A few statistics
Climbing all of the 46 High Peaks in 10 or 12 days of hiking results in approximately 70,000 feet of elevation gain and 200 miles of hiking. The ascent of Everest from base camp to the summit is 11,300 feet, which makes hiking the 46 High Peaks the rough equivalent of climbing Everest 6 times (albeit at a much lower elevation).
The most obvious known difficulty will be the sheer volume of hiking to be done in a defined length of time. I will in fact be going out day after day averaging 7000 vertical feet and 20 miles for 10 to 12 days in a row with no rest days in between. A big unknown will be the trail conditions. When a trail is packed down hard by the passage of many pairs of snowshoes it becomes smooth and uniform and is easier to travel upon than in summer, when the trails are very rocky and rooty. As little as 6 inches of unbroken snow increases the work requirement noticeably. If the snow is dry and powdery the difference is minor but if the snow is heavy and wet the workload increases appreciably for each inch of unpacked snow. A few other factors will include cold temperatures, blowing snow and whiteout conditions. Also, many of the trails I will be following are unmarked (these particular trails are referred to as herd paths). If they are hidden under new snowfall they can be difficult to stay on or find if one wanders off of them.
Running a marathon burns about 3000 calories. I estimate that my daily calorie burn will be close to 10,000 per day and that 45 % will be supplied by fats, 45% will be supplied by carbohydrates And the remaining 10% will be drawn from protein. 10% doesn’t seem like very much but at 4 calories per gram this will amount to 250 grams of protein per day and excludes protein used to rebuild and maintain muscle tissue. 10,000 calories amounts to roughly 4 lbs of pure protein, fat and carbohydrate. My plan is to eat as much as I can and focus on food with a high nutrient content. My food intake strategy will be different before, during and after the day’s hiking. The differences will relate to macro-nutrient percentages. I will favor carbohydrates and moderate amounts of protein before, during and immediately after the hikes and fats and proteins for dinner and bedtime snacking. Ideally, I will weigh the same at the end of the project as I do prior to starting.
Initially I was taken aback by the prospect of meeting such huge energy demands but Google turned up some great examples of individuals who have successfully undertaken much bigger endeavours. For example, Yiannis Kouros holds the world record for the fastest 1000 mile run. He was able to consume huge quantities of carbohydrate while running and maintained a 3-hour marathon pace throughout his successful record bid. The difference between him and me is that I will have to carry all of my own fuel where he was supplied continuously throughout the race.
My water intake will be in the 2 litre per day range. At 2.2 lbs per liter, excluding the weight of the containers, water is a necessary evil. Two litres may seem low but the importance of drinking while performing has been grossly overstated by the sports drink industry. The truth is, drinking to thirst or a bit less has been proven to be more than sufficient in maintaining water status.
Gear and pack weight
Every ounce makes a difference and even a one pound difference in the weight of one’s pack makes itself felt in the legs when hiking uphill. From snowshoes to hat, every item worn and carried will be scrutinized as to its worth. The balance one attempts to achieve is between safety and pack weight. Ideally, one carries enough spare clothing and gear to survive an unplanned night out in the mountains. My insurance policy will be a huge down parka and a pair of extremely warm synthetic pants that live usually in my hiking pack all winter long. Other items will include two headlamps, a small first aid kit, an extra base layer shirt, spare mitts, extra socks with vapour barrier liner socks in case I step into deep water, a facemask and goggles for windblown summits. I’ll also carry a GPS when using herd paths if the trail isn’t broken out, plus a small camera, a map and compass, a Spot device and of course food and water. If the conditions are icy a pair of crampons will be added to everything else.
I will carry everything I might need while hiking within reach, either in my pockets or attached somehow to the straps of my pack. This way I can eat, drink, take pictures and swap mitts and hats without breaking stride.
The key to success will be pace management. If I try to go too fast I’ll quickly become exhausted. If I go too slow I’ll be out in the cold and on my feet too long and will gradually wear down. Knowing just how hard to push on any given hike is a question of experience and keeping a close eye on one’s rate of progress. I’ll also be wearing a heart rate monitor to give me some additional data, which will be helpful as the project progresses.
According to Kouros, it isn’t the food one consumes but the ability to mentally endure the difficulties that makes the difference between success and failure. The brain may be seen as a central governor that can either will the body to keep performing or toss in the towel.
Training is a particular challenge because the key to the hike is the ability to do consecutive days. Luckily, I have a long lunch break and I can work out on a steep incline near my office that has 270 feet of elevation gain. I simply go up and down the same gully over and over again ad nauseum. To add a little more training at the end of my work days I can walk home (6 miles) while wearing a 20 lb. pack. Also, regular trips to the gym for leg workouts are giving me an added training boost.