Trek prep: Portered treks – Tips for first timers

With travel off limits for most of 2020, I can imagine that lots of people have been dreaming of Big Trips for 2021.

I have ūüôā

So, for those folks considering going trekking in Nepal –¬†Everest Base Camp¬†do I hear you say? – or similar for the first time, here are some of the key things I’ve learned about doing portered treks over the past 10 years.


Altitude and acclimatisation

Gain height gradually. The Annapurna Circuit was a good trek to start with – a gradual ascent allowing the body to acclimatise steadily. With the road building I’m not sure how much of our route remains road-free. Road walking is no fun with the the dust and fumes generated by local traffic, let alone the risk of a close encounter with a motorbike, bus or other vehicle as it careers along the rutted mud “road”.

You don’t need to be walking though. Even the day long bus ride from seaside Lima to Huaraz (3000 m) works on a similar basis. I still think gaining height by walking has to be better though.

Give yourself time, for your body to generate more red blood cells and to get past the jet lag. I’ve mistaken a jet lag headache for an altitude headache in the past and when they combine they’re extra nasty. Allow yourself a day or two of chilling out at the start of your trip, keeping sightseeing / trekking to a minimum then too, and you will enjoy the rest of the trip much more.

Flying in to Leh (3500m) after l-o-n-g overnight flights from London we spent the rest of the morning catching some shut eye and then relaxing in the garden before Pemba took us out on a short orientation tour of the bazaar.

Afternoon tea at the KLC
Afternoon tea at the KLC

We had plenty of time in Ladakh, which mean we could spend our first week in Ladakh sightseeing in and around Leh, including a half day walk around the city plus a scramble up to the prayer flag cairns above the Khardung La (5359m). As a result, everyone in our group sailed through the Markha valley trek and its two 5000m Рor thereabouts Рpasses.

Start slow. On more than one occasion I’ve seen fit guys struggle with the need to give their body time to adjust. A Stop/Start approach to hiking at altitude doesn’t do you any good – and it’s not realistic to expect your body to behave the same at 3000m as it does at sea level, even if you are a marathon runner. Starting slower than your think you can go gives your body time to adjust to the reduced O2 and means you’ll be able to speed up sooner.

Drink lots of water / juice / tea, and avoid caffeine (Coke, coffee). I aim for 3 litres a day. I can drink a lot of tea ūüôā

Me at Larke Tea Shop
Me at Larke Tea Shop

I take Diamox with me, but I’ve never needed to take it to acclimatise. I have taken it when a cold or stomach trouble has meant I’ve run out of steam sooner than I would have done had I been 100%. Both times it’s been on the advice of my trusted guide, and with a decade of trekking at altitude holidays behind me.

For headaches do hit, I take paracetamol (1000mg) as soon as poss. Once a headache sets in in earnest it is hard to get rid of.¬†I’ll confess a complete ignorance of paracetamol vs ibuprofen vs aspirin when I started going to altitude. Now my rule of thumb is:

  • Headache – paracetamol
  • Muscle aches / pains – ibuprofen
  • A long flight at the end of stint at altitude – (mini)aspirin. I take ¬†1 the day before the flight, 1 on the day of the flight and 1 the day after to reduce risk of DVT from my red blood cell thickened blood

Kit

I’ve written a whole blogpost about my kit.

My top tip would be to take a pair of trekking poles (no point in limiting yourself to one). They are invaluable when descending steep slopes Рdirt or snow Рand in warding off overly enthusiastic guard dogs.

One thing I didn’t cover in that blogpost and which I get asked about a lot is what camera I use on trek.

For the past 10 years I’ve used a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. I chose that model because it captures your GPS coordinates when you take a photo, which means my photos map themselves automatically on Flickr. I also wanted a camera that is small and easy to use and which comes with a good zoom plus the option to take panoramas.

The GPS feature has become less and less common in more recent models, and with my trusty 9V breaking last week I’ve just ordered the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V which came out in 2015.

Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

If GPS isn’t a key feature for you, then a couple of other friends use and love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ80.

On my 4 week treks, I take 5-6 spare batteries, fully charged and that usually keeps me going for the duration. To help retain their charge, my batteries and camera join me in my sleeping bag every night.

I sometimes pack my charging kit if a trek mate has a solar charger but we don’t always have time to charge and of course you do need some sun. You can often pay to recharge batteries and other electronics in lodges, but the price gets steeper the more remote you go.

