Why Trek? An Inside Perspective on Trekking in Nepal

Twenty-five years ago, New Zealand native Jamie McGuinness followed his muse and took a break from university to travel the world. During that time, trekking became his passion, and he has been exploring the Himalaya ever since.

Jamie has been opening up new trekking areas with a series of hardcore treks - many as long as 42 days - in a nod to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in Douglas Adams' quirky book, "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".

And, "Yes, there are people who really want to do that rather than a 6-day introductory trek," he says.

Along the way he wrote his own guidebook, "Trekking in the Everest Region", exploring virtually every trail, major and minor, which is now being updated to the sixth edition.

While the Everest base camp trek has universal name recognition and brings 40,000 trekkers to Nepal annually, it is not the only hike on the map. For example, in the Annapurna region, Jamie says, there are lower altitude treks as well as high-altitude treks to suit everyone.

"The Everest trek is the most famous, as it is the highest mountain in the world and there's no getting away from that." However, Jamie said that even if there was no Everest, trekking in the Everest region would still be fantastic because of the excellent infrastructure, the wealth of beautiful mountains, and the rich cultural opportunities along the trail.

What follows are Jamie's observations and advice for anyone considering a Himalayan trek, in general, or an Everest Base Camp trek in particular.

The benefit of walking

Trekkers return home from longer treks fitter, leaner, and more aware of Nepal's culture than when they started, and they are inspired to live healthier lives.

Hiker in Nepal
Per day, trekkers spend on average 4-6 hours on the trail hiking between teahouses
"If you like the great outdoors as a holiday, trekking is hard to beat," he says. "The daily workout has never been so satisfying."

The food and lodging are great value

With villages along the way, and because carrying enough food for for a month-long journey "just isn't possible," teahouse trekking developed. The lodges have double rooms and a dining room where trekkers order full meals from a menu.

Teahouses at Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar has built up over the years, with a collection of lodging, restaurants and coffee shops (© Benoit Zeler)

"It's a fantastic service, and the cost is very reasonable," Jamie says. Nepal's national dish, Dal Bhat (steamed rice and lentils) is a menu staple that is high in protein, but there are many other choices, too. Jamie says the lodges get their food via a caravan of yaks that transport hundreds of kilos of supplies into the high country each week.

The journey is a social event

"People are really living in the mountains," Jamie says. "Here, you'll be hiking mostly half-days so that you acclimatize to the altitude, and then it's time to relax and meet people and have a look around the place. The villages themselves are picturesque with fields and old and new houses. There are gompas, which are equivalent to churches, small viewpoints, and things like that."

There usually is no problem communicating with locals and learning about their village because many people in the mountains speak English and all the kids are taught English in school, he added.

There's always something new to try and see

These days, the Three Passes Trek, a newer trek route that links a series of valleys via three passes in the high country, has become quite popular with both independent and group trekkers, Jamie says. The typical Three Passes Trek crosses Kongma La (5,536m/18,159 ft.), then goes to Everest Base Camp and then to Cho La pass (5,420m/17,777 ft), across a real ice glacier to Gokyo and its beautiful lakes. The route then leads to Renjo La pass (5,340m/17,521ft.) with stunning mountain views including Everest.

Gokyo Lake
Looking down on Gokyo Lake from Gokyo Ri during the Three Passes Trek

Along the way, there are mind-blowing views of the mountains, including the always-photogenic Ama Dablam, which many find far more beautiful than Everest. The valleys on the route are Sherpa country, and their colorful villages provide food and lodging for trekkers during their journey.

"This is an ambitious trek—more as challenging as the trek to Everest Base Camp," Jamie says. He also says it's not an unusually long trek—just "somewhere around 18 days, however, add in an extra day or two for those just in cases."

Jamie's tips for trekkers

"One of the secrets to feeling good at altitude is to have good ventilation in the room you're sleeping in," Jamie says. "Your body is in a low oxygen environment, so don't make it worse. If you wake up feeling stuffy, just open the window."
"It might be a surprise to know that as a solo traveler, you can trek up here safely and comfortably," he said. "From a personal security point of view, it is safer than almost anywhere, although should understand altitude sickness."
"Trekking is just a walk through pleasant villages and you can trek to Everest Base Camp in moderate comfort," he says. "Do you want a shower every night? It can be arranged." He says you can even trek without a porter if you pack carefully. You can get away with 5 or 6 kilos. You also can sleep outside if you want, but "... it's something you never have to do here."

Bottom line, according to Jamie: Nepal is an adventure destination and you can design your own experience.