Conquering the World’s Highest Peaks with Help from Loughborough Physiology Service

Nick Hateley Mount Vinson summit spring 2020

Nick Hateley has been preparing with Loughborough Performance Support as he attempts to climb the Seven Summits before the end of 2022. Just 300 metres from the summit, past the point of exhaustion and suffering from the early stages of frostbite, Nick Hateley was forced to stop and head back down Mount Everest’s infamous North Face.

Having come so close to achieving the same extraordinary feat as some of history’s mountaineering greats on that day in May 2019, Nick vowed to return and summit the mountain a year later, putting together a plan that would enable him to find those 300 extra metres.  

“Whilst I have reasonable experience of high-altitude mountaineering, I wanted to understand how I operated physiologically and particularly how I was using different sources of energy at altitude,” he said. 

“I did some research and found that Loughborough has an outstanding reputation in this area.” 

After contacting the Physiology Team at Loughborough, they discussed an approach to improve Nick’s baseline fitness that would ensure he has the best chance of achieving his goal. One of the key areas of focus was his metabolic response to exercise, more specifically, identifying whether his predisposition to feeling excessive fatigue towards the end of long hikes was down to a reduced ability to use fat as fuel or an inadequate fuelling strategy.

In order to assess his physiological and metabolic profile for mountaineering expeditions, the Performance Team used a combination of bike and treadmill protocols. His injury history means that most of his conditioning outside of hiking is done by bike, therefore a cycling performance physiology test was deemed the most appropriate gauge of his fitness. Maximal and sub maximal tests provided the team with his VO2 max and lactate thresholds, after which a training zone table was created, giving Nick detailed guidance on the key focus areas in his training.

A modified sub maximal test was also used during testing to evaluate his substrate utilisation, with the results revealing that his body was in fact good at using fat as fuel. To avoid excessive fatigue during future expeditions, therefore, Nick was advised to focus on improving his aerobic fitness and having an adequate fuelling strategy.

The treadmill testing consisted of walking at different grades in full hiking gear, both at sea level and a simulated altitude of 3,000m, to measure his physiological response to exercising with an altitude stimulus. The insights gave him a clearer idea of how to moderate his exercise whilst still maintaining a good hiking speed throughout the day.

 “The report arrived within a few days and I was very surprised and impressed with the detail that it contained,” he said. 

As well as the testing sessions, the Performance Team put together tailored exercise and nutrition programmes designed to increase his performance ahead of his next expedition. 

Speaking of his experience at the Performance Centre, he said: “I was so impressed with the professionalism and calibre of the people that I met during this process. The insights that the test programme gave me were invaluable and I consequently tailored my training in line with the scientific advice that I received. The whole process from the first email enquiry to the quality of the advice given has been world class.” 

Nick subsequently summited the highest peak in Antarctica, Mount Vinson, becoming one of less than 1,000 people to have ever climbed it, later saying: “There is no doubt that my performance in Antarctica was significantly better than that on Everest in May.” 

His plan to summit Everest in 2020 has unfortunately been impacted by COVID-19, but he will continue using the University’s services as he works towards conquering Everest next year.

His objective doesn’t end there, however. Nick has set himself the extraordinary goal of climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents, known as the Seven Summits, before the end of 2022. 

In order to so, he intends continue utilising Loughborough Performance expertise, saying: “With their continued support I am confident that I will be able to achieve my goals over the next 24 months.” 

Nick’s drive to succeed is as evident as it is inspiring; he has enjoyed considerable success in business, and the remarkable feat of climbing the Seven Summits would see him join an elite group of just 350 mountaineers to have ever done so. 


Article by Benji Simpson