TREKKING IN THE HIMALAYAS

Updated: Jan 7


A brief summary of Nepal`s Gokyo Lakes trek: when to go, how to prepare, what to pack and other do`s and don`ts.

Himalaya was on our list for a long time but due to the fact that it needed almost 3 weeks, we kept postponing it. Don`t panic, the trekking itself can be done in a shorter time but we personally wanted to combine it with Tibet. In the end, due to what happened in Tibet because of the Chinese occupancy and the way Tibet is now, we decided to change it with the new version of it: Bhutan. We`ll come back to Bhutan in the next article, so stay tuned!


Anyway, in the end we managed to do it and we would like to share our experience and our advice, as well as our mistakes so that some other people could benefit from it, in the same way as we benefited from other people`s articles.



Which trek to choose, which trek is suitable for you?


Himalaya is a generic term, so, when you start thinking more seriously about it, this should be one of your first questions.

Now, just because we went there, we are not experts, but we can share what we experienced and what we think it could be useful.


First of all, we want to say that it is not mandatory to go to an agency or hire a guide. As far as we`ve seen, most of the treks are very populated with lots of tourists and we`ve seen a lot of people doing the trek on their own.


Secondly, we want to make it clear that trekking in Nepal is very well developed and there are guest houses/ lodges/ tea houses on most of the trekking routes. So, you do not need to carry your own tent or food.


However, going on your own would imply extra time to get all the trekking permits needed

( TIMS CARD ) and a bit more research. More about trekking permits here and here.


Another thing you may want to consider is the fact that, usually, the accommodation cannot be booked and the guides have priority over solo travelers when it comes to beds in a lodge.


So, for this two reasons, we chose an agency which organized all the permits for ourselves and gave us a guide. But that was all.


Another good option, that we should have considered more, is to hire a guide to go with you. We met one Nepali guy on the trek and you can contact him if you want only guide service. His name is Bikas Lama and you can find him on Facebook.


The trek from Namche Bazaar to Khumjung

We chose Gokyo Lakes trek based purely on the photos seen on the internet and the fact that we wanted to get in a region close to 5000 m. Also, because we wanted to do the Bhutan trip, we were a bit pressed by time and we only had about 11 days for the trek.

Gokyo Lakes trek is in the Everest region and for half of the way you go in the same direction as Everest Base Camp ( EBC ) trek. At some point, closer to 4000 m, the trek splits and Gokyo lakes is on the left whereas EBC is on the right.

Now, probably you are wondering why we didn`t choose EBC. Well, because is way too popular and crowded and actually, from EBC, you don`t get to see Everest.

Anyway, we must say that the trek itself is not very difficult. It`s more of a steep walk. Actually, we found far more difficult the treks we did in Romania. But the thing that literally kills you is the altitude. So, no matter how difficult or easy is the trek, at least the first time, you`re gonna feel super tired.


Another option that we considered was Annapurna Base Camp trek ( ABC trek ). Time wise, it takes more or less the same number of days but it only goes about 4300 m above sea level. However, we`ve heard is very nice as it goes through different layers of vegetation and rocks.


If you have more time, around 15-20 days, you could consider Annapurna Circuit, Upper Mustang or Lower Dolpo. But we cannot say anything about any of the treks, as we didn`t do any of them.


Preparations


Once you decided what trek you would like to do, this is probably one of the most important parts of your trip: preparing for it.


Preparations include: physical workouts and getting your gear ready.


Now, if you have an average fitness level ( going to the gym 3-4 times a week) , the physical workouts could only include running and climbing stairs few times a week, for at least 30- 45 days. If you don`t do any exercise what so ever, consider preparing way more in advance, 3 to 4 months at least.


Getting you gear ready literally means buying everything you need or consider renting or buying it in Kathmandu. Yes, Kathmandu has plenty of offers in terms of buying/ renting mountain gear but, personally, we had our own stuff.


