It’s a wonderful thing sometimes. In reading through tweets this morning I noticed someone I followed, let’s call her theclimbergirl, because that’s her name on Twitter, mentioning getting travel vaccines. Upon further inquiry I come to find out she’s trekking to a mountain in Nepal named Pumori. Tweet this, DM that, email this and presto! You have this blog post. Sara asked if I had any advice about trekking, what I wish I had known on my first trek last year, tips, etc… And that’s what’s below.
I cut and pasted this post from that email. So this is advice from a guy to a girl about trekking in Nepal. I hope you find it helpful.
OH! And if you are interested in joining a photo trek in Nepal this October, I will be leading a group on an 18 day trip specifically designed for photography. More information can be found here.
- Go slow. This is one thing pounded into my head that really helped. My wife can relate the difference, when she tried keeping up or just went at her own pace the first year. I found a nice comfortable pace and stuck with it. Sometimes I’d have a burst of energy and feel invincible….don’t trust that. 🙂 it fades. Go slow
- Drink lots of water. I know you know this, but it’s extra important at altitude. Yeah, you know that too.
- Consider bringing a SteriPen. I know I drink a lot of water and as we were teahouse trekking I knew I’d have to get water in between stops for the night. Rather than carry an extra 4lbs of water, I brought a Steripen so I could fill up from creeks on the way. On your route the water will be ‘touched’ by more than is safe to drink straight, although it is so cool and clean tasting it’s tempting. If you do get a Pen, consider one that takes AA batteries. We had both the older one with 4 AA and the newer one that needs CR123 batteries. It is easier to find AA in a pinch. The new Pens are awesome because they have a timer and smiley/frowny faces to let you know how things went. More on batteries in a bit.
- More water stuff!! Consider a water bottle instead of a bladder. I don’t know which you prefer. A bottle is easier to handle around camp, easier to refill from a boiling pot of water (for when you’re not using a Steripen) and best of all, when filled with hot water you can throw it (or them) in the bottom of your sleeping bag. Water bladder, no so fun in the sack. If you go with Klean Kanteen or Sigg , don’t forget a cozy to keep from burning yourself. That metal really transfers heat! Plus with a water bottle you can easily use a Steripen. Have I mentioned how much I love the Steripen? 🙂 Bring at least one bottle even with a bladder as it’ll make filling the bladder easier. Get a hose insulator if you do bring a bladder and an extra mouthpiece. Even if you don’t need the extra mouthpiece, someone will. And a broken mouthpiece means the bladder is now a useless plastic bag to carry around.
- Sunblock. Duh
- Get used to dahl baht. If you haven’t tried it already, do so. Annapurna Cafe up on Capital Hill is a good place. It’s everywhere and a good food to like. Plus, it makes you seem more ‘local’ in teahouses because you’ll often be served when your guides/porters are. It’s about as local as you can become. 🙂
- I assume you already know about Diamox and all that. If you haven’t tried it yet, take some for a bit and find out if it has any regular effects on you. Different people are different. Again, I’m probably preaching to the choir here.
- Bring a boogie rag. I usually carry two bandannas, one blue and one brown. Brown is for buggies. You’ll be using it a lot. Don’t use one of the microfiber/quickdry towels. They feel better but don’t ‘collect’ the buggies better. Get used to keeping it in your pocket.
- Batteries!! We brought a foldable solar panel for charging. With the group you’re heading there with, I’m sure it’s figured out. If not, consider your own panel. $$$ but light, and strapable to your pack, they can save you from carrying extra batteries. Some would argue, rightfully, that you could carry enough batteries as compared to the panel. But for me, I’d rather not throw away my batteries, especially in a place like Nepal that doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle them properly. Bring a few ‘regular’ batteries and especially so for vital equipment, but for headlights (unless you’re night climbing), cameras and such, go rechargeable.
- Learn as much language as you can now. Get a phrasebook. Sure, more and more people there know English, but as with any culture, you’ll go further if you can speak the language. And they Nepalis, Sherpas especially, don’t really thank people. It’s an odd switch coming from our culture, but people do things there and never expect thanks, regularly. It’s hard to get used to, not saying dhanyavad (which is easy to remember because it sounds like “Done ya bad”) when someone does something, but it’s really not expected like it is here.
- Trekking poles. Another duh. Get the rubber tips too that stay on well so they don’t come off and your poles poke a hole in your gear bag on the way there.
