Ten Things I Wish I Had Done Differently During My Everest Base Camp Trek
Out of all the places still on my bucket list to see, I have decided to go back to the Himalayas of Nepal to do another trek next week. Nearly dying of cold and misery on Everest Base Camp wasn’t enough for my masochistic spirit so I’m off again to the mystic mountains, but this time I won’t be going alone. I am so excited to be traveling with two very close friends of mine and also to be going back to an adventure much wiser than the first time.
Here are a few things I wish I had done differently when I did Everest Base Camp and which I’ll do this time around:
1. Pack Protein Bars
Once you get above a certain altitude, your options of protein will dwindle down to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (if you’re lucky). After hours of hiking and the consummation of dozens of eggs over the past few days, I started to daydream of a big steaming hunk of meat to eat. Early into the trip, a fellow hiker opened his protein bar and I swear I could smell that thing from across the dirt road and I salivated like a starved fat kid seeing cheesecake. Don’t be an idiot like me and assume that you can load up in Kathmandu before the trek begins – I had a real hard time finding anything that was loaded with protein and easily transportable. So this time around I’m bringing a combo of protein powder for when my body refuses to eat above 4km, and protein bars for when we’re still at a liveable altitude level. This way I’ll be able to enjoy the eggs that do come my way instead of gagging at the smell.
This is my choice of protein because it mixes well and doesn’t taste like ass. In my travels since Base Camp, I usually put the recommended two scoops into a baggies (one per day) for however many days, and I can even throw it into a glass of water and swirl with a spoon to get my body’s needed protein intake.
2. Bring a Stash of USD Cash and Do NOT Immediately Exchange it all for Nepalese Rupees
I’ve experienced this in other low-GDP countries with secretive governments – most people prefer USD because it is stable and unlikely to fluctuate. It also allows for individuals to charge more and skim off the top when they exchange it to local currency for their records. The guys at the visa counter wanted me to buy my on-arrival-visas in USD, not Nepalese Rupee. It took more than a few minutes of both of us exchanging loud mutually unintelligible words and rude hand gestures before I convinced the guy that even though I was a US citizen, I did not have USD on me, and that I could only buy the visa in Nepalese Rupee or Hong Kong Dollar which he found incredibly distasteful. Oh yeah, and the ATM was broken and I also had to fight it to get my card back, something that can potentially happen in Nepal, especially as the country gets back on its feet post pandemic. The ATM experience definitely didn’t add to my overly polite demeanor in dealing with bureaucrats.
3. Take an Experimental Dose of Diamox at Sea Level to Test Your Body’s Reaction
Acetazolamide (which often goes under the brand name of Diamox) is prescribed for altitude sickness because its benefits usually outweigh its negative impacts for most people. It’s an odd drug in which its list of common side effects include numbness or tingling in the face and extremities, loss of appetite, decreased libido, metallic taste, and so on. Unless you’re planning on banging your way to the top of Everest, the low libido wasn’t a cause for concern but the tingling in my face and fingers made me think twice about taking it because it’s hard to ignore and is unsettling. Diamox works by increasing the acidity of your blood by decreasing renal reabsorption of bicarbonate in your kidneys (click here if you want to read more on the mechanism of action). Your body reacts to this increase oxidation by increasing your breathing and increasing the amount of O2 your blood can carry. It doesn’t ‘fix’ altitude sickness, but rather speeds up the process in which your body acclimatizes.
I still don’t know if my insanely high heart rate and a few other symptoms were because of the sheer speed of altitude change or if it was the Diamox causing rapid breathing which in turn caused a higher heart rate. If it was the altitude, then I would feel comfortable taking the Diamox to help out, if it was the Diamox causing a big part of my fast heart rate and breathing issues then I could confidently kick it out of my daily regime and deal with the altitude.
So this time, a day or two before heading out, I’m going to take Diamox at sea level and check my heart rate while still on solid sea level land and near a functional medical facility so I can at least isolate some variables. Dealing with medical facilities in Nepal post trek is a whole other eye roll from me and article worthy in its own right.