Accommodation: Camping vs lodges / tea houses

The first two treks I went on were classic tea house treks in Nepal – Annapurna Circuit and Everest’s Three High Passes. The lodges were clean and well run with great food and we soon became adept at timing our arrival in the dining room / lounge for the 4pm lighting of the yak stoves.

Inside the Apple Garden Lodge, Junbesi
Inside the Apple Garden Lodge, Junbesi

But the bedrooms were unheated and at night it gets c-o-l-d…. And a room of cold air takes longer to warm up with body heat than a tent does.

So don’t be put off by the idea of camping in the Himalayas. All my treks since 2013 have been in tents.¬†By and large the tents have been three person ones, plenty of room for a kit bag each and two sleeping bags plus thermarests.

Inside our tent
Inside our tent

Camping lets you venture further from the main trails and tweak your route as you go. And if camp does happen to be at a lodge, then you get to enjoy the food, company and stove there too.

Away from lodges, a dining tent has provided the place for meals and socialising and in small groups has doubled up as the kitchen too.

What about the bathroom? I hear you ask….

Tea houses etc will have loos and campsites will usually have toilet blocks. Both will be basic!

Loos at our Khola Kharka camp (4200m)
Loos at our Khola Kharka camp (4200m)

In the absence of local facilities, there has been a loo tent.¬†And from personal experience toilet tent zips do have a tendency to jam. I have known fellow trekkers who have had to commando crawl out in an emergency… A trick I learned from Chhiring on our Dolpo trek is to rub a candle over the zip – that sorts out the dust that often causes the jams.

A bowl of washing water in the evening lets you get rid of most of the sweat, dirt and sun cream that accumulates during a day’s trekking. A small towelling glove flannel, a small piece of soap or shower gel – a complimentary bottle of the generic stuff you get in hotels usually does me for one trek (3-4weeks) – and I use a microfibre cloth as a towel – again as small as possible, you’re not going to be wearing it as a bath sheet, and the priority is having something that’s quick and easy to dry. If still damp (or frozen) in the morning, I fix the flannel and towel to my daypack with a couple of safety pins.

In the morning, a wet wipe wash starts the day. Biodegradeable wipes can be hard to come by, but you should make the effort given you’re likely going to bury or bin them once used.

I usually don’t bother to wash my hair while I’m on trek, but the metal bowls of warm water work for that too. You can pay to use the showers in tea houses too. Be warned that solar showers need some sun to heat the water…

Keeping warm at night

Keeping warm at night hasn’t turned out to be a problem for me, but I know it can be for others.

A few tips:

  • Don’t get cold before you go to bed.
  • A shared space is warmer than a solo space – two bodies doing the central heating.
  • Don’t be tempted to wear all your clothes to stay warm – it’s back to body heat: you need to heat up your sleeping bag before your bag can keep you warm in return. If you’re cold, it’s better to lay your down / fleece jacket over the top of your sleeping bag rather than putting it on. A Thermarest should insulate you from the ground.
  • Your water bottles can double up as hot water bottles overnight and provide cold water for drinking over night and the following day.
  • Make sure the bottles are fastened tight and get them into your sleeping bag ASAP and let them do the warming up before you have to. I usually wrap my PJs around the bottles and then put them right at the foot of my sleeping bag before loosely rolling the rest of the bag around this core.
  • I use metal bottles, so wrapping them up not only warms my clothes but also means that I avoid getting burnt overnight.
  • If the bottle is still too hot to touch when you get into bed, wrap it with your next day’s clothes.
Bottles
Water Bottles

Sleep

On trek I get 10-12 hours sleep a night, compared with 8 hours back home.

I’m usually in bed by 8pm, and morning bed tea (and, on some treks, a bowl of warm washing water too) usually arrives sometime between 6.30am-8am depending on the day ahead, the weather and how shaded the camping spot is (sunny spots allow al fresco breakfasts as well as earlier starts).

Breakfast, Jalja La camp

I’ve never found a pair of ear plugs which stay in my ears / work, but if I could then I would pack them every time. Night time disturbances have ranged from snoring tent mates to wind chimes to barking dogs to a 4am dawn chorus. ¬†That said, I’ve slept through helicopter landings and the blood curdling¬†death screams of a monkey being killed by a jaguar. So!

Being Sociable vs Personal Downtime

One of the things I enjoy about trekking is the afternoon / early evening downtime at camp when the group usually gathers in the tent or dining room for tea, biscuits and a bit of socialising.

