So after a month in Bolivia it is finally back to the daily grind of what seems like five jobs – the day job and then working on the 360 Extremes project with training, sponsorship hunting, planning… the first week back and it was straight to the gym, and on the Sunday even back to Salesopolis for more rock climbing (completing grade six (5.10) climbs on the rock is always nice! Especially after a month away from it. More gym last week and then this weekend, I guess energy levels dipped completely it was a full rest, with just more planning and leisurely strolls down Paulista Avenue as well as a bit of cinema. I figured that after the last month and a half, a break would be nice. At the same time, I miss the mountains and it will be nice to climb another one soon… the problems with living in a country which relatively low and flat. 

High altitude climbs…

We are definitely feeling the effects of the training, however. I must have lost at least 3kg from the time in Bolivia – people keep commenting that I look much thinner, and indeed, I do need a new belt as there are not enough holes in my current ones to keep my trousers comfortably up – without a belt, I can easily fit a hand between my waist and the trousers, so there is a potential for embarrassment should I forget it! It is great for climbing though as I do feel lighter which helps. Also, I guess coming down from the high altitude, my breathing when I am running is better – I feel much more comfortable running for longer and don’t get breathless so quickly. Our nutritionist thinks that I might have lost too much weight too quickly and that I lost some muscular weight rather than just fat… which could very much be the case.  Burning muscle for energy is never good as you become more tired more quickly.

The training in Bolivia was meant to help us not just with mountaineering but also with working in difficult conditions that were challenging in ways that neither of us had experienced in any way: when we leave São Paulo in 2014, we are going to encounter situations that are going to be tough, so the challenging nature of these training projects will help us deal with them. Also, it helped us evaluate ourselves, physically and psychologically, in terms of what we need to do before we leave.

In assessing where we are… physically, we are doing well though definitely need to continue and build on our training. Walking up those mountains was exhausting! Okay, altitude was a massive factor (less than half the levels of oxygen than at sea level) and this was our first time at such altitudes… but to be in even better conditions to deal with this will be essential. At the Antarctic, we will be reaching altitudes of 5,000metres – in an even colder environment…. And there is a steep walk up from McMurdo to the plateau… And we will have even more weight.  I was proud of my own achievements in forcing myself to pretty much my limits in going up those mountains, and also in recognising when to turn back at Illimani… again, learning points for the expedition as a whole as safety is paramount. Better trying, turning back and trying again than killing yourself by pushing yourself too far.

Effects of illness

Illness affected our climbing – and indeed, dealing with illness is something that we will need to be prepared for: if none of us gets ill over the course of the three years, traipsing through the tropics and across the Poles… this would be a minor miracle. The importance of rest and the right treatments (not using antibiotics when we don’t need for example) again can’t be understated.

This also brings in the factor of food… the body finds it hard to digest food at higher altitudes though it is important to maintain high calorie intake in such journeys. With our guide being the guide and the cook, we certainly weren’t eating enough, regularly enough as we were dependent upon him. More varied snacks (not just twix and snickers) will definitely be important. Also, eating enough at regular intervals will help ensure that as little muscle is burned by the body for energy as possible. Lesson noted.

Psychologically, in terms of determination and working as a team, getting up early, going on the long hikes with heavy bags that seemed even heavier in the higher environment; moving onwards in spite of becoming physically drained… I might have snapped at Natalia once or twice, and vice-versa, but in general everything went pretty smoothly. Yes, I think we can give ourselves pats on backs… though this was only a month-long expedition, with breaks in La Paz every now and then; more time together on longer projects will be very important to making this whole plan work. 

Determination, however, isn’t something I am worried about too much – all of us are really working hard towards this project. I like to think that after 60 days traipsing toward the North Pole, with only each others’ company, I will still be saying this!

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