Wandering down the bustling main road through the small mountain town of Lukla the world was full of colour, movement and excitement. Sherpas strode past teetering under impossible loads mounted on their backs and strapped to their foreheads. Lines of heavily laden yaks and mules trotted past, the bells round their necks clanging as they went. On the way to the mountains we passed an Irish Pub, a Scottish Pub and a million Souvenir Shops. As we made our first steep, rocky descent onto the trail leading out of town towards Everest Base Camp, I realised how valuable my training in the Scottish Mountains had been. I smiled and thought, “I can do this!”
Since first deciding to climb mountains in an effort to improve my fitness in 2014, I have summit-ed 55 Munros. I have also completed 3 Himalayan Expeditions including; Poon Hill, Everest Base Camp and an attempt at Mera Peak as well as attempting Kilimanjaro and summit-ting Mount Toubkal. What has become increasingly apparent is that, in terms of terrain, the Scottish Mountains are a fantastic Training Ground when planning a trek or a climb overseas.
Before continuing however, I need to add a vital note of caution. Scottish Mountains are a treacherous and deadly environment which require a range of skills and equipment to safely negotiate. Only experienced mountaineers with excellent navigation skills, full winter equipment and all the training on how to use it should venture onto the Scottish Hills in winter. Even in summer; plummeting temperatures, near zero visibility and high winds can strike with very little warning and create significant and deadly problems for unprepared or inexperienced climbers. Please plan appropriately before attempting any of the routes described in this post. Now we understand the dangers, lets discuss the similarities.
Anyone visiting the spectacular routes through the Nepalese part of the Himalayas may well come across the term ‘Nepali Flat’. This describes the endless ups and downs you are likely to encounter in the early days of some of the treks as you climb the steep sides to emerge from one valley and then descent the equally steep sides into the next.
Following the Meall a Behuachaille Circuit past the Glenmore Lodge near Aviemore you will soon find yourself ascending and descending frequently before making a drop of a few hundred feet through the trees to a small lochan and then climbing back up to a bothy. All of this just to get to the foot of the mountain. This route is a great introduction to Neplai Flat.
For the fitter and more experienced mountaineers, there is the option of climbing Ben Vane and Ben Vorlich in the same day. This will give you Nepali Flat at it’s most extreme. Caution should be taken however. This feat involves a very long, arduous day over very steep and rocky terrain with some scrambling. It is not for the inexperienced or feint hearted and skills such a good navigation with map and compass are essential.
For those thinking of heading to Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho Route I would say a summer ascent of Ben Vane, with it’s steep rocky path and requirement for scrambling, would be good training for the Baranco Wall, a 300m steep rocky ascent encountered about 5 days into the Kilimanjaro trek.
Sticking strictly to summer ascents, the circuit taking in Ben Macduie and Cairngorm from the Ski Centre above Aviemore can be good training to ascend to the Shira Plateau on Kilimanjaro. Again, note that a summer ascent is mentioned here. The Cairngorm Plateau in winter is a deadly environment with a far closer resemblance to the North Pole than the Shira Plateau.
Having made summit attempts on Mera Peak, Kilimanjaro and Mount Toubkal, I would recommend a night ascent of Ben Nevis via the Mountain Path as good training for any of them.
The reason for recommending the night ascent is that the summit bids on the other mountains tend to start any time from midnight on to allow maximum time for reaching the summit and descending to safety. It is beneficial therefore to get used to climbing in the dark. You may also get to see a billion stars and then a breathtaking sunrise.
The ascent of Ben Nevis is similar in vertical height to that from Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro. Also, for a lot of the year, especially in winter, you will need winter climbing equipment such as crampons and ice axe and the skills to use them to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. This will help prepare you for the ascent of the Mera Glacier or a winter ascent of Mount Toubkal.
The mountains of Scotland offer breathtaking routes with spectacular views and every type of walking and climbing you can imagine. This is what makes them an excellent Training Ground for trekking and climbing elsewhere in the world. Perhaps the main difference between the Scottish Mountains and all of the others I have mentioned here is altitude. There is nothing in Scotland which is high enough to prepare you for the rigours of climbing and trekking in the thinner air of high altitude. This is a subject in itself and one which I discuss in my next post.