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Trekking in the Everest Region

Trekking in the Everest Region

Excerpt:
Planning your trek


Contents List | Introduction | Planning your trek | Facilities for the trekker | Sample trek | Minimum impact trekking


WITH A GROUP OR ON YOUR OWN?

Nepal, long suspicious of foreign influence and colonial powers, began opening its borders only in 1948. The first tourists (as opposed to mountaineers and researchers) arrived in 1955 but it was not until 1965, when Colonel Jimmy Roberts set up Mountain Travel, that the first commercial treks began.

The concept was similar to the expedition approach used by mountaineers, with guide, cook, helpers, porters and separate dining and kitchen tents. These holidays proved to be a great success and essentially the same expedition-style format is still used for remote area trekking and climbing expeditions.

Alongside this self-sufficient approach to trekking is a second, locally based tourism industry catering to the needs of a different type of visitor. Along the main trade routes the hill peoples of Nepal traditionally had a code of hospitality towards travellers.

It was only a matter of time before small groups of adventurers started taking advantage of this, staying in basic teahouses and lodges. Now, from Lukla and above, these lodges have developed to the point where they offer distinct advantages over the expedition style.

The latest trekking development is lodge chains, with several companies setting up uniformly high standard lodges in good locations that suit a few days to a week's trekking.

Now with the variety of facilities and services, it really is up to you how you trek, alone or through a company, staying in teahouses or tents.

EXPEDITION-STYLE TREKKING
The traditional idea of this form of trekking evokes images of an army of heavily laden porters catering for a few pampered sahibs and memsahibs, with sherpas pitching the tents and kitchen staff cooking up three-course meals on tables complete with table linen.

In fact this is still essentially the standard format and it's a glorious way to trek, especially off the beaten track where teahouses are rare, or during peak season when the lodges are overflowing.

There are big economies of scale so small groups work out at much more expensive per person than a group of four or more.

The crew
The better trekking companies can organize really good camping trips, with everything included. The guide-sirdar will be competent and experienced, with some having even climbed Everest, and the best of them are a real privilege to be around. There will be a sizeable crew, too, even if there are just one or two of you.

Using a Nepali or a foreign company?
Home country or other overseas companies offer tempting and usually well-run trips, and with their fixed departures you will be joining a team of (hopefully) like-minded people. Certainly for ambitious treks and expeditions, they offer good options.

If you are after a custom departure for a couple of people it may make sense to look at Nepali companies, and all foreign operators work through a local company. Do ensure they are experienced at running your itinerary.

TEAHOUSE TREKKING

Dotted along the main trails are privately owned teahouses and lodges. They can provide anything from a cup of tea to a full meal and a bed so, for the entire trek, there's no need to carry food or shelter.

Teahouse trekking, as it's usually called, is easy to organize through a company, or independently, just pack and go, and it is also good value.

The level of comfort and facilities in the lodges has improved greatly. Once infamously smoky and rather too authentically mediaeval, many are now modest hotels which generally offer better facilities than the expedition (camping) approach.

You will be sharing a lodge with other trekkers and a late-night party might keep you (or them) awake: most lodges are not particularly soundproof. On balance, however, teahouse trekking is still more comfortable than camping, and most treks are a fantastic experience.

With a group, your own guide or completely on your own?
Your basic trekking choices are: trekking with a fully organized, pre-arranged group; trekking privately with a guide; or trekking by yourself.

Package treks
Usually booked through a home country operator, these should be well organized with plenty of pre-departure information and offer a knowledgeable guide who can answer almost any question and manage the sometimes diverse range of people on these sorts of treks.

With all arrangements made in advance, from being met at Kathmandu airport, to your departure, everything should flow smoothly. One of the real advantages, apart from a knowledgeable guide to make the trek fun and dates fixed well in advance, is proper backup in case something goes wrong.

It is definitely worth checking that the itinerary truly takes altitude into account, and also check on the qualities of the leader, and are they named prior to departure?

It is also worth asking what happens if you struggle (due to altitude or sickness). Some simply turn you back without the possibility of a slower ascent or an alternative lower-altitude trek.

Private treks with a guide
Once glossy brochures were the main marketing tool to gather groups, now the internet (and email) is all-powerful, and getting in touch with local trek operators is easy.

They are happy to set up a custom trek for one person, two people or a group. This means flexibility and convenience but you might want to do more research to check/compare the itinerary, the company and perhaps the guide too.

Many foreign trek operators also have either locally guided fixed departure treks where the groups are small, and/or offer custom trips too. The cost will usually be higher but the service should also be more reliable.

The crew for a private trek will normally be a guide and a porter or two, all of whom stay in the lodges as well. The guide generally only carries their own equipment, and porters carry your kitbag, plus their minimal gear, so you are left with your daypack.

Alternatively if you are feeling fit and strong you could arrange for just a porter-guide, someone who can carry 5-10kgs/11-22lbs of your gear (often just your sleeping bag and a few clothes) and also trek with you.

Security
Women travelling alone often trek with a guide for security yet occasionally this backfires, and they face hassle from a guide who becomes surly when you won't sleep with him.

It is best to be clear from the beginning when dealing with the company: ask for references from women who have used the company/guide and also interview the guide before starting the trek. There are many good, reliable guides.

Booking in Kathmandu
If you have some time in Kathmandu it can make sense to do the research at home but then book your trek when you arrive, once you have met with the company and staff.

Almost every street outside the heart of Thamel is lined with trekking companies, though most are on the first or second floors of the buildings, ie above the hundreds of souvenir and clothing shops.