In some groups¬†Scrabble has dominated, but you need to make sure everyone is of a similar-ish standard or else it’s no fun. For mixed language groups, dice win out. Ten Thousand is the game of choice, with a side order of Yahtzee if someone can remember the list of things and their scores. Card games with easy rules, like Rummy, work too.

Scrabble!

I’m a pretty sociable person but I need a bit of quiet time every now and then.

I’m a big reader, and I usually pack a book or two but I rarely read on trek (unless I’ve embarked on a complete page turner on the flight). Books are what I often leave behind in the hotel or when we have the chance to lighten the load for part of the trek. If you’re a Kindle convert, then that’s obviously a great way to carry a lot of reading at little weight. You’ll need to figure out when/how to recharge your device though.

Instead I’ll often settle into my sleeping bag and enjoy having the time to¬†think back over the trek so far, or to plan ahead. I’ll often¬†go on a¬†Mind Ramble‚ĄĘ or two, letting my brain wander at will….

… which is how this blogpost originated.

What about….?

If I’ve left any burning question(s) unanswered – and I’m sure I have – then feel free to email me.

Trek prep: Kit

Another in my sporadic series of blogposts on wider trekking and travelling themes.

Recently I’ve been reading about other trekker’s kit choices and preferences. There seems to be two main types – those who get “the best” kit, researching new gear, buying the best brands; and those for whom looking good is the driver. I’m neither, so I thought I’d write a bit about what I pack when I go on my 4 week high altitude treks in Nepal and Peru.

Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

To set the scene a little:

  • By “high altitude” I mean overnight camps around 5000m max, daytime routes up to 5600m. You can read more about my trekking trips on Where I’ve Been.
  • The weather on trek has variedAnnapurna started off with 5 days of monsoon-level deluge, Three High Passes was similarly wet, but at 3500m+ this came as hail and snow, and was cold. Early morning pre-dawn starts for high passes and peaks are COLD. Camping at 4500m-5000m is cold once the sun goes down. Lower levels and/or sunny weather is hot, sometimes humid.
  • My treks are all portered – I’m not backpacking, but I’m still working to a weight limit – someone has to carry my kitbag and internal flights to remote airports come with a weight limit. In Nepal it’s 10kg “hold” luggage (stacked at the back of the plane) plus 5 kg carry on (on your lap), but doesn’t include what you wear…. so we have tended to resemble the Michelin Man, with boots, on our flights back to KTM.
  • We camp, usually 3 weeks straight, with sites determined by the itinerary, water sources and any villages en route. They’re not proper camp sites like you find in Europe. Accommodation at the start/end of the trek will be in hotels, simple lodges or guest houses, and depending on the route I may leave a small bag of stuff (clean clothes and things I won’t need on trek) in the main hotel.
  • My kit choices are driven by value for money. I’m not known for my fashion flair, and I’m not one for sporting the “right” labels, whether catwalk or outdoors. I will wear clothes / use kit until it falls apart. I still use the Karrimor 70l rucksack my parents bought me for my Duke of Edinburgh / Venture Scout expeditions, which has accompanied me on almost all my travels.
  • I’m also happy to wear clothes for days on the trot, so long as they pass the sniff test.
  • I run hot in terms of body temperature. I’ll often be comfortable sitting in a T shirt and fleece while others are wrapped up in down jackets.

So, my personal go to gear items:

Luggage & Bags

  • Karrirmor Jaguar 70l rucksack
  • Neeko Smart 32l daypack
  • Tarpaulin kit bag
  • Plastic bags and ziploc bags
Dolpo Expedition: Packing
From left to right: Daypack. Kit bag. Rucksack.

My rucksack makes it easy to use public transport to get to/from the airport. I’ve travelled with friends with wheely suit cases, and the tube is a nightmare. A rucksack on your back takes up less room than a suitcase, and personally I get really annoyed anticipating the locations of wheely suitcases trailed by oblivious owners. Plus, no one is likely to nick something looking that scruffy.

My daypack came from Val’s friend’s Bim’s shop in Kathmandu. It’s a good size and comfy, outside pockets for easy access to water bottles, top lid pocket for first aid kit, sun cream, rain jacket, inside pocket for valuables.

My kitbag was a freebie from the company we used for the Annapurna Circuit. The tarpaulin makes the bag that bit more waterproof (snow proof), plus it is rugged and red and there aren’t many of them around anymore. And I know that “full” it weighs around 10kg. I use a black bin sack as an extra waterproof liner.

