tents, (sleeping, toilet and shower) we will need, alongside discussions on solar power, radios, communications and so forth. Any logistical conversations will naturally include how the team and all of the kit will get to basecamp."
“All of the above needs to intertwine around the challenging mountain conditions and ever-changing weather forecasts. There are some very good free mountain weather forecasts available, but when I need a more accurate and specific forecast, I utilise the skills of a specialist mountain forecaster. The primary considerations are wind and precipitation as these generally have the greatest impact whilst high on the mountain. When the time comes for a summit push, these forecasts become of paramount importance.”
10. And the golden rules...
“Lithium batteries for head torches are essential as are long handled spoons for freeze-dried meals and brand new, dry socks for summit day – always. But, my number 1 piece of advice for missions like this is to get out there and try, get shut down, turn back, make mistakes, learn from them and go again.”
No matter which form your mountain adventures take in the next 12 months, don’t forget to enjoy the sunrises, savour the summits and embrace the time spent in the mountains. And above all else, remember the words of Mark Twain: “The world owes you nothing. If you want something, you have to go out and get it.” We’ll see you out there!
Follow Jon's adventures @mountexpeds