Time flies and it has been two months since we set foot at Everest Base Camp (5,380 m). Looking back, I embarked on this adventure with an open mind and came back with a whole different set of perspectives. Trekking in the mountains for a good 2 weeks was definitely something new to me. Some of my friends trekked Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp, but I didn’t have any references for Everest Base Camp prior to the trip.
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
– Sir Edmund Hillary
During our hike, there were generally on average 600 to 800 trekkers checked in per day. The trial was pretty simple and straightforward to Everest Base Camp, but some part of the treks were tough given the high altitude! This trip was by far my longest trekking adventure. If you are planning for a hiking trip to Everest Base Camp, here’s 10 tips you would find helpful before going on a mission like this. Best to know beforehand what you are getting yourself into!
10 Tips before hiking Everest Base Camp
1: Stay Hydrated
The Golden Rule! Always, always stay hydrated throughout the trek. I can’t even emphasize this point further as you will be trekking on average 7-9 hours a day. Even on acclimatization days, we hiked about 3-4 hours in the morning and we do a short mini hike after lunch. I personally carry about 1-2 litres in my backpack at the beginning of the trek. At higher altitudes, I decreased the load to about 1 litre. Check with your guide on whether you could buy water along the trek because occasionally, there were no supplies for a good 2-3 hours. That way, you could plan your water intake accordingly. I filled my water into two separate 1 litre water bottles. Preferably to get yourself water bottles that can sustain temperatures of more than a 100 degrees, in case you opt to mix normal water with hot boiling water. You may also choose to carry a 2-3 Litres hydration pack. Just remember – you NEED water! It helps with prevention of Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS).
2: Take Diamox!
Having the “afraid to lose out” or in Manglish/Singlish term “kiasu” – I took along 30 tabs of Diamox. This was stocks enough to feed the entire team of 10! However, only 3 of us took Diamox and I was definitely one of them. I’ve taken this during my 2013 Mount Kinabalu hike and fortunately, did not experience AMS at any point. Here, you start off from Lukla Airport at an altitude of 2,860 m and make your way up to Everest Base Camp at 5,380 m. I strongly believe that part of my success was because of this “so-called”awesome pill. However, note that Diamox is only for prevention and not much of a treatment. The only and best way to counter Altitude Mountain Sickness is to descend immediately to a lower altitude.
Our trip was nothing short of an adventure. There’s a 50/50 chance when it comes to reaching EBC. As much as I admire Scott Fischer’s line, “You know what they say, man. It’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude.”, altitude mountain sickness can kill you. YES read that right…. YOU CAN DIE FROM AMS! Everest Base Camp is no joke for sure. I can bravely say so in view of my personal experience. A good friend of ours had to make a tough decision to turn back at Lobuche (4,940 m) and it wasn’t an easy decision when you are just hours away from reaching base camp. He had minor symptoms at first, such as headache and loss of appetite but as soon as we arrived at Lobuche, he was having difficulty keeping his balance and this hampered his movements. Oxygen levels were also dropping to the range of 60-70%. Looking back, we could have arranged for immediate emergency evacuation rather than to delay another 24 hours. Thank God, all is good at the end of the day. He was transported back to Kathmandu the following day and got admitted to the hospital immediately. Diagnosis confirmed to be altitude mountain sickness, with possible high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE).
Most of us saved up, trained and anticipated for months or even years, just to experience this once in a lifetime trip and have a glimpse of Everest. We have invested a great deal of emotions in hoping to achieve this particular goal and checked it off our bucketlist. Remember, it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. Reaching your goal in the process is an added bonus.
Drug/Medication: Acetazolamide 250mg
Brand name: Diamox
Dosage: 125 mg per day
Side effects: Tingling sensation on your lips, hands and feet
p/s: Consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking this medication. Based on the advice of our guide, I took only half the dosage (125 mg) daily and started the regime when I was at Namche Bazaar @ 3,440 metres. I continued taking it up to Everest Base Camp and stopped only when I descended to Phunki Tenga @ 3,300 metres. In total, about 4 tablets to myself across the 8 days. I had tingling sensation on my fingers, but it was bearable. Pretty interesting because I can’t tell sometimes if I was just NUMB from the cold.
3: No to Dairy
Our guide, Ram advised us to stay away from dairy. That meant no milk, cheese, yogurt etc for the whole trip. This was to make sure we were in the pink of health when we were up in the mountains. Based on his experience, some trekkers may have a weak stomach and don’t gel well with dairy products. This is common especially when such products are being carried all the way up from Lukla and may not be the freshest at the point of serving. I recalled joking with my friend, Felicia. I told her the reason I was sold to go on an expedition like this was because of her profound marketing for Nepal’s Masala Tea! Ended up, I was denied from drinking masala tea for specific reasons until the final two days of the expedition. It was pretty hilarious. What a test of patience and endurance!
4: Bring Tissue Rolls
Guide to EBC Survival 101! This was hands down a lifesaver hack! Nature is indeed your best friend in the Himalayas. Trust me, you will experience the best shit ever. Imagine doing a one-of a-kind business overlooking beautiful snow capped mountains and basking in the sun… despite the fact that the temperature was sub zero degrees and it was freezing. Pretty damn exciting! Your choice – open spaces with knee height bushes or behind a trustworthy rock! I took 2 tissue rolls from home, but finished it way before the end of the trip. You don’t know how precious these commodities are until you run out of it. For the first time in my life, I was micro-managing my tissue usage! Every piece of tissue paper is saviour! My nose was constantly leaking like a broken faucet because of the cold air. You can opt to bring a small towel and clip it to your backpack (which I didn’t and depended wholly on my tissues. Noted this from another teammate, Aaron). I had to purchase an extra roll for Rs 300 (USD $4) but hey, contribute and support the local Nepalese people!