You can never have too¬† many plastic bags. Supermarket shopping ones, the type you used to get for free, are perfect: light, gusseted, easy to wrap compactly (as shown to me by Nicola, many decades ago). I pack my clothes in them to keep them dry and organised – I don’t bother with drysacs.¬† I put my boots in them when I’m travelling in sandals. Dirty clothes are corralled on them, and wet weather gear kept separate from dry before and after use.

Ditto for ziploc bags. I put my passport and important docs (permits, insurance details, flight confirmation and boarding passes etc) into one to keep the paperwork dry in my backpack. I keep my mini first aid kit in one in my daypack and use one to keep ready money (notes) dry and handy in a trouser pocket. Likewise they protect photos of family I take to show to the folks we meet on trek, and our crew. Handy for sweets and snacks too.

Waterproofs

  • Berghaus Goretex Jacket
  • Mammut Waterproof Trousers
  • Rab Latok Alpine Gaiters
  • Uniqlo Hooded Pocketable Parka
Picos packing: Waterproofs and MK fleece
Picos packing: Waterproofs and MK fleece

My Goretex jacket was a reduced end of season purchase from Cotswold Outdoor many moons ago. It’s a man’s jacket – who can tell? Does it even matter? It’s red. I like red. I don’t like pinks or pastels.

My waterproof trousers were another purchase from Bim’s a few seasons ago.¬† Previously I wore a 50 yuan pair which were an emergency purchase made in Saga during 2010’s Tibet trip. About a foot too short, but they worked.

Gaiters – yes, A Brand. High End Kit. A present from TJBR. My previous pair were Trekmates, but they had a habit of wrinkling down around my ankles, Nora Batty style. My calves don’t offer much to hang on to.

I wear my Uniqlo jacket more often than any of the other items. It keeps the rain off provided it’s not a downpour, helps keep the wind out, and packs small and light -easy to grab out of my daypack top pocket.

Boots etc

  • Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Womens Hiking Boots
  • Merrell Siena Walking Sandals
Boots and Sandals (trainers might come too)
Boots and Sandals

This Salomon model has been my go to boot for years. I’ve long narrow feet, and Salomons fit. A bit of ankle support, a light boot, Goretex waterproofing. A pair usually lasts a couple of years before the grippiness of the sole goes (as I learned on my Urus descent) and/or the Goretex splits by the balls of my feet. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that trekking boots are not boots for life. I refuse to buy them in pink.

I also take a pair of outdoor sandals for walking around camp and before/after the trek. I’ve only ever had one pair – they were a birthday present and are still going strong after 10 years of heavy use. I had to look up the name as Merrell don’t make them any more. As/when I buy a replacement pair, I’ll go for ones without the toe loop. I’ve had to glue it back into the base a few times, but more importantly a toe loop makes it tricky when it comes to socks. My solution is tabi split toe socks, which I get from Muji. Socks and sandals is not A Look. But it’s warm and prevents bites.

Clothes

  • Uniqlo Heattech T shirts
  • Gelert Terrain Trousers
  • Lightweight Fleece
  • Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
  • Clean clothes for the end of the trek
Tops & Trousers
Tops & Trousers

Uniqlo Heattech T shirts serve as my base layer. I have 2 grey ones, which you’ll see in pretty much every photo of me on trek. They’re men’s, and Uniqlo has stopped doing them in grey, sadly. [Update: They’re back!] Cotton gets smelly, the Heattech fabric doesn’t. It also dries quickly, although I rarely wash kit while out on trek. That said, at lower altitudes at the start of the trek I’ll often wear the t-shirt I travelled out in, and similarly at the end I’ll sometimes wear a bog standard cotton t-shirt, loose-fitting; it depends on the route. I work on wearing 1 t-shirt a week.

My beloved Gelert Terrain Women’s trousers were bought many, many years ago based on a good online review that mentioned the reviewer was slim and long legged, same as me. Lightweight with zip pockets on the side thigh, handy for lip screen, small sunscreen, small amount of ready money in a ziploc bag (I use the ones that your inflight cutlery comes in) as well as normal pockets which are home to my manky hanky and, occasionally, my camera. I wish Gelert still made them.

On my first few treks I took several pairs of trousers, no particular brand, so that I could have a new pair each week and to serve as dry spares in the event of rain, and in thicker fabric for higher altitudes. I’ve come to realise that 1 pair will often suffice. Yes they get dusty and dirty. If the opportunity arises I’ll give them a wash (usually more of a rinse) and sport my pyjama trews around camp while they dry. Depending on the trek, I will take a heavier pair for colder weather / higher altitudes – or as a clean pair at the end of the trek if that comes before returning to Kathmandu / Huaraz.

