Here I will try to document some of the things that I hadn’t thought about researching before booking my trek. I've summarised at the end of this blog the questions I would ask next time, and the additional things I'd take.
My trip was with the very experienced trekking company, Himalayan Experience. With that experience came faultless logistics, everything but everything ran smoothly, from the hostels, camp set-up and food to the helicopter out of base camp, which was quite a complex operation in itself! Russ who runs Himex certainly knows his business. We left Kathmandu on the 26th March and returned on the 6th of April
I didn’t ask the group size before I booked. As it turned out there was 18 of us, including a Lead guide, Guide and Doctor.
Each one of the trekkers was a friendly interesting character, and everyone got on well. There were two sets of father/sons, a married couple and two sets of friends, plus the ‘singles’, like me. The normal people socialised outside of their ‘group’, because that’s what normal people do, alas I’m a weirdo loner!
Would I go on a trek with a large group again? No probably not, don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad experience, I just don't prefer large groups. I feel like I bonded with the EBC group as much as I’m ever going to bond with a group, so would go with them again, and continue to be my hermit self, as they are now used to it! I don’t think I’d go with a different large group though, I’ll stick to going on my own or with just a one to one guided tour.
Another worry I had with going on a group trek was that I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace, thinking everyone would be at least half my age. I was pleasantly surprised on meeting everyone that it wasn’t the case. Although I was the second eldest, the approximate average age was 46, including the one youngster in the group, who was 21. Not that age had anything to do with physical fitness, the oldest member being a 66-year-old, who was always in the fast group! But it was a good indication that I wasn’t totally out of my depth!
I didn’t do any fitness preparation for the trek, apart from a few mountain bike sessions and some short treks in Hawaii. From a fitness perspective, the hike to EBC shouldn’t be that difficult. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult at times, because it was and it triggered my Tourette’s a couple of times!
It’s hard to quantify exactly what made it difficult. For me I think it was just a combination of sticking to someone else’s schedule, the altitude and what comes with the affects of it, such as headaches, a little nausea, trouble breathing and lack of sleep. Each segment of the trek, if they were 3000 metres lower, would be no problem at all I think, each ascent isn't that bad. It’s just a combination of everything.
The fact that I’ve smoked, on and off, most of my life, didn’t help, I’m sure. And, that I rush everywhere flat-chat, I couldn’t get used to remembering to do things slowly! Something you need to do up there. I'd stop to film, then rush to catch up, not something to do unless you're not affected by the rigours of the hike.
A big factor is your own unique physiology, some are suited to altitude, some aren’t. I believe all members of our group, except myself and one other, took Diamox, the medication that helps your blood cope with the altitude. Perhaps I should have invested in some. But there are some side affects with that, I believe tingling digits!
I would say do a little research on the symptoms of altitude sickness, I didn't. I didn't even realise I was collecting fluid around my eyes two days in, until at EBC. It was difficult to know why I felt so listless and ill, I thought it was my cold, but on reflection I had mild altitude sickness. I'm not sure why Himex didn't tell me, they must have noticed I was struggling.
Another physical consideration is any injuries you’re carrying. The only one that affected me was the Mortens Neuroma in my feet, which did hurt when walking for several hours at a time. After the first instance of them playing up, I took better care of my feet, applying Fisiocrem twice a day and taping my toes together, which helped a lot
Himex were considerably more expensive than other trekking companies, but I was happy to pay the extra to travel with them, knowing how they operated. I can’t speak for the other companies, I just knew Himex would keep me safe. Beware of cheap imitations and do your homework when comparing trekking company prices. Unless you are a seasoned trekker and can make it on your own of course, or you don’t mind being less comfortable than I was!
With Himex, just about everything was included once arriving at the airport in Kathmandu. Things that weren’t included in the $4500 fee was flights, tips, mobile phone, WiFi, any extra days at the hotel, lunch and dinner outside of the trek and bar bills. The sight seeing day on the first day in Kathmandu was extra.
You’ll need cash, in Kathmandu US dollars or Nepalese Rupees are the accepted currency. I think GBP and AUD also are, but didn't use that. Once on the trek you’ll need the funny munny (Nepalese Rupees). There are ATMs in Kathmandu and Namche Bazar, but none elsewhere on the trek that I saw. The Edelweiss Lodge in Pheriche did accept debit and credit cards though.
If you’re in the posh Hyatt hotel, the porters and waiters will expect a tip, so you need cash for that. I tipped them $1 or NR100 (roughly you get NR100 to a US dollar), and they seemed very happy with that. You’ll need to check with your trekking company if you are expected to tip the support staff; guides, porters, chefs etc. Himex suggest a minimum of $150 paid to the company, that they distribute evenly between all staff. You may also want to directly tip any staff member you bonded with.
Don't get caught out without any cash, it's awkward! I only had NR1000 to tip my mountain bike guides and I felt really mean! Sorry guys, if you're reading this, I'll make it up to you one day!
