Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: Things to Bring

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal

Introduction. What's where and where's what.
Teahouse Trekking. What makes trekking in Nepal a cheap and easy activity to organize.
Preparations. Organizing the trek: permits, transpo, guides and/or porters, etc.
Things to Bring. Gear, clothes, meds, water, etc.
The Trek: Part 1, Part 2. Tackles the trek, all the highs and lows, literally and figuratively.
Budget. Trekking doesn't have to costs that much.
The Take Away. Lessons learned and what not.
On to business: What are the things you need to take with you when you go on a trek in the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal? That is a question which, I believe, is not that easy to answer. One, even if Teahouse Trekking has made trekking in Nepal a very easy activity to organize, you still need to have at least your personal provisions with you. Then again, you cannot really take too much. You need to pack light because I am telling you, you will feel every kilogram in your backpack every step you take on that mountain trail. At the end of the day, it all boils down to all things essential. Let me share with you what those are.

1. Clothes

Of course, you need clothes. You can't trek up there naked. You could but it gets a bit chilly even in the daytime. The number of shirts and pants you take with you will depend on a couple of factors: (1) how many days you plan to trek; and, (2) your willingness to wear the same smelly, sweaty clothes again and again. I am not kidding. Good for you if you don't sweat as much. But for most people, trekking will be a sweaty affair. I trekked a total of 10 days and I brought with me three dry-fit shirts, one cotton shirt, and two trekking pants. I used one dry-fit shirt every two to three days (disgusting, right?) and the cotton shirt to sleep in. I used one pair of pants every five days.

Cost: Dry-fit shirts and sturdy, breathable yet waterproof trekking pants are available for purchase in Thamel and Pokhara. I am not sure how much dry-fit shirts cost because I bought all of mine back home. Trekking pants sold in Nepal can go for around 30 USD a pair.

2. Thermals

By thermals, I am, of course, referring to the things you need to keep you warm. In my case, I brought with me:

a. Base layer. Basically, it's a long-sleeved breathable shirt and skin-tight pants that traps your body heat, both of which you wear inside your normal clothes. Cost: You can buy these in Thamel/Pokhara for around 36 USD per set. There are cheaper ones, but they're made of thicker fleece and not really breathable.

Things to Bring, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

b. Light sweater. I used my good ol' sweater for when the cold damp air or the chilly breeze gets unbearable while trekking. I mean, you can't really layer up because you'll sweat hard and fast while walking. So a light jacket would be ideal to keep the cold manageable.

c. Water-resistant parka. I bought this really good Columbia winter jacket back home a few months before I went trekking. It was a bit expensive as most winter gear is sold in the Philippines. Cost: 200 USD. I know! But it came with a fleece layer and I needed it as I was traveling to China early that year. Anyway, the parka is useful when temperatures are at 0 to 15 C. Anything lower, I replace it with my:

I wish my down jacket were as loud as this!
© MandelMedia | CC BY-ND
d. Down jacket. It's a really thick, bulky jacket which I rented at a place in Thamel. A bit heavy but worth the price. Really kept me warm at night especially in higher altitudes. Cost: Rental goes for 0.60 US cents per day. If you want down jackets of a higher quality, you will discover that they aren't rented but rather sold. So if you feel the need to invest in one, by all means.

e. Socks. I have two really warm socks made of wool which I bought back home. Cost: 12 USD a pair. I bought another pair in Thamel for around 1.30 USD but ended up throwing it. Low-quality. Just hurt my feet at the end of the day.

Other clothing accessories, like a beanie, pair of gloves, scarf, etc., are also available in Thamel/Pokhara. I already had a pair of gloves and a scarf. I had a beanie but it didn't keep me warm enough at night. So I needed to buy one of those Inca style hats. Really warms your whole temple. Cost: around 5 USD. Would have gotten something like it for a lower price but I bought mine up in one of the mountain villages.

3. Trekking Shoes

This is perhaps the most important part of your gear. You will be subjecting your feet to some pretty serious walking and some serious terrain: stone slabs, forest floor, dry mountain soil, wet riverside grounds, snowy paths, and in some treks, glaciers. You need to protect your feet. You hurt them and you're deep, deep sh*t. The nearest hospital and the rest of civilization are miles away. On foot! That said, do not skimp on trekking shoes. Buy the best one you can find. I bought mine in Thamel. It was made of thick, waterproof rubber and a thick sole. Cost: 67 USD. Best gear investment I've made. I used them even after trekking in Nepal, as my sturdy winter boots in Vietnam and China.

Things to Bring, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal
My tired and weary trekking shoes. You've been good to me, my friend.

4. Trekking Pole

I know this is not necessary but it's pretty helpful. I would've slipped and stumbled a lot in the uneven mountain trail, which might have caused pretty serious injuries, but thanks to this nifty thing, I didn't. It also helps easing tension on my legs when climbing up. Cost: In Thamel and Pokhara, you can buy it for around 5 USD. It really didn't make sense for us not to get ourselves at least one.

Ready to Trek, Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal
Ready to trek with trek partners, Angelica and Justin.
Photo from Angelica Cruz

5. Water Bottle and Water Purification Tablets

Another very important item in the list. Due to Nepal's environmental laws, they only sell bottled water up to a certain point in the trail. Beyond that, you buy boiled water. So you need your own water bottle, a sturdy one preferably. Not only that. As you go higher or deeper into the trail, water, as with all things sold, becomes very expensive. So to minimize costs, you need water purification tablets. That way, if you run out, you only need to find the nearest tap or spring water and then purify them with your tablets.

