I can check Everest Base Camp Trek off my bucket list.
After hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Piccu in Peru last year, I learned my lesson. I’m a personal trainer and I work out regularly. I felt that I didn’t really need to train for that hike. Was I wrong! The Inca Trail was a 4-day backpacking trip which was amazing except for on the second day – we hiked over “Dead Women’s Pass” which was at 14,000 feet. I thought I was going to have to quit. I was hiking and had to stop every couple of minutes. I had a hard time catching my breath, and I had headaches. I was miserable. The effect of high altitude can make hiking so miserable you wish you never went.
Symptoms of altitude sickness are:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Rapid pulse (heart rate)
- Shortness of breath with exertion
However, during the Inca Trail hike my guide told me if I would go super slow I would able to do it. But it was so hard for me to do that. I felt like I was moving slower than a snail. But in the end, he was right and I got to see such beautiful sights.
So, when my husband said let’s do this hike to Everest Base Camp, I did my research. You can’t train for altitude, but the more fit you are, the less your body has to work which in turn means the less oxygen you need. There were two main goals for this trek. Number one was to increase the capacity and efficiency of my body’s respiratory muscles and cardiovascular system. Improving the performance of these areas enhances the body’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise. The ultimate aim is to lower your resting heart rate and increase your VO2Max (your maximum oxygen intake capacity). The second main goal was to improve the endurance of my muscle fibers. Building up their repetitive movement strength allowed me to walk further before feeling physically tired.
However, when you live here in Florida at sea level you still will have a very hard time because your body is used to breathing more oxygen when you are working out. The highest we hiked was Kalapather at 18,465 feet where the oxygen is 50% less. Since there’s less oxygen, the higher you go the heart works harder, and you breathe faster. This means your heart rate rises quickly and, subsequently, you wear out sooner.
I learned during my research that if you stay for a couple of weeks or more at a high elevation you can increase the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. That increases the amount of oxygen carried, meaning more oxygen with every breath, which means you will not fatigue as easily. So, my husband and I spent two weeks in Breckenridge CO (elevation of 9,600 feet). We took it easy the first couple of days. Then we did small day hikes during the week and, on the weekends, we did long hikes. The first weekend we hiked 4-14,000’ers (mountains at 14,000 elevations): Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross. This was challenging for me. It took me nine hours. That evening my feet were killing me, but my legs were not sore. Then on the second weekend we hiked 2-14,000’ers (Grays and Torreys), and again that evening my feet hurt, but the hike itself was easier. I could breathe a lot easier. Then we flew back to Florida for six days before heading to Kathmandu in Nepal to start our grand adventure.
“Rest days” were not really restful. We would always hike up some mountains, go back down and sleep at the same tea house. This helped with acclimatization. We did great. We had no problems except on the night we slept in Ghorekshep (16,942 feet of elevation), the highest elevation. I had a hard time sleeping; I would wake up frequently. Not good because we had to get up and start our hike to Kalapather at 4:00 am with headlamps. It was beautiful to see the stars. From the bottom of the mountain you could see other hikers ahead with their headlamps on. It looked like a parade of candles up the mountain. It was a beautiful sight.
I started my training four months before the trip.
My training consisted of:
Using the stairmaster at least 3 times a week-30 to 45 minutes. It was more like 4-5 days. Treadmill for at least 3 miles with a high incline (a minimum of once a week).
Sometimes long walks.
The Strength training consisted of:
3 times per week:
Lots of lunges, squats, specific knee strengthening exercises, calf work, ab and lower back work (to help with carrying a day pack for anywhere from 4-8 hours). Also, I incorporated stretching, which is often overlooked. It’s worth putting in 5-10 min of stretches pre- and post-workout. This helps warm up and cool down the muscles, to avoid straining them. After any hard workout, muscles build up lactic acid and tighten. If you don’t stretch, your muscles contract, getting tighter and making it easier for them to tear.
Hiking to Everest Base Camp was challenging, but it was worth it. While hiking high up into the Himalayas, breathing in the cool, crisp air, spinning the prayer wheels, visiting Buddhist monasteries, crossing amazing bridges and meeting the very friendly Nepali people, we made unforgettable memories. The most challenging part for me was eating and drinking and making sure I drank bottled, boiled or treated water. I was worried about what to eat, so that I wouldn’t get sick, making sure I didn’t eat anything that was not cooked in high temperatures to kill off any bacteria or viruses. It paid off because we did not get sick. During the hike, three helicopters had to take down hikers that got very sick most likely due to elevation sickness. I really think the way we trained and prepared for this trip made a huge difference between having a miserable time and possibly not finishing it, to really enjoying it.