Daily life on trek.
Your guide wakes you just after daybreak, usually 6.15am. After dressing, if you’re brave enough or it’s warm enough you go outside and wash under a tap like the guides do. They often douse their heads under the tap and then clean their teeth vigorously but you just can’t drink untreated local water so your teeth will have to wait until you get some drinking water. The trick is to fill your water bottle the night before either with boiled water which you can use as a hot water bottle or cold treated water so you can drink it at night. In the morning if the dining room fire is lit, then it’s a bearable temperature but more than likely it’s not and it can be freezing. Eat a good breakfast like apple porridge and drink lots. Then back to your room and hurriedly pack so that the porter can get away. Your daysac should contain spare clothing: a wind/waterproof top, gloves, woolly hat, sun hat, suncream, lipsalve, sunglasses, small medical kit with blister treatments, painkillers, rehydration powder, imodium, loo paper (a must have), headtorch, camera and most importantly at least 1 litre of clean water. It’s advisable to have a chocolate bar or two in your daysac for emergency energy. I’ve highlighted things I consider essential.
Your guide will want to leave, at the latest at 7.30, before the sun gets too hot, especially if at a lower altitude or if there are strong winds starting in the afternoon. You tend to start out wearing too much and quickly shed layers but it’s better to have warm clothing with you as when you stop you’ll very quickly get cold, especially in the shadows. Also when you get to the next lodge, your porter may not have arrived and you’ll be grateful of the extra layers. Leaving early lets you walk slowly and gaining height slowly helps with your acclimatisation.
Soon its 11 am and that’s when guides and porters eat their breakfast of dahl bhat, their staple diet. The amount of rice a tiny porter can put away is astonishing! It’s best to have some soup and a light meal. Lunch may be some distance away and you are working hard.
When walking past a mani wall and any buddhist structure, go clockwise around it. The amount of people who don’t know this simple thing is disturbing. The Nepalis won’t say anything but they’ll be upset if you don’t go clockwise. Don’t show people the soles of your feet eg. when sat down, don’t throw litter on the fire, try not to point, dress conservatively and no public shows of affection ie. no kissing. Don’t just photograph people, ask first, unless you are some distance away and are fast and discreet. Take your shoes off at temple doors.
Theft is rare but not unknown so don’t leave passports and money in your room. Whilst lodges provide locks, they are cheap things and you may wish to bring your own. The doors are often misshapen so a lock with a wide hasp or a tiny retractable cable lock is best.
You’ll more than likely be at your destination by 2pm, which lets you get a decent room at the lodge, eat, relax and acclimatise. If showers are available, then the afternoon is the only time you’ll get the limited hot water as it’s solar heated – which is a good reason to arrive early to beat other people to the hot water. The trekking day is sometimes very short, maybe 3 hours. It all depends on your performance and acclimatisation, the frequency of accommodation and the height gained. As a rule of thumb, you should not gain more than 500mts altitude per day. Some days are very long, going over a pass can be very demanding and you often start out in the dark. When you are going back down to Kathmandu you’ll walk full days. Dark falls around 6.30pm and bedtime is 8pm. Staff often sleep in the dining room so it’s polite to go to your room and, even if they don’t, the lodge owner will want to lock up. It’s a long night so a book is useful. Often the lighting, if any, goes off at 8pm so a headtorch is essential.
On the trail you’ll see a lot of westerners in large groups chatting as they go along. Nothing wrong with that although they miss seeing a lot. Nare and I were watching a whole herd of Himalayan Thar (a goat) no more than 6 metres away, when two large trekking groups came past, too busy chatting amongst themselves to notice the Thar watching them from the shadows. A magic moment that they all missed. Again Nare and I watched a rarely seen Himalayan Pine Marten nervously follow us across a bridge over a gorge. Big groups don’t often see much wildlife.
Photography is best done in the early morning and later afternoon as the sun is lower and the contrast less. Expect deep black shadows and dazzling white snow especially around midday, so careful metering is required. If you are happy using your camera on manual and shooting raw files, then do so. If there is a lot of snow in your photos then increase your exposure by 1 to 1.5 stops. Do not expect battery charger facilities in all lodges and even those that do will charge money for it. Take spare memory cards. Expect a lot of dust so a lens cleaning cloth is useful.
And then there’s the mountains! Lots of them! Magnificent! But then you know that, as it’s why you are here.
Enjoy them as you may not pass this way again.
Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.