How tough do I need to be to trek to Everest Base Camp?
Trekking the popular trails in the Everest region of Nepal is accessible to most with a decent level of fitness and the will power to endure a couple of weeks at altitude. If you can walk, you can trek – it’s as simple as that! That being said, the high-altitude, steep ascents, long days and extreme weather make Himalayan trekking no mean feat.
Who can do it?
People who have made it to Everest Base Camp range from a 3-year-old girl (Yes, she trekked there independently!) to octogenarians. All the routes up to Base Camp are walking trails and don’t require special technical skills or equipment to navigate. The only prerequisites are a sturdy pair of boots, adequate clothing, and the drive to see your expedition through.
How fit do I need to be?
While you don’t need superhuman fitness to arrive at the foot of the world’s highest peak, you’ll enjoy the journey a lot more if you’re not bent over gasping for breath all the time. For starters, if you can walk 10 kilometres in 2.5 hours over undulating terrain, you’re on the right track; This is a solid base to build from and 6-8 weeks of training will get you trail ready!
Fortunately, it’s beneficial to move slowly on the trail to aid acclimatisation and give yourself the best shot at success, so take it slow and enjoy the walk. It’s important to remember though, that you will be walking on some of the highest trekking trails anywhere in the world and dealing with the thin air at these exaggerated elevations is the real challenge.
How do I train?
It is very difficult to be specific about the level of fitness required for this trek. For the most part, those who trek a lot do not really need any special preparation for a trek in the Himalayas. On the other hand, Those who exercise very little and only occasionally work out, will have a fair bit to do.
There are 3 components to training for a high-altitude trek – cardiovascular endurance, strength training and functional fitness.
Recommended activities to improve your cardiovascular conditioning include walking, running, cycling, rowing, working on an elliptical machine and swimming. Build up to 3-4 sessions a week of 30-40 minutes of sustained activity at a moderate intensity – you should be able to string a sentence together while working out but feel tired at the end of your session. Warming up before and cooling down after your workout along with some stretching is essential to avoid a trip-ending injury.
Train primarily with free weights to build functional strength most beneficial for trekking. If you don’t have access to a gym, bodyweight training is more than sufficient to get you strong enough for this hike. Muscle groups to focus on are the core (lower back and abs) and legs. Focus on compound exercises such as planks, push ups, lunges, squats, crunches rows and step ups. Aim to complete 1-2 full body strength workouts a week for 30-45 minutes each.
There is no better way to get trekking fit than by trekking. So, if you have access to hiking trails, get out there and spend your weekends hiking. Aim to ascend a 1000m (approximately 3000ft) in a 2.5–3 hours, ideally with a ten-pound backpack.
If you’re not lucky enough to have access to the outdoors, or the weather doesn’t permit you to do so, there are plenty of alternatives. Walking on an inclined treadmill, climbing up and down multiple flights of stairs or up a hill in your neighbourhood are all viable substitutes. The goal is to get your body used to the ascents and descents you will encounter on the trail.
What are the other challenges?
Altitude is the single most challenging aspect of the trek. At the highest point on the Everest Base Camp Trek, there is half as much oxygen in the air as you’re accustomed to down at sea level. Apart from the very real risks of altitude sickness (AMS), the decreased oxygen levels can make normal functions a real task. A meticulously planned
acclimatisation schedule is absolutely essential!
Weather in the Himalayas, like any other mountain
environment, can range from brilliant to downright dangerous. It’s important to be equipped with the right clothing, weather forecasts and information on shelter and exit points in the case of adverse weather striking while you’re on the trail. On an Everest Base Camp Trek in the high seasons (Spring & Autumn) the temperatures vary from a frigid -20° C to a comfortable 20° C. It is imperative to be well equipped with the appropriate clothing.
Sunburn and Photokeratitis (a sunburned eye in layman’s terms) are an existential hazard while trekking in the Himalaya; The high elevation, proximity to the equator and the reflection off of snow, while not life threatening, can be extremely painful at the least and can leave you incapacitated at the worst. Good quality sunglasses and sunscreen are indispensable.
Discomfort - both mental and physical, will be a constant companion on your multi-day trek. Up in the mountains, you are likely out of your comfort zone and spending long days outdoors, possibly in inclement weather and without the creature comforts of home. A positive attitude and mental preparedness will go a long way in making your experience an enjoyable one.