How I Prepared For Himlung Himal

by Karen Loudon

How I Prepared For Himlung Himal

Climbing a mountain is not just about the physicality. In fact, the mental challenge is arguably greater, with focus, resilience and positive attitude required in spades. As Karen Loudon entered the final 6-week preparation phase of her summit attempt of Nemjung in Nepal, we were granted an incredible insight into this adventurous woman's mind, something of a personal case study into all the thoughts and feelings that consume the alpine climber pre-trek.

6 Weeks

Week commencing 27th February 2023. This week's focus is around my injury management (drat) and prep for a big hike on Saturday.

My training has been going to plan other than developing a strain in the region of my hip flexor/glute muscle. It's slowing me down a bit and playing with my mind, so I am consciously keeping my chin up and have an ultrasound-guided cortisone injection booked for the 28th. Keeping my fingers crossed for a quick and positive result. Rowan my trainer is wisely guiding me on what not to do so I am still avoiding heavy lifts around squats, lunges and deadlifts. I have workarounds and I am spending quite a bit of time on the spin bike doing interval sessions. Hubby has kindly set up Netflix in my workout space, which is a welcome distraction when the time drags. I have positioned myself under the air conditioner for those hot Aussie days.

A few days have passed, and I am happy to report that my hip is feeling much better and I am back on track to hike Mt Feathertop this weekend. Feathertop is the second-highest peak in Australia at 1,927m with an ascent of 1,379m. It's a favourite training hike for me as it's well-covered by shade for most of the 4-hour ascent, is beautiful and often has lots of wildlife. The weather forecast has predicted a perfect day with a max 25°C. I drove the 4.5 hours to Harrietville on Friday afternoon, laid out my Mountain Designs gear ready for an early start on Saturday morning and had a good night's sleep at the local pub. Day pack filled with a 5kg dumbbell, endurance fuel, peanut butter sandwiches, a banana and some jelly snakes - onwards and upwards. 3-hour ascent to the hut. 1 hour up the famous rocky razor back to the summit which was cool with some cloud cover. Quick rest and down, down, down. Tripped (lol!) twice on the way down - gotta love a good bruise and made it back in almost 7 hours on the nose. Very happy with my result 22.75km, 7:05 hours and 2,624 calories burned.

Karen Loudon Hiking Mount Feathertop
Tread Pro trekking poles
Karen Loudon hiking time, distance & calories used

Hiking Mount Feathertop, Australia's second-highest peak. (Images courtesy of Karen Loudon)

5 Weeks

Week commencing Monday 6th March 2023. This week's focus is gathering some further gear information from my expedition team leader as I start the packing process and surviving a huge week at the office.

While training on the Stairmaster, I have been watching videos on YouTube on others who have climbed 'my mountain' and focusing on the gear they have worn. I checked in with my guide as they seem to be wearing quite light clothing at the start - the area I am going to climb in is new to me. Glad I did - up to day 14 lighter clothing is required. I will spend some time going through my planned packing list to check that I have it right. Packing well is so important as it is a long time to be short of something or a long time to carry things that I don't need. I have gear laid out on the floor of the spare room. Looking in there reminds me that this is really happening. I have a big 'butterflies in the stomach moment' - not sure if it's excitement or a bit of anxiety - as it gets closer and closer.

It can be challenging to train for a long time for an event as it seems so far away when it starts, sometimes the training plan drags and then all of a sudden weeks have flown by and the 6-day training sessions planned have been and gone. This week there will be some later training evenings as I have to be in the office in person most days as we have an important visitor. Planning becomes even more important during super busy times. My hubby is a star - makes dinner for us and doesn't complain when I am only done training at 8 pm. I am not a morning person and prefer to train later in the day when I feel more limber. The plan for this weekend is for a shorter 3-hour hike in the Dandenong hills on Sunday and another easy one on Monday at Lysterfield Lake, as it's a public holiday and I have to take full advantage of all the training time I can get.

4 Weeks

Week commencing Monday 13th March 2023. This week's focus is on upping my training volume approaching peak exercise weeks and staying on track with my nutrition as I push myself harder.

I must say I am really feeling the challenge of a long build-up to this event by way of having been training and eating with discipline for around four months…sometimes it just feels too hard and it's so tempting to just skip a session or just eat a pizza. I have to keep pulling myself back in line, refocus and keep my eye on the end goal. It will be SO good to lie in on a Sunday morning, have that extra glass of champagne (or two) and eat the whole pizza... BUT not just yet.

My training has stepped up a notch with my weekly program around:

  • 2 x Cycle sessions (one intervals and the other mostly speed)
  • 1 x Upper and 1x lower body strength session
  • 1 x Stairmaster with increasing load
  • 1 x Long hike with 8kg dumbbells in my backpack and
  • 1 x Recovery session, this last day is just as important for stretching, rolling and mobility exercises to ease my tight muscles and sore bits and I can tell you I have a few of those.

A regular visit to the myotherapist also helps loosen my body. I must keep my nutrition on point as with the added exercise volume, I get hungrier and juggle the balance of putting enough (and the right) fuel into me to be able to work as hard as I can but keep my weight stable. Macros are about 1,700 calories on a 'normal' day aiming for 120g of protein with a lot more carbs on a heavy hiking day. I currently weigh-in at around 68 to 69kg with an above-average muscle mass percentage. Fun times - it's all part of the process and by now you know me - it's all run via tracking apps and spreadsheets.