I’ve had a range of lightweight fleeces over the years, most recently I’ve been using another purchase from Bim’s in KTM, a red ‘Mammut’.

My Uniqlo down jacket is purple; reduced in an end of season sale (Spotting a theme yet?). Again, lightweight and packs small. Val lends me a heavier one for higher altitudes which is very welcome early morning, but too much once the sun is up. I’ll wear my Uniqlo one on colder days, and colder evenings particularly if we’re eating “inside” a bare building rather than in the dining tent or in a lodge.

No shorts, note. Cultural sensitivity factor in Nepal, and I’ve never bothered in Peru. I do have a pair of Mountain Warehouse Trek II shorts which have hiked in the Accursed Mountains of Albania and in the Picos de Europa. And around Herefordshire, London and the Sunshine Coast.

At the end of the trek, there is nothing better than a shower, a hair wash and clean clothes from top to toe. Ideally these stay in KTM / Huaraz, but I’ve been known to carry them for the whole trek if that’s not possible.

Underwear

  • M&S knickers
  • M&S bras
  • Bridgedale lightweight socks
  • Icebreaker merino socks
  • Icebreaker merino long johns
  • Icebreaker merino thermal top, 200 gsm
  • Uniqlo Heattech top, long sleeved
  • PJ bottoms & T shirt top
Dolpo Expedition: Packing
Dolpo Expedition: Packing

Pants can last 3 days; bras a week. M&S knickers, M&S bras. Avoid cotton bras as daily sweat accumulates and makes them clammy and smelly. The poly ones cope better.

I take two types of socks – Bridgedale lightweight hiking socks and Icebreaker merino socks, 2 pairs of each. I use the Icebreakers higher up, but often they make my feet too hot.

Thermals. As I’ve mentioned, my body runs hot, and I tend to feel the cold less than others. I take the Icebreaker merino long johns I bought for Annapurna. Inevitably they’re not quite long enough, and I can’t remember when I last wore them. I really don’t like the flowery design on them, but who’s going to see that? If it’s cold, I tend to wear my waterproof trousers as they keep the wind out and are easier to get off.

Similarly I have a 200 gsm Icebreaker thermal top. Last worn crossing the Renjo La. FAR too hot once the sun was up. And again, not something I could take off without baring all. The layer I use most often when things get cold is another men’s Heattech top from Uniqlo – long sleeved this time.

I could probably get away with wearing pants and a T shirt in bed, but I like a pair of pyjama bottoms, especially when nipping out for an al fresco or venturing further afield to the loo tent.

Poles and Other Paraphernalia

  • Star Rover trekking poles
  • Mauser penknife
  • Muji water bottles
  • Julbo sunglasses
  • Buff, gloves, hats
  • Digital watch with alarm
  • Petzl Tikka headtorch
Dolpo Expedition: Packing
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I did my first big trek – the Annapurna Circuit – without poles. Never again!!!¬† They are invaluable on steep downhills and stream crossings. My current pair are Star Rover, and this pair have served me well in Dolpo, Ladakh, off the beaten track in the Khumbu and on the Manaslu Circuit, in Albania and in the Picos. Most importantly they are long enough – I am 175cm tall and usually set them to 135cm. The only thing I’d look for next time is a pair that packs smaller. This pair are 70cm when collapsed – Leki et al are much the same – which is pretty much the height of my Karrimor rucksack, so I have to remember to pack them first. I’m not good at getting out my poles on trek. As my knees start to show their age, I need to get better.

My mum bought me a Mauser penknife for my 17th birthday. Invaluable. Two blades, a hack saw, a bottle/tin opener, corkscrew and hoof pick. I use the blades the most.

I take a pair of Muji 750ml Zigg-style waterbottles on every trip, occasionally packing a further 1l waterbottle from Blacks as back up. The body get hot when full of boiling water, so I’ve tied string through the bottle tops for easy carrying between the kitchen tent and dining tent / room, and dining tent/ room and sleeping bag. A waterbottle full of hot water at night doubles up as an excellent hot water bottle. One at the bottom of the bag for my feet, one in the middle to keep my body warm. Both wrapped in some clothes to start off with if they’re boiling hot. Don’t be misled into thinking I only drink 1.5l a day – I drink gallons at meal times. I find drinking plenty helps me to acclimatise, and to avoid headaches.

