To heaven & back

To heaven & back

I was inspired to set up my very own  outdoor gear manufacturing company after my first trip to Everest base camp. I have made several trips to the Himalayas, but I consider the Everest base camp trek to be one of my favourites. The Mount Everest or Solo Khumbu area is among the most popular trekking areas in Nepal. One has to fly to Lukla (2804 mts), home to what is perhaps the shortest airstrip in the world and begin what is a dream journey. Trekking to the camp is not just a challenge, but an exhilarating experience for anyone who loves adventure. You get to see four of the world’s tallest peaks.

I first went to Nepal in the 80s and had to buy second hand mountaineering equipment from Namche Bazaar, left behind by foreign mountaineering groups. Kumbu Sherpas would sell the cheap gear to people like us — who did not have access to quality equipment. Things have changed since. Not only do you get reliable mountaineering and trekking equipment in India, but people have also begun to explore remote trekking options like the Everest base camp, taking rugged routes to quench their thirst for adventure.

A trek to the camp involves walking for many days, mostly up and down steep hills through remote villages. The freezing winds and beautiful icefalls in the distance will beckon romantically. But, make proper preparations before you start the trek so that you don’t end up a week away from a road or an airstrip ill equipped, exhausted or unable to cope with the thought of walking all that distance back.

The trek is physically demanding because of its almost unbelievable change in elevation. During the 180 km from Lukla to Everest base camp and back, the trail loses and gains more than 6,000 mts (19,600 ft) of elevation. You can always take plenty of time during the day to cover the distance, so the physical exertion is not beyond your capability. Besides, you will want to take it easy and enjoy your walks through enchanting pine and rhododendron forests, stopping by to enjoy tea with yak milk in the early part of the trek from Lukla, before they give way to low shrubs and stunningly stark glacierscapes.
On the journey to the base camp, you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy the hiking can be if you only carry a daypack and don’t worry about preparing meals. However,  previous experience in hiking and living outdoors is helpful. The first night of a two-week-long trek is too late to discover that you do not like to sleep in a sleeping bag. While mountaineering skills are not necessary, you should enjoy walking and camping.
The Everest base camp trek is challenging but most people with good fitness levels can do it with the right preparation, gear and proper acclimatisation. If it is your first time trekking, you will be wet and cold. You may want to turn back mid way, but the monasteries, mountains, silence of the Khumbu glacier, grassy valleys, the contrasting ice falls, the serenity and beauty all around will overwhelm you. And if you do make the journey, it will alter you in a subtle way that only the magnificence of nature can.  

Cost and services
Prices for treks vary significantly depending on the trekking company you approach or if you do it on your own. Also, the style, size of the group, season, and the mode of transport to the start of the trek, matter.
 
Trekking companies range from large organisations to small operators. Before singing up for a trek to the Everest base camp, verify if the company is a member of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal. Larger companies will be more transparent with their costing, as they will include all expenses that you will incur while smaller entities will add them later, terming it as extra cost. Check whether the cost of your trek includes — national park fees, porter insurance, transport from Kathmandu to start point and back, fuel surcharge and advance money for emergency evacuations. Make sure Nepal’s VAT and service tax is included in the quote.  Porters charge Rs 500 per day as wages. Guides will charge Rs 1000 to 1500 depending on your group size, difficulty of trek and season. Vegetarian food at various lodges will cost about Nepali Rs 1000 to 1500 per day. (figures in Nepali rupees)

Clothing and equipment
The task of selecting gear can overwhelm some people, but preparing for a trek is no more complicated than equipping yourself for a weekend trek. In some way it’s simpler. On the Everest base camp trek there is no food, eating utensils, cooking pots or tents to worry about. Some people like to travel light. This works fine when the weather is good and you have no health problems. But the mountains are not always kind and you may find your self caught in rain or snowstorm far away from a lodge. If you do head into the mountains unprepared, you will be on your own as few people will give up their clothing or sleeping gear to help you. It is always helpful to have all your gear before you leave home.

* Clothing: Down or fibre filled jacket, Fleece or pile jacket, hiking pant (preferably one that converts to shorts), waterproof jacket, poncho or umbrella, high altitude insulated pants, windbreaker, polypropylenes, woollen or fleece cap or ‘balaclava’ and fleece or insulated gloves
* Footwear: Basic Trekking Shoes along with Gaiters should suffice in summer months, but proper mountain trekking boots are a better choice for the high Himalayas. Also, take camp footwear and woollen socks 
* Other Equipment: Backpack, which has a light internal frame to stiffen the bag to give it form and has a padded shoulder and waist belt to keep it from bouncing. Carry a daypack if you have porter support. You can carry the daypack and the porter will carry your main backpack. Sleeping bag — A warm bag is a must, irrespective of the season. While a sleeping mat is necessary just in case you don’t get a place in a lodge. To add the list of other important items is a water bottle or a hydration bag of 2-litre capacity, head lamp with LED bulb, duffle bag as an extra or group gear, which gets carried by the porter, sunglasses or glacier glasses to cut UV rays. Carrying a sunscreen and lip balm is imperative. 

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