Tips For Surviving A Himalayan Trek
A high-altitude trek is usually something above 12,000 feet. Extreme precautions are necessary for such treks as any emergency help is at least a day away. As we humans climb above certain altitude, the body struggles to adjust and might throw loads (or worse, none) of symptoms at us, screaming to climb down. I had NO clue high-altitudes pose such risk for our lives, until I trekked Roopkund, at a whopping 16,200 feet high. And that’s when I thought I will share a post on surviving a Himalayan trek.
So what’s so staggering and life-threatening about high-altitudes? Lack of oxygen! As you go above 2,000 meters (approx 6000-7000 feet, usually the base camp’s altitude), the oxygen in the atmosphere starts to thin. And when brain and body are deprived of oxygen, it shows symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, headache, nausea, carelessness (or becoming very slow in registering instructions/making decisions) and dizziness. Also, usually, people drink way less water than the required amount, this might result in dehydration (and headaches). Read more about lack of oxygen and AMS here. I’m no expert when it comes to mountaineering, but below are some of my learnings based on my experience in surviving a Himalayan trek.
Say yes to Diamox
If the altitude is above 12,000 feet, it is highly advisable to take Diamox. Stay in touch with your trek leader/ground co-ordinator regarding the course. People usually start the course a day before reaching the base camp. I did not take Diamox, I was lucky I could get away with mild headaches, once or twice, not lasting more than an hour. But not everytime, everyone is. Once AMS or any of the fatal symptom hits, it’s just a downhill path from there. And trust me, evacuation is not that easy when you are up there. So why take risks at all? Even if you are an experienced trekker, you could still get hit by all these. Read here to know more on how a trekker got hit by AMS on her 28th trek! That’s as bad as it can get! Surviving a Himalayan trek is not easy, guys!
Ignorance could be your worse enemy
Do NOT ignore any of the symptoms of AMS, HACE or HAPE when you are up there. In fact, do not ignore ANYTHING abnormal/funny/weird. Not even a headache. This could prove very fatal. It might appear as though I’m trying to scare everyone, but knowing things before hand would help us avoid the ignorant behavior of ours. When one of the symptoms is poor judgement, can you really take the risk of ignoring anything? Think about it.
Hydrate to keep alive
Keep sipping water or electrolytes. Better mix one packet of electral in 1 ltr of water and use it. Hydration is THE KEY for surviving a Himalayan trek or any trek for that matter.
How to make your electronic devices work at high-altitudes
Keep your phone, power banks, camera batteries inside your sleeping bag EVERY NIGHT while sleeping. Cold drains out all the charge from these devices faster than your usage. Instead of facing the disappointment at the summit for not able to take pictures, better do this every night in advance.
Battle the Cold
I change my statement. Hydration and battling the cold are THE KEYS for surviving a Himalayan trek. Layering is one of the tricks to battle the cold. A full arm shirt, fleece jacket and a wind cheater on top is good enough for most of the camps. If the cold is unbearable, wear a layer of thermals inside these layers. Layering saves a lot of space in the backpack, eliminating the need for multiple bulky jackets. Keep your hands, feet and head warm, for which you will have to wear a good pair of gloves, socks and a beanie.
Forget your staple foods
Your staple food which consisted of a complete balanced diet may not work at high-altitudes. Along with the food that I had at the campsites, I carried dark brown chocolates, snickers, dry fruits and biscuits (and loads of water and electrolytes!). Basically, food that gave me instant boost of energy through sugar. You need it, trust me. But again, don’t overdo it.
(I forgot to add this tip earlier. Thanks for reminding, Swaroop)
Trek leader is your best friend
Your trek leader should be THE guy to go to when you experience any symptoms and I mean ANY. No one is a better judge other than themselves when it comes to identifying one’s symptoms but at high-altitudes one lacks the ability to judge. Hence, the experience of a trek leader will definitely come for the rescue.
Be physically and mentally prepared
High-altitude treks demand your physical and mental strength. Be physically fit and train well for at least 2 months before the trek. When body gets adjusted to physical exertions, chances are that it will get easily adjusted at high-altitudes with very low oxygen as well. In fact, some of the trek organizations won’t even allow you to trek if they think you are not physically fit enough.
Just be aware of your bodily symptoms and act-on it, rather than be a victim of it. Hope this article helps in planning your next trek. Also, share this post with anyone who are planning theirs next.
Do you have any other tips for surviving a Himalayan trek? Do share in the comments below.
And my humble heartfelt salute and thanks to all the Indian soldiers at Siachen who brave all these AND the enemies at inhuman, uninhabitable altitudes of 24,000 feet (where temperatures can dip well below -50 degree Celsius). Really, hats-off.