How To Prepare For Climbing A Himalayan Mountain

Updated: Jun 7, 2019


A snow-covered Stok Kangri. © Dreamstime.

This September I will be climbing Stok Kangri - a 6,153m Himalayan mountain in Northern India. That’s 20,187 ft, in old money.

Good lord, that’s high.

It’s not an especially technical mountain in the summer and early autumn, with crampons and ice axes only sometimes needed on the summit day, as there isn’t much snow at this time of year. The challenge, rather, is in the altitude. For perspective, Britain’s tallest mountain is 1,345m. Mont Blanc is 4,810m. Kilimanjaro is 5,895m. Stok Kangri is 800m above Everest’s Base Camp. At this height, the air only contains 9% oxygen. Every single movement and process that your body does slows right down. Continuing to put one foot in front of the other is the real challenge of this trip.

If I make it to the top, I’ll be able to see across the Himalayas and Karakorum Mountains, into Tibet and Pakistan. I’ll be able to see K2, the world’s second highest peaks and one of the most notoriously difficult to climb. The euphoria of summitting and achieving a difficult physical challenge.

One of the reasons I signed up to the trip was because I’ll be there for Leh’s harvest festival; two weeks of traditional music, masked dances, archery, polo, colourful fashion and monastic processions through the streets.


Leh Festival Masked Dance. © Dreamstime.

If anyone fancies coming with me (please!) and getting their own taste of adventure, you can check out the details here as I think there are still places available for the 9th September trip. This is a mountain that’s pitched as the perfect introduction to the Himalaya’s, a higher Asian equivalent to Kili.

To get there though, we need to be fit enough. As things stand right now, I definitely still have some winter insulation on as I’ve done virtually no exercise in weeks. I have a relatively good base level of fitness, which I’m very grateful for, but your fitness level starts dropping the minute you stop your regular exercise routine.


Our route to the sightly less snowy summit. © 360 Expeditions.

I’m sharing my four-month training plan for anyone else who is thinking of taking part in a hard hike or trek. Let me know how you get on! This plan could very easily be adapted depending on your starting level of fitness and strength, with smaller increases moving up weekly rather than monthly. It is also designed for someone living in a city, without easy access to the UK’s major hiking areas, which is why there is more gym based elements than there would otherwise be.

Month 1 Plan:

  • Running twice a week

  • 5km run

  • Outdoors, come rain or shine. Preferably on a hilly trail rather than road.

  • Gym-based high intensity cardio twice a week, and/or a full day hike once a week (6+ hours)

  • 15 minutes step machine at highest speed you can manage

  • 15 minutes treadmill on maximum incline and at the highest speed you can manage

  • Where possible, replace with a full day hike on the weekend. I live on the outskirts of London, so sometimes this isn’t possible.

  • Gym-based strength twice a week

  • This is designed to build strength in your core, legs and arms

  • 15 x 3 crunches on a sit up bench

  • 10 x 3 cross over sit ups on each side

  • 15 x 3 sets on Hip Abductor and Adductor machines – as much weight as I can lift.

  • Weighted lunges, carrying 6kg hand weights. 20 paces x 3

  • 10 x 3 squats with 20kg

  • 10 press ups

  • 10 x 3 bench dips

  • 10 x 3 heel raises (with a weighted machine if your gym has one)

  • Yoga once a week

  • 30 – 60 mins for recovery, flexibility and stretching

  • I haven’t been able to find a Yoga class I like in my local area, so am using the programmes on the Nike Training Club app

  • When the weather is good, I do this on a yoga mat in my back garden, if the weather isn’t so good then I’ll find some quite space indoors. I avoid doing this is the gym as I really enjoy the peaceful mindfulness that comes with it.

  • This could be replaced with Pilates or any stretching programme.


Month 2 Plan:

  • Running twice a week

  • 7-10km

  • Again, focus on trail running rather than road and include as many hills as possible.

  • Gym-based high intensity cardio twice a week, and/or a full day hike once a week (6+ hours)

  • 25 minutes step machine at the highest speed you can manage

  • 25 minutes treadmill on maximum incline at the highest speed you can manage.

  • Where possible, replace with a day hike on the weekend. I live on the outskirts of London, so sometimes fining somewhere hilly to hike outside the city isn’t feasible, hence the gym alternative. Always carry a hiking pack of at least 5kg.

  • I have signed up to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks (3 of the Yorkshire Dales in 12 hours) to help train for the long, intense summit day.

  • Gym-based strength twice a week

  • 20 x 4 crunches on a sit up bench

  • 15 x 3 cross over sit ups on each side

  • 20 x 3 sets on Hip Abductor and Adductor machines – increase weight

  • Weighted lunges, carrying 8kg hand weights. 20 paces x 4

  • 10 x 3 squats with 25-30kg

  • 15 press ups

  • 15 x 3 bench dips

  • 15 x 3 heel raises, increasing weight

  • Yoga or stretching session once a week


Month 3 Plan:

  • Running twice a week

  • 7-10km carrying 1-2kg OR 12-15km with no weight

  • Focus on hilly trail running

  • Gym-based high intensity cardio twice a week, and/or a full day hike once a week (6+ hours)

  • 30 minutes step machine at the highest speed you can manage

  • 30 minutes treadmill on maximum incline at the highest speed you can manage

  • Wear a hiking pack with 7kg weight for duration

  • Where possible, replace with a hilly day hike on the weekend, carrying a hiking pack of up to 7kg.

  • Gym-based strength twice a week

  • 20 x 4 crunches on a sit up bench holding 5kg weight

  • 20 x 4 cross over sit ups on each side, on a sit up bench holding 5kg weight

  • 20 x 4 sets on Hip Abductor and Adductor machines – increase weight

  • Weighted lunges, carrying 10kg hand weights. 20 paces x 4

  • 12 x 3 squats with 30kg+

  • 20 press ups

  • 20 x 3 bench dips

  • 15 x 4 heel raises, increasing weight

  • Yoga or stretching session once a week


Month 4 Plan:

  • Running twice a week

  • 7-10km carrying 2-3kg OR 12-15km with 1-2kg weight

  • Focus on hilly trail running

  • Gym-based high intensity cardio twice a week, and/or a full day hike once a week (6+ hours)

  • 40 minutes step machine at the highest speed you can manage

  • 40 minutes treadmill on maximum incline at the highest speed you can manage

  • Wear a hiking pack with 10kg weight for duration

  • Where possible, replace with a hilly day and 2-day hikes on the weekend, carrying a hiking pack of up to 12kg.

  • Gym-based strength twice a week

  • 20 x 4 crunches on a sit up bench holding 7kg weight

  • 20 x 4 cross over sit ups on each side, on a sit up bench holding 7kg weight

  • 20 x 4 sets on Hip Abductor and Adductor machines – increase weight

  • Weighted lunges, carrying 12kg hand weights. 20 paces x 4

  • 15 x 3 squats with 35kg+

  • 25 press ups

  • 20 x 4 bench dips

  • 20 x 4 heel raises, increasing weight

  • Yoga or stretching once a week

  • Time to fly out to the Himalayas!

I am going to Stok Kangri with 360 Expeditions. If you’re thinking of coming along on the 9th September too, you can book here. They will even throw in a free Berghaus Beanie to keep you warm on summit day. Nice.

Need some more reasons to come with me? Have a read of this. Hopefully see you there!

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© Emma Rosen 2020
London, UK