Earlier this year I embarked on one of my most challenging adventures yet – I decided to trek to Everest Base Camp in aid of Friends of Amasango UK. This trek involved 13 days of continuous walking up to an altitude of 5,365m (5,643m if you include Kala Patthar!) whilst battling the freezing cold temperatures and bitterly winds. I have been asked many questions about this trip so I thought I’d attempt to summarise the most frequently asked ones below.
1. How hard really is the trek to Everest Base Camp?
I don’t want to underplay my achievement here (or the achievement of many others!) but honestly, physically it isn’t that hard! I am not a super fit athlete or can really say I did much training for Base Camp and I did not struggle nearly half as much as I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very steep sections and I took many ‘tactical photo stops’ which meant I got plenty of breaks, however personally I didn’t find the physical aspect of the trek wasn’t too strenuous. I also was very fortunate that I didn’t suffer with any symptoms of altitude sickness.
The hardest part and the part I believe many people will overlook is the mental side of the trek. Having to wake up at the crack of dawn each morning in below freezing temperatures to icicles on your sleeping bag and the water bottle you put by the side of you the night before now frozen solid doesn’t fill you with confidence for the day ahead. On top of that, the baby wipes you were planning on having a baby wipe shower with are now frozen so another day goes by where you are filthy, and then you are faced with your route for the day climbing over 800m+ in altitude, any positivity you did have from only waking up once from the cold in the night rather than the usual 4/5 times has all but vanished. Motivating yourself at the beginning of everyday for 13 days is hard but when you’re on the trail walking among the giants surrounding you, it’s all worth it.
I was very fortunate to be trekking with a great group of people who made even the gloomiest parts of the trek to Base Camp enjoyable. Without these guys, there is no way I would have been as positive on the trek and may have struggled a lot more.
2. Did you really not shower for 13 days?
Don’t judge me here, but yes I didn’t shower for 13 days. However, I had good reason not to. The last of the tea lodges we stayed at to have a guaranteed warm shower before reaching Base Camp was at Namche Bazaar. This was only Day 2/3 into the trek and despite building up a sweat on some of the steep gradients on the approach to Namche, I couldn’t think of anything worse of getting out of a warm shower to 5 degrees Celsius and attempting to warm myself up again. So my group made an agreement and we were all in it together – no showering until back in Kathmandu. Safe to say that shower back in Kathmandu was one of the longest showers of my life.
Honestly, don’t threat about this. Take plenty of baby wipes and remember to pop them in your sleeping bag each evening so they don’t freeze over night! You’ll be putting dirty clothes on each day any way so even if you were to shower, you wouldn’t stay clean for very long! If you are set on showering, you can shower in most of the tea lodges, however there isn’t always guaranteed hot water and these showers can get pretty pricey the higher you go up.
3. Where do you sleep when you’re doing the Base Camp trek?
The accommodation I used for Base Camp was tea lodges. Now before you get excited thinking you are not sleeping in a tent, I warn you that some of these are only marginally better. Some are almost luxurious, whilst others I think I would have preferred a tent. One particular place sticks in my mind – I was awoken in the middle of the night by snow falling on my face as the glass didn’t actually cover the whole “window”. As expected, the facilities at each of these gets more basic the higher up you get however each provides a comfortable enough bed and a shared toilet facility. All have electricity however I didn’t find any with plugs in your room. I believe this is deliberate as many places struggle with electricity due to their location and so as not to overload the power, you will need to pay to charge your electronics. I found that charging my power bank every few days was enough as long as I slept with this and my phone – batteries do not cope well with the cold and in the first few days I found I was waking up with a flat battery despite going to bed with my phone fully charged.
4. How did you cope with “that” plane journey?
We’ve all seen the program on TV – “World’s Most Dangerous Airport” and the Youtube videos surrounding it, so when I came to find that this plane journey was pretty much unavoidable to complete the Base Camp trek in the time I had allowed, I can’t say I was overly thrilled. I watched video after video of skilled pilots racing up the runway towards the mountain at the end, only to stop a few metres short! I’m not a particularly nervous flyer but I did see this plane ride as a slight hurdle between me and the start of the trek. The morning of the flight came around and we were booked on one of the first flights out of Kathmandu airport to Lukla. Flying with Summit Air, I hopped aboard the plane and gazed out of the window as chaos of Kathmandu faded into the distance. (A little tip here: try and sit on the left hand side of the plane when you are flying out to Lukla, you get a much better, uninterrupted view of the Himalayas from here!) Once in the air, I felt completely relaxed. However as we began to descend my nerves started to heighten when we were doing what can only be described as a slalom course through the surrounding mountains. Landing on the runway itself is an experience. The runway is on a upwards gradient so to aid the plane in slowing down once it’s touched down. This means that flying out of Lukla back to Kathmandu you literally race down the slope and fly off the end. (Promise it sounds more dramatic than it really is!) Hats off to all the pilots that fly this route!
