7 Things that freaked us out about EBC Trek (but turned out to be very different)

This article is part of a collaboration between Berkeley Square Barbarian and the tour operator Spiritual Excursion. When Ellie & I were preparing for our Everest Base Camp Trek April ’22, there were seven things that really freaked us out a little bit:

 

(1)   IS IT GOING TO BE TOUGH COPING WITH THE HIGH ALTITUDE?

 

Everest Base Camp lies at 5,364m above sea level. Kala Patthar, a nearby peak with great views of Everest, is 5,644m. Climbing it is usually included as ‘optional’ in every Trek package. But only one in ten trekkers completes the climb. Most don’t try or make a U-turn half way up. Either way, the trek goes pretty high up. The altitude can affect people.

Were we going to see fellow mountain lovers being helicoptered out in emergency evacuations? Trekkers falling seriously ill? Was it going to be hard to sleep because of all the moaning and groaning going on in the adjacent rooms? Or worse: were we going to moan and groan ourselves?

It all turned out to be much less dramatic. None of the above happened. After a night in Gorakshep, 200m below and 3.5km walking distance away from EBC, we decided to take a helicopter back to Lukla. This was because my shortness of breath had increased and was now paired with slight dizziness. My level of discomfort was rather minor, though.

Had it not been for a combination of factors out of my (and Spiritual Excursion’s) hands on the particular day in question, I could have descended a few hundred metres to a lower altitude for the night. The following day I could have ploughed onwards and upwards again towards Base Camp, like other hikers do all the time.

  

Stock photography all (c) Pexels, rest, incl. feature pic & desert pic (c) BSqB.

We will definitely venture north of 5,000 again soon. The next time in three months, when we’ll aim to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. K2 Base Camp Trek had initially been planned for this July, but is now likely to be delayed by one year. In the long run, I would love to crack the 6,000 mark, perhaps 6,500, but we’ll see…

NO MEDICAL ADVICE – HIGH ALTITUDE SICKNESS

High altitude sickness is a strange thing. The consensus appears to be, that it can hit anyone at any time. Most experts seem to think that there is no preparing for it. Not unless you’ve literally stayed around or above 2,500m continuously or with gaps no bigger than a few days, that is. It hits physically fit people as often and as hard as physically unfit people. (Even though physically fit people might possibly sometimes find it slightly easier to cope with some of the symptoms.)

There are professional mountaineers, who summited several eightthousanders without any issues. Then they take the family up to 3,000m on a gondola trip. Suddenly they fall ill. Acute mountain sickness (another name for it) is very serious. However, there are many ways in which to minimise the likelyhood and impact of it.

 

I am no expert on this topic. But it sounds like everyone says that you should take your time. Don’t sprint up the hills. Take breaks. Don’t do a 12-day trek in 10 days. Do acclimatisation hikes on your rest days. Drink lots of water. Don’t drink any alcohol. Don’t smoke. Don’t stop eating food when you lose your appetite at these elevations.

Perhaps a bit awkward, coming from someone who didn’t walk the last 3.5km, but nonetheless true, in my opinion: If you get serious symptoms, don’t push on. Stay at your altitude. Or get to a lower altitude quickly, if symptoms continue. Listen to the professionals, such as your qualified mountain guide or a medically trained person.

 

(2)   ARE WE GOING TO FREEZE STIFF INSIDE THE TEAHOUSE BEDROOMS?

 

The one thing that had freaked us out almost as much as the high altitude were the sometimes rather low temperatures. Several of our friends, who had done EBC, told us that they had witnessed temperatures as low as minus 15C or even 20C inside the teahouse bedrooms. Only the main room is heated in those teahouses. And even the main room often only from 5pm to 9pm or so. And just by a small wood-fired oven in the centre of the room.

 

On the plus side, our sheer terror about the cold meant that we came extremely well-prepared. Spiritual Excursion provided us with high-quality, thick down jackets and sleeping bags. We brought additional liner sleeping bags, two mid-layer down jackets each, Goretex jackets, plenty of fleece layers, thermal base-layers, etc.

Going in April meant that the temperatures were much warmer than in February or November (which is when our friends had visited). Even for April the weather was warmer than usual. Up to 12C above 5,000m. That’s like an English summer. At lower altitudes the temperatures were often higher than that. At times we were wearing T-shirts during the day. At night the temperatures fell to around 5C to -5C or so.

Spiritual Excursion always booked us into rooms that were part of the main building complex and that were relatively well-built (no plywood walls or corrugated iron roofs). Our friends had not always been so lucky.

