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Ask an expert: Jo Bradshaw on how to pack for the Himalayas

2017-03-20
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Imagine: after two days hard trekking, finally you see it. Jagged, snow-shrouded, and utterly awe-inspiring - Everest rises ahead. So far on this epic Himalayas expedition, you’ve climbed to 3400m. You’re hot, dusty and have eleven more days hiking ahead – traversing mountain trails, skirting glaciers and bunking down in teahouses. You'll grow used to wet-wipe washes, a symbiotic relationship with odd pieces of gear, and friendships forged in unforgiving environments. Your objective is Everest Base Camp. Snow-fringed and framed by fluttering prayer flags, it sits at a testing 5346m at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall.

Expedition leader Jo Bradshaw takes new adventurers on this journey to Base Camp every year these days through worldwide tour company 360 Expeditions (360-expeditions.com) (she summited Everest itself in 2016). As part of our new ‘Ask an expert series,’ we got in touch with Bradshaw to ask about Everest, the unique challenges of trekking through the Himalayas, and some essential gear and tech tips.

JB: They’re about so much more than just a trek. They’re challenging. But difficult is good because it makes you stronger. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, going 12 days without a proper shower, being with a group of strangers, surrounded by incredible culture in the most famous mountain region in the world. These treks broaden people’s horizons because they take us away from the comforts of home and put us in the land of simplicity.

Talk us through logistics and schedules.


What can you do to prepare for the trip – can you prepare for altitude?

Most people join an organised trip. At 360 Expeditions we fly into Kathmandu [1350m]; a noisy, smelly, incredible city – and then onto Lukla [2800m]. Lukla has no cars and no roads and is a massive culture shock to some. From there on you see real life as it’s lived in Nepal, because you’re trekking from village to village and sleeping in teahouses – basic but comfortable places with really thin walls. On the way you can get onto quieter, more remote trails. The best trekking seasons are March/April and October/November; you could encounter anything from chilly temperatures to quite warm days.

Altitude is a huge factor – you’re trekking from around 2800m to 5550m in 13 days. We take it slowly, but you’re walking for three to seven hours a day. Your trekking firm can offer information about any recommended medication. Although you can’t prepare specifically for altitude, you should definitely concentrate on fitness. Get your body used to what you’re going to be doing - that’s walking every day. Fitness is the key. You don’t need to run a marathon in four hours but you do need to be able to walk up big hills slowly. Your heart, lungs and muscles need to be used to working and you won’t get fit by sitting on the sofa!

 

What does any explorer need to keep in mind when prepping their kit for the trip?

There’s a 15 kilo limit for all your kit for two weeks. That’s the 80L mountain bag the Sherpas carry and the 30-35L backpack you’ll carry. Remember weight allowances include the bag’s weight; you can waste three to four kilos with ‘stuff’ that you just don’t need, so think light: Osprey (ospreyeurope.com) rucksacks are the only ones I use. Your trekking firm will provide a full kit list; it should include a four-season sleeping bag – that’s with a comfort rating of around -15.

What kind of clothes should prospective trekkers be thinking about?

Any hiking boot preferences?


 

The biggest mistake people make is to take too much stuff; amazingly you can wear underwear for more than one day – on expedition it’s allowed! I go for one wicking base layer top, I wear Páramo (www.paramo-clothing.com) all the time, and two-to-three thermal tops of differing grades – I just layer up as I go higher. Icebreaker (icebreaker.com) base layers are essential; also think about wicking underwear, such as SueMe (sueme.com). I’ll take two pairs of trousers, one light; one heavy, and a full set of waterproofs – Berghaus (berghaus.com) are good; Páramo lasts for years. I’ll add a thin down jacket, a Berghaus down/PrimaLoft one, as well as a thicker down one; I go for a Rab (rab.equipment.us) Extreme or a Berghaus Popena.

Brands depend on your feet width. I like Salomon (salomon.com) or Meindl (meindl.co.uk); I have a pair of Millet (millet-mountain.com) boots that are my current favourites. You don’t need anything technical to do Base Camp, just comfortable, good, waterproof, three-season trekking boots with a decent ankle support. Wear them in for training, though, with your backpack on, to make sure they’re comfortable.

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