5. How did you book the trip?
I started my search for this trip on TourRadar and was met by dozens and dozens of different options. I started to slowly pick through them researching each of the different companies offerings. I finally settled on Gecko’s Adventures as it was a company that a few of my friends have travelled all over the world with previously and they focus on travel groups for 18-30 year olds. (They also had a 20% sale on at the time!) I don’t usually mind travelling with people of all different ages, in fact usually I shy away from these 18-30 year old focused trips. However this being such a demanding trip, I thought I would enjoy the extra support from people of a similar age as me.
Booking via TourRadar allowed me to take advantage of the sale Gecko’s were currently running and I got an additional discount by scouring the internet for a voucher code too! In addition to this, I only had to pay a deposit when booking and I received travel credits with TourRadar to spend on my next trip. Communication with the team at TourRadar was simple and easy, and they tended to get back to me almost immediately. I would recommend using this agent!
Gecko’s employ local guides who are extremely knowledgeable. On our trip we had our head guide and two assistance guides who are all looking out for you throughout your entire trip. They would each take responsibility in ensuring we were all drinking enough water and slow down the pace if anyone was struggling.
The total cost of my trip was around £940 and my flights were £400 return to Kathmandu with Qatar Airways.
Side note: I believe Gecko’s has now been taken over by Intrepid and they offer a very similar trip as the one I went on here.
6. Is there anything you wish you’d taken with you that you didn’t?
Honestly no! (Smug look!) I did so much research before the trip and made such an extended packing list that I feel like I was missing anything. You are very limited to the amount of luggage you can take with you and you end up re-wearing clothes over and over again, so as long as you pack plenty of layers, less is definitely more in relation to everything else!
7. Any final tips?
I won’t pretend I’m an expert here but a couple of tips I would give to someone who is about to embark on this once in a lifetime adventure would be:
- Take a camel pack – I got my from Mountain Warehouse. (Similar here) This is a pretty inexpensive way of ensuring you have easy, constant access to water. I found it helped me drink more water than some of my fellow travellers who would have to stop and get their water bottles out, which aids in the prevention Altitude Sickness. The only issue with this is on summit day, the tube you drink from did freeze so do make sure you have a back-up water bottle.
- Pack an aluminium water bottle – I used this one from Cath Kidston. You can then put this on top of the burners at the tea lodges to heat it up before bed and it works perfectly as a hot water bottle. Pop this into your sleeping bag half an hour before you get into bed = toasty sleeping bag.
- Diamox – There are lots of arguments as to whether this helps or not with altitude sickness. It’s a personal decision and I did a lot of research regarding this before leaving for Nepal, and I decided it was something I wanted to take with me. However, I found this incredibly hard and expensive to get hold of in the UK so I waited until I got to Kathmandu and got my hands on it there. 10 tablets for £1.50! Just be sure to go to a recommended pharmacy, I can’t remember the name of the one I used however I just asked my guide of where he recommended.
- Pack Porridge Oats – A strange but useful one! I bought porridge oats from a local supermarket in Kathmandu. This meant at the tea lodges each morning I would just have to purchase hot water rather than a breakfast! It won’t make you rich, but it will save you a couple of £’s each day and ensures you have a good breakfast. To top this, I used dried fruit/peanut butter/chocolate spread. It’s definitely worth the extra weight!
- Hire a sleeping bag and don’t buy all your expensive gear until you arrive in Kathmandu. I was very fortunate in that I had most of the gear I needed before even booking this trip, however if you don’t, do not panic! You can get very good quality down jackets, waterproofs, thermals etc all in Kathmandu, even walking boots! Just make sure you shop around – prices and quality can vary greatly! Sleeping bags you can hire from most shops out there too! I hired one for around $2/3 dollars a day. It was full down, 4 season sleeping bag and kept me warm! Just ensure you have a sleeping bag liner with you, I can’t promise you how often these are cleaned. Whilst on your trek there are also places to make purchases, though bear in mind Namche is probably your last place for a great variety.
- Take cash with you – trying to get hold of a cash machine past Namche is near impossible and you will need cash for food/drinks at the tea lodges.
- Buy a sim card if you want access to the internet – This will save you a bit of money on the wifi and actually I seemed to get quicker access than my fellow travellers who were using the wifi. I used the company Ncell which I bought at the airport and I managed to get 3G most of the way up to Base Camp!
I’m heading to Kilimanjaro in a few weeks, is there any tips you recommend for this?