Once the day’s climbing is complete, they munch on sandwiches–“Ed McMuffins,” as Gustafsson calls them–of rye crisps, salami, cheese, and mustard. For snacks, they eat beef jerky, nuts, dried mangoes, bananas, and papayas along with dried soup. A few hours later they might split a freeze-dried dinner, more dried soup, and cookies for dessert.
PACE YOURSELF In 2003, Viesturs visited Nanga Parbat in Pakistan with a group of elite young climbers. Despite nailing 11 of the highest mountains in the world without oxygen, he was nervous. At 43, he was the old climber on the mountain. “I was afraid I’d get smoked,” he admits. He got even more restless during the ascent as, one by one, the young guns passed him. “But I just plodded along. I know my pace pretty well and I just kept it.” By summit time, most of the others had flamed out, leaving the seasoned veteran king of the mountain–again.
Hike at a pace that feels like a comfortable push: You’re breathing, but not so hard that you have to catch your breath in order to speak. Hike for an hour, then rest for 15 minutes (if conditions allow); take your pack off and eat plenty of food and water.
“I’ve always said it’s not worth dying to climb a mountain,” says Viesturs. “If there’s something eating at you, whether it’s your boots, your partner, the weather, or where your head is at, it’s time to go down.” Case in point: In 2000, Viesturs and Gustafsson turned their backs on Annapurna’s summit when the weather refused to let up. Two years later, they were back again, but avalanche danger stopped them. “We were completely happy with our decision,” Viesturs says. “Play it safe. The most important part of your climb is making sure it’s a round-trip.”
Freelance writer and triathlete Rob Lamme trains like hell from his home in North Carolina.