I drive back to Harrietville and the beautiful Mt Feathertop on Friday to christen my new Mountain Designs 65L backpack that I will be using in Nepal enroute to the summit.

Training using resistance bands
Training using dumbbell weights
Cycling training for physical preparation

The physical preparation in the lead-up to an alpine climb of this type requires acute focus and discipline. (Images courtesy of Karen Loudon)

3 Weeks

Week commencing Monday 20th March 2023. This week's focus is on what is going on in my head.

It's about mindset this week. I sleep well as I am so busy and tired by sleep time, I crash at night and fall asleep quickly (even with a French Bulldog snoring on the bed). But I am also finding myself waking up early in the mornings when it's still dark with thoughts around am I going to be fit enough, will I make it to the summit, am I strong enough, can I really do it? Those and many other questions about my ability and stamina are flooding in as time is getting short now.

It's so tough up there - reduced oxygen definitely dims my flame. Everything is just so much harder. It's dirty, it's cold, it's uncomfortable - of course, I have chosen to do this but that's the reality of it, most creature comforts are weeks away. I have already written my 'on the mountain' night-time list of things I have to do before I can sleep to make sure I do them - it's easier just to get into my sleeping bag and lie there. Write in my journal, charge all my equipment, brush my teeth before you rest for the night. So... no negative thoughts Karen, enjoy the journey, I will make it, I will be fit enough, I can stand it, I can do it, the dirt and cold, blood noses and shortness of breath etc will pass, as does everything. I imagine standing on the summit, I imagine arriving safely back at base camp and I imagine the look on Alan's face when he meets me at the airport. Those are the things I must think about at 5 am in the dark when I am awake.

2 Weeks

Week commencing Monday 27th March 2023. This week the focus is to give all I have physically and be grateful.

This week is peak training week and it's game on. Work is a bit panicky as my last day at the office for five weeks looms, and home is not seeing much of me as I am either working or exercising. I have planned each workout and I will get it done even if I do not feel like it. I will enjoy my last big hike on Sunday at Mount Donna Buang (1,250m) after a work-function weekend in Healesville. My wise trainer has advised me to spend as much time as I can this week thinking about being grateful and proud. The hard work is almost done. I should spend time thinking about how far I have come since I started training, about how I have managed to navigate the obstacles of lack of time, injury, and life pressures and be proud of myself. Celebrate how amazing my body is to be able to do all it has done and is doing to carry me towards my goals. I am so grateful for all this and for the support of my dear family, loved ones and dear friends - they encourage me constantly and this spurs me on.

Karen Loudon selfie at Mount Donna Buang summit
Mount Donna Buang summit

The view from the Mount Donna Buang summit. (Images courtesy of Karen Loudon)

7 Days

Week commencing Monday 3rd April 2023. Into my taper and Nemjung, I am coming for you!

It's hubby's birthday today and I begin my taper (I am so pleased as I feel very weary at this stage). We got out for dinner to celebrate both occasions. Training this week is greatly reduced in intensity volume and I turn my thoughts to where I am going, a bit about that:

Nemjung is a mountain in the Himalayas of Nepal. It is located approximately 150 kilometres north-west of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu and about 25km north-west of the 8,000m+ Manaslu. Its summit has an elevation of 7,140 metres (23,425 feet). This mountain was once called Himlung Himal. Nemjung was first climbed via the east ridge on October 27, 1983 by a joint expedition from Nepal and the Hirosaki University Alpine Club led by Junji Kurotaki. Previous attempts had been made in 1963 by a Japanese expedition from the Den Den Kyushu Alpine Club led by Hisachika Zengyou, in 1994 by a British expedition, and in 2009 by a French team. On October 30, 2009 a Japanese team led by climber Osamu Tanabe summitted Nemjung via its previously unclimbed west face and west ridge.

My expedition begins with a trek along the Annapurna trail with deviations into the remote and beautiful villages of Nar and Phu. All expedition teams set up their base camp at 4,900m, which is located at the upper borders of Phu village. A safer route was pioneered around 2013 by Kari Kobler (Switzerland) and is relatively short with limited difficulty and objective danger. It shortcuts the previous route by ascending the south flank of the north-west ridge to reach its upper crest. My guide's climbing strategy includes 2x high camps: Camp 1 (5,430m) and Camp 2 (6,000m). Nemjung is also known for being a colder mountain peak. The climbing route falls on the north-west face of the mountain, hence it only gets sunlight around late morning to afternoon. The final summit push will be longer than the acclimatisation rotations. This mountain tests patience, will, and determination on the final stretch to the summit. So I say, it's time to climb!

Mountain Designs backpack, innerwear, puffer jacket, sleeping bag and equipment
Karen Loudon in Pro Elite Alpine Down Parka Jacket & Salopettes
Karen Loudon in Pro Elite Alpine Down Salopettes

Laying out my gear, and my Pro Elite outfit. (Images courtesy of Karen Loudon)

Video & Photo Credits

All video and imagery supplied by Karen Loudon




      Get VIP discounts, attend exclusive events and more