What to pack


  • Important documents and items

- Valid passport

- 2 extra passport size photos

- Separate photocopies of passport

- Visa form (easily obtained at Kathmandu airport),

- Proof of insurance ( please make your own insurance, we will come back to this later )

- Dollars, pounds or Euros in cash for purchasing Nepalese visa at Kathmandu airport, for paying for restaurants and hotels, for gratuities, snacks, and to purchase your own drinks and gifts

- Credit cards ( Useful info: you can also withdraw money on the trek in Lukla and Namche Bazaar and you can pay by card in some of Gokyo Lakes lodges )


  • Head

- Bandana or head scarf, also useful for dusty conditions

- Warm hat that covers your ears (wool or synthetic)

- Headlamp with extra batteries and bulbs

- Sunglasses with UV protection


  • Upper Body

- Polypropylene shirts (1 half sleeve and 2 long sleeves)

- Light and expedition weight thermal tops

- Fleece

- Wind-stopper jacket

- Waterproof (preferably breathable fabric) shell jacket

- Down jacket, some people say you don`t need it but it`s extremely useful during the cold nights

- Gore-Tex jacket with hood, waterproof and breathable, if you can afford it


  • Hands

- 1 pair of lightweight poly-liner gloves

- 1 pair of lightweight wool or fleece gloves


  • Lower Body

- Non-cotton underwear

- 1 pair of Hiking shorts ( optional )

- 1 pair of Hiking trousers ( preferably wind stopper )

- 1 pair of lightweight thermal bottoms (seasonal)

- 1 pair of waterproof shell pants, breathable fabric


  • Feet

- Pairs of thin, lightweight inner socks

- Pairs of heavy poly or wool socks

- 1 pair of Hiking boots with spare laces (sturdy soles, water resistant, ankle support, “broken in”)

- 1 pair of trainers or running shoes and/or sandals (optional) - we didn`t have that


  • Sleeping

- 1 sleeping bag (good to -20 ) - we got this to be provided by our agency


  • Rucksack

- 1 medium rucksack with rain cover (50-70 liters, can be used for an airplane carry- on) - we had 2 Osprey Rook 50 L and we were happy

- 1 day rucksack and duffel bags ( if you plan to hire porter ) *


  • Medical

- Small, personal first-aid ki (simple and light)

- Aspirin

- First-aid tape, and plasters (Band-Aids)

- 1 skin-blister repair kit

- Anti-diarrhea pills

- Anti-headache pills

- Cough and/or cold medicine

- Anti-altitude sickness pills: Diamox or AcetylzolamideStomach - can be easily purchased in Kathmandu

- Antibiotic: Ciprofloxacin, etc - some antibiotics can be purchased in Kathamdu without prescription

- Do not bring sleeping pills as they are a respiratory depressant

- Water purification tablets or water filter


  • Practical Items


- 1 small roll of repair tape

- 1 sewing-repair kit1 cigarette lighter

- 1 small box of matches

- 1 digital camera with extra cards and batteries

- 2 water bottles (1 liter each)

- 1 small folding knife ( optional )

- Binoculars (optional)

- Large, waterproof, disposable rubbish sacks


  • Toiletries - there aren`t any toiletries in the lodges!

- 1 medium-sized quick drying towel

- Toothbrush/paste (preferably biodegradable) -

- Multi-purpose soap (preferably biodegradable)

- Deodorants

- Nail clippers

- Shampoo

- Face and body moisturizer

- Female hygiene products

- Wet tissues ( sometimes you won`t be able to shower due to the cold! )

- Toilet paper - this can also be purchased in most of the lodges but don`t count on it

- Antibacterial hand wash


Getting there


Either you like it or not, flying to Kathmandu is the only option to get closer to the Himalayas. From Kathmandu, depending on your trek choice, you will have to take another flight or a car/bus to get to the actual point where you`ll gonna start your trek.

In our case, we had to fly to Lukla, which is one of the most spectacular, but dangerous, airports in the world!

Bear in mind, often the domestic flights get delayed or even cancelled, so it`s better to take a buffer time of 1-2 days. We got stuck in Lukla for 1 day due to poor visibility!



Best time to go


The best weather for trekking in the Himalayas is during spring ( March to May ) and autumn ( September to November ), as, during these times, the weather is mostly clear and the temperatures are above zero, during day time. Autumn is the most popular time to go.