4. Pre-Buy Gear
Like the protein bars, your choices upon arrival to Kathmandu are limited compared to selections outside of the country. The street that had name brands such as North Face and Columbia were short on stock, barely had my size, and were way overpriced. You can get some knockoffs (North Fakes) but you’ll need to brush up on your haggling skills and the gear may or may not last the entirety of the trek. You can re-stock in some small villages on the way to base camp in the initial phase of your trek but everything in these small villages understandably have a huuuuge markup.
So this time around, I did the next best thing to buying my own high tech gear – I cajoled and begged gear from family and friends so not only will I be able to stay much warmer than before, but wearing them will make me think fondly of friendship.
5. Research How to Function in the Cold
Piggy-backing off the last advice, one of the biggest things I wish I had done was to research how to function and survive comfortably in the cold. Such as the importance of having proper thermals, of how to use a down sleeping bag (apparently you strip down to base layer instead of piling on clothes for warmth), or how the cold and dry sap away moisture from your body as if you were in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Growing up in the heat and humidity of Florida and spending the last five and a half years in Hong Kong did little to prepare me in the ways of the cold. So mother nature gave me a harsh lesson I won’t forget anytime soon. When you’re cold and wet from your own hiking sweat and your body is rapidly losing its body heat because you are no long on the move, there is little else you can think of other than getting warm and it takes away from the chilling beauty of your surroundings. So, if you’re like me and have little experience in the cold, make sure to do some research. An extra tidbit I picked up last trek is to find a way to maintain some humidity while you breath, especially when sleeping at night. The altitude cough, also known as the Khumbu Cough, is thought to be partly caused by the aridity of the air ruining your mucous membranes. It’s advised to sleep with a face guard, face mask, or some sort of buffer to keep your breath humidifying your throat and lungs.
6. Pack a Good Quality Power Bank (or Few)
Above a certain altitude (around 4km), the lodges charged us for every use of a charging socket or to rent out one of their power banks for a few hours. It’s easy to be frustrated by the increased price in water and access to electricity, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that life up in high altitude Himalayas is a hard one, or at least harder than Western city life. Not only that, but nearly everything above a certain height has to be carried up there – those power lines and generators didn’t magically drop from the sky and your few extra bucks can help send a few of the village kids to school. So saying that, at most times I had no problem paying for a charge, but there were times when all the charging apparatuses were taken and unavailable, and if you’re mid hike and your music runs out then it’s best to bring a power bank or two based on your camera or music needs.
7. Pack Handwarmers
One thing that surprised me was that your morale starts to diminish rapidly when you’re at such high altitude when there is no reprieve from the cold that is leeching into your bones and sapping your strength. The lodges are not heated, there’s no warm sauna, no chance to undress and clean yourself without losing your teeth from them chattering so hard, and you have days left of this endless cold knowing that it’s only going to get colder and less hospitable the more you climb. The one warm joy was when the people working the lodge lit the yack fires in their furnaces to heat up water and guide, porter, and trekker alike would gather around it to feel that sweet sweet heat that would only last an hour or so.
Now I did not have the proper gear, knowledge of how to handle the cold, or a good sense of wick-away thermals, so I’m hoping that anyone who reads this or has experience with the cold won’t be as miserable as I was at times. But I can say that those littler hand thermals, if I had had one, would have boosted my moral like nothing else. Just a small little heat source to hold in my hands and rub on my frostbitten ears would have been one of those silly little things that could have made a world of difference to my in-the-moment contentment levels.
8. Water Purifier
I brought a Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter that I thought would be perfect for getting free water. Turns out that these lifestraws are great for hiking where there aren’t any human contamination but suck balls when it comes to developing country taps or anywhere where human viruses can enter the water (you know, through pooping). You need a purifier along with a filtration system to get safe water and I wasn’t about to risk getting cholera while my body was being beaten up by physical activity and high altitudes, so I paid the price for buying multiple water bottles a day and having to transport it, as well as someone having to transport it down when I was finished. I saw a serious hiker on the trail who used one of those LED light purifiers that I was skeptical of getting before traveling because how can the LED light kill viruses so effectively without hurting us in some way? But I’m here for a good time, not a long time, and I’d rather die of cancer at the age of 80 than of shitting myself to death at the age of 29 on a mountain top.
