You might be put off the idea of climbing Snowdon because you don’t think your fitness is up to scratch. It is true that reaching the summit of many mountains around the world is a real physical and mental challenge, and an individual’s fitness level is subjective – but Snowdon may not be out of the realm of most of you reading this now. Preparation is key, and certainly, the more ready you are for your mountain day, the easier it’s going to be, and therefore the more likely you are to enjoy it.
We regularly work with people with little or no mountain walking experience, and lead them successfully to a summit, and back down again. Some are active gym-goers, many are keen walkers and even runners but, unless you’re regularly walking up something, you’re likely to find a big mountain somewhat of an assault on your lower body.
Don’t run before you can walk (metaphorically)
If you’ve done little or no serious distance walking and find yourself out of breath running up the stairs, you’re probably going to struggle getting to the summit of Snowdon; putting in some good prep work is essential. You don’t have to be an athlete, you don’t need to be able to run a marathon, but you do need to be able to walk uphill for several hours and then back down again. I often meet people struggling their way up the mountain, and when we stop and chat they tell me that not only is this their first ever mountain climb, but often it’s the most physical exercise they’ve ever done in their life.
Don’t assume just because Barry from marketing ‘smashed Snowdon’ last year, that it’s necessarily going to be the same experience for you. We’re all different. We all have different bodies and differing fitness levels. Put in the time and effort before your big mountain day and you’re guaranteed a more positive experience.
It might sound daft but the best thing you can do to prepare yourself for climbing Snowdon is to get out and practise walking. You may not be able to venture uphill close to where you live but that doesn’t stop you getting out and about on the flat. If you’re just starting out, try going for a simple walk around your neighbourhood and aim to be active for as long as you feel able. You’ll want to be comfortable walking for at least an hour and eventually for several hours; although I’d argue that if you get back from a 60-minute walk and you’re still feeling good, then you’re likely to be ok. Remember that on a mountain day you’re going to be out all day. For example, you’ll need six to eight hours to reach the summit of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) and get back down again.
As you progress on your local walks, start seeking out hills and inclines to begin to appreciate the difference between walking on the flat and walking uphill.
The more you can get your body used to walking good distances in advance of your first big mountain day, the better the day is likely to go.
Test your gear
As you progress and your fitness improves, you definitely want to try out your gear. If you’ve invested in new walking boots, you’ll find yourself getting more tired wearing them than a normal pair of trainers as they are likely to weigh more; start wearing them on local walks to add a bit of realism. Add your rucksack too, and build up what you carry in it so it’s not such a shock when you start on your first real mountain.
Make sure your waterproofs fit well over your walking clothes and that you can walk comfortably in them. Trying them on in the shop is fine but they need to feel good while you’re moving, and for more than just a few minutes. If you use walking poles, try them out so you know how to extend and adjust them. Be sure your socks fit correctly and that they’re warm enough / not too warm. All of these things become second nature after a while, but when you’re starting out, you’ll need to be a bit more aware.
Do some ‘cardio’
As you start moving your ‘practise walking’ from the flat to uphill, you’ll start to appreciate how much more energy is needed and how much harder your body is working. As with most physical activities, the more often you do something, the more your body will get used to it. There’s no substitute for getting out and practising. However, if you’re able to get to the gym, or if you can workout at home then regular cardiovascular exercise will do wonders for your mountain walking. Get your body moving, get your heart rate up, and get into a pattern of exercise. Since the pandemic I’ve become a big fan of home workouts which you can find through smart phone apps or even your smart TV. They’re easy to do, relatively cheap and you don’t even need to leave the house.
If you’re planning to take on a major mountain then cardiovascular training is essential, as expeditions such as Kilimanjaro or Everest Base Camp will require consistent physical effort, day after day.
Move your body
I’m going to suggest two things that you’re not going to like. Squats and lunges are brilliant ways of getting your lower body ready for climbing a mountain, or more particularly for dealing with coming back down again. You don’t need to be knocking out 100 in one go, but doing a few daily exercises on the run-up to your big mountain day will make a huge difference. Many complain that they find descending more strenuous on their lower limbs than heading up the mountain, so anything you can do to prepare for this will help.
If you’re looking for some easy workout ideas or just need a bit of motivation, check out daily challenges from websites such as darebee.com.
Take regular breaks
You should enjoy your mountain day at your pace. It’s absolutely fine (and encouraged) to take breaks throughout your climb. Unless you’re taking part in a mountain marathon, you’re climbing a mountain for enjoyment, and sometimes we forget that, particularly if you’re walking with a group.
Mountain summits aren’t usually the best place to stop for a picnic lunch due to the weather, exposure, etc. Regular, shorter stops along the way ensure you stay fuelled and hydrated and also give you an opportunity to recover.
However, as so often, there is a fine line here. If you find yourself sat in the Hafod Eryri visitor centre on top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) relaxing with coffee and cake, do remember your day is only half done and you still have to get down the mountain. The longer you sit still, the more your body is going to seize up, so enjoy a shorter break and keep your momentum.
It’s important to find your mountain pace. This can be tricky when walking as part of a group but it’s key to enjoying your mountain day.
If you find yourself struggling to hold a conversation because you’re out of breath, then you’re moving too fast. In this case, rather than stopping frequently to catch your breath, try walking a little slower. You should be able to chat with relative ease while you’re on the go.
Join a walking club
There are groups of people all over the country who meet every week and go out walking together. These range from small gatherings planned on social media platforms such as Meetup or via local Facebook Groups, to entire organisations that are dedicated to getting people outside. Many are free or they might have a monthly or annual membership fee. What they all offer is a great way to get / stay fit, enjoy the outdoors and make new friends.
Something to bear in mind is that many smaller get-togethers organised online are typically peer-led events and there’s unlikely to be any particular person in charge. This is somewhat of a grey area amongst the outdoor community where we would normally ensure that there’s a qualified leader with up-to-date first aid training, public liability insurance, etc. If you’re at all concerned, look for a larger, more organised walking group.