Practical Tips For Your Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Treks

The Fishtail

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).

Looking down from ABC

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.

Eat it Potter!

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!

Two of my favourite things, pizza and the highest mountains in the world, together at last!

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!

Typical trekking snack shop

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!

I decided to stick with tradition and ate veggy only from this point.

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!

Bali Volcano Sunrise – Mount Batur


It’s dark and I’m standing in the streets of central Ubud. What should be a peaceful night is shattered by the incessant barking of the neighbour’s dog, who’s decided I’m a terrible threat to his territory. It makes the wait for my pickup for a sunrise trek slightly fraught, at 4 a.m. I’m not exactly corpus mentus just yet – and I’ve been attacked by dogs before in Asia. I stand my ground, knowing not to show fear – but hoping the ruckus doesn’t attract the more aggressive street dogs, and my tactic works. The little mutt eventually retreats into his garden and soon a mini bus jam-packed with tired tourists pulls up with a screech of brakes.

Sunrise Mount Batur

Mount Agung rises out of a sea of clouds.

I’m up this early to climb Mount Batur, an active volcano near the centre of Bali, for its famous sunrise. The activity is popular with tourists from around the island, with transport coming all the way from the beaches of Kuta and beyond, so despite the early hour, there’s a stream of speeding mini buses racing along inner Bali’s narrow, twisting roads towards the base of the volcano. In classic Bali style, we drive at breakneck speeds through villages and countryside, swerving piles of building material deposited in the road, slow trucks and other tour buses – and I’m thankful for the bonus of a working seatbelt. As we ascend to the crater lake rim, we overtake an open-topped truck full of school kids, standing packed together like sardines – they must be freezing in the chilly night air. Even our veteran Balinese driver, no stranger to Bali’s mad roads, tells me it’s crazy, explaining there was an serious accident recently in similar circumstances where a truck full of kids rolled with fatal consequences. He tells me they’re also heading for the up for the trek, its a popular destination for school expeditions.

Mount Batur night walk

My friends ready to start their night hike!

We pull into a large car park full of buses and taxis in the dark and I meet up with some friends. Torches are are handed out and we’re split into groups, each led by guides. There’s not much chance of getting lost though, as we set off on the sandy path out of the village there’s literally hundreds of other people going the same way – a sea of torch-lights illuminating the way ahead. The path is easy going for the first hour as we slowly ascend. I barely have time to set up my tripod on a quick rest stop before we’re off again but I do capture a rather grainy image of the rather mesmerizing stream of lights climbing to the summit.

Mount Batur Night Walk

Hundreds of walkers ascend Mount Batur under the starlight.

From now on it’s steep going and the soft volcanic soil is loose and slippery. Conversation stalls as everyone is breathless, an half an hour of climbing later we arrive at a large rest stop with food stalls overlooking the crater and Lake Batur. It’s a great view – twilight is upon us, the horizon changing colour and town lights shimmer on the lake as the moon shines overhead. There’s just time for another few tripod shots – but unfortunately its windy making for blurry images with the long exposures, and before there’s time to correct it, we’re ushered onwards, we don’t want to miss the sunrise!

Mount Batur night walk

Lake Batur at Night

The final half hour stretch is very steep and slippery, and I lose my footing in the dark a number of times, hampered by my tripod. To add insult to injury, my bag zip decides to break leaving my camera kit precariously exposed to falling out, so I wear it on my front to minimize the risk. We finally reach the bare summit, and sit out along little shelves cut out of the soil, with some mats to sit on, as the guide collects tea for us from a nearby stall. The view is already amazing – the sky is quite clear aside from a few clouds, and the awesome cloud bank below rolls over the landscape, islands of hills popping up from this woolly sea as the volcano of Mount Agung to the right towers over everything else.

Sunrise Mount Batur

The moon bids farewell as dawn crests the horizon.

Sunrise Mount Batur

Mount Agur

The summit gets increasingly busy as more groups arrive, mainly westerners of all types from backpackers to smartly dressed elderly groups. People take their seats and sip on coffee, dig into their breakfast or wander around taking photos as we wait for the sun to arrive. I’m mesmerised by the cloud sea, I’ve seen this phenomenon before at Mt Bromo in Java, and in the Himalayas, but it never gets old. There’s plenty of space to use the tripod, so I take advantage, unfortunately the barren summit doesn’t provide many interesting foregrounds aside from plants, and I have to be wary not to obstruct in the view for other visitors.

