Trekking in Nepal
Nepali treks go high, quite possibly higher than you've ever been before. Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness, is a serious problem here, so serious that the Nepali government and the volunteer-run Himalayan Rescue Association have opened an altitude sickness information center in Kathmandu and clinics on well-trod trekking routes.
Here are the elevations:
- The Annapurna Trek: the high point of the route is 17,800-foot Thorong La
- The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Annapurna Base Camp is at 13,500 feet
- The Everest Base Camp Trek: Everest Base Camp is at 17,000 feet and there is also an opportunity for trekkers to climb 18,450 Kala Pattar
- The Helambu-Langtang Trek goes over 16,800-foot Lauribina Pass.
Nepal has a wet-season (June to September) and a dry season (October to May). In addition, the winter months are much colder, and the high passes are usually closed by heavy accumulations of snow.
The most popular time of year to trek is October and November, when the air is clear and temperatures are cool. March through May is the second-best season. In spring, the valleys are dusty and hazy from the dust, obscuring the views, and temperatures can climb well into the 90s. High in the mountains, however, spring conditions are pleasant, with clear air and comfortable temperatures. One other spring-time benefit: Nepal's rhododendrons are in bloom.
A few hardly souls do trek in the wet summer, but unless you have a thing for leeches and wet boots, you'd do best to avoid the monsoon. If the summer is the only time you have available, consider trekking in some of the newly opened trekking areas, such as Mustang and Simikot, which are on the rain-shadowed side of the Himalayas.
How much gear you bring to Nepal depends on what kind of trek you're doing. If you've signed on for the full-service tour, you don't need a stove or a tent; porters will not only provide this, they'll set up your camp and cook your dinner. Make sure you get a list from your tour company of what items you are expected to bring.
As far as clothing is concerned, conditions vary widely. At the higher elevations, figure four warm layers plus a waterproof shell for your torso, two warm layers plus a waterproof shell for your legs, serious gloves or mittens, and a hat and a balaclava. At the lower elevations, you'll be hiking in shorts and a T-shirt. A sun hat is a good idea.
Other personal gear: trekking poles are highly recommended. Himalayan trails are steep and the uphills and downhillls can go on seemingly endlessly for several thousand feet, so poles are a real knee-saver. An ice ax and crampons are not usually necessary on the trekking routes during the main trekking seasons. However, snow can slow you down... or even delay you for a few days.
If you're doing an independent trek or if you're hiring porters, you will need some gear, even if you plan to stay in tea houses and lodges. Most important of all is a water filter . Nepal rivers are badly polluted: modern sanitation is virtually unheard of, and latrine run-off is common, as are a variety of unpleasant intestinal parasites. Your filter should be able to block particles bigger than 1 micron; in addition, many filters are available with iodine elements that kill viruses, as well. A small bottle of iodine tablets is a reliable back-up to water filters.
Even if you plan to stay in tea houses, you'll need a sleeping bag (rated to 20 degrees if you plan to take one of the higher treks). Bedding is sometimes available, especially on the Jomson part of the Annapurna Circuit, but you may be sharing it with lice and bedbugs. Better to bring your own. A camping mattress is an optional item since most tea houses have some sort of pad, albeit they're often thin and dirty. If you're a sensitive sleeper, take your own. Finally, if you plan to cook, bring a stove you can run on kerosene, which is the only fuel you're likely to find.
Gear is widely available in Kathmandu. You'll find the left-overs from various climbing expeditions, as well as equipment imported for sale. If you forgot it back at home, you can buy it here.
Villagers living in towns on the more established trekking routes have learned that foreigners with hard currency and hiking appetites are a lucrative market. Over the years, many tea-houses on major routes have started serving Nepali versions of western-style meals such as pizzas and pastas. The popular Pokhara-to-Jomson trek (which is also the western part of the Annapurna Circuit) has even been referred to as the"Apple Pie" Trek.
On less traveled routes, however, the offerings are more limited. Nepali food will appeal to those with a taste for Indian food, but it doesn't quite have the same variety of flavors. The staple is Dhal Bhat, a rice and lentils dish, sometimes with vegetables added, available for pennies virtually anywhere you go. In Tibetan towns, you'll also find momos, which are fried dumplings filled with vegetables, usually cabbage or potatoes. They are a staple in the Solu Khumbu region. Other common foods are noodle soups (like Ramen), other packaged soups, chapati, oatmeal, and chocolate bars. Soft drinks and beer are also widely available, but stay off the beer at the higher elevations since alchohol increases your susceptibility to altitude sickness. Even if you plan to buy most of your food en route, it's a good idea to bring some snacks and GORP. Be aware that in the crowded high season, lodges may run out of food. A back-up stash can come in handy.
You need a visa to visit Nepal. Visas are available at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport, or can be applied for at Nepali embassies and consulates before you go. The cost, between $15 and $60, depends on the length of your visit.
You also need a trekking permit, which you must get in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Schedule a day in Kathmandu to take care of these kinds of chores. In addition, there are also national park entry fees at Langtang, Everest, and the Annapurna Sanctuary. You will be required to change $10 a day for each day you plan to trek. If you spend less, you can change some of the money back at the end of your trek.
One of the problems of trekking in Nepal is finding a map that's actually accurate or detailed enough to hep you find where you are. While maps and guidebooks are widely available in the many bookstores in the Thamel district of Kathmandu, they only really suffice for the major trekking routes. However, as as soon as you go off the beaten path, you've got a major challenge on your hands. Warning: the names of towns, mountains, and rivers are often spelled several different ways in English. Elevations are also inconsistent. (The elevations given in this article should be regarded as approximate, since they are taken from several guidebooks and a collection of maps which frequently disagree with one another.)
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication