Hiking the Himalayas shouldn’t be a dream as it is easier and cheaper than most people think. Want to cross this off your bucket list? You can indulge yourself in scenes like this for as little as $20 a day!
A view worth the walk from the Cho-La Pass on the Three Passes Trek.
Let me start with a quick intro: if I can do it, you can too. Traveling for almost two years has taken it’s toll on me. I probably couldn’t complete a 5k without requiring medical attention and have extra “padding” in places that need no padding. Prior to this my longest hikes were four days, staying in quasi-luxury New Zealand accommodations. In summary, you don’t need a Kenyan running partner to prepare for these hikes, reasonable fitness will suffice.
Part of the Annapurna Circuit, always surprising with beautiful views and unexpected changes from desert, to mountain, to lush oasis.
CHOOSING A HIKE
Choosing which hike to do is among the toughest part of hiking in Nepal. For your benefit we did the three most popular hikes: Three Passes (20 days)/Everest Base Camp (14 days), Annapurna Base Camp(7-10 days), and the Annapurna Circuit (14-25 days). While this is a multiple choice question, there is no wrong answer.
Manang, a stone village that hikers spend the night on the Annapurna Circuit. The highlight of this 14-21 day hike are the villages that operate and look as they have for centuries.
The sun rising over Annapurna from the backdoor of Annapurna Base Camp. If you think this is impressive you’ll be blown away by what’s out the front door!
Just a typical panorama you’ll enjoy on the Three Passes Trek (click on the photo for a larger view). Stunning, but less spectacular views, also abound on the Everest Base Camp trek, a slightly shorter hike in the area.
All the popular hikes in Nepal offer unparalleled views, inexpensive accommodations and decent food. There is no camping required! Check out LOCAVORista’s post on Tea House Trekking for more information on food and lodging.
Many places along the hikes you can even get a burger and fries such as this one at Neeru Guest House in Marpha along the Annapurna Circuit.
How much does this cost? It depends…taking a tour from a US agency costs $100-200/day. But, we did these hikes for $20/day each…and our friends did it for $10/day! What’s the secret? Going unguided. This not only saved the money paid to them, but saved on accommodation and food as hotel owners give special deals for unguided groups. Tell me this this: can you follow this trail?
The Everest Base Camp/Three Passes Trek trail heading out of Lukla, the most common starting point, foreshadowing the mountains to be seen in the days ahead.
Places where the trail is not as clear are generally marked by stone cairns, spray-painted markers, and, if all else fails, the locals will redirect any lost hikers. Tourism is the largest employer in these regions and everyone helps to make sure that hikers stay safely on the route.
If guided is the way you want to go, one can be hired with 1-2 day notice in Kathmandu or Pokhara, or the day you start hiking from major starting points such as Lukla (Everest Base Camp). Hiring your guide directly ensures that the money you pay will go to the guide instead of the tour agents who often take 40-60% of the fee. With some haggling guides request $15-25/day and porters $10-15/day. Make sure it is clear if you are paying for food and lodging for them in addition to their daily wage. We met a few exceptional guides while in Nepal, email us for their contact information if you are interested in sorting this out before arriving in Nepal.
Don’t worry, you can always hire a porter to carry your heavy stuff…
Expect to spend 2-3 days in Kathmandu preparing for your hike (purchasing supplies, internal flights and hiring help). There are groups that are leaving daily, so joining a guided group is no problem. Joining an unguided group is often easiest from the trail itself, as many set off solo, but few hike alone. We started off as two, but before we reached the difficult parts of the hike had been joined by three other people, which we spent the next weeks hiking with.
What level of physical fitness do you need? You need to be able to walk for 3-4 hours, at a comfortable pace for you, daily. The day after doing this you should feel able to do it again.
Thousands of hikers such as these successfully reach Everest Base Camp annually. Many of the hikers are 45-65 years old, so don’t think this is a young man’s game…
The biggest challenge will be acclimatization, for which there is no preparation other than time at altitude. Make sure you have enough time in your itinerary to spend acclimatization days in Nepal. Use these days to read books, eat pizzas, and take in the views.
What type of gear do you need? Things to keep you warm and dry. High altitudes (3000+ M) brings below freezing nights, while many days are most comfortable in a t-shirt. If you hire a porter, don’t expect them to walk with you, therefore what you have in your daypack is all you will have access to while hiking. When above 300 meters, make sure you have a jacket with you at all times.
Our normal attire at altitude while hiking in Nepal. This photo is from Renjo-La, one of the 5000 meter passes of the Three Passes Trek.
Here’s our simple packing list:
- Down jacket. I recommend a lightweight “down sweater” such as this Patagonia or Marmot one.
- Waterproof pants and jacket. This jacket needs to fit over your down coat.
- Hiking clothes: heavy pants (I wore Dickies), shorts, t-shirt, long underwear top and bottom, several pairs of hiking socks.
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Sleeping bag rated to 0-10 Fahrenheit. Don’t worry about investing in a bag, great sleeping bags can be rented from a REI or similar outdoors store near you.
- SPF 50+ sunscreen. At these altitude the sun’s rays are much stronger, only a metal oxide sunscreen will work. Make sure it has Copper or Titanium Oxide as the active ingredient
Anyone who wants to do these hikes and is in reasonable condition can do it. The views alone will keep a tired hiker moving forward in awe of the natural wonders not seen anywhere else. Bring the right gear, but don’t worry so much about the money as this expedition can be done on a mini-budget.