ADJUSTMENTS FOR HIMALAYAN FIRST-TIMERS
1. Sharing the track with huge hairy animals with sharp horns and no sense of personal space.
2. The slow, steady pace set by gaining altitude safely. When going up, days are short and afternoons relaxed.
3. Coping with altitude: it makes everything harder, slower and more tiring, can screw with your sleep and health, and makes you eat, drink and pee more.
4. The tiny, wiry porters who can move at twice your speed while wearing thongs, texting and carrying their own body weight in flat screen TVs.
5. Trusting wire bridges strung hundreds of metres above the ground. They are narrow, sway alarmingly and look dodgy, and you share them with yaks, donkeys and people.
6. The support crew. There’s an army of people – Sherpas, guides, cooks and porters – all of whom are way tougher, fitter and perpetually good-natured than you will ever be.
BEFORE YOU GO
Your preparation and gear needs will depend how you’re travelling: with an organised group, a small group with porters staying in teahouses, or on a fully self-supported trek. We travelled with World Expeditions to make it as easy as possible – minimal planning and organisation; lots of information and support. We also wanted to stay in tents rather than teahouses so that we felt closer to the landscape.
The fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy it. Even if you run marathons at sea level, the altitude will make everything harder, but if you’ve got a decent level of fitness and you take it slowly you should be fine. It’s really hilly (surprise!), so training somewhere steep will help. World Expeditions recommended one hour of aerobic exercise five times a week for three to six months before departure. I left my training a little late, so found the hilliest, hardest hour of running I could and killed myself on it four times a week for a month.
Especially if you don’t have a guide, make sure you know all about altitude sickness: recognising the signs, how to prevent and treat it. Most people will have some symptoms (headaches, loss of appetite, terrible sleep) but you really don’t want it to get serious.
The most common problem, as always, was with boots. Several people in our group lost toenails and there were blisters galore. Wear your boots in, buy good socks and liner socks. (I bought ArmaSkin liner socks to wear with my shiny new One Planet boots and didn’t get a blister.)
You’ll also need a good down jacket and a sleeping bag comfortable to at least -10 degrees Celsius (if not supplied), as well as a comfortable pack. Take a good medical kit, just in case.