The Good Trekker welcomes one of the great trekkers, Brendan Barrett, to Musa Masala. Brendan was on the WMS fundraising trek via Pikey Peak to the site of the Wongchu Sherpa Memorial Hospital in November, 2016. For an example of Brendan’s fearless trekking style, he introduced himself as a medical malpractice lawyer to his fellow Trekkers, most of whom were doctors! He made few friends but quite an impression. We have been waiting eagerly for this post and we hope you like it. It’s full of important information, priceless hygenine tips and his own unique view of the world. Sit back and have a good read before packing those bags.
So you’re doing it? You’re sure that you’re doing it?!? Okay, let’s do it.
Hiking in Nepal is a special experience—one that bundles the enchantment of the world’s most spectacular altitudes with the crush of a modern world elbowing its way into the tallest recesses of the globe. Thousands of other likeminded trekkers, wanderers and curious souls make their way through Himalayan valleys each year in search of something unique to them. This guide isn’t so much of a “how-to” list, but more of a casual reminder of things to keep in mind when preparing for the weeks ahead. Whatever your personal reason for venturing into this bewitching region may be, take special care to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the journey ahead.
Disclaimer: I’m no expert, but I know how to have a good time. Take these tips with a full shaker of salt, and use your own best judgement. This is an adventure. Have fun with it.
The first thing you should take care of is your gear. You should prepare for three distinct portions: Kathmandu (before), The Trek and Kathmandu (after).
Next, before you get on that plane, do a little homework on the history of Nepal. Look into the historical importance of the valley, the unbelievable recent Palace intrigue and the struggles that the nation has faced as a result of political strife and natural disasters.
If you’re at all like me, you’re wildly unprepared for this. But that’s okay! Kathmandu (KTM) knows you’re unprepared, so they planted 36,000 stores in your immediate vicinity that will help you get ready. So, if you’re enthusiastic about helping local businesses, traveling light and discount shopping, this is the list for you. Within two hours, you can stock up on every piece of gear you may need for the trek at a quarter of the cost back home. There is certain equipment that I’d advise to get from home or from one of the retail outlets in KTM (tent, footwear, backpack), but the rest of your stuff can be picked up from the KTM bodegas in Thamel and it will serve fine for your trek. At the end, donate the gear you can bear to part with—people need it.
Pro tip: Bring an extra bag in your luggage so you can bring home 12 to 19 faux North Face puffies for Christmas gifts this year.
Next, the trek itself. You can expect to be trudging on foot for a week or two, so do your best to prepare yourself physically. You don’t need to be an Olympian, but ramp up your cardio before getting there—it will pay dividends.
Finally, for someone who had never done anything like this, there were certain cultural curiosities that took some getting used to. The first thing I realized: it’s weird to have someone carry your things and wait on you. This will feel a bit strange if you’ve never experienced it before, but it doesn’t need to. Being a porter is a time-honored profession and these gentlemen and ladies are working hard for just compensation. They almost certainly work harder than the trekkers, so address their job with the dignity it deserves. Have your bags packed punctually and neatly. Put in some effort to learn about their culture, language and interests. Get out of their way when they’re blazing past you on the trail. Eventually, you’ll come to find out that not only are they far more physically fit than anyone you know, but they’re also much better dancers.
General list of gear to bring for The Trek:
- Hiking shoes. It’s important that they’re worn in so you avoid the perils of the new shoes. (Bring blister tape, just in case).
- Load up your phone with the music that you love. Sometimes the perfect song on the right mountain ridge becomes a moment that you’ll savor for the rest of your life. I tend to enjoy the silence of the outdoors, but there were plenty of times where music and motion came together in a special way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you don’t hit the top of a mountaintop while blasting “Dark Side of the Moon” at least once, then your trip is probably going to be a complete failure and you should have gone on a cruise. (Don’t forget headphones.)
- Wet wipes. Bring SO, SO, SO many wet wipes that you feel absurd packing them.
- For those of you desk jockeys, don’t forget to throw on your email response message: “Leave me alone. I’m trekking and wet-wipin.’”
- Underwear: Cotton was fine for me, but I must admit that I’m intrigued by some o’ those fancy trek drawers they’re hawking all over KTM.
- Day pack. Look for a regular-size (20 to 35 liter) middle school style backpack. I prefer the ones with shoulder padding, a chest/waist strap and a hundred pockets because it makes me feel like a fighter pilot, but go with your instincts.
- Sleeping bag. 20 degree F one should be fine. There are thousands available in KTM, and they’re good quality.
- Plastic ziplock bags and a pair of garbage bags. This is just a good general trekking tip as there just always seems to be a reason that you need a bag. Am I right?
- Ladies, headbands proved to be a big hit. Trekking gets sweaty, and the band keeps the hair at bay and looks rugged.
- Deck of cards, deck of Uno and dice. The nighttime is a time for making friends, cracking jokes and reckless gambling. Enjoy the scenery by day and the company by night. “Heads Up,” phone version, was a big hit.
- Hand sanitizer. Obviously.
- Two sets of shades (one will break). Get them in KTM.
- Two water bottles. One for drinking, one for peeing.
