15 Things I Learned When I Hiked to Everest Base Camp
To maximise our chances of reaching Everest Base Camp in one piece, my husband and I did plenty of research before we’d even set foot in Nepal. But no amount of reading could prepare us for actually being there, and how much we would learn on the way. Here are a few of our pearls of wisdom:
This may sound obvious; of course it’s cold at 5,000m above sea level. We trekked in the Nepalese winter (January), where at night temperatures plummeted to below -20°C. At that level, frost formed on the inside of windows, toilets froze over, drinking water filled with ice cubes and even eggs froze, making boiled eggs the only choice for breakfast. My enormous down jacket and toasty five-season sleeping bag became my most treasured possessions.
Acclimatisation is key
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a real danger anywhere above 3,500m. The air is thin up here, and the lack of oxygen causes at the least headaches and, at extremes, can be deadly. To reduce the chances of AMS, be aware of the symptoms, eat lots, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest and factor in a number of acclimatisation days. At 13 days, our trek took it slow, but this suited us perfectly. Had we done it any faster, we would have been far more susceptible to AMS. Luckily, we were both fine.
The food is great
Despite being an avid eater of Nepalese curries in the UK, I had no idea what the food might be like on the way to Base Camp. As it turns out, it was delicious. We’re talking homemade dals (lentil soup), tasty curries, potato rostis with fried eggs, lashings of yak cheese (which tastes a bit like Emmental) and wonderful apple pies for dessert. We even found deep-fried Mars Bars, totally decadent and perfect for stocking up on those much-needed calories.
Sherpas are superhuman
Sherpas, or mountain guides, are amazing. Most are born and raised in the high altitude Khumbu Valley, and so have been living with low oxygen for generations. Not only do they barely suffer from altitude sickness, they are also super fit. As well as their own heavy packs filled with oxygen tanks and med kits, they’ll carry your bag when you get tired, all without complaining or breaking a sweat. They’re also very friendly: ask your Sherpa which peaks he’s conquered and he’ll happily chat for hours, proudly showing you his Everest summit photos and regaling you with heroic tales of life in the clouds.
Down on the lower slopes, you’ll pass through many little villages. For me, this made the trip. To see the Sherpa people go about their everyday lives, washing their clothes, tending to their crops, and looking after their children, gave a great insight into mountain life.
Wet wipes are a godsend
With very few showers on offer (and high prices charged when they are), wet wipes quickly become your new best friend. The wet wipe bath was the only wash I had for 13 days running and I dread to think how much I would have smelt without it.
There are no ATMs
Although we heard claims that Namche Bazaar (3,440m) had an ATM, we saw no evidence of this whatsoever and the only bank was closed when we arrived. Therefore it’s best to take enough money for the entire trek from Kathmandu. You do not want to have to skip meals because you can’t afford them; up here you need all the energy you can get.
You don’t need as much underwear as you think
Yes, that’s right, with the cold and the lack of a shower, after a few days you give up changing your underwear. I took a pair of pants for each day and came back with eight unworn pairs. Sure I must have smelt, but so did everybody else.
Don’t eat meat after Namche Bazaar
There are no roads up in the mountains. Everything, and by that I mean rice, clothes, fuel, tea and fizzy drinks, is carried up from lower villages by yak, mules or by Sherpa. This includes meat. The higher you go the longer the meat will have taken to reach you, and there are no fridges or freezers up here. Once you’ve passed Namche it’s advisable to avoid meat, as there are no guarantees it will be fresh. This isn’t much of an issue though: vegetable dal bhat (lentil soup with rice) is delicious!
Tea is an obsession
Thank goodness for tea! The Nepalese love tea. Their favourite drink is chiya, a spiced, milky tea, and all teahouses, as the name suggests, serve plenty of tea flavours. These are great to warm up, and are a good way to rehydrate without drinking endless water. Not only that, the water is boiled, reducing the chances of stomach upsets, and the fruity flavours such as lemon and mango are filled with sugar. And by now you’ll know, sugar = much-needed energy.
The higher you go, the higher the price
It’s simple really: the higher up the mountains you go, the more expensive everything is. To gauge this, my husband and kept track of the price of toasted yak cheese sandwiches. At the start of the trek, they were little more than £1 each. By Gorak Shep, the highest village at 5,140m, they were pushing £8. Although they did come with chips, so we’ll cut them some slack.
Yaks (and mules) have right of way
While hiking the narrow paths to Base Camp, you’ll pass (or more likely be overtaken by) trains of yaks carrying supplies up and down the mountain. These hairy creatures may look sedentary, but get on the wrong side of them (literally) and they can kick. It’s not unheard of for moody yaks and mules to push trekkers right off the mountain. So always let them pass on the outside and don’t try to pat them.
Don’t forget to stargaze
The higher you climb, the further you are from light pollution. So once the sun sinks, look up! On a clear night the stars light up the sky like a Christmas tree.
Keep prayer flags on your right
Always pass prayer flags, engraved rocks and large boulders on the left, and rotate all prayer wheels clockwise. According to local custom, this will bring you good luck, and up here you need all the luck you can get.