How You Can Prepare for Everest Base Camp by Hiking Mt. Whitney
So, you’re interested in trekking to Everest Base Camp, but you don’t know if you got what it takes. Well friend, you’ve come to the right place. I will tell you exactly how you can prepare for Everest Base Camp. Try climbing Mt. Whitney first!
In this article you will find out that how your body responds to high altitude (+12,000 ft), what gear you will want to take with you, what gear not to take with you, and how to have an amazing time in the process. Kick up your feet, relax, and enjoy the read as I get into the details.
EVEREST BASE CAMP:
Everest Base Camp, the foot of the highest summit in the world, is one of the most popular destinations in Nepal. According to Nepal’s tourism board, it received 27,794 foreign visitors in 2015, placing it third in popularity behind Chitwan and Annapurna conservation areas. Though Everest Base Camp is the third most popular destination in Nepal it ranks first in trekking injuries.
An independent company, Himalayan Rescue Association, stated they rescued almost 100 people in 2017. Other independent companies reported similar numbers during the 2017 trekking season. There is not a common data base to accurately measure the total number of recused trekkers. However, based on the number of companies working in the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural municipality, you can estimate 375 people/ year.
To start, I’ve listed data you might want to be aware of in order to best prepare for your trekking adventure.
DATA provided by the Himalayan Rescue Association:
- 25% of deaths on Everest were due to altitude sickness from 1984 to 1987
- 35% of deaths were caused by illnesses such as heart attack, or diabetes
- 30% of deaths on Everest were the result of trauma
- 10% from exposure due to getting lost
- It is important to note the above study identified a total of 40 trekking deaths out of 275,950 trekkers from 1984-1987
- 19 people died in 1996
- 6 people died in 2012
- To date (2018) about 200 people have died attempting to reach the roof top of the world
KNOWING RISKS IS IMPORTANT:
While this may seem bad, trekking is still safer than driving! So, you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with preparing for Everest?” The short answer is (can I quote myself?), “it allows us to identify the risks and prepare for them.”
- AMS – altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness
- HACE – high altitude cerebral edema,water accumulation in the brain.
- HAPE – high altitude pulmonary edema, water accumulation in the lungs.
- HACE and HAPE are both severe reactions to high altitudes. Fortunately, they are preventable.
- Sprains- twisted or rolled ancles
- Exposure- Temperatures severely drop at night. Hire a guide to stay on the right track or to find you if you get lost.
Most doctors agree that the onset of altitude sickness can occur at around 8,000 ft. The life-threatening conditions of HACE and HAPE tend to occur around 12,000 ft if the person has not properly acclimated. Acclimation should consist of limiting altitude gain to 1,300 ft per day after exceeding 8,000 ft in elevation. Ascending higher than 1,300 ft is OK as long as it is followed by a decent to a proper altitude.
Everest Base Camp is at an elevation of about 17,600 ft and exceeds the elevation of most mountain peaks in Europe by over 1,000 ft. The Trek starts from Lukla (9,383 ft) and should take 7 or more days to reach base camp in order to acclimate properly. Be very cautious of tour groups that offer Everest packages lasting shorter than 10 days. These packages do not allow sufficient time to acclimate. In addition to exceeding elevation gain thresholds, it is important to not overexert yourself. Overexertion can exacerbate AMS. Hire a porter! They are happy to work for you, and your experience will be more enjoyable.
It is also important to avoid alcohol and maintain adequate hydration while trekking. Dehydration can also induce AMS or make its symptoms more severe. Apart from these, it is important to be in good physical health. An upper respiratory tract infection can predispose you to AMS. In short, anything that limits your bodies’ ability to absorb oxygen should be abstained from while trekking to Everest Base Camp.
How You Can Prepare for Everest Base Camp
I am a huge proponent of knowing your body and equipment. Before you go scaling the worlds tallest mountain, take some time to monitor your fitness, check your gear, plan your trip, and prepare for the adventure.
Ok, so how do you prepare for your trek? There are several ways to prepare for Everest Base Camp:
- Do cardio workouts/ aerobics
- Go on walks
- Go camping at high elevations
- Do a low elevation trek, like Poon Hill, in Nepal
The primary objective is to improve your body’s efficiency in metabolizing oxygen. I.E. condition a healthy vascular, and respiratory system (physical). The second objective is to become knowledgeable of how your body responds to these adverse conditions. I would recommend practicing these activities in a controlled environment where you can monitor yourself and be able to receive help if the needed.
For example, to prepare for my trek to Everest Base Camp I climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in California and the contiguous US. I did not engage in any cardio workouts to prepare as I walk (a lot) for work, and for my day to day comings and goings. My trek to Whitney was primarily to see how my body responds to elevation, and to see how well conditioned I am for Everest Base Camp. Mt. Whitney has an elevation of 14,505 ft, which puts it just under 3,000 ft Everest Base Camp’s elevation. The Whitney trek was ideal for me, because the furthest point from the trail head is only 11 miles. Help is easily accessible.
Here is a link to a YouTube video of a hike to Mt. Whitney.
There are plenty of resources for people to hike Whitney. Here is a link to a few of the resources. Joking aside, the hiking guy is pretty good. In addition to using his knowledge to prepare for my trek, I used several other resources. The USDA Forest Service’s website provided road conditions and permit information. Because my trip was in December, my permit was free.
The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center provided avalanche warnings and weather conditions. During my trip, small avalanches were possible. Also, no avalanches were forecasted below 9,500 ft. The weather conditions at the bottom of Whitney were forecasted to have a high of 68o F and a low of 30o F, while at the top of Whitney experienced a high of 30o F and a low of -8o F.
