When I decided to attempt the Everest Base Camp trip, I did so on a whim. I make most of my decisions this way. Some end up terrible, some end up being unequivocally life changing.
I had all these grand plans to increase the speed and endurance of my running. I imagined myself in the gym, day in day out becoming stronger and leaner. I’d planned that by the time I reached Nepal, I’d be in the best shape of my life.
I definitely did increase my running distances and speed, although maybe not to the extent as originally planned. But I definitely did not end up in the gym every day. As a result, the closer the trek came, the more apprehensive I was feeling. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t as prepared physically as I’d hoped. I was making up for it in mental preparation and constant chanting under my breath, ‘you can do this’.
The First Day
The first day walking was not difficult at all. We started in Lukla at an elevation of 2845m and ascended not that much further to Phakding which took us around 4 hours, trekking on what mainly felt like flat land. I was warming myself up nicely for what was to come. I woke up the next morning without one single ache or pain. A sure sign that yesterdays walk was not difficult at all. This only served to make me more nervous.
Phakding to Lukla
The 7-hour trek from Phakding to Lukla took us to an elevation of 3440m. The walk was beautiful and took us across sketchy suspension bridges whilst walking from mountain side to mountain side, over glacial rivers and through rhododendron forests. As beautiful as it was, day 2 was much more strenuous than day 1 and for the first time I really felt like I’d been walking up hill. I realised much later that walking poles would have been a clever idea. Actually, most of my group had them. Towards the end of the trek I realised that if not for stabilising me going down, they would take some pressure off my aching thighs from levering me upwards.
Things did get progressively more difficult from Namche Bazaar. I must stress, the physical act of actually walking is not that hard. In theory your legs are getting stronger every day. The main problem I started to have were affects of the altitude. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can really do to train for that. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, some people will be more affected than others.
Trekking with experienced guides
The absolute best thing about trekking with experienced guides is their priceless knowledge of the body when it comes to acclimatisation. I had no idea how important it was to make regular elevation stops to allow the body to adapt to functioning with less oxygen. The main cause for people getting sick and rescue helicopters being called along the trek is from ascending too quickly. We made two main elevation stops. One at Namche Bazaar at 3440m and a second at Dingboche at an elevation of 4350m.
The most important thing to remember at high elevations is to be kind to yourself. Go slowly, its not a race. Drink plenty of water, your body needs it. And even when your appetite is struggling, eat snacks and three meals a day. Sticking to these rules helped me to push myself through the difficult parts.
Reaching Everest Base Camp
The day we reached Everest Base Camp was incredible. My oxygen saturations were a mere 75% and my head was banging, but my mind was buzzing. The physical and mental hard work seriously pays off to experience the euphoria that comes with such a boundary pushing adventure. The satisfaction of achieving personal challenges far outweighs any physical pain and difficultly I endured over the preceding 9 days.
Don’t be fooled
The way down from Everest Base Camp is just as hard as the way up. You feel rough, you’re desperate to get out of the thin atmosphere and back to a level of oxygen sufficient to give you feeling in your finger tips and toes. Emotionally the way back was harder for me. I was exhausted and feeling nauseated. The final push on the last day from Namche Bazaar to Lukla was 100% more difficult than I’d remembered on the way up. But I wasn’t struggling because my thighs ached (even though they did a bit), or my knees were sore (they weren’t- I was one of the lucky ones). I was struggling because I was emotionally exhausted and drained from the elevation changes, the cold and the change is sleep and diet.
Of course, the fitter you are the easier the walking is going to be. The stronger you are, the less difficult it is carrying a heavy pack and endless supplies of water. I saw guys who were seasoned trekkers sick from altitude and a variety of people from the very young to the very old. But, realistically, if you have an average level of fitness, just like me, then you should be fine.
So, if you ask me, ‘Is trekking to Everest Base Camp really that hard?’
My answer is, if I can do it, anyone can!