Rest steps!

The first 4km was relatively easy. It was not a particularly cold day, and the hiking kept us mostly warm. I didn’t even need a jacket for this part of our journey. However, my friend … was feeling particularly weak and tired. So by the time we’d reached Layang Layang, she was pretty fatigued. We stayed there for the better part of an hour so that she could rest and recover her energy for the next 2 km up to Laban Rata.

It is very important that climbers take the rest of the trek easy as the next 2km is rockier than the first few kilometers. In addition, when you’re already more than 2,000m above sea level you’re far more likely to suffer from altitude sickness if you climb too fast. In my friend’s case especially, we were extra cautious as she had already begun to experience some effects of altitude sickness – headache and nausea. So for the next couple of hours, we slowed down considerably and took frequent rests. By the 5km mark, even I began experiencing some of the effects and so I took a couple of Panadol tablets (Paracetamol or any analgesic helps with the headache) to offset the headache brewing just around my right eye area.
Climbing Mt. Kinabalu – Fulfilling a Dream

As I wandered around reading different web sites on hiking and related subjects, I ran across a reference to rest steps. After checking out several web pages and videos, I realised that not only is rest-stepping a supremely useful technique for high-altitude hiking, it can also mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful attempt on Mt Kinabalu. Strangely, I couldn’t find any reference to rest stepping on any of the Kinabalu related web sites.

Rest steps are a technique for conserving energy and resting your leg muscles as you climb steep slopes. Simply put, when you straighten each leg as you climb, pause for a moment with your leg locked before taking the next step. When you do this, your bones take the weight of your body and give your leg muscles a momentary rest. This has the effect of both slowing you down (so you burn less energy) and giving your body a brief rest every step. All these short breaks add up. Hikers who rest step not only take fewer breaks but are also less tired at the end of the day.

It helps to synchronise your breathing as you rest step. Breathe out completely as you take a step, then on the rest step inhale deeply. If you feel winded or are feeling the effects of high altitude, slow down and take two breaths with each step. This helps keep your blood oxygenated and reduces the effects of mountain sickness.

Two of the pages that I found most useful on the topic are Next Level: The Rest Step and Rest Step for Uphill Hiking. In addition, Backpacking.net has a good technical description of how rest stepping works as well as numerous tips for reducing back strain.

There are a number of short videos on Youtube that demonstrate the technique. The ones here and here are good.

I wrote the above before even trying the rest step technique out. This afternoon I went back to my training trail and gave it a go. I rest-stepped in two different sections: the steepest part of the mountain, a 200 metre rocky stretch with a 30-35% slope and my regular training steps.

The results were amazing. First of all, it was remarkably easy to get into the rhythm – step, rest… step, rest… step,rest. It was particularly easy on the steeper rocky section. While I was in the rest phase, I was replanting my poles for the next step. The best part, however, was on my training steps. I was certainly climbing much more slowly than normal, but my heart rate and breathing were about the same as I would expect on a moderately brisk walk. I reached the top feeling like I’d been for a 2-3 km stroll.

I’ve arranged to have most of my mornings free at work this week. I’ve got some serious hiking and climbing to do and I’ll be able to report on that later in the week.

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Posted on November 1, 2015, in Hiking, Mt Kinabalu, training and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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