I take two pairs of sunglasses – one M&S vanity pair for lower altitude, UV category 3, and a pair of Julbo Explorer mountaineering glasses for higher altitudes and snow. I don’t like the style, but eyesight is priceless. My Julbos were reduced end of season stock from Cotswold a few years ago.

Generic fleece hat and gloves, plus an Aldi merino buff, go into my daypack every day, as does a sun hat. The last has been a surprisingly tricky item to find, but only because I got fussy about finding one that I liked. I’ve sported a full brim cheapie from Peru in the past, but prefer a cap as I thread my ponytail through the back. I’ve used an M&S lightweight peaked men’s sunhat for a few years. It packs small but the colour is a bit insipid. British Heart Foundation has come up trumps this spring, with a khaki green cap that’s coming to Nepal in November. I’ve got a pair of Mountain Equipment Mountain Mitts, purchased after the cold start to our Three High Passes to Everest trek. Rarely worn, but they are definitely coming along next month too when, all being well, I’m going over 6000m for the first time.

The ¬£10 Casio digital watch that travelled the world with me and Hazel 1997-1999 is still going strong. The straps have long gone, and I keep it in a trouser pocket during the day, and in my sleeping bag pocket during the night – or on the bedside table when we’re in hotels / guesthouses. I keep the watch on 24hr clock and set the alarm accordingly. I don’t want to repeat my Ankor Wat sunrise mishap again.

I carry my headtorch in my daypack and keep it within reach in the tent overnight, and wear it to/from the dining room / tent in the evenings. My Petzl Tikka does a great job, although not as bright as newer models. I keep a spare set of batteries in my kitbag, in an old camera film container.

Toiletries, First Aid & Health

First aid, toiletries, tiny trek towel
First aid, toiletries, tiny trek towel

Toiletries always take up more room than you’d expect! Even with travel size bottles.

  • Solid deodorant – seen too many roll on ones “pop” at altitude
  • Toothpaste – a travel / sample size tube, or the tail end of a normal tube
  • Toothbrush – in toothbrush case
  • Wet wipes – for the daily morning “wash”. Make sure they are biodegradable.
  • Washcloth – helps to clean off the suncream, and for an occasional body wash in the tent vestibule. I keep it in a ziploc bag, so that I can pack it when still wet, together with a sliver of soap.
  • Microfibre cloth – works as a towel for face and body wash
  • Antiseptic hand gel – I carry a small bottle in my daypack and move it into the tent pocket overnight. Val’s food hygiene on trek is second to none, but I’ll use gel after loo trips and house visits.
  • Sunscreen and lipscreen – factor 30, minimum
  • Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream – a life saver for cracked lips, cuts and grazes, sunburn
  • Moisturiser – Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Deep Moisture Body Lotion, decanted into a small bottle.
  • Hairbrush. Comb. Elastic hair bands – I’ve long hair which I wear in a ponytail when I’m trekking.¬† This keeps it under control when the wind gets up,¬† and I loop my ponytail through my sun cap, which keeps my neck cool and my hat on.
  • Shampoo & conditioner – I’ll take a sachet of each for the end of trek shower. Sample sachets from magazines are perfect, or you can easily buy sachets in Nepal and Peru. I’m not a brand person.
  • Nailclippers (sometimes) and nail file (always) – a snagged nail is a pain, literally if you end up catching it and ripping a huge chunk away from the nail bed. Not to mention snagging sleeping bag / down jacket fabric.
  • Tampons, and plastic disposal bags – Just in case. A multi-week trek in tough conditions can play havoc with your cycle. If there’s no means of disposing of them en route, I pack them in and I pack them out.

Val and Steffi carry more extensive first aid kits than I do, but I always make sure I have a grab bag at the top of my daypack with the following:

  • Plasters – I prefer a few different width fabric strips
  • Antiseptic – 2 x wipes
  • Paracetamol (headaches, especially at altitude) – 1 strip
  • Ibruprofen (general aches) – 1 strip
  • Antihistamine pills – 1 strip
  • Immodium – 1 tablet
  • Rehydration sachet – 2 x, for dehydration due to sweating as much as diarrhoea
  • Diamox – prescription tablets in a smaller ziploc bag
  • Compeed – 2 x

In my kit bag, I have plenty more of all of these (except the Diamox), plus:

  • Aspirin – 3 mini tablets for¬† the journey home. Being at altitude thickens your blood, and going straight to a long haul flight isn’t ideal in terms of DVT risk. A mini Aspririn a day in the run up to the flight home thins the blood
  • Vitamin C fizzy tablets – a tangy citrus alternative to black tea
  • Mosquito repellant – if necessary

No sleeping bag etc?

