Contemplating volunteer work abroad? Why not combine your work with some trekking? In a country like Nepal, a trek in the Himalayas is all part of the experience and provides chances to see some of the highest mountains in the world as well as discovering remote villages along the way. With some careful planning, walking a classic route such as Everest Base Camp is possible and a real achievement.
Without a doubt there will be a big list of things to do before embarking on your volunteering and trekking trip, so planning for the experience is key. If you plan to trek as part of your stay in Nepal, an organised trip with Sherpa support is preferable and a lot safer than walking alone. These can be booked ahead from the UK or locally in Kathmandu, and should ensure you get the most out of your trip. Here are six top tips for negotiating a trekking expedition as part of your volunteer work abroad.
Forget the Fashion Statements
A pair of well-worn hiking boots is essential in Nepal. Consider wearing them on the outbound flight. If your luggage is lost on arrival you can replace clothing very cheaply locally but a comfy pair of hiking boots adapted to your feet is not as easy to source and will save you the pain of blisters. Having a good sleeping bag, warm and waterproof clothing and a water bottle are also key pieces of kit. Trekkers use a small rucksack during the day and porters carry a kitbag weighing around 9kg. There is no room for lots of clothes, high heeled shoes, make up or electrical items on trek, particularly as there is no electricity in many parts of the Himalayas and a porter or yak has to carry the weight of all those bags as well as camp equipment.
Get Fit Before You Go
Never underestimate the Himalayas as the walking is tough and you do need to be fit. This is not somewhere to get fit and lose weight (even though you probably will) but a place where being unfit can put you and others in danger. Training beforehand is essential and everyone needs time to adapt to the thinner air. You will hear the phrase, “Pace yourself,” time and time again and trekkers should do exactly that. Walking in the Himalayas is not a race.
Get to Know the Team
The porter team is managed by a Sirdar who is also the chief guide and his word is final. This includes a decision on who to send down the mountain if a trekker or porter becomes unwell. He or she also sets the pace for the day’s walking and has extensive experience in the mountains. Other essential members of the team are the cooking Sherpas who are experts at creating delicious cuisine over open fires. There is nothing quite like waking up to a Himalayan sunrise over the snow-capped peaks with a mug of hot Sherpa tea.
Respect the Yaks
Yaks are used for transporting goods up and down the mountain trails and are formidable creatures. There is no doubt that both they and the mattress and furniture carrying porters have priority on the track and particularly on the precarious bridges traversing ravines. Never get between a yak and the outside edge of a mountain because these beasts stop for no one and usually win in any confrontation with a hapless trekker who happens to be on the wrong side of the trail. Their ability to charge across bridges, sometimes uncannily timed to stare out tourists who are venturing across, will confirm to any doubting trekker that they are not to be underestimated.
Survive the Loos
There are no flush toilets in the Himalayas and no refuse collectors. This is the world of the drop loo and bushes to hopefully hide behind. Washing your hands whilst in camp is critical as well as using hand sanitiser, particularly after using the loo and before meals. A head torch is essential for negotiating drop loos and the camp itself at night as you will need your hands free. Leaving boots in the covered outer flap of the tent is better than having them inside where the sleeping bag is as they will have trodden in some dirt somewhere in camp, the loo, or on the paths which can lead to hands being contaminated. It is also really important not to litter tracks, retaining rubbish including used toilet paper in a nappy sack which is disposed of at the end of the walking day. The water in Nepal is unsuitable for drinking and therefore needs to be boiled or purified. Trekkers need to drink at least 3 litres of fluid a day to avoid dehydration and altitude sickness. It takes longer to boil water at altitude thanks to the laws of physics.
Saying Thank You
Once the trek is over and if you appreciated the service of the Sherpa team it is customary to leave a tip. If you have any unwanted clothing or equipment they are always welcomed by the Sherpas who often do not have high quality gear. Even those week old smelly hiking socks will find their way into a river for washing and end up rehomed on some very appreciative feet.
A trek in Nepal is hard work in basic conditions but the rewards of meeting the locals and seeing some of the most famous mountain peaks in the world are worth the walk.
Our guest author, Rachel, is an avid traveller and looking forward to undertaking volunteer work abroad next summer.