However, these are also the times when you will encounter LOTS of tourists. If you were thinking that you will be alone in the mountains, forget about it!


In summer is impossible to go because the visibility is extremely poor due to the monsoon. Winter months are the most clear but also the temperatures are significantly lower.


Gokyo Lakes Trek



Gokyo lakes comprise the highest freshwater system, located almost at 5000 m. This trek is good for people who want to trek in the Everest region but want to spend less time at altitude. Also, the variety of the views is a bit greater here and you actually get to see Everest from many places.

On top of this, it has the advantage of being less crowded than the Everest Base Camp ( EBC ).


So, let`s get into more details about the trek itself. As mentioned before, we needed to take a flight to Lukla, which is the gateway to Everest region or Khumbu Region.


Trek details


Duration: 10 - 16 days, depending on the way back

Max. elevation: 5,357m (Gokyo Ri)

Start/finish: Lukla/Lukla

Difficulty: Trek itself is easy but it gets challenging because of the altitude

Best season: Spring/Fall

Accommodation: Teahouse


Itinerary


Day 1: Fly to Lukla; Trek to Phakding (8,563 feet/ 2,610 m) - 4 hours / 6.5 km

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar (11,290 feet / 3,440 m) - 5 -7 hours / 7.9 km

Day 3: Acclimatization in Namche Bazaar

Day 4: Trek from Namche Bazaar to Dole (4,200 m) - 8-9 hours / 11.6 km

( the most difficult day for us )

Day 5: Trek from Dole to Machhermo (4,470 m) - 2-4 hours / 4.5 km

Day 6: Trek from Machhermo to Gokyo - 3-5 hours / 6.4 km

Day 7: Acclimatization in Gokyo (4,790 m); Climb Gokyo Ri or visit Gokyo Lakes

We climbed Gokyo Ri and took us about 6 hours ( return ) / 1.4 km ( steep ascent )

Day 8: Trek from Gokyo to Phanga/ or back to Dole

Day 9: Trek from Dole to Namche Bazaar

Day 10: Trek from Namche Bazaar to Phakding / or even back to Lukla

Day 11: Trek back to Lukla / flight back from Lukla

Day 12: Fly back


Variations


1. Return to Lukla via Renjo La Pass, but it is a bit more difficult

2. Combine it with Everest Base Camp, but this will significantly make your trek longer ( about 16 days or even more )

3. Complete all three passes




Permits and regulations


TIMS permit: approximately $10 USD per person

Sagarmatha National Park permit: approximately $30 USD per person


If you`re organizing your trek through an agency, they will do it for you. If you`re doing it on your own, you`ll have to pay for these in Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu, but take into consideration that this will add an additional day to your trip.


Accommodation and meals


Accommodation is going to be in the so - called tea houses or lodges. Although at the beginning of the trek, in the lower regions, there can be a bit more variety, depending on the price, the higher you go, the narrow the option range gets.

Basically, there are twin bed rooms which include 2 rudimentary beds and that`s it. Some of them are cleaner than others but none have heating so it`s going to get freezing like hell during the night. But this is why you`ll have your -20 degrees Celsius sleeping bag with you!


Also, bear in mind that the price of the room doesn`t include anything else. Shower, soap, toilet paper and charging are extras. Initially they don`t cost too much but they get more an more expensive as you climb higher. On top of that, based on our experience, we can tell that above approximately 3500 m you won`t want to shower anyway. Because it`s sooo freezing! ☺️


When it comes to meals, we must say that they are very basic as well. They vary from eggs, omelette, sandwiches or some porridge made with warm water in the morning to potatoes, soups, rice, pasta and even pizza throughout the day.

We were advised to stick to the vegetarian options and we can only advise you the same thing. Due to the fact that everything has to be brought from lower areas, you can never know if the meat was fresh or kept in proper conditions. Also, it`s better to have Nepali food.


Tip: we were advised by the Nepali people that garlic soup is super good in treating altitude sickness, so try to have as much as you can. It really tastes good!