- Flying into Lukla is a trip. If flying in small planes freaks you out, start preparing now (not worrying about it, but preparing to help yourself relax). I can insert a story here, but I’ll save it for another time.
- Drink lots of water.
- Use a rest step when you need to. Just like climbing any mountain, get into the grove when the altitude starts getting to you (or maybe you’re the lucky type and will be fine!).
- Little kids along the way, especially on your route, will want stuff from you. “Candies?” “Pen?” is heard a lot. Decide if you want to bring some of these things to hand out or not. I sat in one spot and watched some kids do it over and over. My wife gave them a pen and as soon as another group came up, the kid dropped it and ran off asking for more. Your mileage may vary.
- Get used to saying Namaste. And feeling it to, both speaking and receiving.
- If you have a SPOT device on you, keep it pointed mainly East. The satellite is over Japan. I wish SPOT kept more than 7 days of data so I could show you how it performed for me. As mentioned, it didn’t show a lot of track points, but when I hit “OK” for the night and set it out, it almost always worked. Since we were using it to send our location to my then 7 year old daughter back home, I’d also hit it in the morning just to make sure. I absolutely love using the SPOT for travel and a friend of mine created a mashup with Flickr hastags, Twitter hashtags and the SPOT called The Wonder Map. http://thewondermap.com. (I turned it off on this last trip right at the border). Technology rocks.
- Be prepared for gracious, open people. They smile a lot too. It’s easy to make genuine contact even with the language barrier. It’ll be easier because you’re a woman.
- Bring unripped bills. As with a lot of countries, Nepal doesn’t want our old, beat up greenbacks.
- Toilets. Yeah. Get your squatting muscles in shape now. Always have toilet paper with you. Preferably enough for someone else too when they forget to pack theirs. I normally don’t pack toilet paper in a day pack but it became automatic once I saw others forgetting and asking for mine.
- Feminine hygiene, I haven’t a clue. Actually I do, but I sound more manly tough if I pretend I don’t. I’ll let my wife talk to that since I’ve never actually met you. 🙂
- The first part of the trek from Lukla to Namche is forested and warmer. After Namche its far more exposed and cooler.
- Bring. A. Deck. Of. Cards. Or two. And learn games before you go. I loved sitting around playing cards at night, plus it’s another cross culture thing to do. Our Sherpas picked up rummy pretty quickly (I have the score cards in my journal to prove it!) and they play cards a lot, with games they can teach. We also brought a cribbage board, but that’s a personal preference.
- Consider hiking shoes for the approach. I brought hiking boots but never wore them the whole 75+ miles we trekked. Instead, I had on a pair of $10 Value Village used running shoes. Comfy as hell. I felt bad for our dzokyo that carried my boots that whole way. I know you just tweeted about new boots, but you’ve also probably heard the climbing adage that a pound on your feet is like five on your back. Stow the boots until you really need them in snow/ice.
- Give yourself the right to sit. Just sit. Not necessarily lots of meditating sitting, if you happen to have a Bhuddist slant. Well, actually, that works well too. But at any rate, don’t bring a lot of distractions. Life is ok without an iPod or book or what have you. Give yourself time to just sit and look around. Hell, do it today. 🙂 Personally I don’t consider any one place more special than the next. Where I am right now is the most special place on the planet if I can just live it. But for some, a place like Nepal holds more than a kitchen table on Whidbey Island. If that happens to be you, allow yourself space to soak it in. Life really can be simple over there when everything is taken care of for you (cooking, cleaning, setting up camp). It’s a gift, so accept it well.
- Bring an iPod. LOL!! I know, I like contradictions. 🙂 I mean for the parts of the trip where it helps, like airports, planes, and other times you just have to block it all out from overloading your system. Also, consider a nice set of noise canceling headphones. I swear by mine for flights as I believe the noise fatigue of flight contributes a lot to jet lag and the run down feeling. When I use mine, I feel great.
- Be prepared you can adjust quickly heading West. I adjusted almost immediately. So much so that I complained when we got up at 3am the first morning to see a sunrise Bhuddist ceremony because “everyone’s clock will be off anyway!” Mine wasn’t. Mine wanted my butt parked back in bed. Coming back though, flying East, can be more work. Allow for a couple of days on the back side of the trip to veg. Expect it’ll take you a week or 10 days to really get back into the swing.
