Fit for the challenge?
These notes are not meant to discourage people from attempting the very enjoyable experience of a challenge walk, but they are intended to ask questions and to bring forward issues that should be considered before the walk, rather than perhaps having them arise when you are tired on a cold, wet,
fog-bound mountain top somewhere close to where you think you should be on the map.
These walks are a challenge for any person no matter how fit they may be. For most participants the walk will on unfamiliar territory and be over a distance and height that will be longer than their usual hike. So, a greater
level of stamina will be required to finish the walk and good navigation will be necessary to ensure that the long walk is not made longer by poor route finding. Throw in bad weather, poor visibility and dangerous or steep ground,
and it is clear that to minimise the possibility of having to withdraw before the end, good sound preparation is required in the period before the walk.
Most of these walks are run by walking clubs on a voluntary basis and every care is taken to ensure the safety of the participants. Mountain rescue are usually on standby and a system is in place to monitor the progress of each
of the participants. However this should not be taken to be a reason for someone to start a walk who has not put in adequate preparation or who has little chance of successfully finishing the walk due to inadequate fitness levels
or poor navigational abilities. Participants should also be aware that if they leave a walk before the finish they should notify the organisers as otherwise it would be assumed that they are lost and a search for them would take place.
These walks often start early in the morning from 06.00, and to be ready walkers may have to rise from 04.00 onwards or earlier in nearby hostels or other accommodation. They need to have their gear in order, their food prepared and be available for registration at the start of the walk. The organisers will have a number of check-points on the route which serve as a way of keeping track of the walkers. Often minor first aid may be available there and they serve as a safe point from which those, feeling the pace or otherwise, can withdraw safely from the walk. The check-points will usually have a cut off time which means that the organisers have calculated that those who do not
reach this point by a particular time are likely to run into difficulties finishing the walk in daylight or, due to their current rate of progress, are unlikely to finish the walk.
So the main message is GOOD PREPARATION IS REQUIRED. The main areas of preparation outside of good and appropriate gear, which is assumed, are fitness and navigation.
Fitness - Many of these walks are in the range of 25 kilometres distance or more and climbing in excess of
1500 metres. To have any reasonable chance of finishing a walk such as this, and more importantly enjoying it, a participant should have prepared well and trained for it. It is a good guide for such training that a walker should have been on a trek which is about 70% of the total distance and height climbed of the challenge walk a couple of months before the actual walk. And within this period a regular routine of hill walking should be taking place to ensure good preparation and this should increase substantially the prospect of a successful and enjoyable day. A useful exercise in this preparation period is for the walker to measure these training walks in distance and height climbed and to time their duration. From this it is possible for them to assess their own rate of walking as a percentage of the Naismith Rule which is 12 mins per km and 1m/ 10m height gained.
The following example or similar can help to tell each walker realistically how long it should take them to finish the actual challenge walk, for example:
If a training walk of 15k and 1100 metres takes, excluding lunch break etc, say 6 hours, this would be equivalent to a rate of 4k per hour and 8 metres climbing per minute calculated as follows:
15k @ 4k per hour
...............................................3 hours 45 minutes
1100 metres @ 1minute per 8m
(1100 divided by 8).........2 hours 17 minutes
Total 6 hours 2 minutes.
Applying this to say an upcoming challenge walk of 23k and 2000 metres climb would give a total estimated time for the walk, assuming the same pace as the training walk and excluding breaks, of approximately 10 hours and this
would indicate a rate of walking which is 25% more than Naismith. This type of analysis of training walks would enable walkers to calculate the likely duration of any walk based on distance and height climbed.
This raises a number of questions that should be answered before the walk is attempted, such as, with more preparation can the pace of walking comfortably be improved, or by attempting to walk a longer distance that the
usual walk is the pace likely to slow down. Also would you be happy to be out walking for the 10 hours plus and have you done this before on familiar territory before attempting it in a more difficult location.
Naismith or each individual's percentage variation of Naismith( which could be a percentage increase or decrease) is a useful guide to telling you whether the challenge walk through your own training experience is within your
abilities. Remember also that ‘Naismith’ will be affected by difficult terrain, poor weather, difficult descents and load carried.
Another useful way of training that some people use is to measure heart rate to try to keep it appropriately in the "training range". Limiting heart rate on the walk to a known safe limit, particularly at the beginning, is an extremely good way of preventing anaerobic activity which can lead to fatigue. I know of a person who tries to limit his heart rate to around 145-150 while going up slopes. He is actually capable of handling 165 but gets tired very quickly at that level. Off slopes he tries to keep it to 110 or so. Younger or fitter people would have higher figures while older or less fit people should have lower targets. Clearly prior to using this for training purposes each person should consult with their own doctor first as to the level appropriate to them.
The Second Major Preparation is Navigation and Mapping.
If you are a regular walker in a particular mountain range it is likely that you will be familiar with the terrain. While map and compass will be available, more often than not you will know the routes, the turns, the twists and the kinks in any familiar route. The challenge walk situation is usually quite different. This may be a mountain range that you have not walked before, and while on a good day this will be a real treat and adventure, if the weather is not good this will make the navigation a challenge in its own right. For that reason it is important before you start the walk, and not in the hostel the night before, but over the previous days and weeks you do some of the following;
- Get the best available map of the area
- Use Trailmaster or similar to "fly" around the terrain, over a reasonably long period. This gives a great idea of the shape of the land.
- Make sure that you have a good weather proof map cover
- Study the map over a good period of time
- Read up if possible on routes through the mountains
- Check areas to be avoided at all costs
- Set out safe escape routes (and tell the organisers at the time)
- Do out a route card of your intended trek
- Work out the headings at home and not on the mountain
- Calculate the likely duration of the walk
For those who can use one, combined and as a back up to map and compass, bring a GPS and have necessary waypoints entered or uploaded before the start of the walk. Some proficient users have GPS which have display maps uploaded which can act as a combined map, compass and GPS.
So, in conclusion, with yourself well prepared through timed training walks and with a clear understanding of the route and its navigation you should be all set for the adventure.
Enjoy it - It's Exhilarating!!!.
Written by Michael Neary and reproduced here courtesy of Walkers Association of Ireland