Compared to its larger Asian neighbours, Nepal might not seem like much. Yet this small country is a land of giants. Here live elephants and rhinoceros; snow leopards and tigers; crocodiles and pythons; and, as legend has it, the dreaded yeti. Mightiest of all are the Himalaya, a spine of mountains so tall they tear into the jet stream; so colossal they bar rainfall across Central Asia. At their heart is Chomolungma, the Mother Goddess, better known to you and I as Mount Everest: our planet’s highest point. On the forbidding Khumbu glacier at its foot is our goal: Base Camp, the 5,360 metre launching point for attempts to the summit whose triumphs and tragedies have become legend.
Thinking of joining Gapforce on this challenging adventure? Since the trek to Base Camp means ascending more than half the total height of Everest, it’s not something to be undertaken lightly. In this article, a Gapforce expedition leader answers participants’ most common questions and concerns. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need to succeed in this gap year program that will take you, quite literally, above and beyond.
What’s included, and what’s not?
Three meals a day will be provided on trek, as well as hot drinks several times a day. Drinking water will always be available, although for safety water must be purified using chlorine tablets or similar before consumption. Items not included in the price of the program and considered optional extras are soft drinks, snacks, spare toilet paper etc. Snacking can be an essential supplement to the diet, especially for those with big appetites or those struggling with loss of appetite. You are advised to stock up on these in Kathmandu, where all products are significantly cheaper than in the mountains. The cost of everything goes up the higher you go: for example, a soda bought for 300 rupees in Lukla can cost 700 rupees or more in Gorak Shep. You are advised not to consume alcohol while ascending.
How’s the weather?
Our Everest Base Camp expeditions run during the preferable trekking season, in October and again in April.
October is the start of the trekking season, just after the passing of the monsoon period. Daytime temperatures are as high as 20°C (70°F) in Lukla at 3,000 m, hovering below 0°C (30°F) at Base Camp at 5,300 m (17,500 ft). At night temperatures at that elevation tend to be -10°C (14°F) or lower. The tail end of the seasonal rains that may linger at this time of year mean the chance of cloud, rain and snow, but there’s still a high chance of clear skies for your next iconic photo.
April is a peak season for trekking the Himalaya, with daytime temperatures warm in Lukla (making for humid hiking at the lower altitudes). Temperatures at Base Camp can be as high as 10°C (50°F) in sunlit, sheltered spots, but wind chill at these altitudes will make you want to wrap up warmly. Being at the height of the dry season, April expeditions are generally dry and stunningly clear.
Note that weather in the world’s highest mountains is notoriously changeable, prone to sudden extremes. Storms can happen at any time of year. The difference between light and shadow is drastic at high altitude; nightfall means cold conditions – but that’s what cosy lodges and down jackets are for.
How far will we walk in a day?
A day’s walk will entail anywhere between four to seven hours hiking, usually around fifteen kilometers. Most of the distance will be covered in the morning, with a break for lunch. It takes seven days to reach Base Camp but only three or four to get down due to the constraints of trekking at high altitude. The route to base camp is along broad, well-trodden paths. In the lower regions, steep sections often have steps. Each day will be different as you progress through the climate zones into ever higher, more rugged territory.
Will I be safe?
Your expedition will be managed by Gapforce’s seasoned, dedicated leaders, who’ll handle things so you can concentrate on the adventure. Gapforce expedition leaders are comprehensively trained medical first-responders as well as masters of risk assessment, and your day-to-day safety is taken seriously. We work exclusively with trusted local operators and companies who smooth the logistics of the program, providing a secure, structured trip for you to make the most of.
It’s a long way. Do I carry all my stuff?
On trek, you will carry a small day pack containing essentials. The rest of participants’ gear will be transported by a team of local porters. One porter will carry two people’s spare clothes and sleeping bag in a shared backpack. Nepalese porters have impressive strength, but be kind to them and yourself by packing as little as possible aside from what you need. Excess belongings not needed on trek itself can be left in a secure location in Kathmandu.
Our expeditions employ human porters rather than mules or yaks because of Gapforce’s commitment to animal welfare and supporting local people in host countries. Tips are a vital supplement to porters’ income and tipping is an established practice. 50 USD per porter is appropriate.
Altitude sickness – how can I prepare for it?
The condition commonly known as altitude sickness is caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevations. It has many symptoms ranging in severity, about which you will be briefed in detail by your expedition leader prior to the trek. The mildest stage of altitude sickness is known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), and commonly causes headaches, dizziness, nausea, lack of appetite and problems with sleeping.
This information is not designed to worry you, and it shouldn’t. The structured nature of the trek, with a steady pace and inclusion of acclimatisation days where you climb high and sleep low, will give your body the best chance to adapt to high altitude and avoid complications. Furthermore, the drug Acetazolamide (or Diamox), which effectively suppresses symptoms of AMS, is readily available in Nepal for a fraction of western prices.
Even with the best preparation, any given expedition has a high chance of someone feeling the detrimental effects of altitude on their body. It bears no relation to age, experience or even fitness level, and there are no guarantees. A good level of cardiovascular fitness will be your main asset, to boost your levels, check this natural testosterone booster for men. To make the most of your trek it’s important to train your heart, lungs and legs – namely the organs that will be doing all the work!
Do I need specific travel insurance?
A comprehensive travel insurance policy is mandatory before departing on Gapforce expeditions. Full ‘backpacker’ coverage is recommended, but for the EBC trek specifically make sure you are covered for helicopter rescue. Also, ensure your policy has no upper altitude limit (or a limit below 6,000 m).
Companies such as Endsleigh and World Nomads can provide suitable policies tailored to travel in the region.
What can I expect from accommodation and food?
On trek you’ll enjoy the hospitality of the lodges and tea houses that line the route. Such accommodation is spartan but you can be sure of plentiful tea, a decent bed and usually a western toilet. What more do you need? Blankets are provided but be sure to pack your own sleeping bag because it can still get very cold at night. Rooms are usually shared twin rooms.
Three meals a day will be provided. Again, expect basics – that way you may be pleasantly surprised by the menu choices of some enterprising establishments. Rice, noodles, potatoes and cheese feature heavily in the trek diet. Avoid meat at all costs, as no animal is killed for food within the sacred Khumbu Valley and meat has to be carried from lower down without refrigeration. Nepalese favourites like dal bhat (rice with lentil curry) and momos (steamed dumplings) are staples.
What will I see from Base Camp?
For one thing, not Mount Everest. A rarely advertised fact about Everest Base Camp is that you cannot see the summit itself from this position at the foot of the massif. But don’t worry, you can anticipate views of the infamous peak from a number of locations en route, including on the final approach to Base Camp itself. What’s more, the adventurous will have the opportunity (depending on weather and the wellness of the group) for an early morning climb of nearby Kallar Patthar, a 5,800 m viewpoint offering the finest views of Everest to be had in the region.
Base Camp itself is a remarkable site on the rubble-strewn Khumbu Glacier. Depending on the season, you may encounter a sea of tents as summit teams wait for their window of opportunity; or a desolate emptiness marked only by prayer flags tearing in the wind.
What is there to do when not hiking?
Usually reaching your lodging in the early afternoon, there is plenty of free time on trek. Roam timeless local villages, play cards (learn local games from your Nepali guides, if you dare compete), Organise marathon charades tournaments, or just chill in the comfortable environment of the tea house after your tiring day’s trekking.