9. Minerals, Melatonin, and Vitamins
Your body is under a lot of stress during this trek from altitude and the cold. I saw the serious hikers pumping up on vitamins and electrolytes every day to keep their body in top shape and stave off potential malnutrition. Again, stupid me thought I could buy some stuff in Kathmandu but I cannot stress this enough, the supplies they have in Kathmandu are mediocre compared to what you can get in other countries. They don’t have strict regulations on food or medicines (as I found out the hard way) and it’s geared towards the tourist market – you know the people who come and go and are gone before they can kick up a fuss on how shit it is and who are willing to pay a pretty penny for what little there is.
This time around, I have stocked up on a tried and tested regiment of minerals, vitamins, and oral rehydration salts so I can hopefully keep the Khumbu Cough and any other sickness at bay. I’m also hoping the vitamins will help me to sleep better at night which was also a big issue up in the mountains.
I’m also going to try out some melatonin up in the mountains this time around to see if it’ll help me get a better rested nights sleep, instead of waking up every hour or so gasping for breath. Now, take this bit of recommendation with a bit of salt and for the love of god, PLEASE DO NOT TAKE SLEEPING PILLS. When I asked one of the guides about taking sleeping pills to help me nod off at night and stay asleep, he said with a smile that it would certainly help me stay asleep…forever. Sleeping pills at high altitude have a much higher chance of leading to a devastating and irreversible side effect of death. They work by depressing parts of your nervous system which are already on the fritz at altitude and can cause it to shut down completely. This article states that melatonin is still okay to take at high altitude but PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. I don’t claim any responsibility for anyone dumb enough to leave the comforts of their own home to go into a hypoxic freezing cold mountain range for their own enjoyment.
10. My biggest piece of advice and one that I am excited to do when I go back again next week is for the women of this readership. Bring Pads and Lots of Them!
Hands down the worst experience I had was when every day or twice a day I would strip down to nothing to change my underwear since ten minutes of daily misery was worth it to maintain hygiene and avoid pesky UTI’s and yeast infections. But I HATED doing it, dreaded the minutes leading up to it, and sat shivering with a mean look in my eyes for a bit afterwards because it took time for my body to heat back up again. It was frustrating to take all my bottoms off, get my feet cold, and then PUT THE SAME CLOTHES back on other than the underwear.
So what I’ve done this time is to pre-buy panty liners that I’ll then change every 12 hours instead of changing out the underwear. I’ll probably be wearing the same exact clothes for ten days like when I did Base Camp trek but at least this time I can save myself the 20 minutes daily of self abuse and make my trip that much more enjoyable.
Please note that, if you’re anything as annoyingly sensitive as I am, be sure to buy pads in a place where you know they won’t be scented. I checked multiple corner stores in Kathmandu and couldn’t find any unscented pads. I don’t know what the industry’s obsession in Asia is for scented pads (although when I went back to the States I noticed it being a problem there too) but something in the chemicals that create the fake flowery scent give me instant UTI-like symptoms probably due to some irritant of the urethral lining. In the name of equality, when will they start creating male underwear scents such as ‘pine forest’ or ‘woodshop woodchip smell’, or ‘sex panther’? I could go on a rant about how ridiculous and unhealthy it is to expect a women’s parts to smell like flowers or menthol mints while men get to roam around with smelly sweaty balls with impunity.
But back to the point, the unscented panty liners can help give that extra boost of hygiene while still maintaining warmth on those cold days. Also this way, if you’re visited by an unexpected visitor while on your trek, then you’re at least prepared because the higher you get, the more barren and less indoor or outdoor toilet options there are.
And last but not least, huge thank you to my hiking partner and friend Stefan who can be seen here and who brought a good camera to capture these amazing memories <3