Without a doubt one of my travel highlights has been trekking in the Himalayas – the tallest mountains in the world. Amongst spectacular scenery and an awesome sense of scale is a mountain culture with quaint villages, temples, strings of prayer flags and friendly locals. The most popular treks in this vast mountain range are the Everest Base camp trek (in the north of Nepal) and trails around the Annapurna Himalayas (in the west of Nepal) – either the Annapurna Base Camp trek or the epic Annapurna Circuit.
I’ve recently been writing articles about trekking to Everest Base Camp and Mount Kilimanjaro for AlienAdv; an adventure holiday booking site, in conjunction with owner Kshaunish Jaini. If you’re thinking about doing Everest Base Camp or Kilimanjaro, or just interested about the mountains, check out the newest articles there, including:
The Classic Everest Base Camp Trek
Alternate Routes for the Everest Base Camp Trek
Deaths on Everest (facts, causes and precautions).
With mountains on the brains recently I thought it would be cool to write an article sharing some of my Himalayan trekking tips, gained the best way – through my own mistakes and hardships! Of course there’s a ton of my photos from the region to enjoy too. Let’s get into it!
1 – Use a Walking Stick!
When I started mountain trekking, I scoffed at all the people using walking sticks. For the older trekkers I could understand, but I didn’t really think they were necessary for younger folk. How wrong I was! What I’d never understood about walking sticks is how much they help in every aspect of mountain trekking. Basically what they’re doing is distributing the work from just your poor overworked legs and instead sharing it out over the rest of your body.
What does that mean? Well, when you’re going uphill, the stick is giving you a boost forward, you almost use it like a lever to propel yourself upwards. This is great, but I actually found the stick most useful when going downhill. Although you might think you’re constantly going uphill when climbing to the Himalayan Base Camps, in fact you’re going up and down steep valleys all the time. Downhill segments might seem like a god-send, but soon I started dreading them. They put a big strain on your thighs and worst of all, your knees – a lot of people on these treks get knee pain and problems as a result. My dad even wrecked his knee doing the notorious Ulleri steps at Annapurna many years ago. Using a stick really helps to reduce the impact when you’re going up and downhill and it really reduced the pain and aching for me on my trek.
On top of that, you just save energy overall using a stick. For Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp, you don’t even need a fancy expensive pole – you can often buy cheap wooden ones from stores on the trail. On one trek I simply used a bamboo pole that my guide hacked off in a bamboo forest on the trail – and I kept it for months, it was both light and strong! One final tip about sticks – using two sticks is even better than one. If you don’t mind having both your hands full, it’s really gives you a boost. Sticks for the win!
2 – Food, Food, Food!
First of all, be prepared to eat – a lot! You’d be amazed at how hungry you get when you are walking 8 or more hours a day. You burn an insane amount of calories when you’re climbing. Make sure you bring enough money for big meals and snacks throughout the day. Also be aware that prices for food and accommodation rise the further you get from civilisation, as everything is brought up via porter or mule. To give you an example, I was paying over double the amount for meals near Annapurna Base Camp as I was in the first few days of the trek!
Portions sizes are usually big, and the cheapest is the famous dahl baht – rice and lentil soup with various sides. This can be really tasty and it gives you loads of energy. My guides and porters refused to eat anything else for ten days even when I offered to pay for a change in their diet!
If, like most trekkers, you’re going to be eating at the village teahouses, be aware that the meal variety is going to be quite basic, although some larger places have German bakeries and other niceties. Expect a lot of Nepalese basics, Italian and Chinese dishes. The biggest thing to note is that you will be ingesting a ton of carbohydrates and protein such as rice, bread, pasta and meat. What does this mean? It means it’s really easy for your digestive system to get clogged up, especially if you don’t usually eat that many carbs! Ok, you don’t want to hear this, but it’s important – I’m not joking when I say I was constipated for over 5 days during one of these treks. That was a total nightmare. I couldn’t even sleep properly because of it. So how do you deal with this? Make sure to mix up your diet with plenty of fruit or dried fruit, which you can usually buy in the villages. Try not to eat too much meat and drink lots of fluids (you should be anyway). If you can’t go to the loo, speak to a local or a guide, it’s a common problem and they should be able to point you in the right direction for good food or medicine to take. Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve heard it all before!
