It used to be that serious mountaineers spent their entire careers working their way up to a Mount Everest summit bid. But in recent years, climbing Everest has seemed like a dilettante's pursuit: Any socialite with a Himalayan-size wallet can buy their way up the Big One, no matter if they endanger themselves, their teammates, or their guides. Today's reality lies somewhere in between. Radically light new gear, flexible work schedules, and a glut of guiding services have made Everest's 29,035-foot summit a much more attainable goal than it was even 20 years ago. But no matter how rich you are, you've still got to be prepared for the ordeal. Our three-year training program explains how a rank amateur can make it to the top of the world – the right way.
Tips for Nailing the Summit
Train for freezing temperatures by taking cold showers and swimming in cold lakes, pools, or oceans for as long as you can tolerate. Spend entire winter days – sunup to sundown – moving around in the cold on foot, snowshoes, skis, anything. "Also, know what layering systems work," says Whittaker.
Sleep Like a Hobo
Strange as it may seem, you'll need to "train" yourself to sleep in uncomfortable places. Turn day hikes into overnights, or camp in your backyard on the nastiest patch of ground you can find – and leave the Therm-a-Rest in the house. These sleeping scenarios suck, but a bivouac at 20,000 feet is worse.
Perfect Your Aim
One little-discussed but essential Everest skill is the ability to empty your bladder into a water bottle while shivering in a sleeping bag in zero-degree temperatures with a headache and stomach cramps. Also, says Viesturs, "Learn how to differentiate your pee bottle from your water bottle."
Put a Sock in It
"My blisters hurt." "I have a headache." "How much longer till we eat?" Blah, blah, blah. Everyone else feels crappy too, and you're only making things worse for everyone by complaining. It's one thing to speak up if you're in agony, it's another thing to do announce every hangnail or gas pain.
Do Your Homework
"Don't show up in Asia without knowing your Messner from your Mallory," says Whittaker. "Or your Geneva Spur from your Yellow Band, or your namaste from your nee how." Start building your mountaineering library at climbalaska.org and longitudebooks.com.
Fend Off the Cough
Credit: Harry Kikstra / Getty Images
You want to avoid what Freer calls the Khumbu cough. "It's called high-altitude bronchitis," says Freer. "It's the most common reason climbers come visit us in the med tent." Freer suggests using a thin face mask, which warms your exhaled air, creating moisture over your mouth.