- Okay, this was new to me. Every night for the first 10 nights, I was the goober who had to untuck my perfectly warm cocoon and go out to find a pee spot. Everyone else was in on the pee-bottle notion. Important: Wide mouth!
- Ladies,go online and look up the item “Shewee” or “GoGirl.” I’m told they’re fantastic but nobody would share theirs with me.
- Take a duct tape roll and wrap tape around the outside of your water bottle five or six times. (Now you’ve got a bunch of duct tape on you at all times, just in case. Look at you, you trekking fool!)
- Ear plugs. It gets really loud at night and some people sing the song of their people through their noses at you.
- Head lamp and extra batteries.
- Face buff. (I wear them to Raiders games all the time now—possibly my favorite pickup of the whole trip). Face buffs can be used as face guards, neck wraps or bandanas. As a matter of fact, if you show up with just a duffel bag full of face buffs and nothing else, you’re still going to have a great time.
- Utility knife. Buy one in KTM.
- Coffee mug. Camper versions are available in KTM.
- Camp shoes. Cheap, dirty, light and easy to pack.
- Quick-dry towel.
- Gloves. It’s chilly in the morning!
- Dirty hat.
- Trek poles. I had never used these before and was very happy I had them. Buy them in KTM.
- Electrical outlet converter.
- Digital storage o’ plenty. You’re going to take a reckless amount of photos while you’re there. Seriously—every time you see a yak, you’re going to lose your mind and think it’s the most incredible yak you’ve ever seen. It would be a travesty to try to capture that yak with your camera and learn you’re out of space because you’ve got 175 useless pictures of Barbara’s baby shower on your phone.
- Toiletries bag must-haves: toothbrush, sanitizer, band aids, blister patches, soap, shampoo, face wash, Neosporin, sun screen and lip balm (SPF 30)
- Medical pack. Listen, I know most of you are doctors and all, but just bring the hits: Azithromycin, snap-shut, Miralax, ibuprofen, cough drops, Ambien, Pepto, Zofran, Diamox, etc.)
- Solar lantern/charger. There are available online; I didn’t see any in KTM. Throw it off the end of your backpack by day and let the sun charge up that fancy phone of yours.
- Wet wipes. Yeah, I know I said this above, but seriously *removes hat and wipes brow with dusty old handkerchief* just trust a guy on this one.
- Steri-pen. You probably won’t need this, as the Sherpas take great care of you and most of your water will be boiled.
- Tip money for porters. They’re lugging the gear for you, cooking, keeping you safe and being all-around great characters. They earned it.
Especially Useful Tips from a first time Trekker:
Latrines: Be the first to the latrine. Timing is everything in this world.
For many of you, this could be your first time using an outdoor facility (*hole). The key is to have a solid technique. You’re going to want to get into a full crouch, arms forward for balance, in a wide stance. Have those trusty wipes close by and do your thing. Sometimes its nice to have already pulled out a few wipes for maximum speed and efficiency. And maybe even a few practice rounds back home to get into the swing of things!
Maps and Apps:
- Whenever I travel, I like to download a map of the places where I’ll be. Doing so in KTM can be very helpful. Go to your Google maps app and download an “offline map” of KTM and explore!
- While we’re getting all high-tech, I also like the app Strava, as it keeps track of your distances and altitude climb during the day.
- Tent game plan: When you get into your tent at the end of a long day of trekking, follow these simple steps. Change out into your evening wear immediately, and dry out sweaty stuff. Set tomorrow’s gear aside ahead of time. Have an organized bag at all times. At night, put your electronics inside your sleeping bag, as it preserves battery.
- We visited a spectacular Tibetan Refugee rug dealer. The work quality is spectacular, and it’s a truly wonderful item to bring home. The people who work there have been forced from their country by political strife, but have set up shop and rebuilt the place after the quake. I highly suggest making your way here at the end of the trip. At this very moment I’m staring at one of the rugs I purchased and wish I had bought more. (Credit cards are accepted and they’ll mail the rug to your home country, with prices ranging from $200 to 1500 USD.)
- There is a great selection in KTM. As a matter of fact—you should probably arrive in KTM with a list of people that you’d like to get gifts for. Be organized and focused. A gentleman always shops with a purpose! (Common items: wool shawls, rugs, puffy jackets, utility knives, trek backpacks, knit hats and booties).
KTM food and drink:
- My favorite outings in Kathmandu were to Fire and Ice (delicious pizza), Mezza (delicious gin and tonics) and Kilroy’s pub. “Jazz Upstairs” has live jazz on Wednesday, and Purple Haze has live rock shows.
- When eating, I highly suggest putting a liberal amount of their famous “Druk Sauce” on everything. I would have brought a few gallons home if I had been more prepared. My favorite of the local beers was Everest, but it wasn’t as ubiquitous as one might think.
Finally, bring a good attitude and don’t expect the high luxuries of other excursions. You’re there to learn and cultivate yourself, but most of all, to help in the development of a less fortunate community. Leave your complaints and negative comparisons to the West at home. If you’re signing up for this to have a relaxing vacation, try Mexico instead.
With that, I wish you all the best of treks!! If you have any questions or just want to chat about what to expect, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.