10 Things No One Told You About Trekking In Nepal: Part 1
When I decided to do my first trek in Nepal I spent a lot of time researching and preparing. I poured over itineraries, recommended packing lists, watched YouTube videos and started getting all of my gear together. I shopped our local adventure gear stores like Mountain Designs, MacPac and Kathmandu, and I scoped out their sales. I took a credit card so I could by hundreds (or more!) of dollars worth of gear and then packed it all in a box, ready for my trip. I really wish I’d known I didn’t have to do that because I could have saved a lot of money! I’ve trekked in Nepal a few times now, have had the opportunity to live there too (part of that time in a remote village), and married a trekking guide Sherpa. So I’ve learned a few things that I want to share with you, in the hopes you might benefit when getting ready for your upcoming trip.
1. You can trek during winter. But avoid monsoon season!
The first ever trek I did was in the middle of winter. I joined a group going around the Annapurna Circuit. It was January/February, so winter was well and truly set in! It doesn’t snow in Kathmandu or Pokhara, and our first glimpses of snow came about 3 days in, around about Chame. It didn’t take long for the snow to get thicker and deeper, with ice on the trail a lot of the time. It was cold, but trekking during winter is incredible! There’s very few other trekkers around, so it’s nice and quiet. You get teahouses to yourself, but if you’re trekking by yourself you may feel lonely or your options may become restricted as places close and menus get a bit limited. Personally, I love the solitude and having few options. I also love having the time and space to get to know the locals, or my guides. Oh, and the ambience of the snow-laden Himalaya mountains is something you will never experience anywhere else!
You’ll need some extra gear for trekking in the snow. My snow pants came in very handy once we were over Thorong La Pass and trekking through waist deep snow! I stayed nice and dry, thank you! Crampons are also necessary to stop you from slipping on icy trails, and gators will stop snow and slush from finding its way into your boots. Consider a sleeping bag that’s rated for colder weather, and a liner that helps to boost the warmth rating. A lot of places won’t have extra blankets, and you don’t really know when they were last washed anyway!
If you’re game, you can also trek during monsoon, but I’d personally avoid it. I’ve done it, and it was less fun! You will spend most of the time wet, fighting off leeches. The trail becomes slippery and landslides are a real risk. I remember spending one wakeful night in our uncle’s teahouse as we all worried about the stability of the mountain side in front of our accommodation as the rain poured down nonstop all night. We all left and made our way back to the main village the next day. You will also miss out on some amazing mountain views as they are obscured by mist and cloud. I still haven’t seen Mt Everest, despite making it all the way to Tengboche!
2. You can get wifi and hot water!
Despite being in the middle of the Himalaya mountains, you can still get wifi in most places. Sure, the further up you go this service becomes less available and less reliable, but you’d be surprised how far you can go before it isn’t an option. However, I found that after being on the trail for several days, I no longer wanted to be online. I was immersed in the experience of my trek, appreciating being away from everything that stresses me in everyday life, and I no longer felt the need to update social media land about what I was doing. It was very liberating.
You’ll also find you can get hot water in many places. But it’s not as you think. Sometimes the hot showers are powered by solar. So no sun, no hot water. Sometimes they’re broken. And sometimes the hot water isn’t exactly what you’d call hot water. Mostly though, the further up you go, the more likely it is the water will be boiled. If this is the case, you should probably avoid using it for showering unless absolutely necessary. Firewood is scarce the further up you go, and it’s hard work getting gas bottles up there. They usually have to come by mule train. You will be charged for hot water in this case, and rightly so.
Your hot shower will also be a bucket shower, and in the middle of winter, it can be pretty cold. I remember trying to have a bucket shower in Yak Kharka - in a concrete room on the second floor with a window that looked out over the snow covered mountains, I hovered naked over the bucket of hot water, trying to absorb as much warmth as I possible could while I washed. I was freezing, but felt very refreshed afterwards. I’ve now mastered the art of having a wash from little more than a jug of water!
3. The electricity on the trekking trail can be better than in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal, and it has a routine of daily load shedding. Once or twice a day, for several hours at a time, the electricity is turned off to different areas of the city, according to a schedule. The aim is to reduce load on the grid, and give everyone an opportunity to access electricity. The main industries seem to be excluded from this practice. Some businesses then operate from a generator, and personal households may have solar power with backup inverters just to run their lights.
However, outside of the city load shedding doesn’t seem to be a problem so you may find you have electricity more frequently while trekking than you do when you’re in the city. Of course, the further up the mountain you go a lot of this power comes from solar power or generators. You may find that the power to your room is restricted, but there is power in the main dining area. In some teahouses you need to charge your electronics in the main dining area, and there could be a fee to do so.
4. You don’t need to carry your own bag
Most people who go trekking will take the opportunity to hire a porter to help carry their gear. And that’s definitely something we ensure we provide at Sahasi Mahila Treks. Having a porter carry your main bag for you means you really only have to carry what you need for the day, such as water, your personal belongings, small first aid kit, and some snacks. This should all fit into a small day pack and be less than 5kg. This frees you up to enjoy your trek a whole lot more, and also helps local people earn an income so they can provide for their family. Sahasi Mahila Treks is socially conscious, so we also ensure our staff are paid at a rate that is more than normally considered acceptable.
5. You don’t need to be as fit as you think!
In most cases when you’re trekking in Nepal you’ll be spending at least a week trekking up to 20km per day, through terrain that you’re not really used to, carry a small backpack. Up and down stairs and steep paths, across suspension bridges, and to altitudes you’ve never been before. So to say you don’t need to be as fit as you think sounds crazy, right?! But it’s true!!
Yes, you’ll require a basic level of fitness, but for most people unless you’re a regular mountain climber, not much can prepare you for what a trek in Nepal is really like. And the good news is, you don’t need to be a marathon runner or a mountain climber! As long as you can manage walking about 5 hours per day, up and down hills, while carrying a small backpack, you really will be fine.
Still don’t think you could do that. Well, take some time to prepare. Put on your trekking boots, grab a light day pack, and gradually work up to being able to walk 5km in 90min. And just know that if you set a nice, gentle pace with plenty of time to rest and reach your destination (like we do at Sahasi Mahila Treks), you might find the first few days a bit difficult, but you will begin to get trail fit in no time!
Oh, one more thing: if you’re worried about whether or not you’re fit enough to handle the altitude, it’s important to note that your level of fitness has no bearing on how well you handle altitude or not. To best manage the effects of altitude, it’s important to go slowly and take plenty of time to rest and acclimatise. You can read more about altitude sickness here.
What do you think? Are any of these things deal breakers for you, stopping you from wanting to trek in Nepal? Or have you found them helpful as you prepare for your own adventures? Be sure to check back in two weeks when I publish the second part of this post, talking about the last five things you might not have considered while preparing for your own trekking trip to Nepal.