The temperature in our room was almost always above zero. Our guess is that it went down to around zero for a couple of hours on two occasions. The big down jacket on top of a base-layer and a fleece mid-layer was usually enough to keep us toasty. Twice we each used one of our two mid-layer down jackets. Usually we wore thin fleece gloves to bed. On the coldest nights we wore our mittens.

 

We never came close to getting cold. I often didn’t even zip up my sleeping bag. A few times Ellie complained that she was getting too hot, but she couldn’t be bothered to take layers off and just dozed off again. That’s my girl.

 

(3)   WILL WE GET ILL FROM THE FOOD?

 

From our very short trip to Nepal two years ago we knew that the cuisine is magnificent. Locals employed in the hospitality industry take pride in their job and generally deliver to a good standard. However, on EBC Trek, there are enormous challenges with transportation and refridgeration. Most goods reach the teahouses by yak, where there is no refridgeration for several days. Due to frequent and extensive power shortages, even perishable goods that reach the teahouses in prime shape, might go off there and then.

Nearly everyone we had spoken with, had warned us to be careful with the food. About two thirds of our EBC veteran friends had experienced vomiting and diarrhoea. Some had done so for several days and more than once, despite corrective medication. The most positive outlook offered to us was: “Stick to vegetarian Dal Bhat, maybe noodle soup, focus on the nutrients, not the taste, keep your fingers crossed, and you’ll be fine.”

We played it safe. We filled our plastic trekking water bottles with boiling hot water at each teahouse. Whenever the water didn’t come boiling hot or we had other doubts like about hygiene, we added chlorine tablets to the water. We avoided meat as soon as we had left Lukla (where I had enjoyed a yak burger, it was lovely!).

With every meal, we had at least one cup of ginger lemon honey tea. On most days we shared at least one garlic soup.

 

We also felt lucky, that Spiritual Excursion had booked us into nice teahouses. At times the food was phenomenal. At the ‘Green Tara Resort’ in Namche Bazaar, the dishes we had ordered for our first dinner (dumplings that were different from momos, and savoury pancakes) were so delicious that we ordered them again for lunch and dinner the next day.

Each time we faced the agony of double-guessing our decision as soon as we looked at the marvellous meals our fellow hikers were gobbling down. These included pizza margherita, tomato cheese lasagne, baked potatoes, and French onion soup.

While most people lose some weight during the trek, Ellie and I didn’t. We are good eaters. And even though the food was quite basic, it was nearly always tasty. On average, there were four to ten vegetarian dishes to choose from. Not once did we get ill from the food. Not even a funny feeling in the stomach or something.

We regularly had the distinct impression, that it was useful that our guide knew the owners and the staff at the teahouses. He always made an effort to be friendly with them.

 

(4)   WILL AN UNBALANCED DIET LEAD TO PROBLEMS?

 

From all the horror stories we had heard about the food, we had expected to be living off thin noodle soup and bits of vegetables and rice for the very most part on the good days. On the rest of the days we were expecting not to be able to hold our food in.

We knew we were going to avoid raw vegetables and salads. Similarly, the breakfast wasn’t going to come with a selection of freshly squeezed fruit juices to choose from. While we have successfully reduced our meat intake over the past couple of years, we still eat a fair bit of meat. On the Trek we were going to go full-veggie, as mentioned.

There are some restrictions on taking food supplements into Nepal, so we didn’t bring any. Once we had landed, we went straight to a pharmacy. There we splashed out some £40 on a 12-day supply of one of the well-known upmarket brands of supplement pills. The pills contained military-grade amounts of everything from all types of vitamins to things like magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, ginseng, and turmeric. Ellie popped the recommended dosage, I took a double dosage each day. For emergencies we had plenty of sachets with electrolyte rehydration solution powder, but never used any.

Finally, we made the effort of reading up on which plants are high in protein and had plenty of those, like lentils, beans, and peanuts. Neither of us felt like our bodies were missing anything. We certainly didn’t have any symptoms of malnutrition like muscle cramps.

 

 

(5)   ARE WE GOING TO RUN OUT OF JUICE?

 

Even in much more moderate climates, our rechargeable batteries had occasionally given up on us and gone flat way before their time. We had heard stories of batteries dying for good on EBC on one of the first few nights because of the cold. Trekkers being stranded without juice. No taking photos without electricity.

For me that would be on one level with going to the toilet in the middle of the night and seeing the Candyman in the mirror, smirking at me from behind. Or with doing a paid restaurant review and then, while your host can see you, realising you just accidentally bit into a rolled, moist napkin. Because you thought it was an amuse-bouche. You know, terrifying stuff like that.