Finally, be aware of the local mountain culture and their attitude towards meat. This is similar on both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks. They believe that eating certain meats above a certain height is a religious offense, essentially angering the mountain spirits. You will see signs warning you of this. Of course, in the reality of commercial tourism, you can still buy meat above these altitudes, but really, it’s in poor taste to do so. Respect local custom and go without for a few days. There’s other reasons for forgoing meat the higher up you get – often it has been brought up by porter/mule from lower climbs and its quality/safety can’t be guaranteed. I’ve heard some nasty food poisoning tales from mountain meat, and you really don’t want that when you’re so close to your final goal! Also, meat gets super expensive the higher you get. Stick to dahl baht and eat like the locals!
3 – Drink and Heat
On the subject of drink, make sure you drink lots of water, often. It’s very easy to become dehydrated through sweating from all the hard work you’re doing, and also the often hot mountain days. The thing about dehydration is that it’s easy to not realise it – you get tired, then when you’ve had a big drink you suddenly get a burst of energy – that’s why! Refill your bottle where-ever possible and always try to reuse your own bottles. It’s heartbreaking to see the amount of plastic bottles that either get burned or buried up there, or even ferried back down the mountain on porter’s backs.
Be aware it’s quite possible to get heat exhaustion up on in the mountains too, even if it feels cold. The wind can deceive you about hot you are getting under the intense sun in these exposed environments. Keep drinking, bring a hat, t-shirts, sunglasses and sunscreen. Many of the villages have communal taps that you can use for free water – most are fine to drink from, but check if it’s safe with a guide or local first, and that it’s ok for you to use it. If you are unsure about the water quality, use purification tablets or a purifying device – a few tablets is always a good idea to put in your pack and they weigh nothing..
4 – Get your Beauty Sleep
This sounds like common sense but there’s some specific things worth knowing about sleep on your trek. If you’re doing long days, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. You usually start trekking early, 6-8am, to get good distance before the punishing midday sun arrives. Get to bed early if you can, you aren’t guaranteed a great sleep – hotel/teahouse beds can be hard and uncomfortable in Nepal and your body will probably be aching from the phsyical work. I usually bring some Paracetamol or Ibuprofen to take at night to ease muscle aches and pains. Once you get to higher altitudes, it gets very cold at night, so be sure to bring thermal under-layers you can wear to bed. On the plus side, many lodges have huge woolen or feather blankets at these heights, and don’t be afraid to ask for another if you’re getting cold. Sometimes you may even want to downgrade your blanket, as the huge ones can get so hot!
Earplugs are a good idea to protect against noisy late-coming trekkers and the inevitable morning barking, rooster crowing and general bustle. Sometimes interior walls are no more than the thickness of plywood. I also recommend an eye mask as sometime blinds or curtains are thin or ineffective, and the sun rises early. Bear in mind that many lodges are right on the trail, so even if you want a lie-in, you’ll often be hearing porters, mule bells and trek groups passing as early as 6am in the morning! So, go to bed early, and allow yourself extra sleeping time in case you have a restless night. Nothing hurts a trek day more than a poor night’s sleep beforehand!
5 – Showers and Toilets
Be prepared to accept that once you get into the mountains, the “luxuries” you take for granted at home don’t really apply up here. First of all, showers are not that common. If you can find them, you usually have to pay, and the water supply is limited. And your shower might well be a freezing cold one! You can find hot showers in a few lodges, but they cost extra. After days of trekking though, sometimes you’ll want to splash out! Get used to being smelly – don’t worry, everyone else is too! Don’t waste your valuable weight limits on unnecessary toiletries like shower gel and beauty products. Village stores on the mountains sell little shampoo and soap sachets which are great. Do some research though into environmentally friendly options that you could bring – remember that in a lot of places, your soap goes right into a drain and then straight out into one of those lovely mountain rivers!
Toilets are a mixed bag on these treks. Western toilets are present in many places, but in others you will find the classic Asian squat toilet. Cleanliness varies and be prepared for some smelly ones! Do your homework so you know how to use a squat toilet, and be prepared for aching thighs – it really kills, especially for guys! Usually you flush and clean using a bucket of water you can fill from a tap inside the booth. Bring your own toilet paper, biodegradable if possible, though you can also buy it in the stores along the way. Or wipe Nepalese style, with your hand (you better wash it well)! Always the left though – read up on it! Because toilet hygiene can be quite poor in Nepal, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food, and I also recommend a little bottle of antibiotic hand gel – if you get sick up there, it’s really not fun!
Every Little Helps
I hope these have been handy for you, it’s these little things you won’t learn about in the guide books which can make a big difference in the quality of your trek – so now you know what to expect. If you’re heading to Annapurna or Everest Base Camp, I wish you safe and happy trekking! Check out the AlienAdv blog for more practical mountain info articles, and until next time, folks!