How to Prepare for Everest Base Camp trek

everest

Getting in Shape

Treks in the Himalayas and to Everest Base Camp inherently follow rugged, sun-kissed trails that zigzag to very high altitudes: The majority of Sagarmatha National Park is barren and reaches higher than 16,000 feet above sea level. The colossal scale of the mountains and the region’s remoteness requires travellers to hike back-to-back days on foot while carrying a loaded backpack. Even athletic and fit travellers will benefit from preparing their body for walking in the mountains.

Packing the right gear is extremely important. Choose a sturdy set of hiking shoes or boots that are broken insupportive enough for multi-day use and that protect your feet from the rocky terrain. Practice walking on unstable trails that simulate the conditions of the trek. Start with a one-hour hike and gradually build stamina by increasing your time on foot until you can comfortably complete a six-hour day. In a given week, take a rest day after a few days of endurance work. As you train for your Himalayan trek, it might be natural to focus on the climb up—but don’t forget to prepare your body for the returning descent. Everest Base Camp is located at a much higher elevation than the start of the trek. Furthermore, in following the standard route, a hiker accumulates close to 17,500 feet of vertical gain and loss.

Altitude Acclimation

Everest Base Camp is perched at a very high altitude of 17,598 feet, and is surrounded by Himalayan peaks that reach even more extreme altitudes. Travellers can add excursions to even higher elevations, such as Kala Patthar peak, which offers a stunning snapshot of Everest from an elevation of 18,510 feet. But all trekkers begin their journey much lower: The most common port of entry in Nepal for travellers is Kathmandu, which sits at 4,593 feet above sea level. Lukla—where the trek to Everest Base Camp starts—rests at 9,383 feet in elevation.

Given the altitude of Everest Base Camp, historically, some hikers have experienced acute mountain sickness (AMS). AMS “is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ascending quickly or not allowing for time to acclimatise can increase the risk for AMS.

In order to help prevent symptoms related to altitude, Princeton University’s Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude recommends that hikers venturing above 10,000 feet should thereafter limit their increase in elevation to 1,000 feet per day. Hikers can also add one rest day for every three days of ascent. And if hikers do climb more than 1,000 feet in a day, they can always backtrack and sleep at a lower elevation if symptoms arise.

Guided trips often include days for rest and acclimation in Kathmandu and Lukla, as well as during the trek in high and very high altitude locations such as Namche Bazaar (11,286 feet), Dingboche (14,468 feet) or Pheriche (14,600 feet). For hikers who choose a longer expedition via Gokyo Lakes or Cho La Pass, another village where they can stop and acclimate is Machhermo (14,665 feet).

But no matter which itinerary you choose, Princeton’s OA Guide to High Altitude suggests staying hydrated, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding sleeping pills. If you begin to feel symptoms—like a mix of a severe headache, nausea and weakness—consider staying put or descending to a lower altitude so that your body has a greater opportunity to adapt.  Please seek direct advice from your personal health care provider regarding the altitude preparation, training, protocol and medication that is best for you.