- As with any normal packing, pack and then throw out half your stuff. You won’t need it. Here’s my initial packing list http://thecareyadventures.com/blog/2008/nepal-trekking-packing-list/ and it’s close to what I brought.
- Legs. You’ll probably hear both sides of this argument and it’s a womens only thing, sorry. In Kathmandu it’s normal to see women showing their legs. But in the Khumbu, I feel, it’s still respectful to have them covered. That’s just me. Especially when entering a monastery.
- Drink lots of water.
- If you like souvenirs, get good at haggling. Nepalis love to haggle. And it’s usually fun.
- Expect it to be cold, and hot, and to snow, and be windy.
- Try rakshi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raksi I really liked it but some don’t. And boy does it go to your head faster at altitude!!
- And after the rakshi, drink lots of water.
- Be prepared to come back different. You won’t be the same. You’ll start looking for Nepali events in Seattle (there’s a bigger community in Portland, but a sizable one here). You’ll hang prayer flags. You’ll get some of those door coverings. You might even bring back a singing bowl. Or maybe you won’t! Just be open to what the country has to offer. It’s nearly impossible to travel to place, any place, and not have some of it come back with you.
- See if your group will be leaving things behind in Kathmandu. This is a treat, because then you can pack hot weather clothes for in town (plus something a bit nicer) and leave them behind while you trek.
- The domestic terminal at Kathmandu is a zoo. Just go with it. Resistance, in any area of life, is futile. And that whole “have a quart sized bag for liquids”…yeah, no. Not once you’re there. <insert another story here>
- Keep your passport handy when flying into Luklaas you’ll need it to get out of town. If I remember right.
- Always stay uphill from dzokyos and yaks. Always. It’s a long way down if they bump you.
- Take pictures of the mundane stuff. It wasn’t until the last few days that I realized I didn’t have a picture of the cooking stoves you see in all teahouses or the ‘guest book’ where they write down your order. Those little things bring a smile when I see them now.
- If you’re camping it the whole way, you’ll probably get washing water when you arrive to camp, before eating and when you wake up. It’s a luxury and really nice to freshen up.
- The trail can be dusty, thus the blue bandanna. And water.
- You will have odd food cravings you can’t explain. Go with it. My wife wanted Pringles chips (we are an organic kinda people). I wanted eggs, even though they aren’t the best for me. They have all kinds of Western junk food up there for when you do get the craving. But you’ll pay more for it because someone, or something, had to carry it up there.
- If you bring some crisp $100 bills to exchange while there, you can usually demand a higher rate at the money changers in Kathmandu. As previously stated, haggle. Walk away (there are a lot of money changers in KTM). It’s better to have a $100 bill than 5 $20s the first time you change money. The one guy who brought travelers checks took a long while to change his. Cash talks. Have someone else in the group go in first with small bill and get theirs changed first, then go in with the $100s and haggle.
- Bring US dollars for your entrance visa into Nepal. Last I checked it was $40 for 30 days and $100 for 90. It may be different now, but they take USD or Euros.
- Change your email password before you leave as you’ll be checking it (if you do) in shops in KTM and on the trail. I always feel safer changing it before and after a trip.
- You’re appetite may wane with altitude, obviously. You may already have experience with this. For me, I tend to eat double when traveling and especially on this trip. I don’t know why, I’m not a big guy nor do I eat tons. But from KTM until halfway through the trip, I ate two of everything. Then it tapered off. Just go with it if that’s the case. Your body knows what it wants, stop for a second and listen to it.
- Keep it simple. Make a list of vital things you can’t live without (especially things you can’t get high up). Then don’t sweat the rest. Clothes can be bought, equipment too, or borrowed. Passport-journal-pen-phrasebook-waterbottle-some money-womanly items. Really, that’s the important part. Everything else can be bought if you forget it.
There. Is that enough for now? Are you still awake? I’m sure I’ve got more, but I really need to get to editing Nepal photos now. 🙂
Do you have any advice to give to Sara or anyone else looking to trek in Nepal? Please drop a line in the comments section below.
And if you’re looking for specific photography advice for trekking in the Khumbu, check out my other post Photography Advice For Trekking In The Himalayas Of Nepal
UPDATE: I have a post on the Avid Trips.com blog about one of my days trekking, if you’re looking for a bit of real trail life.