Arriving at Kathmandu Airport
Make sure you have some cash to tip your porters, I was caught out as my money was in my checked back, which was taken by someone else, so felt very bad.
If arriving in a busy expedition period expect long queues waiting to get your visa.
Many people travel with a soft shell hiking bag, the sort to carry on a yak. Someone had exactly the same bag as me, and took mine at the airport. I didn't get it back until late the next day, and had to return to the airport to collect it, when he exchanged it for his. Even though he had a 'marker' personalising his bag, he still took mine! If your bag is a North Face, Denali or any other popular make, personalise it in a highly visual fashion to prevent losing it!
Phone and WiFi
I bought a Ncell SIM card for my phone in Kathmandu, this cost around NR5000 for 10gb of data (lasting 30 days, not calendar month), I didn’t bother paying for calls and texts, a token amount comes with the data. The service was much better than I expected, and there was very little time that I didn’t have WiFi or a phone signal. The phone signal does get worse, and is on and off, the nearer you get to basecamp. But I’d say getting the local SIM is worth doing.
You will need your passport, or a decent photocopy of your passport AND a passport photo to get a SIM card. Our passports were retained by Himex, and the photocopy was too poor for the phone shop to accept, so it was a bit of a saga.
Another reason for needing some funny munny on the trek, for me, was to pay for phone charging and for WiFi. We paid around NR300 for a phone charge, more for a power pack charge. And NR500 for WiFi in the Lodges we used in Namche Bazar, Khumjung and Phortse, noting that's for each device. In Pheriche, Lobuche and I think Gorek Shep, the tea houses and lodges we visited used a system where you buy a coded card of 200mb to 1Gb and use the Everest Link WiFi. This costs NR600 per 200mb. We also had the Everest Link WiFi at basecamp, setup by Himex. Just bear in mind you can only use a card on one device, you can’t use it say on your phone and your tablet, you’d need separate ones for each device, that’s what I found anyway.
I improvised on clobber and equipment, where I could, using my mountain bike gear. Your trekking company is likely to provide a list of required equipment, as did Himex. Stick to the list, you don't need loads of extra stuff. Ask if you can borrow or hire the more expensive items if you don't have them.
I’m always cold, unless I’m expending energy, when I’m expending energy I’m particularly sweaty! So, if you’re like me, the following may be helpful to you!
A typical day's dress would be:
Hiking boots (I used some I’ve had ages, they are US Air force mountain boots and were perfect)
Woollen walking socks for long hikes, lightweight walking socks for the shorter (up to 4 hour) hikes
Long Johns, always
Light weight hiking trousers (jeans for the first two days, which were too hot with long johns)
Short sleeved thermal Tee shirt (sometimes long sleeve, but for no particular reason)
Long sleeve lightweight top (jogging hoodie)
Medium weight down jacket
Normal knickers and a sports bra
When walking I’d take my down jacket off and stuff it in my rucksack. Also, often I’d take my hoodie off, and tie it around my waist. They’d both go back on when we stopped, it soon got chilly. So, enough room would be needed in my rucksack for my jacket.
My Evoc rucksack is a 20 litre, and it was just big enough to use as a day pack. If I did the trek again I’d use a 30 litre, simply because it would be easier to pack!
We carried only a small day pack (rucksack). Everything we didn’t need on the hike, would be transported to the next camp or hostel by yak.
Our trek was at the end of March, the weather was chilly. I don’t actually know the temperatures, but there was no rain and the ground wasn’t wet. There was some snow falling whilst trekking, but nothing heavy, and the trails were mostly clear of settled snow, and where there was some, it wasn’t enough to worry about. Basically, it was dry weather and dry ground, therefore I can only comment on those conditions. We only hiked in day light, the sun was up by 8am, which could get warm. At a guess I’d say the ambient was around 0 deg C, plus the direct heat from the sun.
In my rucksack would be the following:
Lightweight rain jacket
Fleece top (I never needed this during a hike)
Baseball cap (occasionally worn instead of woolly hat)
Lightweight gloves (occasionally worn)
Pen knife (I never needed this during a hike)
Power supply and leads
Water bottle (slightly less than a litre, and I found that enough for all hikes)
Hydration pack with two litres of water (that I rarely used)
Down jacket (sometimes)
Snowboard trousers (I never needed these during a hike)
Tissues, and some un-rolled toilet paper
I was constantly worried whether I had the right stuff in my rucksack, but was never caught out, as it turns out I didn’t need the extra trousers and top at all. So perhaps 20 litres was fine. But remember I didn't get wet at any point, you may not be so lucky with the weather.
Also there's no point in worrying, unless disaster strikes, it's only going to be around eight hours before you're back with your kit bag, if it goes by yak!
Equipment list items
On the Himex equipment list, and that I bought but never used, was walking sticks, gaiters and snow gloves. These items cost me around $400, so turns out was a waste of money. But remember the weather and ground was not wet for our trek. It could have been a different story, so worth being prepared.