I do have a 3 season sleeping bag – a North Face Superlight – but I usually borrow one of Val’s expedition ones, or a sleeping bag provided by the trek operator. The person running the trek knows how cold it’s likely to get overnight. Plus borrowing/hiring one keeps a bulky item out of my rucksack for the journey out and back.

Thermarest – ditto. I borrow or it comes as part of the trek. I do always have one though, and would opt for robust over lightweight. I’ve shared tents with Thermarest NeoAirs, and they rustle and have been prone to leaks.

Sheet sleeping bag – I made my own sheet sleeping bag out of lightweight cotton a few years ago, primarily to have one long enough. It’s got a “pillow” pocket at the top, into which I shove my fleece jacket overnight to serve as a pillow.

Fin!

So that’s it, at least as far as “kit that gets reviewed” goes, and my current preferences / habits. They may well change. My choices have certainly evolved over time.

Also, obviously, I do take more things with me – camera, camera batteries and memory card, phone and charger (usually left at the hotel), postcards and envelopes to go with the tips, a book to read etc.

And finally, for those who know me it will come as no surprise to learn that I have my full kit list “starter for 10” as an Excel spreadsheet. I print out the list and tick off the items as I pack, and add tweaks after each trip. You never stop refining your kit….

Trek prep: “How did you get into trekking?”

One question that I’m often asked is “How did you get into¬†trekking?”. ¬†If our paths crossed¬†9-5 (am-pm, and more accurately “8-7”), you probably wouldn’t picture me looking like this:

Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule - Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the path back from Mu Gompa to Chhule – Tsum Valley, Nepal
Me on the scree, Yerupaj√° beyond - Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru
Me on the scree, Yerupaj√° beyond – Cordillera Huayhuash, Peru

So, some history.

I did a fair amount of hill walking in my younger years Рstarting with walks over Ewyas Harold Common and up (and down) Skirrid as a kid, then with Ventures and through the Duke of Edinburgh award as a teen. At St Andrews I joined Breakaway, which led me a bit more towards the mountain walking end of the spectrum. Not at rope / crampon / ice axe levels though.

Then London, a job, the life of a twenty / thirty / forty something in the smoke – and the opportunities to get out and about anywhere without a few hours of travel on public transport pretty much disappeared.

I work in the legal sector – long hours, desk-bound, but well paid so I can do¬†one or two¬†“holidays” a year. ¬†Initially these were city breaks and cultural group tours, ¬†with occasional DIY trips with travel-mate Hazel to take advantage of family/friends based in exotic locations. You can see the list on Where I’ve Been.

Then, in 2009, Hazel and I¬†decided to do the Annapurna Circuit and it’s been trekking holidays for me ever since.

Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) - Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Looking out over Mustang, and towards a new set of mountain peaks, from the Thorong La (5,416 meters / 17,769 feet) – Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

There were two trips that rekindled my¬†love of the great outdoors (not that I’m sure it ever really went away), and gave me the confidence that I wasn’t crazy to tackle a 19¬†day trek over the 5,416 m / 17,769 ft Thorong La, albeit one featuring porters,¬†a guided group and tea houses.

Torres del Paine "W" trek, day 5: me on the narrow path from the Refugio to our pick up at Hotel Las Torres
Torres del Paine “W” trek, day 5

The first was 2003’s month in¬†Chile and Argentinian Patagonia¬†when I caught up with Hazel during¬†her travels in South America. Our route took us from Santiago to Punta Arenas, and we spent 5 magic¬†days in Torres del Paine National Park walking the ‚ÄúW‚ÄĚ. We carried ridiculously large packs given we were staying in¬†refugio and weren’t carrying/cooking¬†our food, but we did 5¬†days of continuous walking, with rucksacks and through all sorts of weather.

Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang
Me and Hazel on the prayer flag stairway to the monastery, Taktshang

The second was the Wild Frontiers‚Äô Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon ‚Äď Spring Festival Tour,¬†in 2008. Very much a cultural trip, scattered throughout there were chances to stretch our legs in the high Himalaya.

We had a half day hike up to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktshang) at 3,120 m / 10,240 ft above sea level (mind you, the trail starts at 2,600 m / 8,525 feet), but my favourites were the walks through the countryside and communities of the Mo Chhu river, Chokhor and Radi valleys.