5: Vegan diet – NO to Meat
Being a meat lover, this was a new experience for me! Going on a vegan diet for a day or two is totally cool. This time, my body had to adapt to vegan diet for a good TWO weeks. Not forgetting, a lot of carbohydrates! What’s on the menu, you say? Well, I was rotating my food choices the entire time and in no specific order: Vege Fried Macaroni, Vege/Egg Friend Rice, Rah-Rah Noodles (essentially Instant Noodles), Vege Dhal Bhat and Vege Fried Noodles. My go-to drink was all possible variations of hot ginger tea you can think of: Basic Hot ginger tea, Honey ginger tea, Lemon ginger tea, Honey Lemon ginger tea, basic black tea and of course… hot water. Discipline is the utmost key to reaching Everest Base Camp, without really falling apart!
6: Keep Warm
YES and YES! Keep yourself warm from day 1 of the hike and make sure your body temperature is well regulated at all times. Layer up and do the needful to make sure you don’t catch a cold. Falling sick can be detrimental to your health, as it is much harder to recover at higher altitudes. The temperature dropped to as much as -15 degrees when we were up in Gorakshep. This was end of October and it was transitioning towards winter in Nepal. A whole new meaning to the word COLD. I wore a sports base layer and a thermal layer with my North Face outer shell during the day hike. I carried along a thick fleece in my backpack just in case I feel cold. Proven to be handy along the way! At higher altitudes, I had my Millet down jacket on me as well on top of all the layers above.
7: Use Trekking Poles!
Nepalese version of a flat trail…in all honesty, was pretty much a lie. Expect the trek to consist of increasing and decreasing elevations. I had in mind that the trek was going to be mostly ups rather than downs. However, don’t underestimate the distance and how steep the climb can be. I recalled vividly several parts of the treks that were tough. I found the climb from Phunki Tenga to Namche Bazaar was rather challenging. It wasn’t the steepest, but the climb felt long and Namche Bazaar was no where to be seen until the very final minute. That definitely toyed around with one’s determination and mind. We all heaved a blissful sigh upon arrival to Namche Bazaar.
Another significant challenge was the day we made it to EBC. We had a full day hike, which was made up of Part 1 (Lobuche- Gorakshep) and Part 2 (Gorakshep- Everest Base Camp- Gorakshep). It was a long day. We started our hike at 730am in the morning and were done with the day only at 630pm. Some even took a longer time and checked into the lodge after sundown. The rocky paths and the sub zero temperatures added on to the difficulty of the hike.
I brought along my trekking poles and did not use them for the first 2 days. I figured my legs could take the impact, but I started feeling the tension after the 2nd day. Having fear of injuring my knee again (my plica got caught between me left knee caps 3 months before the expedition), I started using knee guards for both knees and trekking poles as support from day 3 onwards. I must say that the trekking poles were very helpful, especially when descending the mountains. It kept me stable throughout the hike and I found them particularly useful while hiking across loose rocks and uneven tracks.
8: Take Vitamin C, Essential Multivitamins, Lozenges for Sore Throat/Cough
If you think you have a weak immune system, this is a MUST. I brought along only a tube of 10s Effervescent Vitamin C and solely depended on my stash of medications, in case I fall sick. Some of my friends took their multivitamins diligently and I strongly believe part of a healthy body will contribute to a successful hike. 90% of us came back with the infamous “Khumbu Cough”. Ladies and gentlemen… Khumbu cough is real ! The air was really dusty in the Everest region. Towards the last 4 days, I started to feel an itch on my throat and soon enough, I was coughing so hard to the point that I was gagging when we were back in Kathmandu. I powered through with lozenges and came back to Penang for treatment (Diagnosis: Upper Respiratory Tract Infection) . As much as I covered my nose and mouth with a buff, I still came out of the mountains with a horrible cough. It lasted me almost 2 weeks and I had to be treated with antibiotics to expedite the recovery.
9: Be cautious of those Apple Pies!
Who doesn’t love a sweet little treat in between and after a long hike? Says NO ONE EVER! Unless if you’re allergic to apples. Anyways, we secretly sneaked our way out in Namche Bazaar to have apple pie and coffee. We were told that there were two types of apple pie up in the mountain. One is fresh and safe to consume. This is usually the pleasant looking baked apple pie with big apple chunks and a nice crust. The other non-authentic apple pie is probably made upon request and the ingredients may not be the freshest. They may use left over bread, flour and apples chucks – roll them up altogether and deep fried the mixture. Feel free to ask them if it is fresh and use your judgement. Be careful of what goes into your tummy!
10: No alcohol
Everest Beers… Sherpa Brewery Craft Beers…It was everywhere! Alcohol is known to cause dehydration and you wouldn’t want that to affect your already challenging hike. So best to save it for last. Tough decision but I kept my hands off alcohol up till the very last night in Lukla. It was so worth it to drink and celebrate with the team, guides and porters! We were fortunate to finish off our expedition in the light of Diwali celebration. Everyone was in their best festive mood and it certainly made the atmosphere a whole lot livelier. We bought the entire crew dinner as a token of appreciation and drank the night away to our heart’s content. We wouldn’t have succeeded without the guidance and support of our local guides. I must say the local beers were pretty good. I preferred Everest Beer over the Sherpa brewery craft beers.
I hope this post could give you some insights on the preparation needed for the EBC trek. Nothing is impossible! There is no right or wrong in every journey and everyone came back with different experiences. Trekking EBC is one of the most fulfilling adventure I’ve embarked on! Looking forward to more trekking adventures ahead.