It would have to be pretty extreme conditions for me to use the sticks, I just don’t like the thought of having to negotiate rocks and think about where two sticks are as well as my feet. In fact, it looked like a whole lot of extra work to me! There was no terrain rough enough for me, a 56 year old Doris, to need them. And to confirm what a pain they can be, there was a group of five guys, we call the Kiwi group, on the same trek but one day behind us. One of that group tripped over his stick and broke his ribs on day one and had to fly home to New Zealand!
If your kit bag is going on a yak, you need a soft, lightweight hold all, mine was 100 litres and was plenty big enough.
I borrowed two sleeping bags off Himex, they were high quality, down bags, not sure what rating but very puffy and warm. I’d get into my polyester sleeping bag liner and just lie in one un-zipped bag, with my clothes for the morning inside it with me, laying the second sleeping bag on top of that. I think our temperature went down to minus 12 degrees C, I was never cold.
I also borrowed some down pants off Himex, because they was on the list, but never used them. I had brought some snowboard pants with me, which I wore in the evenings, but never for hiking.
There is a lot of equipment for sale in Kathmandu and Namche Bazar, surprisingly there are some quite fancy mountain gear shops in Namche, so don’t fret if you forget something. There’s even a North Face store there! As well as some other high-end stores, as well as non-branded shops. I didn’t see the prices, so can’t help you there.
Two sets of gear is enough, plus the cold weather stuff and some tidier clothes for at the hotel. Rarely did I change my clothes on the trek!
In the hostels the toilets can be a bit smelly, other than that satisfactory. In the tea houses it was a different story sometimes, I opted to hold on!
In the Himex camps they always made an effort to make alfresco pooping and peeing as civilised as possible.
Himex provided us with a roll of toilet paper each, using our own at all toilets, at camps and hostels.
I bought a She-wee, but never used it, I could wait until morning! It was all quite civilised actually!
In most of the hostels there either was a rudimentary shower, or one which you needed to pay extra for hot water, around NR500 I think for a showers worth.
I didn't shower for 11 days, it’s so cold generally that the thought of a shower really isn’t something most people wanted to do. Himex also provide one at base camp I believe, but definitely too cold for me to even think about!
I brushed my teeth and washed my face, and had a quick wipe around with baby wipes. Take baby wipes with you, they are very expensive in Namche Bazar, around NR700! Also take dry shampoo with you if you’re not going to shower, I wish I had! Everyone’s in the same boat, and you soon forget about what you look like!
Himex provided a bottle of hand sanitiser and had a few around the camp. The best bottles were those you can hang off your rucksack. It’s worth having a couple handy, and using it often, to minimise the risk of getting a dodgy bottom.
Running a blog, YouTube channel, Facebook and Instagram, I needed to have my devices and power available. I didn’t take my notebook computer with me on the trek and seriously regretted it.
Data-storage on my phone, tablet, GoPro and camera was all on SD card, which proved to be a nightmare. I so wish I had taken my notebook and a small hard-drive with me, as I lost at least one SD card with a day’s photos and movies, pinging it across a room never to be found. I also lost a lot of photos and movies when I had thought they’d downloaded to my cloud on my return to Kathmandu, when in fact they hadn’t, and I’d deleted them from the SD card. So, I’d say turn your cloud off, to save data usage, and take a small 1tb hard drive with you, which is what I will do in future. So much time was wasted dicking with SD cards, moving data around from one to the other.
I took two Pebble Explorer power packs with me. They’re designed in England, made in China, 8400mA, and an excellent piece of kit, costing around £50. I’ve had one of them for around 2-3 years and bought another just before my trip. They were sufficient to keep my devices charged the whole trek. With a recharge of the power packs when I could, at hostels and lodges.
In the hostels and lodges we stayed at, there were no power points to do your own charging. You will need to pay for charging and leave your things with the reception, so they can do it for you. This means you need to get into a routine if you want to be economical about it. I charged my devices in the early evening using my power packs, then left the power packs to charge overnight in reception. This worked well, and I had no problems with lack of power.
Another thing I would do differently would be to invest in a small camera with a good zoom, I only had a cheap camera with a 6x zoom and it just wasn’t good enough to capture the beauty of the mountains.
Himex chefs are ‘Western’ trained, so we had a combination of Nepalese and western food, all of which was excellent, and not junk type foods either. Once we had pizza, and a couple of times there were chips, but all homemade.
There were always potatoes on the menu, whether roasted, mash or spicy, along with perhaps pasta, rice and fresh vegetables. I didn’t eat the meat, but it was available. I’m not sure you could expect this with all trekking companies, so do your research.
Drinks wise, the only drinking water should be bottled water, ours, all supplied by Himex. There were constantly hot flasks with an option of Lemon tea, black tea or hot water to make instant coffee or speciality tea, with powdered milk available. Again, check out drink when doing your research, if not included in the price it could get expensive.