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.

Herefordshire Week 052: Tuesday 22 – Monday 28 December 2020

Christmas week at Forty Acres.

Montage: Christmas Day at Forty Acres - Presents
Montage: Christmas Day at Forty Acres – Presents

MOT, Return to Tier 2 and Snowdrops.

And – eventually, on Christmas Eve – UK and EU agree Brexit trade deal.


Spent more time than I wanted to getting the car MOTed, which took out large chunks of Monday (21st) and Tuesday, plus a return for the retest on Wednesday. Next time we’ll go local.

At least on Tuesday Phil came with me and we walked along the Hereford Greenway from Rotherwas into the City centre. It was lovely discovering older parts of Hereford, particularly the Victorian Villas of Bartonsham and Castle Green. It felt like a different city!

Tuesday’s day out in Hereford was bookended by Birthday Zooms with Hazel and friends – coffee in the morning, wine and crisps in the evening.


We woke to fog on Wednesday, then rain. Lots of rain. Reorganised my office in the afternoon – partly to be closer to the radiator ūüôā

Work Desk & Play Desk
Work Desk & Play Desk

When I came to take some pics, I discovered to my dismay that my trusty 10 year old Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V had broken. When you turn it on, a vertical crack and green line appears on the display screen ūüôĀ ¬†I don’t know how that happened – it’s survived countless tumbles and hard use on all my treks since the Three High Passes to Everest, when I dropped it on the muddy stony trail from Trakshindo. I bought a replacement later in the week – Sony Cybershot HX90V, which is the most recent successor model that has GPS (not many cameras offer that these days), plus 4 new batteries.

And Wednesday also brought the announcement that we’re back into Tier 2 from 00.01am on Saturday 26 December aka Boxing Day. Thanks “BoJo” for the ongoing shit show.


While Phil and I had been out on Tuesday, dad and Jean had come to inspect the greenhouse, and for a stroll – during which they spotted the first snowdrops, down by the willow tree trunk and beyond the “rose garden”. Christmas Eve sunshine brought out lots more shoots from bulbs by the bird feeders.

First Snowdrops, Christmas Eve
First Snowdrops, Christmas Eve

I now have reading glasses. Sigh.


Christmas day at 40A started with coffee and croissants, then a lovely walk round via Cockyard, complete with icy stretches on the way to Kerrys Gate, then presents which turned out to contain lots of tasty treats. So we opted for cheese and biscuits for lunch, with our Festive Feast coming in a little after 6pm.

Christmas Dinner
Christmas Dinner

Our menu comprised: Felicity Cloake’s Perfect Nut Roast, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and carrots, sprouts, stuffing, pigs in blankets (40), and gravy.

There are plenty of leftovers and we didn’t have any room for Christmas pud, although we did manage some choc truffles. And cheese. Both quite a bit later in the evening.


In the week’s weather watch, Storm Bella on Saturday night managed to remove two of the big panes of glass from the greenhouse, thankfully leaving them unscathed. Not sure how we’ll get them back in – but if they came out with wind power, there has to be a way!

And on Monday mid-morning: SNOW!


My oldest friend died in the early hours of Sunday morning. She just made her 51st birthday and had been peacefully unconscious at home for the past week.

It was a beautiful sunny day so Phil and I went out for a walk up along Tremorithic Road in the morning and had a quiet afternoon. In the evening we raised a glass to family and friends and happy memories with Dad and Jean and Tom, Jo, Barney and Rosa.


Telly: We watched the final episode of¬†We Are Who We Are¬†which I didn’t find at all satisfying. I have enjoyed the Blood Orange series soundtrack though. Leaving Italy we returned to London and the world of Investment Banking in the City, which provided better viewing – Industry came with high production values drama plus a little bit escapist, even if they don’t seem entirely sure if Pierpoint & Co are based in The City or The Wharf. The offices to the east of Liverpool Street Station certainly seem a popular location though – they’ve featured in one of the recent Bond films too.

And because it’s Christmas week there were a few Christmas Specials – Ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas, Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603, Worzel Gummidge: Saucy Nancy,¬†Victoria Wood: The Christmas List, Being Bridget Jones, plus The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Podcasts: The usual.


Photos: Herefordshire week 52 on Flickr.

Phil: Weeknotes for w/e 2020-12-27.

Herefordshire Week 051: Tuesday 15 – Monday 21 December 2020

A truncated edition of weeknotes for the penultimate week of our first year at Forty Acres.

The return of relentless rain hasn’t managed to stop us from starting to get into the Christmas spirit.

Feeling Festive at Forty Acres (Triptych)
Feeling Festive at Forty Acres (Triptych)

Thursday brought the surprising news that Herefordshire was moving into COVID Tier 1, despite our lack of coastline.

I got back to 40A on Friday evening, in time for Friday night pizza à la Phil. The drive was OK, just a lot of big puddles this side of the Severn which slowed me down a bit.

Very soggy underfoot when I went out for a stroll around “The Estate” on Saturday. The ditch by the train set is full of water and appears to be making a bid to join up with the big pond, plus we’ve a third pond up by the small pond (temporary I hope as it’s where the first snowdrops bloom). And we seem to be acquiring a moat!

Squelching around the grounds and across Thistly Field reminded me of last February’s floods.

Waterlogged (Triptych)
Waterlogged (Triptych)

While I was away, Phil had hauled up the brash from the lower slopes to “The Quarry”. Now all we need is some dry weather to lop and burn ….

Lots of Bonfiring still to do in the Quarry
Lots of Bonfiring still to do in the Quarry

We put up the Christmas decorations on Saturday evening, lit the log stove and Phil got his Christmas Selection playing from the Sonos, all of which made us both feel a lot more festive.

I did manage to spook myself overnight though. It turned out to be the flashing light was coming from the printer in my office – not aliens or burglars.


Podcasts: ¬†History Extra, The Night Driver (didn’t make it further than the start of ep2), The Memory Palace, ¬†Shedunnit, Books and Authors, and David Crowther’s educational and enjoyable¬†The History of England on the drive home.

Telly: 12 Puppies & Us (still lovely!) and We Are Who We Are .

Blogposts and Articles: Not my normal telly routine over the past couple of weeks and I’ve done more reading on my iPad instead, including:

I’m looking forward to the possibility of a big trek in Nepal next November, so there were some Kanchenjunga related posts including¬†Mark Horrell’s 2018 Kangchenjunga base camp trek (N&S) and Drohmo Ri ascent:

and¬†Derek’s October 2013 Kangjendzonga Base Camp Trek

But not to ignore telly completely, I’ve noted down lots of future TV viewing from The Guardian’s Christmas TV guide 2020: the festive shows you can’t miss.


Photos: Herefordshire week 51 on Flickr.

Phil: Weeknotes for w/e 2020-12-20.