Tashi and Nungshi Malik—the world’s first female twins to scale Mt. Everest—know a thing or two about how to prepare for climbing tall peaks. That’s just one of many alpine accomplishments our 2022 Cotopaxi Do Good ambassadors have accrued. We asked them to give us the nitty-gritty on what it takes to summit the world’s highest mountain. Here are their tips, their training regime, and a few myths and truths about Everest.
By Tashi and Nungshi Malik
By climbing the summit of Everest you are overwhelmed by a deep sense of joy and thankfulness. It is a joy which lasts a lifetime. The experience changes you completely.
Myths & Truths About Everest
1. No life exists at Everest’s extreme altitude.
Myth! The Himalayan Jumping Spider (scientific name Euophrys omnisuperstes) lives at an altitude of 6,700 m (21,981 ft.). There is no other living thing on earth that has settled so high. In 1924, naturalist Richard Hingston observed these spiders.
2. Mt. Everest is the tallest mountain on earth.
Myth! While Mt. Everest is the highest mountain on earth above sea level, a dormant volcano on Hawai‘i’s Big Island is actually the tallest. From its underwater base to its peak, Mauna Kea is 33,500 feet (10,210 m) tall, while Everest is 29,032 feet (8,848 m) high.
3. It’s as easy for women to climb Mt. Everest, as it is for men.
Partial truth. Women may have to endure extra biological challenges often not visible to others. Periods are a major challenge, since climbers usually have to spend two or more months at base camp. While attempting Everest, our worst fears came true—our periods started the evening before our summit bid! With mounting cramps and absolutely no way to change sanitary pads, we labored on for 21 hours almost nonstop to reach the summit and return to the safety of Camp 2 at some 23,000 ft.
4. “Everest” is the only name for this massive mountain.
Myth! Before it was named “Everest” after the Surveyor General of India in the 1800s, this peak was known by other names—and still is today. In Tibet, the mountain is called Chomolungma (meaning “Mother Goddess of the World”); in Nepal, it’s known as Sagarmatha (several meanings, including “Peak of Heaven”).
5. The summit of Everest is rising every year.
Truth! India continues to creep north by 5 cm (2 in) a year, causing Everest to grow by about 4mm (0.16in) per year. Other parts of the Himalayas are rising even more dramatically at around 10mm per year.
Tips for Summiting Everest
Tip 1: You can’t get lucky if you don’t prepare
From our consistent successes through incredible odds, we have learned one thing: “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Our mantra is “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”
Tip 2: Strategically balance training and maintaining body mass to succeed.
When you’re carrying extremely heavy loads over long stretches while gaining altitude and braving strong winds, you must be at 100% fitness. But big climbs in sub-zero temperatures demand high body mass and fat to endure cold, loss of appetite, and rapid loss of energy. This poses a catch 22 situation.
The basic motto we follow before attempting any of these high peaks is “preserve energy.” During our Everest attempt, we lost 12 kg (26.5 lbs) each in two months! In other climbs, we have lost 4-5 kg (11 lbs). So we have to overcome the twin dilemma of fully preparing physically as well as preserving maximum possible weight.
Tip 3: Follow a good training and nutrition program.
Our father is our mentor, coach and “alarm clock.” He designs the most effective training and nutrition program for us. It includes strength training, aerobics, and endurance with supplements for mass gain and proteins. All these exercises become progressively strenuous and challenging as the climb gets closer. It’s very important to prepare for both physical and psychological dimensions. Our dad does a fabulous job at both!
Tip 4: You need targeted physical training, not just cardio fitness.
Big mountains are demanding. In addition to solid alpine snow and ice climbing skills, we need strength, endurance, high-altitude tolerance, and strong cardiovascular conditioning. Just because we exercise four to six times per week, it does not mean we have the conditioning needed to reach the summit. Plenty of people with the endurance to run a marathon fail to summit high-altitude peaks.
We focus on building physical conditioning necessary to ascend 3,000 feet of elevation on successive days carrying up to 30 pounds. We usually prioritize our training efforts as follows:
Climbing conditioning: Pack-loaded uphill hiking, walking, and stair climbing
Strength training for the lower body and core
Cardiovascular training, including both aerobic and anaerobic workouts without packs
Weight and flexibility training: To limit awkward and inefficient movement, we allow our joints to move through a full range of motion by doing yoga and stretching daily for 20 minutes.
Follow the Malik twins’ adventures @twinclimbers and learn more about them at nungshitashi.com.