Few feelings will ever compare to the cocktail of exhaustion and achievement that swells in your entire body as you take those final steps to the summit of a mountain you've spent days (weeks, even) climbing. After asking yourself the entire way up "why the heck did I waste my precious holiday pay on a gruelling hiking trip," you reach the top and realise it was all worth it (even if you are peeling off popped blisters for weeks to come).
Taking on Everest
Of all the mountains in the world, there's a reason why Everest is the most famous. It's the biggest, sure, but it has a certain magnetic pull that attracts the kind of travellers who are driven by challenge for challenge's sake. While few take on the full hike, thousands of visitors descend on the Himalayas each year to trek up to Base Camp.
The main routes are well trodden these days, and the teams of guides and porters are as efficient as they are fit, seemingly gliding up the trail uninhibited by the debilitating altitude sickness that seems to plague everyone else at some point or another. The most popular route to Everest Base Camp, departing from the town of Lukla, takes between 12-15 days on average, gaining a total elevation of 17,5000 feet. The sheer elation in the air at Base Camp is enough reason to make the trek, (although, the steaming hot shower you take when you reach the hotel at the very end of the trek is pretty good, too).
Everest Base Camp Alternatives
While Everest appears high up on many traveller's bucket lists, there are plenty of other mountains to conquer in the Himalayas. The region of Pokhara is another popular spot for hikers with plenty of highly-skilled local guides to ensure a safe journey. Annapurna is becoming increasingly popular among travellers who want to take on an Everest-sized hike without the crowds (Everest now attracts 40,000 hikers every year).
There are an increasing number of female porters and guides taking groups on this trek, tearing down the cultural belief that mountain trekking is a purely male-dominated industry. Intrepid Travel is one of the first companies to run 100% female-led hiking trips through the Himalayas. You can trek with them on the 15-day Annapurna Base Camp Trek or the limited edition13-day Women's Expedition.
Hikers have plenty of options when it comes to heading out into the Himalayas. Many opt for a group tour that covers off everything (accommodation, guides, porters, food and, often, transport from Kathmandu to the beginning and end of the hiking route). Others travelling in a small group, as a couple or alone may wish to hire their own guide/porter team to assist them on their trek. This gives you the flexibility to go at your own pace and select your own route.
Whatever you decide, it's important to thoroughly research the company your trek with. Opting for guides who are born and raised on the mountains will not only ensure the safest, most rewarding experience for you, but it stimulates the local economy and directly impacts the lives of those individuals.
Packing for the Himalayas
If you’re anything like me, you’ll consult several packing lists before you go to ensure you are more than prepared for anything. But a few items that will make your trekking experience significantly more enjoyable are:
Layers of high-wicking clothing that allows your skin to breathe but also keep you warm (merino wool is great!)
Inner gloves - great for those in-between days when your big snow gloves seem like overkill.
100% UV protection sunglasses - they need to be about 80% light reducing or more.
Head torch - perfect for getting around camp in the early morning or night.
SPF50+ sunscreen AND lip balm (I actually needed SPF100)
Waterproof zip lock bags - just in case it suddenly starts pouring and you need to protect your valuables.
A few final tips
Training is absolutely essential for taking on a hike in the Himalayas. They say half the fun of going on holiday is the anticipation that builds before it. You may not agree with me when you're taking the stairs twelve floors up to get to your office, but I promise you will thank me when you finally get out on the trail and begin your first ascent.
Walking long distances regularly, spending half an hour on the stepper at the gym each day and always opting for the stairs will do wonders to increase your fitness level and best prepare you for the trek.
Unfortunately, altitude sickness can hit anyone at any time, regardless of how much training and preparation you've done. Go slow, take plenty of breaks and don't forget to look up and enjoy the scenery around you. It's so easy to keep your eyes glued to the track as to not trip on any loose rocks or tree roots, but do make a conscious effort to look up.
Listening to a great playlist, an interesting podcast or an audiobook works wonders for getting you in the zone. But don't forget, your trekking guides and porters are there to make your experience unforgettable. Yes, part of this is carrying of all your heavy gear and marking out the path, but they're often more than happy to share their own stories, culture and much-needed encouragement with you. These guys know the Himalayas like no one else so they're the best people to connect with on the way up. Nothing passes the time like great conversation.
If you need help selecting the right trekking company for you or just want to talk through your options for hiking the Himalayas, feel free to get in touch. Having made the trek to Everest Base Camp myself, I can offer first hand advice that might just be the difference between a successful summit and a disappointing "almost-but-not-quite".