Before you walk into an office be clear what services you want – and, just as importantly, what you think you don't need. The majority of trekkers will be looking at hiring a guide or a porter-guide so meet your guide.

Hiring your own guide
It is easy enough to turn up in Lukla and hire your own guide or porter-guide. However, this is something the Nepal trekking companies are trying to discourage.

Local guides have an ‘unfair’ advantage of not having an office to run, and don't pay tax either. The companies argue that independent guides are not regulated (trekking companies don't regulate the quality of their guides by compulsory qualifications either) and they are not insured, which is worth bearing in mind; also there is no forum for complaints. Laws covering this are contradictory, as are the ethical questions.

Regardless of the many issues and the fairness or otherwise, now to trek you must have a TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) permit; this entitles you to trek either independently (FIT – Free Individual Trekker) or with a company, but not to hire your own staff except in an emergency.

Trekking independently
Many people trek by themselves. The lodges are impossible to miss, route finding presents few problems and basic English is widely understood.

Unless trekking during the monsoon or off the standard routes you constantly meet other trekkers in the lodges or on the trail so while you can remain by yourself if you wish, most people end up walking in small groups and staying at the same lodges.

This process often begins on the flight (or bus) out to the start, and more friendships evolve during the rest of the walk: this is one of the special joys of Nepal trekking.

Trekking below Lukla alone (as a male or female) used to be safe but more caution is required now. Villagers often ask how many people you are trekking with and the best reply is always to say that your friend is just behind, or simply trek with others.

Violent crimes against foreigners are still virtually unknown but the law and order situation in the country has deteriorated significantly.

If you would prefer to begin your trek with a partner, advertise on, or scan, the noticeboards around Thamel, especially at the Pumpernickel Bakery and the Kathmandu Guest House boards. There are many internet message boards too.

As well as being economical, independent teahouse trekking gives you the freedom to alter your schedule and stop where you wish. This is particularly handy if you are sick for a day or two or you feel like a rest: group treks generally have to push on.

Trekking the wild way
Using teahouses where you can and then camping/bivvying up remote valleys is a fun way to explore: this means you can carry everything you need and a porter isn't required.

At any major village on the main trekking routes you can pick up enough food, provided you're not a fussy eater, to disappear into the wilderness for a few days or more. The main decisions boil down to selecting exactly what gear to take and deciding if you have enough experience for some of the wilder route options.

TREKKING AGENCIES IN NEPAL

With over 500 trekking companies, it is hard to know where to start. However, it is worth checking if a company is a TAAN (Trekking Agents Association of Nepal; www.taan.org.np) member as you are slightly more protected if there are issues with your trek. However, most companies are members and they are listed on the TAAN website.

It is worth trying to gauge whether the company is big or small, carefully read what the person in charge writes, and if they name or discuss their staff. If they are named, search the internet, and of course search for the company's name as well. For more challenging treks and peaks, ask who the guide/sirdar will be and Google them.

Generally, you pay for what you get. If you want a high-standard trek, climbing trip or a trek to a really remote area, it is often better to deal with companies who have offices out of central Thamel – ie the ones who organize mainly internet bookings and expeditions for overseas agents – as they tend to have more experience in arranging these sorts of trip.

OVERSEAS TREKKING AGENCIES

Some companies offer a general range of treks while others specialize in climbing and adventure treks. Brochures and websites usually stress the level of experience required for treks and climbs advertised.

don't, however, lose sight of the fact that although trekking is made easier by the need to carry only a daypack, it is still your legs that do all the walking. don't be afraid to quiz the company on who is leading the trek, their group numbers policy, and on the detailed itinerary.

All profess to follow comfortable acclimatization rates but the hard reality is that some don't.

Compared to Nepali companies the prices quoted by foreign agencies are higher, often much higher, but you'll also get a much higher standard of preparation and trek too.

Furthermore, you have the consumer rights of your country on your side, so you should be well protected. In contrast, if booking through a Nepali company you'll have to deal with the slow-moving Ministry of Tourism should anything go wrong.

HOW LONG TO GO FOR

If time is the ultimate luxury a trekking holiday should be a decadent one. The more time you have in the mountains the better, especially if the concept of trekking appeals.

It takes a day or two to adjust to the trekking lifestyle and exercise, and it's usually only in the last couple of days that you'll start to feel it is time to clean up and fatten up. If you want to sample trekking rather than eat the whole pie, a week to ten days is a good length: anything less is just a stroll.

Arriving in Nepal from Australia or Europe it's best to allow a whole day in Kathmandu (ie two nights), while from North America allow two whole days (three nights) to start to recover and adjust to the different time zone and climate. If arranging a trek on arrival, two or three full days are better.

Try to have at least one day in Kathmandu at the end of a trek in order to clean up and shop. More time can easily be filled by exploring the Kathmandu Valley, relaxing in cafés and bargaining with tea-serving Kashmiri carpet salesmen and Thangka-hawking Tibetans.

Slowly Nepal is becoming an adventure destination, so plan extra time if rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, mountain-biking, paragliding or visiting Tibet appeals.

Avoid the trap of planning a whole itinerary down to the last minute and allow plenty of time for the inevitable delays and interruptions to your schedule. Domestic flights can be delayed, so allow an extra day or two to accommodate for this.

Once on the trail, especially on a longer trek, allow a couple of days for inclement weather, sickness or a gloriously lazy day for eating and reading. Although many people have never been hiking for more than four or five days at home, two or three weeks in the mountains of Nepal usually flies by all too quickly.

Trekking in the Everest Region

Excerpts:

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