By Chris Urban
For years, going to Mount Everest was at the top of my bucket list. I grew up reading my brother’s National Geographic magazines and watching the Discovery Channel, dreaming about exploring the Himalayas, going face to face against mother nature. Since I didn’t have a spare $100,000 and a death wish, I knew I was going to have to settle for Everest Base Camp rather than the summit. While it’s not the top of The Mountain, going to Everest Base Camp is still no small feat, and required months of preparation.
“Almost as soon as we arrived in Mumbai I started looking into the logistics of planning a trip to the top of the world.”
In 2015 my wife and I found ourselves living in Mumbai, India working at the U.S. Consulate there for two years. We were in our late twenties and early thirties, in pretty decent shape, and didn’t have kids. It was the perfect opportunity to make my dream a reality! Almost as soon as we arrived in Mumbai I started looking into the logistics of planning a trip to the top of the world. Not only were we close to Nepal, I had plenty of vacation time to squeeze in the 19 day trip, and I had a friend living and working in Nepal who set us up with a reputable Sherpa. We locked down our dates and put down a deposit. My dream of following in the footsteps of famous mountaineers like Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay was coming to fruition.
Though it was still over 6 months till we set foot in the Himalayas it was time to start preparing for the trek. One of the biggest concerns that we had about trekking up to 18,500 feet was the prospect of getting struck down by altitude sickness and needing to turn around. Our Sherpa assured us that we would move slowly enough and adjust our itinerary if either of us was exhibiting potential symptoms, but we wanted to do everything we could to prepare our bodies for walking uphill for several hours a day, for 9 days, at extreme altitude.
Living in a mega-city choked with pollution isn’t exactly the best place to train for a high-altitude hike but we had to work with what we had. We decided to focus on strengthening our legs and improving our cardiovascular ability. My wife and I got into a regular routine of running one to five miles, three days per week. On top of that we started doing Crossfit and high intensity interval workouts two to three times per week. These workouts helped us get stronger, strengthened our cores and helped us make big gains in our cardiovascular abilities.
There were a few small mountains in the countryside just outside of Mumbai. Trekking on these hills was great for training and a great way for us to escape from the bustling city. When we didn’t want to battle the horrendous traffic and pot-hole filled roads to get out of the city, we had to get creative to train at home. Most weekend mornings leading up to the trek were spent walking up and down the 12 flights of stairs that made up the central stairwell of our apartment building. When we started to feel good doing 5-10 rounds up and down the stairwell, we started doing it with our backpacks on, weighted down with books. Most people overlook the need to train for walking downhill, but while you have to walk uphill about 25 miles, you also have to walk back downhill, to where you begin the trek. While walking downhill isn’t as strenuous, it can be punishing on your knees and exerts your muscles differently from walking uphill. It would’ve been easier to take the elevator back down to the lobby every time we reached the top floor but it was very important to training walking downstairs too. It certainly wasn’t pleasant trudging up and down 12 flights of stairs for over an hour in an internal, unairconditioned, stairwell in the scorching hot Indian summer heat, but every step we took in training would pay dividends on the trail.
One of the most exciting parts about preparing for our trip to Everest was shopping for all of the gear that we were going to need. The weather in the mountains can change in an instant and can be as extreme as the altitude. Much like our fitness preparations, we didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so we opted to buy the best gear we could get our hands on. The most important piece of kit for a multi-day trek in the mountains is a good pair of boots. We both opted for the Salomon Quest 4D3 GTX boots. Salomon did a great job on this boot combining the best elements of a running shoe and a hiking boot to make this “light hiker.” The boots held up great and kept our feet comfortable on miles of trail in rain, sleet, and snow.
The other main piece of kit that you want to be comfortable with is your backpack. We did a lot of research on our favorite gear websites and both ended up getting the Deuter ACT Trail 30. At 30 liters it was the perfect size for a daypack that could carry snacks, camera equipment, valuables, and wet weather gear. The integrated camel back bladder meant we didn’t have to fumble around with opening and closing our Nalgene bottles while we were on the trail and the included rain cover kept all of our possessions dry. Not only did the backpack perform great during the trek to EBC, it has since become my go-to backpack for all of my travels and trekking.
Since we were planning on investing a lot of money on our gear, we wanted to buy gear that would last a long time and be just as capable in the Himalayas as it was comfortable and fashionable in Washington, DC. Layering is the name of the game in the mountains so that you can quickly adjust to changing weather conditions and stay warm when it gets cold. We layered up throughout the trek with base layers, sweaters, fleece jackets, down jackets as well as hard-shell jackets and pants for when the weather got truly wet and cold. While I opted for mostly Patagonia clothing, my wife relied on Columbia and North Face. All of it performed great. While it was important to have clothing that was purpose-built to be worn in the elements, we didn’t notice a significant difference in the performance of the cheaper clothing versus the more expensive clothing. Our much cheaper Eastern Mountain Sports branded hiking pants performed just as well as the more expensive one from Patagonia.
“Though it was still over 6 months till we stepped foot in the Himalayas it was time to start preparing for our trek. One of the biggest concerns that we had about trekking up to 18,500 feet was the prospect of getting struck down by altitude sickness”
The higher up you get along the trail to Everest Base Camp, the scarcer and more expensive electricity to charge your various devices becomes. In order to keep all of our devices powered up we both got Anker Powercore 10000maH battery packs. These worked great, and while we used them almost every night to keep our phones and cameras charged, our powerpacks never ran out of juice.
One of the best pieces of kit that I bought was the Peak Design CapturePRO Camera Clip. I searched exhaustively for a solution that would allow me to keep my camera handy, but not hanging from a strap around my neck all day, every day. The CapturePRO Camera Clip clipped onto my backpack strap right around my right hip and worked perfectly. I used a paracord wrist strap on the camera, and when I wasn’t using the camera, I kept the camera clipped to a carabiner secured to the strap on the backpack. The camera was secure but always accessible and was out of the way when I didn’t want to use it. The rig worked great throughout the trek and proved to be extremely functional.
“Most weekend mornings leading up to the trek were spent walking up and down the 12 flights of stairs that made up the central stairwell of our apartment building. When we started to feel good doing 5-10 rounds up and down the stairwell, we started doing it with our backpacks on, weighted down with books.”
When it finally came time to head off to Nepal we were both in excellent shape and had spent probably as much money on kit as we had on the trip itself. All of our preparations paid off when, 9 days after flying into Lukla, we made it to Everest Base Camp. The morning after making it to Everest Base Camp we hiked to the summit of Kala Patthar at 18,500 feet to watch the sun rise over Mount Everest.
It was an experience that we will never forget. We stayed happy and healthy, and all of our gear and clothing ensured that we stayed comfortable from head to toe throughout the trek. FP
Photos & story from Christopher Urban ©