Another thing that you might want to be aware of is the fact that most of the agencies consider only the main course when it comes to 3 meals/ day. And up here, the main course is sometimes only the side dish, so you`ll have to pay extra. We know, it sucks!


Macchermo

Costs


The cost of the whole trip can vary a lot depending on the agency, duration or location. In our case, we hired an agency to organize our permits, domestic plane tickets and provide us with a guide, although we did our research and we were considering to do it ourselves.


Why did we came to this conclusion?

Firstly, because we would save the time to get our permits ( 1 or 2 days, depending on the day of the arrival ). Bear in mind that the Tourism office is not open during the weekends.

Secondly, because we`ve read that the guides have priority when it comes to accommodation. Now, to be honest, we`ve seen plenty of people doing it on their own and they didn`t seem to have any trouble finding a place to sleep.

Thirdly, we though it`s better to have someone with us in case we get both sick from the high altitude.


So, for all these,including the flights Kathmandu - Lukla, and 2 sleeping bags we paid approximately 980 $ per person. Duration 11 days.


On top of these, there are the costs of extra stuff, such as extra meals, fruits, coffee, tea, water, even hot water, shower, charging electronics would cost another 300 - 400 $ minimum for 2 people. Maybe you can spend less but take into consideration that you`ll need plenty of food and water due to the high physical effort.


Everything varies from 1-2 $ per item initially to 4-5 $ per litre of water or even more for charging items as you go higher.


Also, save some money for bottled oxygen or oxymeter use ( to test your oxygen level) as you may need it. The oxygen cost was about 50 $ per hour, as far as we can remember.


We didn`t hire porters to carry our luggage solely for ethical purposes. We don`t find it fair to hire a guy to carry 30 kgs just because we "need" a lot of shit with us. So we kept our backpacks to a maximum of 10-11 kgs excluding water. Which was manageable.



Altitude sickness and emergencies


Yes, emergencies can happen, mostly if you are doing this for the first time and you don`t know how will your body react to high altitude.

For this reason, we highly recommend purchasing an insurance that will cover most of the things that can happen, including helicopter evacuation. We didn`t have one ( yeah, we know, we are stupid! ) and unfortunately, we had some kind of emergency and, for precautionary reasons, we decided to go down by helicopter. For your information, it costed 1300 $ to get down from Gokyo to Lukla by helicopter for all of us ( not 5000, as you might find on some other websites ).


Now, probably you are wondering what happened, right?

Well, each and every person reacts differently when it comes to the lack of oxygen. Normally, at sea level, the oxygen percentage in blood is about 98%. However, as long as the percentage is 80 or above, you are fine. When it goes below 80%, it is considered low. Below 60% it is considered emergency and the body needs administration of O2 immediately.


According to the Sherpa people, it is better to have the side effects at a lower altitude, when the air is still thicker. One of us had problems at 3500 m, in the first day of acclimatization. The other one didn`t have any issues. We recovered in few hours and we continued the next day.

We kept going higher and higher until we reached our highest sleeping point - Gokyo village

( 4850 m ). Throughout the ascent, we experienced nausea, head aches and general weakness, but that was normal. Even vomiting from time to time is normal.

The day after reaching Gokyo, the plan was to wake up early morning and climb Gokyo Ri, the highest point of our trip - 5357 m, which we did.

But, climbing to Gokyo Ri was pretty steep and definitely felt steeper at that altitude. Close to the top, one of us started to feel sick, to have nausea and be dizzy but we kept continuing. On the way down, the symptoms got worse and worse. We got back to Gokyo village, tried to rest but there was no improvement. We checked the oxygen level and it was varying from 66% to 71%, which was scary. The other one of us had 82%, which was quite ok.

At that point we had 2 options: either administer 1-2 hrs of bottled oxygen, take Diamox and then try to go down 300-400 m, or go down by helicopter. We chose the second one because we wanted to be 100% safe. Would have worked the first one? Probably yes, but it was a bit more risky. So this was our story. It depends a lot on each and every person.


