Trekking in Nepal, and especially to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is not a holiday, at least not in the usual sense. It is a challenging prospect which is not suited to the faint hearted, and determination is probably the most common trait displayed by successful trekkers.
It is one journey which is at least as important as the destination. Those prepared to take up the challenge are rewarded with stunning views and a sense of achievement beyond the scope of the average vacation.
Here are a few tips for potential EBC trekkers that probably won’t be found in the brochures.
Culture Shock – Nepal is a developing country, poverty is still rife here and average wages are incomprehensibly low to most westerners. The culture is alien to many of us, with different values, but this is also part of the appeal. Dealing with the regular attention of hawkers and beggars however is a challenge which some struggle with and there is not always a guide to help. Polite but firm rejection is usually the best tactic, and probably the responsible one.
Most of us will be aware of the Sherpa’s legendary ability to transport huge, heavy loads around, but it can still be a shock when experienced for the first time. Sandaled men and women negotiating the steep and rough paths with impossibly heavy loads are commonplace sights. It is especially distressing when children, often as young as eleven are the porters carrying the backbreaking loads.
Hygiene – Poor sanitation is commonplace and a visit to the toilet a genuine ordeal. One toilet break actually brought tears to my eyes, the stench was unbearable. A pee bottle is recommended, to avoid the need to visit too often.
Porters – Commercial operators will arrange porters to transport luggage between overnight stops, avoiding the need for trekkers to carry themselves. Responsible companies will also restrict the weight of each bag, typically this is around 15kg. Independent trekkers can arrange their own guides in Kathmandu or even Lukla which will then carry their surplus luggage. The responsibility for ensuring they are not overloaded then lies with the trekker. Poverty stricken Sherpa guides are often exploited, accepting excessive loads to put food on their tables.
Altitude – This is obviously the biggest challenge to anybody trekking in Nepal. Everest Base Camp sits at a height of 5545 metres, which is probably above most people’s previous high point. Anybody sleeping at altitudes above 2,000 metres maybe affected by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Slow, steady acclimatisation is the key to a successful ascent, carefully controlled by experienced guides.
AMS can strike regardless of physical fitness, but sensible preparation with a training regimen including regular aerobic exercise and light load bearing hiking is recommended. Good hydration and maintaining energy levels are essential for avoiding AMS, drink well, eat well and sleep well. Sleeping at altitude is challenging, use lip balm liberally before retiring and keep plenty of water handy to avoid dehydration. Sleeping alone above 3,000 metres is not recommended because of potential breathing difficulties.
The use of medication is a complex issue which each trekker should consult with a doctor before deciding. Diamox works by acidifying the blood, stimulating faster breathing and allowing more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. It is often taken before climbing and for several days afterwards. There are a number of side effects, but the main reason it is not advised is because it removes one option for treatment of the effects. Headaches can also be treated with painkillers as normal.
Signs/symptoms – The onset of AMS is diagnosed when the following symptoms are clear: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, chills, sleeping problems, appetite loss, nausea/vomiting or uncharacteristic behaviour. Experienced guides will spot these symptoms and take action, trekkers often ignore the signs. If several symptoms exist, or persist, immediate retreat to a lower altitude is required.
Terrain – Climbing is of course expected as part of the trek, but the terrain is often steeply undulating. Each day usually involves some descent, regaining this loss in altitude is then required. The most tiring aspect of the trek however is where rough steps exist, they are often high and exhausting.
Water – Plenty of fresh drinking water is essential for good hydration. Bottled water becomes expensive, one litre costs just 20 rupees (RPs) in Kathmandu but climbs steeply to 350RPs at Gorak Shep. Where shops exist the price is often cheaper than the tea houses, sometimes a third of the price, so shop around.
Iodine/chlorine treatment leaves an unpleasant after taste and two tablets will be also be required above 4000m. Additionally the water at Gorak Shep comes from a well, filled with silt. Buying a filtration bottle pre-trip maybe a worthwhile investment.
