Whether you're a trekker, climber, or high altitude mountaineer, the mountains can pose a serious risk every time you venture into their realm.
A 2006 study of injuries and risk factors for mountain athletes showed that while different activities hold different risks, all share lack of physical fitness and lack of skill as the two largest risk factors for injury or death in those athletes. Inappropriate or lacking equipment plays a large role for climbers and mountaineers, while pre-existing conditions and AMS were high risk factors for trekkers.
Looking further into high altitude mountaineering, a 2012 study of safety in climbing the Himalayas found that "Falls were the most common cause of death and are probably
associated with insufficient fitness and mountaineering skills."
So why not just climb more? Spend more time in the mountains before taking on a large project like Annapurna or Everest?
Well, that's likely not always the best solution. That same 2012 study found that "previous climbs in the Himalayas may not be a good enough indicator of these attributes, the acquisition of which requires planned and long lasting (months to years) preparatory training,
so participation in a previous expedition alone is unlikely to reduce the risk of falling. Mountaineers and organizers of commercial expeditions do not always appreciate the importance of taking time to acquire fitness and skills."
There is no doubt that many skills developed in the mountains, can only be developed in the mountains. However, for average amateur mountain athletes, physical training specially for their large projects each year can greatly reduce their risk of injuries or accidents. This physical training should focus on 1) Aerobic Endurance
Training at prolonged, low intensity increases your body's ability to utilize oxygen during exercise. The majority of a mountain athlete's workouts should be done at this level, commonly referred to as "Zone 1 and Zone 2" training. Spending too much time at higher heart rate levels or higher levels of intensity can actually decrease this training adaptation!
2) Muscular Endurance Focusing on building strong muscles that resist long term fatigue, especially majority Type 1 or "slow twitch" muscle groups, will help you maintain pace and reduce risks of injury while in the mountains. 3) Core Stability Having a developed core helps to keep your torso and hips in alignment, reducing stress from heavy gear on your joints, and staving off back pain after hours on the trail. 4) Multiplanar Movement While squats, front lunges, and leg press machines build leg strength, they only help you to develop movement in one or two planes, or directions. Being able to move laterally, with or without rotation, up and down with changes in direction, etc., better translates to movements you'll actually make during your adventures. Time in the mountains is 100% necessary to prepare for strenuous projects in the mountains, without a doubt. However, as the data suggests, failing to back that up with an adequate, specific strength and conditioning program can prove disastrous for many adventurers.