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A Quick Guide to Hiking in the Himalayas
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A Quick Guide to Hiking in the Himalayas

Oct 10th, 2014

Imagine a place so breathtakingly beautiful, time spent there feels perpetually surreal. Imagine a place where nurture cannot compete with nature, no matter how hard man tries. Imagine walking along some of the oldest roads carved by man. Roads that villagers, porters, pilgrims, and mountaineers have traveled on and maintained for centuries. Roads that were built long before the inception of the automobile and roads that to this day can only be traversed by foot or hoof.

Now imagine this place exists. A place you learned about in school and hear about occasionally, but quite possibly have never thought of as a real part of the world in which we live. This “place” I’ve been referring to is a vast range of mountains collectively called the Himalayas. Perhaps best known to us as the range above which Mount Everest towers, the Himalayas are a breathtakingly beautiful, endlessly friendly, monumentally monumental bastion of heaven on earth. And I am here to tell you the Himalayas are not out of your reach. For a taste of the magic contained within this behemoth mountain range and some practical advice for anyone who feels the Himalayas calling, just keep reading.

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When Should I Go?

Trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas is possible year-round. However, if you can swing it, try to schedule your trip outside of the regional monsoon months of July, August, and September. Hiking through the rain is no fun and, due to the predictable nature of weather patterns, is almost entirely avoidable. For the clearest skies and best mountain views, trek during the peak season of October and November.

Those who want excellent views but smaller crowds have a lengthy period of “spring” to work with. March, April, and May offer clear skies in the mornings and early afternoons, with occasional showers in the late afternoons and evenings. Winter trekking is also possible, but those who wish to trek above 15,000 feet may find they are not permitted to complete their intended route if snow builds up. This advice applies to the range’s three most popular trekking regions: Everest, Annapurna, and Langtang.

What Can I Expect?

Mind-boggling beauty every minute of every day. On a single trekking route, you can experience subtropical jungle, deep verdant valleys, impressive red rock, alpine mountains, storybook hamlets, and extraterrestrial topography that will make you feel like you’re on the moon. Hot springs abound. Rhododendrons bloom in season. Butterflies flutter. Exotic birds sing. Monkeys swing from branch to branch. Yak bells ring at higher altitudes. Birds of prey patrol the skies looking for carrion to feed on and clear away.  Blue sheep sprint down steep mountain faces. Marvelous lakes dazzle. When size is taken into account, Nepal is one of the most bio-diverse countries on earth, and on a trek through the Himalayas you can see it all. Some days, you may feel as if you’re scoring a safari at no extra cost.

Oh, I haven’t even mentioned yet that you don’t have to camp. While limited resources and an emphasis on living with and on the land make truly luxurious accommodation scarce in the high Himalayas, the “tea houses” that non-camping trekkers lodge in will feel like luxury after a day spent working your muscles like a horse. Hot water showers, comfortable mattresses, and tasty home-cooked meals can be prepared in the local fashion or to suit your Western taste buds. You can even indulge in a cold beer, no matter how far away from the nearest supermarket you find yourself.

What will a night at one of these lodges cost you? Three dollars at most. Oftentimes, if you agree to eat dinner and breakfast at a lodge, you can sleep for free. Throw in the stunning views that you will invariably fall asleep and wake up to, and you have redefined the word “steal.”

How Should I Plan?

There are thousands of treks you can take in the Himalayas, many of which are in Nepal. Start by narrowing down your options based on your budget, fitness level, and available time. If you want to trek in the Everest region and actually reach Everest Base Camp, you need a minimum of two weeks. The Annapurna region is known as being exceptionally budget-friendly, and treks there can be planned for anywhere from four days to two months. If you only have a week or so for your entire vacation, consider trekking in the Langtang region because of its proximity to Kathmandu, the site of Nepal’s only major international airport. Three or four days dedicated to trekking in the Langtang region is enough for you to get a good feel for life as a Himalayan hiker.

Once you choose a trek, the next big step is to decide whether you’ll go it alone or hire a porter or guide. A peace-loving, helpful population and well-marked trails make many of the treks possible to conquer without a guide. Hiring a guide and a porter to carry your bag can make the trek easier, but leaves you with less flexibility to go at your own pace and lodge in villages of your choosing. Depending on the size of your group and the guide you hire, your share of the guide’s fees can be as little as or a day. A porter, whose services can be split by up to three trekkers, commands fees of 0 or5 per day. Due to the risks that anyone faces hiking in the wilderness, however, trekking with a buddy or group is recommended.

What Should I Bring?

If you have a day to spare in Kathmandu, you can purchase or rent everything you need. If you want to be fully prepared on arrival or use clothing and equipment brands you know and trust, purchase a backpack with carrying capacity between 45 and 75 liters, and compare recommended packing lists spread throughout the web to decide what you need for the specific trek you have chosen.

Absolutely essential equipment for most treks includes a sleeping bag, rain jacket, waterproof pants, gloves, a first-aid kit, water purification tablets or drops, sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and trekking boots. Trekkers planning to hike above 12,000 feet should also bring altitude sickness prophylaxis or medication. If you go on a guided trek, you will be given a recommended packing list.

Boasting nine of the ten highest mountain peaks in the world, the very real yak, and the mythical yeti, the Himalayas are a force to be reckoned with. It’s also a marvelous place to spend an off-the-grid vacation and discover the sort of beauty you might believe only exists in fairy tales. A place to conquer fears and get in touch with nature of the finest variety, a hike in the Himalayas is a humbling experience sure to leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. And when you finish up your trek and return home, you’ll likely have a new found fondness for your apartment home.

What’s the best hike you’ve ever been on? Share with us by leaving a comment below!

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