EBC Trek without any pictures? I’d probably start passing by yaks on the downhill side of the path, just to see what happens. It would be difficult to find electronic equipment once you’re past Namche.

 

Our extensive research before the trip made us more anxious, if anything. There is so much information out there, tips on what to do, guidance on what to avoid, often contradictory and nearly always incoherent. You read about solar cells people put up on their hats or backpacks. About special containers for the gear. About ultra-pricey expedition-style equipment. And so on. And on.

The one advice we found very useful was to always keep our electronic gadgets near our bodies. Thus, the body heat prevents them from getting too cold. For example, we never left them in our room when we went to the main room for dinner or breakfast. At night, we always put our gear inside our sleeping bags. They do say that our generation is too cosy with their gadgets, but hey.

We did not buy any new equipment for our trip. Instead we used our regular gear. This includes one very big rechargeable battery that is intended for laptops, and two smaller ones, two plugs with four USB ports each, and spare cords. We brought our camera, our GoPro and our usual mobile phones and headlamps.

Some teahouses might not have a working battery charging station. In other cases it might be very unreliable, intermittent service, or fully booked by other guests. This is why, whenever we had a chance, and even if the batteries were still more than half-full, we re-charged at least one regular battery and the big battery. For us, this approach worked just fine.

 

(6)   IS THERE GOING TO BE INTERNET?

 

The situation changes constantly. However, at the time we went on our trip and for our specific needs, we found that getting a local Ncell SIM card for the equivalent of £12 for each phone worked well. That means worked well for Kathmandu and the stretch from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, as well as for the area near EBC.

For the bit from Namche Bazaar to Gorakshep we both purchased wireless broadband internet connectivity from Everest Link for £12 each. In Kathmandu, Ncell reception is perfect. Outside Kathmandu it is not great but mostly decent (where applicable). Everest Link is mostly quite reliable (again, where applicable).

   

 

(7)   WILL EVEN YAKS JUMP TO THEIR DEATHS WHEN THEY SMELL US FROM MILES AWAY?

 

I perspire more than most men, sometimes during physical exercise it can get extreme. Ellie on the contrary hardly ever breaks sweat, not even when exercising. On the other hand, most men are unlikely to get a panic attack simply because they’ve got a little bit of body odour. Women, though, on average tend to feel more anxious about smells.

Long-distance multi-day treks are notoriously challenging when it comes to personal hygiene and BO. It is impossible to fit 12 changes of clothes into a duffel bag for a 12-day trek. On a trek like EBC you will not have a lot of opportunities to wash your clothes, possibly none at all.

So while Ellie and I came from completely different angles, we both felt rather worried about the situation. Were we going to be so smelly that even yaks would jump to their deaths when they would smell us from miles away? Were we going to feel too dirty to sleep? Maybe we, ourselves, would end up choosing to jump, simply to escape the olfactory misery?

You usually walk very slowly along the trek and take plenty of breaks (either because you cannot go faster in those high altitudes, or because you don’t want to push your body too hard). The temperatures are typically either cold or moderate, never hot.

 

Left shows me on cliff edge with no intention to jump. Right pic is stock photo, not from EBC Trek.

This means you are likely to transpire relatively little. We also aired our clothes a lot. Even when we had to queue for the water tap in the cold, we got ourselves a good wash or two a day. We had a shower in Namche Bazaar and one in Dingboche.

In the end, the situation turned out to be much more pleasant than expected. We were hardly ever noticing strong BO from anyone and no one seemed to avoid us either.

Ellie & I went on EBC Trek with Spiritual Excursion and had a great time. I paid full price, but Ellie was invited. All of the above is from Ellie’s and my very own, personal experience. Your experience is bound to be different. Possibly extremely different. Do your own research and be aware of the significant risks involved in doing this beautiful Trek. Any questions? Leave a comment and we’ll get back to you.

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18 Comments

  1. I mean, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who has a list of freak outs with EBC. but your post is super helpful for people who are actually going to do the trek!

