Location: Everest Base Camp Trek
Since my last blog, I have taken giant strides in the hiking world. From standing in front of a hiking boot, asking it to be high heel, to literally standing in a hiking boot, asking Mount Everest not to kill me.
As you can see, things progressed quickly since my last my blog… and if you find yourself in a similar position, here are 6 things you need to know if you want to hike EBC but you are a bit of a madam like me.
1. Get your mind in the game
Calling all Positive Patties, because Negative Nancy’s are going down! No matter how cute your outfit is, your attitude will determine your altitude. And if you want to reach the 5400m mark, then girl, start believing you can. Everyday you just gotta strap on your backpack, lace up your boots and start walking. Your mind, more than anything else, will get you to the top.
2. Witness the fitness
Before I went on this hike, my favourite kind of squat was a diddly squat. So I was quite relieved when a few other blog posts mentioned that you don’t have to be super fit to do this hike. Sadly, they were flagged as fake news by Henk, and I had to commence with a training schedule.
This is what I learnt: there is only one secret way to train for up hills, and that is, to train for up hills. It’s best to start a few months in advance and start hiking every weekend. You know how bikers say you need time in the saddle, well, with hiking, you need time in your boots. This helps your mind later on to convince your body that it has known this kind of hardship before and that it can therefore soldier upwards and onwards. The more you struggle up Platteklip, the less you will struggle up to Base Camp.
I also did a lot of yoga beforehand because it helps with breathing techniques and keeping calm AF. Other exercises like Barre Body also help because believe it or not, all those lunges, squats and burpees make you strong like ox, and you need all the strength you can get!
3. What up Doc?
So two weeks before we went, Henk and I nonchalantly swung by the doctor for some last minute check ups. This was way too late in the game, so pretty pointless. In retrospect, I would recommend going earlier and chatting to your doctor about what your body needs to thrive at those altitudes. As it turns out, iron levels in your blood is really important. What’s more, you can’t just pop iron tablets two weeks before you go, because then you might poison yourself! The body takes it sweet time absorbing iron, so no quick fix here. Also, find out if you are allergic to meds like antibiotics because no one needs an anaphylactic panic attack at those heights.
Despite carrying up a small chemist, the only pills we really took were:
- Immodium (double up on this… you gonna need it)
- Sleeping pills (to knock yourself out so that you can go gently into the dark night)
- Grand-pa (klap one of these when you have a headache – works like a bomb)
- Corenza C ( another name for a teahouse is “flu-nest”, so make peace with the bout of influenza you are about to get)
- Rehidrate (throw a sachet into your bottle every day, your body will thank you later)
To Diamox or not? Now that is the million dollar question. Diamox is the tablet you take to prevent and relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness. I ain’t no medical professional, so please consult and discuss this with your doctor beforehand, but Henk and I decided NOT to take it as preventative, but only take it IF we feel acute symptoms of altitude sickness. We ended up never needing to take it, and for us, that worked really well. Other people who did take it preventatively, did feel really strange side effects, like tingling in their faces. Either way, it’s your choice. You don’t know how your body is going to react to the altitude so you can only make the choice once you are in that situation.
4. The gear
I perform a lot better when I’m wearing cute clothes, but sometimes gear also has to serve a function, like say, preventing frostbite and death by hypothermia. In those cases, it is wise to choose the best gear for the job. The thought of having black toes forever fuelled my desire to rope in the best of the best when it came to hiking boots. I therefore chose the Hi-Tec Altitude V Ultra boots and can you blame me? The name had the word ‘altitude’ in it so I figured it’s meant to be! I realised that if you want to save money on this trip, go ahead, but don’t skimp on your choice of shoe. Here I recommend doing your homework and really investing in a good pair. Your feet have to carry you for 140km over mountains, rivers and glaciers. They are literally the star of the show and you need to keep them happy. If I can compare this boot to an aeroplane, let’s just say my feet were bumped up to first class!
For a month prior to our departure, I tried to walk in the boots as often as possible and that really helped. Of all my achievements, not getting a single blister the entire time, is up there with the big ones. I know blisters are kind of gross, but trust me, my levels of ‘gross-ness’ have shifted tectonically since I came back from this trip. I’ve seen some stuff people, and blisters are a minor on this scale. My trick for not getting blisters:
1. Rock the right socks… as in proper hiking socks.
2. When you stop for lunch, take off your shoes and socks and hang those puppies out to dry. Real classy.
If however, you do feel a ‘hotspot’ (ie: that feeling you get just before a blister appears) put a blister plaster on the area STAT. Make sure you carry those with you in your daypack.
