Trekking in major mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas or the Andes, is a major accomplishment and a thrilling adventure. In order to successfully finish your trek, it’s best to prepare well. After years of trekking myself, as well as helping scores of travelers enjoy successful high-altitude treks around the world, I’ve put together the following guidelines to help you prepare for your trek.
Start with a medical check-up
Let you doctor know about any medical conditions you have and discuss the details of the trip itinerary, including how high your trek goes and how long it is. This is especially important if you have a serious pre-existing medical condition. Many treks in Nepal and Peru will take you into remote areas with no nearby medical facilities.
Enroll in travel insurance early
This will help cover any unexpected changes before your or during your trip, and you’ll definitely want to have emergency evacuation coverage while on the trail.
Check into immunization requirements
While there are no required immunizations for travel to and from Nepal, you may find some are required for other destinations. Additional immunizations may be recommended, including Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, MMR, and Hepatitis A & B. The Center for Disease Control website is a wealth of information and the best resource to begin your research.
Start conditioning early
Plan to begin a physical conditioning program at least 3 months before departure. The more physically fit you are, the more you will enjoy the trip; the less tired you become getting up and down the hills, the more energy you will have to explore the villages, interact with other people, absorb the culture, and revel in the natural wonders of the mountains.
Create a training plan
To start building your fitness level, get help putting together an effective training plan. Talk to the trainer at your gym, get in touch with a local hiking club such as The Mountaineers or Sierra Club, or call a trekking trainer like our friend Sheri Goodwin of Transformation Journeys who trains people to succeed at treks. A general rule of thumb, depending on the trek you choose, is a minimum of two to three months of committed continual conditioning and, of course, more is better. If you can, train on hilly terrain and at altitude. If you are at sea level and in the city (Hello, Seattle!), hit the gym and consider carrying a weighted pack on the stair master or treadmill.
If you create your own plan, make sure it includes the following components:
* Cardiovascular training
Cardiovascular conditioning will make your body more efficient in using oxygen. Try running, walking, swimming, biking, or any combination of these. Spinning classes are great aerobic exercise. When it comes to cardiovascular, recent studies indicate that going for broke (as fast as you can and going till you’re breathless) then backing off with a slower pace till you get your breath back, and then going to breathless again, is the best way to improve your lung capacity. Do this 5 times in about 20 minutes. You should also plan on doing a long walk at least once a week, to get your body used to moving for long periods at a time.
* Strength Training
Using free weights or machines at the gym will build hiking strength. Walking stairs, especially with a pack, will simulate the hiking environment. We also recommend practicing squats; trekkers will encounter low-hanging obstacles to duck under, and many toilets are at ground level, which requires a low squat.
* Endurance Training
To build endurance in the months leading up to your trek, slowly increase the length of your training sessions. By the time you are 2 weeks from the scheduled trek date, you should be able to ascend 3,000 ft. in a 3-4 hour period.
* Taper off before the trip
Just like athletes who train for any endurance event, you should plan a period of less exercise and rest before the trek. A method we’ve used is to work up to peak fitness until 2 weeks prior to the trek and then gradually reduce your physical effort and rest more. Also be sure to eat really well and avoid stress the week before your trip so you are in optimal shape and your immune system is strong.
Okay, time to take off! Here are some things to consider while in-transit.
Get comfortable during the flight
An inflatable neck pillow, earplugs, and a sleeping mask will make it easier to get satisfying rest on your international flights.
Watch out for jet lag
Travelers have various ways to deal with jet lag. Some recommend changing your watch to the time of your destination when you board the airplane and transitioning to your new sleep schedule as soon as possible; others recommend a pharmacological approach. I have tried the No Jet Lag pills and they seem to help.
Keep your trekking gear with you
Wear or carry your hiking boots on the plane and – if at all possible – bring your trekking daypack as carry-on luggage. If the airline loses your luggage, you can adequately replace most items in places like Kathmandu or Cusco except your well-worn and broken in boots.
Once you’ve arrived at the departure point for the trek, be careful to acclimatize.
Help your body acclimatize
At higher altitudes, there is lower air pressure and less oxygen with each breath you’ll take, which makes physical effort more difficult. The body will become more efficient by acclimatizing, but it takes time spent at altitude. Proper physical conditioning will ensure a successful and enjoyable trek. If you are going above 15,000 feet you could consider using Diamox to make the process more comfortable. Remember that if you feel a strong headache accompanied by dizziness you need to tell your trip leader and you should not go higher until the symptoms have passed. Many operators will work with you on this and get another guide to stay with you and bring you up later when you are better. Note that drinking alcohol is not recommended during the acclimatization phase, or during the ascent on your trek.
Trekking in spectacular places such as Nepal or Peru is a pinnacle travel experience. All the stress and worry of modern day life fades away and blows off your shoulders like a puff of wind, leaving you surprisingly happy. Your days fall into routines of eating, talking, walking and resting, which afford the trekker an ease of mind not often found at home with all the demands of our lives. Even treks of just 3 days are incredibly restorative, but if you have the time, try to head out for at least 10 days and come back a new person.
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