Adding Dioralyte to one bottle a day will enable fast and effective replacement of essential salts.
Food – Meals in the teahouses along the route although basic and the variety limited are remarkably good. Meat should be avoided at higher altitudes as its reliability cannot be assured and stomach upsets have ruined many a trek. The Sherpa stew is hearty and usually good, Dal bhat (lentil curry with rice) is a cheap filling meal, and seconds are often available, while various momos and spring rolls always seem popular.
Gadgets – In the modern world of social media and smoasting, smartphones and cameras are an essential part of travelling. Network coverage is patchy throughout the trek and above Lukla Wi-Fi is only available at a cost. Connections are often slow, costing up to 15RPs a minute, so posting that selfie on Facebook can work out expensive.
Power cannot always be relied upon and charging of devices also needs purchasing. Therefore alternative methods of powering up such as solar panel devices or battery storage packs are worth the extra weight.
Equipment – Effective layering is the answer to a comfortable trip; the ability to add or remove layers is a versatile method of controlling heat. Opt for artificial fibres or merino wool products as they will dry quickly and wick sweat away from the skin. Cotton is a poor option as it remains wet and can actually chill the wearer. A warm fleece or down jacket is useful for the evenings when it becomes cold. A windproof/waterproof jacket is essential for warmth and because it does sometimes rain.
Quilts and blankets are available in the lower villages, but use a good sleeping system above Namche Bazaar. Four season sleeping bags are often suggested but a better option would be a three season bag and a silk liner, which will offer greater versatility.
Trekking poles are useful if used properly. They will ease the strain on the knees, especially when travelling downhill. Remember to change the length to suit the terrain, otherwise they will be of little help and even become a burden.
List – a detailed list of suggested equipment is available here Everest Base Camp Kit List
Budgeting – There is an airport tax of 200RPs for flying in and out of Lukla, payable in local currency. The costs of dining in the teahouses rises on a sliding scale as EBC becomes closer. This is understandable due to the logistics and challenges of transporting equipment. Remember those children and their heavy loads. Breakfast is usually included at the teahouses but lunch and dinner is not. Allow around 1250RPs per person per day for food at lower altitudes and an extra 600RPs at the higher villages. Those requiring shower/charging facilities may need to allow another 600RPs.
I managed on a much tighter budget, but my dinner options were more limited, and a cold bath in a local river was my choice in place of a shower on at least one occasion.
Emergency money – It is advisable to carry dollars or sterling for medical treatment or other unexpected costs. In late season return flights from Lukla are often cancelled, and helicopter transport maybe required to return to Kathmandu. Fees are around $450, and airport tax increases to 800RPs.
Blisters – A blister can at best be the cause of a miserable day and at worst ruin a trek completely. Get a blister treated at the first sign of discomfort.
Yaks –Trekkers will be probably be pleased to hear these are commonplace at higher altitudes, but they are often irritable and unpredictable. When passing on a tight path, give their horns a wide berth, stand uphill and away from any drop.
Best views – The weather is unpredictable at anytime but for the best chances of amazing views avoid late season trekking. March/April or October/November are the recommended times.
Ego – The aim of the trek is to reach Everest Base Camp. Don’t attempt to disguise any illness as false pride is a mistake. Allowing a guide to carry a daypack if feeling ill is a sensible precaution. The following day a full recovery maybe made and EBC will still be possible, this is preferable to being sent back.
Nepal is a remote country, there will be surprises on route, remain flexible and patient. During our trek rebuilding of a hydro-electric plant led to generator power only being available in several towns. Charging devices became an additional challenge for several days.
This post is about trekking to EBC, most of the tips for avoiding AMS, hydration and equipment are equally pertinent to any high altitude trek. Those travelling to other greater ranges such as the Andes or Rockies should find them equally useful.
Follow this simple guidance and a successful and enjoy a pleasant trek. Do you have any tips for high altitude trekking in Nepal? Please share them here.
*All images were taken on a Samsung WB250F compact WiFi camera.