1. Planned contingency days
Whether planning your own trek or arranging a trip through a tour operator, please be sure to schedule in 2 to 3 contingency days. The internal flights to Lukla, Jomsom, Pokhara, Taplejung and other areas in Nepal can and will get delayed and cancelled. The last thing you need is to miss your international connection out of Kathmandu! By including a few extra days to your trip will guarantee some piece of mind and some down time before the long-haul flight back home. One big advantage of working through a tour operator is that they (on your behalf) can facilitate a booking on the next available flight back to Kathmandu. Remember: if your flight is cancelled on one day you don’t get priority the next day. The people with tickets for that day do.
2. Local guides and porters
Don’t want the added expense? Then be ready to possibly carry a heavy pack, book your own lodge rooms, maybe get off route… On the more popular Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks, local guides and porters are not necessary. The trails in these areas are fairly well marked and there are there are plenty of others trekkers on these routes if help is needed. Local guides can add a sense of connectedness and understanding to an area and by using porters you will only need to carry a day pack of around 12 to 15 pounds. If going on your first trek in Nepal it may be worthwhile to have the assistance of these experienced locals and, relative to the hard work they do, the extra cost is minimal.
“Sherpa” is actually a Nepali caste. They are generally devout Buddhists, and even have their own language that is similar to Tibetan (but has no written form). One who assists trekkers up a mountain isn’t inherently a Sherpa, nor do all Sherpas act as helpers on expeditions. However, as Sherpas are historically from the high altitude areas (and therefore well-acclimatized) many guides and porters are of this caste.
4. Yaks and pack animals
Above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) these hairy beasts are plentiful. These beasts of burden are raised to carry loads at high elevations and work the fields in villages. Some of these animals are not always yaks. The shorter-haired variety, found on trails lower than Namche Bazaar in the Khumbu, are actually “dzomo,” man-made cow/yak hybrids. The higher-dwelling yaks are much shaggier. They both can have massive horns are a formidable presence when encountered on a hiking trail. Keep a wide berth and always stay to the uphill side when trying to pass or being passes on the trail. Listen for the oncoming yak bells and watch out for large piles of yak poop!
5. Drinking water
On the more popular treks you will be able to purchased bottled drinking water all along the routes (i.e. Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Sanctuary…). Many villages now have purified water stations where you can fill up water bottles for $0.50 and save on the plastic. Every lodge, teahouse and shop sells bottled water. Typically charging $1.00 per liter bottle. On these treks, water filters and water purification tablets are really not needed. On treks in the more remote areas and when you are on a tented camping trek, your water will be properly boiled by the cook staff. It is recommended that you bring two 1 liter water bottles or a large hydration bladder to be filled up at camp. Hot water bottles are also great for keeping warm at night when camping.
6. Buddhist customs on the trail
Most treks in Nepal will enter the higher Buddhist regions of an area. Your first indication of entering a Buddhist village will be the colorful prayer flags flapping in the wind on homes, monasteries and atop mountain passes. You will also come upon stupas (Buddhist shrines), mani walls (large walls of river rock and flagstone with Sanskrit mantras written on them) or long walls of prayer wheels. It is custom and a sign of respect to always walk past or around these religious monuments on the left. That is, with your right side always closest to the object.
7. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
AMS is the one big unknown when embarking on a trekking trip to relatively high altitudes. How will your body cope? Will you get sick? Given that most of us can hardly train and prepare at such altitudes, this is a real concern for everyone but nothing to be overly focused on. After 22 years of guiding trips to the Himalayas the keys to giving yourself a great shot at a safe, comfortable and successful trip are:
a.) Pace yourself: this is supposed to be a fun vacation and not an athletic event. Stop for a cup of tea at a lodge, take pictures, sit and gaze up at the snow-capped peaks. Have fun!
b.) Stay well hydrated: drink liquid until it’s coming out of your nose and ears. It all counts…water, tea, soup. Just drink!
c.) Stay warm: carry extra warm clothes with you during the day and pack plenty of warm clothes in your trek bag. Hat, gloves, socks, thermal layers, down layers and waterproofs.
d.) Eat a healthy diet: the lodges offer a wide variety of hot and healthy dishes. On a camping trek your cook staff will make plenty of trek-sustaining dishes for your group. Fuel your body properly and it will treat you right.
No matter how good of shape you are in (or think you are in), everyone is susceptible to AMS. If you get a headache just drink more water. If it doesn’t go away take a Tylenol or similar analgesic. Don’t try to ascend too quickly. You have all day to get to the next camp or lodge. No sense in getting to camp before the porters or tea is ready! Diamox can be used for persistent and mild symptoms. However, the best cure for AMS is to descend. The Everest and Annapurna areas offer very good communication along the routes and are relatively easy routes when needing to descend to lower elevations. This is why these areas are a great choice for the first time trekker.
8. Personal Hygiene
“Can I take a shower every day?” I get this question all the time. Quick answer: No! Your personal hygiene will suffer on a trek. Even on a lodge trek, showers and laundry service (if available) are expensive and unreliable. It’s better to stink. Really! Rivers and streams can be used for the occasional sponge bath and a few packets of Wet Ones can really freshen things up in a pinch. If you need a daily washing I suggest finding another place to go for a hiking vacation. If you are creative, it’s amazing how clean you can keep or at least trick yourself into believing you are clean! We will all stink so it’s not as though anyone else will notice or care!
9. Other must have items for a trek
First aid kit.
Antibiotics for upper respiratory and stomach illness.
Headlamp with extra bulb and batteries.
Hand sanitizer and plenty of it. Be an obsessive hand cleaner!
Down jacket. At some point you’ll wish you had it!
10. A few luxury items you may consider bringing
Solar charger. Especially if going off the beaten path.
iPod, Kindle, GPS and other electronic gizmos
Fold up camping chair (Crazy Creek for example)