AM I FIT ENOUGH FOR EVEREST BASE CAMP?

Acclimatising to life in Nepal starts from the moment your feet touch the ground in Kathmandu. This sprawling city has become synonymous with spirituality where multi ethnicities, and both Buddhists and Hindus, live alongside each other amidst a whirl of prayer wheels, incense and cows. For many travellers, the colourful chaos of the streets can be a little overwhelming, but Nepal's capital isn’t a challenge when it comes to altitude. Situated at 1,400m, it’s hardly what can be deemed high altitude.
Sarah Faith, marketing specialist and writer at Responsible Travel, trekked to Everest Base Camp in 2006: “Kathmandu is a bit of a culture shock when you arrive, but make sure you leave time to explore as it is a wonderful, frenetic place full of friendly faces, intricately carved temples and fascinating culture. It’s also really easy to pick up trekking bits and pieces here.”
For many, though, Kathmandu is just the start of their Nepal adventure, and they are pitching their ambitions at higher ground – Everest. Many come to trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) – a basic campsite used by climbers aiming to ascend the highest mountain on the planet. Why do people want to trek to EBC? Because it's a challenge? Because the proximity to Everest is awesome? Because of the footsteps that have tramped the same ground before? Because it doesn't require any technical climbing skills? Because it's there?
It's a personal journey – one that everyone can achieve, if they're prepared and fit enough. The trek begins with a flight from Kathmandu to the small Himalayan town of Lukla, which literally doubles the altitude level, but this is nowhere near the height of EBC, which is an almighty 5,364m. Acclimatising gradually to walking at altitude is essential and don't underestimate the importance of training, months in advance, to ensure you're fit enough to enjoy the experience safely and successfully. An organised small group trek to Everest Base Camp can include anything up to 12 days of trekking above 3,000m on a 125km round trip from Lukla.

So, just how fit do you have to be to reach Everest Base Camp? You may well be asking yourself, right now: am I fit enough? Well, let's find out...

How fit do I have to be?

If you're a regular long distance walker, especially used to hills; if you do aerobic sport regularly, such as swimming, cycling, athletics; if you're a regular gym attendee and comfortable for half an hour on a stair climber or running machine set to a steepish gradient; if your back’s strong enough to carry a rucksack that weighs, roughly, 15kg (although once on the trek porters will carry your gear); if you're comfortably able to walk longish distances (12km) on consecutive days. These are just a few of the activities that you should be able to do if you're contemplating a trek to EBC.
If you’re at all unsure, a visit to your GP will be the best way to determine your present physical state, especially if you’re not in the first flush of youth. There's no upper age limit for this trek, but it would be wise to approach it extremely carefully if you're over 70 years old. You can do it, of course, just visit your GP for a full medical and be honest with yourself about your stamina. In the past, people aged from 18 to 80 have trekked to Everest Base Camp. This is not just a young person's challenge. Many 20 year olds have turned back just as frequently as many mid 60 year olds have achieved success.
Local Sherpas will be employed as porters to help with carrying kit (carrying no more than 25kg, which is the official maximum load), but you will also be expected to carry your own day pack which will obviously weigh more, the more you put in, so pack light. This isn't a trek on level paved paths. It's a rough and rocky, up and down route. Ankles and knees will feel it, and finding footwear that's comfortable, durable and waterproof, is one of the most important elements of coming equipped for the task. Mental determination can be just as important as physical fitness, don't think that you can substitute one for the other; it doesn't work like that. You need to be fit, mentally and physically.
Responsible Travel’s Sarah Faith shares her thoughts on fitness: “I was in a group of roughly 16 people. Some pretty fit, some not, but none were totally unfit. One guy was a chain smoker and he made it! I think having experience of long day walks is vital, not only to get you used to long distances but it also helps you work out what kinds of things keep you going if you’ve never trekked before. If you’re relatively active, happy walking for 5+ hours a day in the countryside, or are happy running a few times a week, you’ll be fine.”

And preparation: “I ran a couple of times a week and we did a few training weekends away as a team, to the Peak District and Snowdonia. I would recommend climbing Snowdonia to anyone planning to do Base Camp. Test out your kit, your waterproofs, your boots etc and make sure your legs are used to some mountain walking. Continue your regular fitness routine, but increase it slightly for your trek, ie, run slightly further, or do an extra run each week, or go to the gym for an extra session. Strengthen your legs and make sure your knees are happy going downhill, as well as up. Buy decent walking boots early and wear them on your preparation walks. You don’t want to discover your boots aren’t waterproof or that they give you blisters once you’re in the Himalayas. Also, food choice at the tea houses is very limited. I seem to remember the same three options every lunchtime and dinner, for 12 days. Get to like dhal bhat, or take some sauces to keep things interesting. Also, pack a good book and a pack of cards!”
Remember, it’s not just about the walk - the stories from your Sherpa guides are fascinating.

Our top Everest Base Camp Holiday

Gokyo Everest trek in Nepal

Gokyo Everest trek in Nepal

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Advice on trekking at altitude

One of the annoying things about trekking at altitude is that there's no direct correlation between physical fitness and how your body adapts to the heady heights above 3,000m. You can be a super fit marathon runner and really struggle with it, or be a couch potato and not feel any affects at all. This can be frustrating for those who have put in a lot of preparation. It's very important to take your time on a trek like this, don't feel the need to rush or be the first to the next bend or viewpoint. Take things steady. Stop regularly. Enjoy the views. Chat to your guides and fellow trekkers. Drink a lot of water, not alcohol. Most of the days on the way up aren't that long in terms of walking hours, and it can be cold once you've arrived at the next lodge. Taking your time during the day not only helps you acclimatise better, but it also gives you a better understanding and appreciation of your surroundings.
There’s not much you can do to prepare for the altitude - altitude sickness can hit anyone, even those who are really fit, but being as fit as you can be will make the walk more enjoyable.

Trekking training tips

Set your alarm clock an hour earlier than usual so you can get up and go for a walk, cycle ride or a swim before work. Walk to work if you can. If you commute then get off the bus a couple of stops earlier or park your car further away than usual. Just get in a daily walk when and where it's possible to do so. When at work always opt to use the stairs rather than the lift, and use lunchtimes as an opportunity to walk, swim or cycle, if possible. Don't just focus your fitness routine on strengthening leg muscles. Cross training exercises enable you to get your whole body prepared. This allows for overall balance and a spread of strength, rather than one set of muscles compensating for others. Swimming, racquet sports, circuit training, aerobics, yoga and full gym work outs are all great for spreading strength over your entire body. Professional personal trainers are great for ensuring you put in the right amount of effort in the safest and most efficient way possible. You don't have to employ your own fitness instructor but it certainly won't do you any harm if you do. Gyms often have in-house instructors and they'll be the best people to advise on using equipment correctly as well as tailoring a training schedule to your current levels of fitness. Although gyms have excellent equipment there's nothing that beats practising outdoors in a comfortable pair of boots, and with a rucksack, to get your body and mind ready for trekking. Rolling hills are great, steeper slopes are even better. If you don't live in a hilly area then why not organise a weekend of walking in the Peak District, Wales, Scotland or the French Alps? Walking uphill on consecutive days is a great way to put your boots and socks through their paces, as well as your mind and muscles. For more information on getting fit to trek to Everest Base Camp, this trekking training guide, produced by Responsible Travel’s specialist EBC trekking tour operator, Encounters Travel, includes information on the importance of training, tips on how to avoid injuries, and a 16-24 week schedule.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Christopher Michel] [Porters: Bo Jorgensen] [Namche bazaar: Dylan Steinberg] [Earthquake: Bureau of Land Management]
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