Then, the other question to consider: how strong is your waterproof game? I didn’t pay too much attention to this until I saw it with my own eyes…and I silently high fived myself for my good life choices.
This is a true story that I witnessed from the safety of a teahouse: we had just finished our hike, which was a gruelling uphill battle to the very end. Our hotel (a term I use loosely) was called the Hill-Ten (you see what they did there?) probably because it was on top of ten hills and NOT because it resembled the real Hilton in any way whatsoever. I had a view of the valley below, and all of a sudden the heavens opened up, and sheets of icy rain came ‘sheeting’ down – I saw man and animal head for shelter and the hikers still on the route all fumbled to get their rain gear on. This was an assault of water, I mean, if you were not prepared you would be Mizzy Lizzy freezing her phalanges off. True I was inside, drinking hot chocolate, but the thought of being outside, sopping wet, cold to the bone without the right gear, made me super thankful for my Lady Orion 3 in 1 jacket from Hi Tec.
Off course my smugness was short lived, because I too was caught in a snow storm en route to base camp. However, joke’s on you Mt Everest, because I was ready for it. I could safely tick “dying of extreme cold and wetness” off my list of ‘Things Not To Do’. This jacket is pretty nifty in my books – if it can keep me dry and warm in those conditions, then sign me up as number 1 fan!
Other gear you need (pack light, because you need less than what you think):
- Thermal layers ( 2 x tops, 2 x leggings)
- 3 x t-shirts
- 1 x long sleeve top
- 1 x legging
- 1 x waterproof hiking pant ( NB!)
- 5 x pairs of hiking socks
- 1 x down jacket
- Buffs x 2
- Sun hat
- Polarised sunglasses
5. Personal maintenance
Ok ladies, listen up… I think I figured out how to survive at these altitudes, and it ain’t easy.
Let’s start with the basics:
Skin: wear sunscreen every day, as well as a barrier cream to protect against the cold and the wind. I didn’t take any make up with me except a pink lipstick, because if I was gonna be walking around with a bird’s nest for hair, at least I was gonna do it style.
Cleaning rituals: um, ok ladies, here you have to get creative. Showers are far and few between, and they cost money. So my genius recommendation is this: order a flask of hot water and take it to your room. Start washing section by section, but I recommend you start with your face, and not your feet for obvious reasons! So work your way down, not your way up! Bring a wonderful body wash from home that smells amazeballs and I promise you, you will feel like a new person. (I poured the remainder of the boiling water into my hot water bottle and I was literally expecting a call of congratulations from the President of Nepal for exceptional ingenuity under extreme mountain conditions.)
Hair care: I have two words for you: dry shampoo. To wash your hair up there is like flirting with death, and there’s more than enough of that going around all ready. It’s too cold and it takes ages to dry. If you cannot deal with the crow’s nests any more, then wash your hair in the afternoon so that it has time to dry.
Toilet etiquette: I use the word ‘etiquette’ ironically here, because sadly, there is very little of that going around at these altitudes. There are two toilet types you will encounter, neither of which is particularly pleasant. All I can say is take your own TP, hand sanitiser and a buff to cover your nose. Oh, and don’t forget to pack flip flops because it takes a brave woman to attempt those bathrooms with no feet coverage.
Other saving graces:
- Wetwipes (many many)
- Individually wrapped tissue packs (for use as toilet paper as well)
- Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream (don’t even attempt the mountain without this cream)
6. The small mercies
Last but not least: take the small mercies where you can. The going will get tough, so you need all the joy you can get!
This is what I did to get me through:
Pack a slab of your fave chocolate bar, and don’t tell anyone about it. Eat a block every time you want to strangle your nearest and dearest, or when you feel like jumping off one of the many suspension bridges. It calms and soothes away all irritations but it only works if it’s your secret.
When a bakery presents itself at those altitudes, you sit down, order a brownie and enjoy. You don’t look at price and you don’t question where the ingredients came from.
When you can’t breathe, look up. Often during the hike I found myself looking down at my feet. However, when I stopped, looked up and took in the majesty of the views, I was filled with a new lease on life and the strength to continue.
Be grateful for the opportunity to be there – not many people have the chance to see the Himalayas in all their glory, the able bodies to get them to the top or the finances to realise this dream. Being there is a gift and to realise your utter insignificance when standing at the feet of these giants is an even greater one.
So that’s my advice for attempting this hike. Will I do it again? Well, too soon to say… I’m still recovering from my bout of influenza! I can however without a doubt say that I am proud of myself for doing it! I am thankful for all the gear my friends lent me, for the boots/jacket from Hi-Tec and all the messages and the prayers! Ultimately, in the words and spirit of Sir Edmund Hillary, it is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Namaste.