I made sure to pack a lot of warm clothes that I could wear in layers.
I packed snowboarding pants, down coat, wool sweater, long sleeve shirt, long johns (top, and bottom), a tee shirt, beanie, two pairs of socks, a bag of oranges, and gloves. Not pictured are my sunglasses, which I intended to wear but totally forgot, camera gear, and one gallon of water. I did not need the snowboarding pants and down jacket, but everything else I used as I layered up and down. My pack weighed about 50 lbs.
My goal for this trip was to see if I could physically make it to 12,000 ft, and to feel how my body responds to a sudden altitude adjustment. If I could also summit Mt. Whitney, I would consider it a bonus.
I left my hotel 3 hours too early (at 3:00 am) thinking I would get a head start on the sun rise. It took 30 min to get to Whitney portal then another 2 ½ hours to find the trail head (I couldn’t find it in the dark). I forgot my headlamp.
About 15 min into the hike I started layering down and taking pictures. The granite cliffs are overwhelming! It was difficult to capture their feeling, but I tried anyway. I spent about 10 mins just taking pictures each time I stopped. I knew I couldn’t keep stopping for pictures, so I stopped taking photos. I particularly like this one:
About 5 hours and 11,500 ft later, I lost the path at Trail Side Meadow. I followed the footsteps to the left. Before I caught my mistake, I realized I was out of time and had completed my goal! I didn’t feel sick, or have a headache. However, I did feel tired and sluggish, but that was probably due to the trail and the weight of my pack. I unfortunately did not get the bonus of summiting Whitney. That will come another time.
The hike down to the trail head took about 3 hours as I was greeted by friendly faces, and wagging tails that were all too happy to jump on me. (as a side note: if you are a dog owner and take your dog with you on your hike, please do not let it jump on people. It doesn’t matter how cute you think your dog is, it is rude and unpleasant. Would you let your kids run up to strangers and lick their hands? I hope not!)
So, you may be thinking, “Your Mt. Whitney trip was only one day. How does that help with a trek that can take longer than 2 weeks?”
That’s a perfectly valid point. Mt. Whitney can be done in two days, but that is still a far cry from the 16 days it might take for a trip to Everest Base Camp and back. My suggestion is to see how you feel after your hike. If you feel fine, go on another hike. It doesn’t have to be the same trail or even in the same area.
I felt great after Whitney. I was a little sore on my shoulders from my backpack straps and my legs were a little sore, but otherwise I was good (I am still going to hire a porter). Because I didn’t want to go too hard on my body, I took the following day for rest. Afterwards I went on other hikes (I dropped my bag weight for my other hikes). I hiked to Marble Falls in Sequoia, which took about 5 hours round trip. Since I felt fine after that hike, I went on another one. See where I am going with this? The idea is to condition your body. It can be done in whatever way you think is best.
Side note regarding porters: Guides and porters are primarily seasonally employed. The rest of the year most of them will not earn any income and will fall back on being subsistence farmers. Porters particularly earn less and are vulnerable to market conditions. You can show your support for the local communities by hiring a porter. Believe me, they appreciate it! Americans are expected to give a tip. Please only tip if you feel the service is worthy of it. A normal tip range is 8% to 13%.
#4 CALORIES MATTER
For those of us that are interested in tracking how many calories we burn, MyFitnessPal has a good calorie burning calculator. While on the Mt. Whitney trail, I burned 4,858 calories. This calculator does not account for all aspects of catabolism such as age, gender, and weight, but it comes really close to one that does.
My trek to Everest Base Camp and back would burn about 43,162 calories. I found this total by calculating the expected time it would take round trip, which is about 79 hours or 4,740 minutes. For comparison, a 6,000-minute aerobic gym exercise would burn about 25,061 calories, and an equal length chest workout would burn 11,567 calories. In terms of calories burned, a day hike to Mt. Whitney is about 15.8 times less strenuous than the climb to Everest Base Camp and back.
The information above can be used to help you condition and plan calorie needs for your trip. If you can burn 43,000 calories in 13 days with two of those days reserved for rest (acclimation days), you should not have a problem with the Everest Base Camp trek. Averaged out during your training, it would entail 3 days of burning 3,300 calories each day, a day of rest, then 3 more days of burning 3,300 calories each day, then a second rest day, and finally 4 days of burning 3,300 calories per day.
This brings me to an interesting point about diet and calorie consumption. The national dish and staple crops of Nepal are lentils and rice. Partaking in the local cuisine is all part of the experience, but it can be a shock to the system (energy deficiencies and GI issues alike) if you’re not prepared. You can find a small assortment of foods when you are on your trek, such as potatoes, pizza, noodles, and rice dishes. Be prepared for the unexpected though, the food will not taste like what you are used to. I like to stick to Nepal’s staples. In one cup of rice and one cup of lentils, you are looking at 206 and 230 calories respectively.
It is wise to prepare your body to this diet before you begin your trek. Starting about 2 weeks before, begin to prepare meals with lentils and rice. You can switch it up by adding different spices, but I would always prepare them the same way. I have only seen Nepali people cook their lentils and rice by boiling them.
How ever you decide to prepare for your Himalayan adventure, make sure you are familiar with your gear, know how your body responds to high altitude, take a trekking partner (or at least a guide or porter), and familiarize yourself with the diet. Once you are in Nepal, we (Upper-Himalayan Treks and Adventure) will do everything it can to make sure your trip is fun and safe. If you decide to use another trekking agency, that is ok too. You are welcome to stop by our office in Pokhara to get the latest news on trail conditions, weather reports, and insider information.