    (Or for people who like to casually watch everyone else be more adventurous lol)

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Lannie. Ellie & I are looking forward to catching up with you in person soon. Also: I don’t know anyone as adventurous as you, buddy..!! 🙂

  2. Wow such an informative post for anyone wanting to attempt, and does a lot for me for wanting to take this plunge myself. The research you guys put in was phenomenal it seems you left nothing to chance which is brilliant. Can’t wait to see some more on your trek

    1. Thank you so much, Richard. I think you’ll enjoy EBC Trek just as much as we did. But first. let’s get that caving adventure for you and me sorted tehehe… I’ve not heard back from any tour operators yet, but I’m sure we’ll manage to sort out some good potholing for the day. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. You have given some fantastic tips for undertaking such an adventure. You must have done some really intensive research to prepare so well. I am storing all of these up for future reference. What an amazing trip! Onwards and upwards

    1. Thanks so much, Jane. I guess we did do a fair bit of research. Then again, Spiritual Excursion provided us with a lot of information upfront too. However, until we’d been there it was difficult to get rid of those initial fears entirely.

      They gave us the facts and the advice on how to deal with things. They said not to worry about the food or BO, but the obvious reaction is to think ‘Well, they are our tour operator, they would say that’ haha…

  4. I have been waiting for a post of your adventure and loved that you focused on ‘challenges’ and ‘rumors’ . This post should be mandatory reading for anyone who is thinking about venturing to EBC…I have some convincing to do with Dave. On the hygiene topic when we were trekking Inca Trail on the last of 3 days without showers, one person noted how amazing it was that we didn’t all smell. After a few minutes of laughing, someone jumped in with, ‘We all smell so bad that we cancel each other out.’ Ahhh the joys and experiences of long distance trekking. THXS for sharing! Looking forward to do more.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience from the Inca Trail, Steve. That does sound just about right hahahahaha…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Ellie & I are very much looking forward to our next high altitude adventure which will happen in August.

      Good luck with your efforts convincing Dave. He usually seems to be game for all the crazy stuff you suggest.. 🙂

  5. I can see why several of these things freaked you out. When we planned to go to Machu Picchu we were definitely worried about altitude. Sadly we had to cancel that trip so never found out if we would be the ones moaning and groaning! We generally worry less about being cold than being too hot. Although sleeping with mittens would be a new experience even for this Canadian girl. Food may always be my biggest worry. I get sick easily. And I did have to laugh when you worried about yaks running away from your smell! Glad things all worked out better than you worried.

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment, Linda, and interesting to hear about your plans for Machu Picchu (and sorry to hear it did not happen). Yes, in the end it all turned out to be much easier than expected, despite the fact we didn’t do the last couple of kilometres. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Stefan, thank you for all these great information. I also enjoyed the humour.
    Brian and I are thinking of doing EBC at the end of this year or May next year. When is a good time to do this trekking?
    Will you try to go again in the future to reach EBC? Such a shame you were so close, but a very wise decision to take the helicopter back. Altitude sickness is very dangerous.
    I am glad it has not put you off from hiking at high altitude.

    1. Oh.. wow.. that’s VERY soon, Gilda, how exciting.

      The best time to do EBC trek is either Late Sep to Nov or Feb to May. We found April a good time. Relatively clear skies most of the time and pleasant temperatures. Friends of ours did the trek in February respectively November and it regularly got -10C to -20C inside the teahouses north of Namche Bazaar.

      Even with good gear that’s a tad too cold for comfort. We were told that the views are best directly after the rainy season, when the rain has washed all dust out.

      I think there is a very good chance Ellie & I will do the EBC trek again, not even so much to make up for the fact we didn’t make it to EBC the first time around. We got so close that we don’t really feel like we missed out on much. 🙂

      However, on the trek you meet many hikers who are doing the trek for the second or third time. It’s generally considered to be one of the best treks.

  7. What a great post! I’ve been looking forward to reading about your adventures and it was interesting to learn about the sort of things that people do worry about before embarking on EBC – and then you provided lots of practical information, advice and reassurance. We found not washing regularly to be surprisingly liberating when we were in Mongolia (we had 3 showers in 11 days and, like you, aired our clothes and had a brief daily wash on non-shower days) and similarly discovered that the yaks weren’t bothered by us! Also, the yak burger sounded delish. And I laughed out loud at the Candyman reference!

    1. Yes, Mitch, liberating is a great way of describing it. Mongolia would have been such a cool experience. It’s definitely high up on Ellie’s & my list, maybe 2nd from the top after Tibet. Ellie & I were both very pleased to find out that none of the yaks were bothered by us.. 🙂

  8. Getting to this post has been in the back of my mind for some time now, and I’m glad I finally had the chance today. I’m always fascinated with the adjustments that are required when traveling in unique situations. Plenty of adjustments required here!! Can’t wait to read more about this adventure.

    1. Thank you, Steven. Appreciate you taking the time. I gather you must be one of the busiest travel bloggers as of late. I only see you jetting around the world these days and really enjoyed your Andalucia and Malta posts.

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