Diamox and similar medicines - there are 2 ways to take Diamox: precautionary,begin this medicine 24 hours before arriving at high altitude and continue for 48 hours while at high altitude or take it when you actually feel that you have altitude problems. We were advised to take it only if we feel sick, because, in the end, it`s a medicine which has side effects. Now, we don`t know if it`s a right or wrong in here.

Also, bear in mind that if you start to feel sick, the most important thing is to go down immediately!




Important stuff and things that we wished we knew before the trip


  • Do have an insurance for trekking !

  • Consider additional money for extra items such as food, water, hot water, energy bars, shower, toilet paper, oxymeter etc

  • There are actually ATMs in Lukla and Namche Bazaar

  • There are shops where you can buy things that you might have forgotten in Lukla and Namche Bazaar ( although don`t rely on that )

  • There are even pharmacies and a small polyclinic in Namche Bazaar

  • Some places in Gokyo village have the option to pay by card! We paid the helicopter by card

  • Helicopter evacuation from Gokyo costs 1300$, which is still a lot, but not 5000 USD as we`ve seen before

  • If you need a clean and nice accommodation in Lukla, go to Yak Hotel ( we got stuck there for 2 days and we tried all the places searching for an acceptable place to have a hot shower and this one was the best )

  • Bear in mind that weather is very tricky in Lukla and the flights are often delayed or cancelled, so have 1-2 buffer days minimum

  • Drink a lot of garlic soup

  • Drink 4 liters of water per day, this helps reducing altitude sickness symptoms

  • There are a lot of places on the trek ( such as tea houses ) where you can buy water, so there is no need to carry a lot; 1,5 - 2 liters would do

  • Do bring a down jacket, although some people mention on some websites that is not mandatory


Next, please feel inspired by our photo gallery taken with our latest camera, Sony Alpha 7 III ( + Tamron 28-75 lens ). We tried to respect the sequence of our trek.


Landing in Lukla, one of the most dangerous airports in the world

The small centre of Lukla

Walking in Lukla, which stands at 2800 m

The route from Phakding to Namche Bazaar

Transporting supplies to Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar, the most common aclimatization point

Namche Bazaar, standing at 3440 m

The views from Namche Bazaar starting to reveal

Scenery from Namche Bazaar. All these peaks were standing above 6000 m high

Namche Bazaar in the morning of our departure. In Himalayas, usually the mornings are very clear and the afternoons cloudy and rainy

Panoramic view of Namche Bazaar

Fields around Namche Bazaar

The way from Namche Bazaar to Khumjung

The Everest was in front of us :)

A Stupa on the way. Everest was the small peak behind on the left

View of Ama Dablam peak

Can you imagine all these peaks are above 6000 m ?

Us and our guide, Wangda Sherpa

Trek from Namche to Khumjung

Us and tiny little Everest behind :))

The peaks around Namche Bazaar

Porter on the way to Khumjung

The trek at 4000 m from Khumjung to Dole

Phortse village, almost at 4000 m

A yak on the way :)

Climbing down from 4000 m to 3600 m just to climb again at 4200 m. That day was a pain in the ass! :))

Dole, 4200 m. Things start to get more spectacular

Some yaks on the way from Dole to Macchermo

Porters on the way from Dole

Dole - Macchermo route

Carrying supplies

One of the most amazing views we`ve had the whole trip! Point: Macchermo 4400 m

The peaks around Macchermo

A porter going to Macchermo

Ion photographing a yak on the way from Macchermo

Trek from Macchermo to Gokyo

The huge peaks on the way to Gokyo

Osprey backpack commercial :))

Yaks on the way to Gokyo

Getting closer to Gokyo

Some peaks on the way

The day we reached Gokyo. It was supposed to be a blue lake but it was frozen. This was happening at the end of April, for your reference

Ngozumpa glacier near Gokyo. Yep, underneath those rocks was a glacier!

The view on the way to Gokyo Ri. Time: 6 a.m

Better view of Ngozumpa glacier from Gokyo Ri

On top of Gokyo Ri - 5357 m

Panoramic view

Still top of Gokyo Ri

Mount Everest!

Selfie with Everest :)






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