Sunrise Mount Batur

Mountains pop out of the cloud sea like islands.

Sunrise Mount Batur

The sun finally begins to poke out from behind the clouds and they turn out to be a blessing, forcing the light into amazing god rays shining out over the cloud sea. We’re blessed with a magnificent sunrise – and we’re quite lucky as of course it’s all weather dependent, a lot of others saw my photos and said I got a particularly good morning for it. I use the inbuilt panorama mode on my camera to try and capture the epic sense of scale, but you’d really need a GoPro or super big panorama to really do this justice. I use my wider angle lens for classic landscapes and my zoom to focus on details in the scene. After I’ve got plenty of shots, I sit back and enjoy the moment properly and just admire the view.

Sunrise Mount Batur Sunrise Mount Batur


Sunrise Mount Batur

The school groups we’d seen earlier finally arrive – sadly for them they’ve already missed the best bit. There’s a few scout groups and regular school kids, who seem knackered after racing up only to miss out! Once the sun’s fully up, we head back down the mountain. First we stop at some natural hot springs where a cheeky macaque monkey colony hangs out – getting fed by the tourists. As usual, they’re as crazy as ever, climbing on people, trying to steal food and there’s some cute babies clinging onto their mums. I keep my distance, having learned to respect these unpredictable imps during my travels – entertaining to watch though. Now the sun’s up, we admire the views down into the crater below as the cloud slowly rises with the heat.

Sunrise Mount Batur

One of the school expedition’s latecomers, holding aloft the Indonesian flag.

Sunrise Mount Batur

Food stall with a pretty decent view…

Sunrise Mount Batur

The crater below, with Lake Batur at the back.

Mount Batur monkeys

Mum protective of her baby, warily eyeing the tourists from a distance.

It’s a hot walk for the next few hours as we quickly descend the slippery soil path and return on a different road down the mountain, passing plantations and locals riding up in trucks – in ceremonial dress – the guide tells me that there are some shrines up Mt Batur where ceremonies are conducted. Back at the car park, we get a good view of the volcano and all fall asleep as we hurtle back to Ubud – it’s nearly midday and we’ve already been up for 8 hours. Before I part ways with my friends, they take me to a nearby pizza restaurant, Umah Pizza – what better breakfast than a tasty massive pepperoni pizza and a cocktail! I had a good nap that afternoon, I can tell you! I would love to return to focus entirely on photography, take my time, get those night shots with the tripod and scout out some better locations for the landscape – one day!

Mount Batur locals

Friendly locals pass by in trucks, heading for a ceremony up the mountain.

Mount Agung

Interesting hill with Mount Agung peeping out of the cloud in the background.

Bali plantation

A plantation, not sure of the crop as I haven’t seen these covers before. Feel free to enlighten me!

Mount Batur Bali

Back at the car park, we get a good view of Mount Batur’s distinctive cone.

Bali Ubud Pizza

Tasty and super cheap pizza at Umah Pizza, central Ubud.

If you’re interested in doing the Mount Batur climb yourself, there’s a few things to be aware of. It was a tiring morning – the final hour of the climb is demanding, it can be slippery with loose soil and rocks, and it’s steep. I would advise less fit or mobile travellers to give yourselves extra time to get up there, taking the time for plenty of rests. You can find tours for this everywhere on the island and the differences are negligible, they all use the same pool of guides from the mountain. As the guides have a stranglehold on the trip, doing it yourself is difficult as they supposedly deny take issue if you try to go it alone. But its a pretty cheap tour anyway. Be prepared for it to be very busy too and be stuck in queues ascending and descending – fortunately the summit is spacious enough to comfortably fit everyone. Take some warm clothes, it’s chilly until the sun comes up, and don’t worry too much about food and drink, if its not provided by your tour company there’s lots of sellers up the mountain to sort you out. And finally, your views will be weather dependent – I got lucky, but maybe spare yourself enough days for a few attempts if you get cloudy weather on your first try. But when it works out – its definitely worth it!

More images from the morning – click on them to enlarge: