by TONY OLEJNICKI | Creator of the QLS Program
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a very dangerous symptom associated with the high altitude. The cause of it is very well understood and the treatment is 100% effective if executed timely but, if neglected it can lead to death. So why do tourists die not only on Everest climb at 8848m but merely hiking to the Everest Base Camp at 5300m? As an experienced exercise physiologist and operator of Himalayan climbs and bike rides, I have asked myself this question every time I hear another pointless death. So, how to make the Everest base Camp trek safe and enjoyable?
In the west, all alpine accidents are diligently reported, investigated, well documented and publicized. The lessons learned are an invaluable resource for the safety in the wilderness.
In Nepal however, there are no official investigations of high altitude deaths and no accident reports. In fact, most deaths in high altitude are covered up or at best brushed over by Kathmandu outfitters and the local press. This is due to the fear of negative impact on the tourism and cultural reasons.
Everest Base Camp (EBC) Trek is culturally rich and a visually spectacular experience. The Everest vista from many vantage points along the way is an extraordinary once in a lifetime adventure. The opportunity to reach 5500m would be a personal achievement to most people.
For most Westerners, the exposure to the Tibetan Buddhist culture with ancient monasteries and peaceful monks is inspirational. Combining that with a sense of history, created by the Everest climbers, has enticed thousands of visitors. These include trekkers, adventurers, and climbers of any ilk Everest, Amadablam, Lobuche, Pumori and many other climbs.
The character of the trek has changed over last 60 years but there is still a very rich and enchanting tradition inspired by many famous climbers and friendships with the Sherpas.
From my personal experience and observations, I have identified two major problems with trekking and climbing in Nepal. Mainly it’s a pressure to the bottom line and a poor training of guides. These are linked together and form a deadly combination. Nepal is a multicultural society with a mix of lowland people of Hindu culture and highlanders of Buddhist cultures. The communication with people is heavily influenced by these two religious traditions. It is a confusing enigma to tourist arriving from the western culture.
The traditional progress of a young man from a porter to a guide is by observing and adopting the behavior of the leading guide. After that, the aspiring guide undertakes an official government-sponsored training. This training has a long way to improve before it starts creating well-trained guides capable of looking after clients well-being in a challenging wilderness.
After that training, they are ready to be hired by Kathmandu outfitters with a huge pressure from bargaining tourists pushing for the lowest possible price. This leads to underpaid guides who must make up budgets and their fees from deals with lodge owners. This causes less than an optimum deal for an unaware tourist and creates a culture of dishonesty and corruption.
The “best deal” for the guide is when the tourist develops the AMS. This shortens the trek and increases commission to the outfitter as well as to the guide from the helicopter company, the hospital in Kathmandu and cash for unused services for which there is no refund. There is a small section of outfitters and guides doing just that and they are not necessarily the smallest operations.
How can you induce the AMS? It is quite simple, with the exhaustion and dehydration.This is one thing well known to the guides and outfitters.
So how to protect yourself from a disaster holiday?
The first point is to use western operator working under consumer protection law of Australia, USA, NZ or UK. Talk to the business on the phone and ensure that you don’t just talk to an agent in a call center reading you from a database. I know it is so easy nowadays to click the button and select your choice on the website. We are so used to deal with commodities like airline tickets, weekly groceries, events, hotels, cruising vacations, ski holidays, electronics etc. They are all the same but the adventure holiday is different, it is not a commodity, it is your “personal experience” which will stay with you for life. You have only a small number of opportunities in your life to do that, so it is worth to take care of that.
Make sure that your chosen operator provides training to their guiding staff and pays them living wage and insurance. You like to be insured so does the guide. Besides in case of an accident you will be liable for the welfare of your guide and porters. Ensure that they don’t just subcontract to Kathmandu outfitter but properly control the operation.
The second point is the preparation. Your fitness must be adequate. There is no age limit on Everest Base Camp trek, just the level of fitness. The fitter you are, the lesser chance to develop the AMS and a better trip.
Thirdly, it is very important for your safety to understand the AMS, its symptoms, implications, and prevention. The price of that “bargain tour” is very high. You may not be able to rely on your guide to diagnose the symptoms or communicate it to you in clear English.
Finally, the EBC trek is an adventure and must be resourced properly. If you don’t have sufficient funds there are cheaper options. Stay in Kathmandu, visit Pokhara and take a short low altitude unassisted trek to Poon Hill at 3200m.
You will get different prices for the “EBC trek” and they truly reflect what you are going to get. $1500 may not get you too far and most likely it will lead to high altitude complications and may require an expensive helicopter medical evacuation. I hope your travel insurance will cover that.
The EBC trek starts in Lukla and follows to Namche, where everybody takes the first acclimatization stop. From Namche, the trek offers 3 different options; the original trek along the Khumbu glacier, the Gokyo route, and the Thame valley route. They all have their charm and the cost so ensure that you understand what you getting for the price.
Infinite Mountain Adventure (IMA) EBC Trek Tour is operated by well-trained Sherpa team supported by the Australian company specializing in high altitude climbing. It offers a well-designed and safe itinerary created by a climber and exercise physiologist. The IMA adventure is more challenging than a standard EBC Trek Tour. The tour package offers 3 months preparation program. This will make your trip safe, enjoyable and successful.
IMA offers 3 passes Everest trek, an opportunity for 5300-5500m Himalayan challenge in autumn 2017 on 21 OCT Ex Kathmandu.
Tony Olejnicki – an engineer, adventurer, motivator and exercise physiologist specializing in high altitude training – is the creator of IMA (Infinite Mountain Adventure), an inspirational company helping professional working in an office environment to improve life quality and experience a motivational Himalayan adventure.