How Do The Sherpas Do It?
A few years ago, my sister made a trek to Everest Base Camp. The sherpa leading their group was named Pember, a wiry mountain man, long in the tooth, with many ascents under his pack straps. Pember had such a unique rhythm and pace of walking which the group affectionately dubbed ‘Pember Pace.’ Over a tea break they asked him how he made walking at high altitude look so effortless. He grinned and gathered the group close in as he began to impart the strategic thinking behind the technique known as the ‘Sherpa Step.’
It’s About Breathing
The trick, Pember said, is to align your breath with your movement. Keep your footsteps controlled and and your breathing will naturally follow. Most sherpas instinctively know this and have adapted their mountain climbing technique to suit all day, high-altitude walking. The methodical plodding approach reduces wear and tear on their equipment and avoids costly injuries. Finding the natural rhythm between your breaths and steps is the key and before long, it becomes a meditative practice.
Followers of yoga will recognise this language. Synchronising breathing with movement is a core principle of yoga practice. Harnessing your respiration and making it work to your advantage unlocks another level of physical capability. Rather than a subconscious activity that must keep up with your movement, breathing instead becomes a crucial part of your internal engine, powering you along and feeding your whole-body system.
Harness Your Breathing
Most hikers get into trouble when their steps outpace their breathing, requiring huffing and puffing to keep up. Elevated respiration can speed up dehydration and exhaust your energy reserves much earlier. You’ll find you’re getting through your drinking water reserves much quicker too and carrying more water means more weight on your back.
Control Your Speed
We are already familiar with these principles through a kind of universal folk-knowledge. Think of the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ story, where we are taught that slow and steady wins the race. Or the saying ‘More speed, less haste,’ where we learn that careful, considered action is better than frantic activity. These lessons can be applied to hiking, not only at altitude but on everyday New Zealand hiking trails.
Practice The Sherpa Style Mountain Climbing Technique On Your Next New Zealand Guided Walk
When you’re on a group hike nothing dents your confidence more than watching the back of the super-fast hikers in the group disappearing around the next corner. It’s also easy to let your excitement dictate your pace and suddenly you find yourself walking much faster than you naturally do. Or you catch yourself trying to beat the clock, turning what should be an enjoyable outing into a stressful, exhausting excursion.
The secret is in your pacing. Embrace the plodding style. Harness your impatience to get to the top and instead find joy in trekking slowly through your surroundings. Stamina is the key idea here. Setting off fast and furiously is a sure way to fizzle out before the summit, but focusing on intentional, rhythmic breathing while you’re hiking is the magic formula for all-day walking saving enough vim and vigour to make it back to the car park.
Your strength isn’t measured by the distance you cover, the elevation gains you make or how many summits you tick off, the simple act of strapping on those boots and setting off is an admirable undertaking no matter where you’re headed. Whether you enjoy a ramble through the brambles or an army-style yomp through the bush, the principal of ‘Pember Pace’ the Sherpa style mountain climbing technique has unexplored benefits for us all.
From fast and fizzy to proud plodders, we’ve all got a natural pace and rhythm on a bush walk. At Walking Legends, we understand this. On our small group New Zealand hiking tours our guides let our fast walkers head off out in front, with the more leisurely hikers bringing up the back so everyone can get what they need from the experience. Book yourself a spot on one of our North Island guided hiking tours and enjoy the freedom that comes from the Walking Legends style of New Zealand walking tour.