Cost: I bought a 700ml water bottle back home for around 7 USD. You can also buy them in Thamel/Pokhara but I am not sure how much they are. It shouldn't cost that much. I suggest you buy a 1L bottle. The most common purification tablets provide dosage for 1L of water flat. I needed to cut my tablets in quarters to get the proper dosage for my 700ml bottle. A small bottle of 50 purification tablets cost around 4.5 USD, if I remember correctly. I bought two bottles because I was working on the assumption that I needed to consume 3L of water everyday. There are alternatives to tablets. You can find water purification devices, similar to those used by soldiers. Quite pricey but if you think it's worth the investment, go ahead.

Another additional thing you might want with you is powdered juice. Why? One, purification tables are actually iodine tables. Putting powdered juice into the purified water gets rid of that iodine-y taste. Two, it's Vitamin C! You need that up there.

6. Toiletries, esp. Tissue Paper

Basic personal hygiene, guys. Although, I left my toiletries piece by piece in the guesthouses I was staying at as I was making my way up the trail. What?! You have to be ready to make sacrifices. I mean, it was impractical, not to mention expensive, to treat yourself to a hot shower in high altitudes. And as I said, every little piece of item you have in your backpack you feel it. You really feel it. I went back for my things as I made my way down. Now, I mentioned toilet paper because I used them to wipe the snot off my nose because apparently you get a runny nose when you're sweating amidst bitterly cold, at times, very damp weather. Who knew?! I also brought with me wet wipes for, you know, number 2.

7. First-aid Kit

I think I've elaborated on this one in another post: First Aid Kit Essentials for Travelers. One thing worth adding though to the list is Diamox tablets. It helps with altitude sickness. It's cheap (Cost: 1.6 USD for 10 tablets) and easy to buy in grocery stores and drug stores in Thamel and Pokhara. Even then, you still need to descend lest your symptoms get worse. You might want to read up a bit on altitude sickness. It's very serious and I feel glossing it over in this post would not do anyone good. But let's be real. If you start feeling it, don't be stupid and continue ascending, because that will only make it worse. And it's fatal, you guys. Descend as fast and as soon as possible, or stay put at the very least.

Things to Bring, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal
Thankfully, I never had to take it.

8. Snacks

It will be good to take with you some protein bars, candy, crackers, or wafers. Some treks last for five to six hours and the villages are for the most part two or three hours away from each other. It will be best to have something to munch on while walking. Running on an empty stomach won't do you any good.

9. Pocket Map and Guidebook

This is, of course, on the assumption that you are trekking independently, which is what we did. So we needed a very good detailed map of the trail. Again, these maps are easily, easily available everywhere in Thamel and Pokhara. They produce maps for all the popular trekking trails in the country. My trek partner, Angelica, also bought a Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guidebook. They have trekking itineraries you can follow as well as a ton of information on trekking in Nepal. Cost: The pocket map cost me around 4 USD. I'm not sure how much a brand new guidebook, the one Angelica got, costs. My guidebook, which I got after the trek and which was second-hand, was around 9 USD.

Things to Bring, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

10. Sun cream and Sunglasses

Sun is apparently harsher in higher latitudes. Figures. So yes, sun cream is a must. Sunglasses, too. Especially when you get to snowy areas. The sunlight reflected by fresh white snow is blindingly white. Though you might want to use the sunglasses sparingly lest you get a sun burnt outline on your eye sockets.

11. Lipbalm

This is a necessity because bitter cold weather plus the fact that you are deeply engaged in a serious cardio work out, i.e., walking up at very high altitudes, leaves your lips super dry and vulnerable to chapping. Use lipbalm as much as you can. It is never too much. I mean that. Because I came down the mountain with several lip cuts. Not the best feeling, no.

13. Book

Paperback, preferably. Or hardbound, if you feel like carrying that on your back. I got this idea from the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guidebook, so I agree. It's worth the weight on your backpack. Up in the mountain lodges, they don't really have any sort of entertainment and no cellular service. So the only way to pass those long hours, especially in the evenings, is a good book. Trust me. There is nothing like plopping on an outdoor bench, sipping your chai masala, cozied up on your jackets and thermals, enjoying some good reading, all the while the snowy peaks of the high Himalayas right above you. If there was a heaven, that would be how I picture it. In my case, it was Michael Palin's Himalaya that I brought with me. Perfect company, right?

Things to Bring, Trek to Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal
Thanks for the company, Mr. Palin.

Additional: Sleeping Bag

I will admit. We did not take sleeping bags with us. And you would not believe the reaction we got from fellow trekkers when we tell them. You did not bring a sleeping bag?! It was unthinkable for them. We got by on thick blankets provided by the guesthouses and we slept practically fully layered-up. If you feel the need to bring one, you can buy really good ones in Thamel/Pokhara and they can really be packed really tight and compact into this small pouch. It is a bit expensive so ponder wisely. There are sleeping bags available for rent but these ones were too big and bulky we decided against carrying them with us.

Finally: a word of advice

You can get all that you need for trekking in Thamel and Pokhara. There are tons of shops for outdoor gear in those places. So prices are really competitive. Also, try to buy all your stuff in just one outdoor shop. Then, ask for a discount. That's what we did. We were able to bring the prices down a bit. All in all, I spent about 150 USD in Nepal on all the things I needed for the trek (cost of things I bought back home excluded). By things, I mean stuff, my stuff, the ones I brought with me. The permits, transpo costs, etc. are tackled in another post: Preparations.

This post is the fourth of the series Trek in the Annapurna Himalaya in Nepal. The previous post dealt with Preparations. Stay tuned for the next post when I talk about the actual trek itself. I am calling it: The Trek. Creative, right?

Have you gone trekking in the Nepal Himalayas? What other items do you think should be in the list of essentials for an independent teahouse trek? What item you could not have lived without?

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