Those half day meanders¬†really whetted my appetite for a holiday that was all about walking and in the eight years since Annapurna I’ve¬†spent most of¬†them in the mountains, the higher the better. A chance encounter with¬†Val Pitkethly on our Three High Passes to Everest trek¬†brought opportunities to experience¬†Peru’s¬†Cordilleras Huayhuash and Blanca under canvas and to get off the beaten track in¬†Nepal – as well as to do some good through her charity, Light Education Development. ¬†Crampons, ropes and ice axes have started to feature too….

Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col - Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru
Me at the Ishinca / Ranrapalca col – Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru

…. which brings me to training, which I’ll talk about in my next post.

 

Dolpo Expedition: Prep

A month to go until my Dolpo Expedition with Val Pitkethly, and Steffi, Sam, Charles, Christine and the as-yet-unmet-Ernst.

I’ve paid our deposit (I hope!! *), done¬†DIY Passport Photos and decided I don’t need any more jabs – partly because the travel clinic at my GP now¬†only operates on Wednesday afternoons, which is useless given it takes 20 mins to get there/back from work and they never keep to the appointment schedule. My premium LV= annual travel insurance covers me trekking to 6000m, does mountain rescue and runs until September, so that’s all the “admin” done and I’m now at the more pleasurable “collecting kit on the spare bed” stage (and pondering my “Kit To Take” spreadsheet) and keeping an eye on the weather:

Here are the Yr.No¬†Nepal weather map¬†and their forecasts¬†for ….

… and¬†the¬†Google map, centred on DolpńĀ:

Val’s got three alternate routes mapped out, and has warned that this winter Nepal saw¬†the heaviest¬†snowfall in¬†20 years, but that last summer’s wild fires made Phoksundo (ŗ§ęŗ•čŗ§ēŗ§łŗ•Āŗ§£ŗ•ćŗ§°ŗ•č) inaccessible. Hence the options, and the plan to purchase microspikes / spikys¬†in KTM…. At least the suggestion of taking walking ice axes seems to have receded into the distance. Well, at least until Val gets to Nepal in a few weeks time.

It will be lovely to see Chhiring, Gori and hopefully Krishna again, and – all being well¬†– to do some solar light distribution for Val’s charity, Light Education Development (LED)¬†in this remote part of Nepal. I’ve got a whole bag of warm clothing donated by friends (and friends of friends) to take out with me too.

Now, back to working out that¬†packing….

* 11 March 2017: Got an email from Val today confirming the money’s arrived. Phew. And thank you to FairFX for handling the International Money Transfer for me. Recommended! I used them to get¬†travel cash delivered to the door too.

Winter Walking in Austria: Prep

Over the past few weeks I’ve slowly been working out options for getting from Innsbruck Airport to the Hotel Wienerhof and back again.

Although I’m not on the group flights, Exodus allows you to hook up with them if the timings work…. which they don’t. So having googled Innsbruck Airport to Trins (not trains) and looked at the Rome2Rio result I’ve decided to use public transport (bus – train – bus) from the airport, and to shell out on a private transfer for the return – I really don’t want to miss my 10:10 flight home.

The Innsbruck Airport Public Transport page lists links to the area’s public transport services, and I finally worked out that I could get a ticket for the whole route from the √ĖBB (√Ėsterreichische Bundesbahnen). The ManInSeat61 tells me I simply need to print out the ticket once I’ve bought it. That’ll be a job for nearer the time.

For the private transfer, Exodus recommended Four Season Travel saying “They are reliable and we’ve always used them for our transfers …”. I booked the transfer online on Tuesday. Very straightforward, and I have a PDF ticket to take with me. The prince – EUR65, one way – has come through on my bank statement as ¬£56.17 – the exchange rate really hurts… not far off parity.

Other stuff –

  • Insurance: I’ll be using the AAC and LV= policies I got for this year’s Nepal / Ladakh trips.
  • Money: We need EUR50 for local travel, plus spends, so I got EUR120 cash from Thomas Exchange Global / BestForeignExchange.com ahead of last week’s work trip to Paris…. and I’ve still got all of that left for Austria. If I need more, I’ll use an ATM. Euro Exchange Ouch strikes again….
  • Kit: I’m going to take a punt on my trekking boots being adequate. They were for the Mt Toubkal Winter Climb.

Now all we need is some snow in Trins to transform it into the Tyrolean Winter Walking idyll.