As we all know, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. Reaching its 8,848-metre summit is a daunting task, requiring oxygen masks and months of training. But what about trekking to Base Camp? Can you avoid altitude sickness on the Everest Base Camp trail?
One of the main concerns that travellers have before booking a Mount Everest Base Camp trek is how they will adjust to the elevation. There is, of course, a big difference between reaching Base Camp and the summit. Everest Base Camp sits at 5,364 metres – over 3,000 metres below the mountain’s lofty peak.
However, this is still high enough for you to feel the effects of altitude, and you should be well-prepared for them before setting out on your adventure – or in fact for any trek in Nepal.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness – otherwise known as acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a disorder that people can experience at high altitude if they have not properly acclimatised.
This is not the same as feeling the normal effects of altitude as you would expect to – such as mild headaches, slight shortness of breath and nausea. Altitude sickness is the extreme version of this, and it needs to be taken seriously.
It is possible to get altitude sickness anywhere above 2,700 metres, but there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce the chances of this.
Causes of altitude sickness
If you follow the correct precautions when hiking Everest Base Camp, you should only experience the normal effects of altitude, which we will explain later. However, if you ascend the trail too quickly, you could risk acute mountain sickness. This is because your body will not be able to adjust to the lower levels of altitude at the higher levels of elevation approaching Base Camp.
Altitude sickness can also be triggered by dehydration, alcohol consumption and lack of sleep, so it’s important to look after yourself during your trek!
Symptoms of altitude sickness
So, what should you look out for? As we’ve already mentioned, some of the symptoms of altitude, including headaches and mild nausea, are likely to be experienced by everyone at altitude in a less extreme form. Others, such as pins and needles, can be the result of taking medications to aid acclimatisation such as Diamox.
However, if you experience symptoms such as an ongoing dry cough or fever, you may have fluid in your lungs – one dangerous result of acute mountain sickness. Alternatively, symptoms such as a headache that does not go away with painkillers and water, severe vomiting, clumsiness, severe dizziness, numbness and loss of consciousness can indicate swelling of the brain – another major complication of AMS.
If any of these serious symptoms are experienced, you will need to descend 2,000 feet immediately and seek medical care. In this situation during the Everest Base Camp trek, we will either organise you a jeep, or in more urgent cases, we will arrange helicopter rescue.
How common is Everest Base Camp altitude sickness?
We know this might all sound a bit scary – but don’t let it put you off! Extreme cases of altitude sickness are rare, especially at just 5,300 metres.
It is possible to get altitude sickness while trekking to Everest Base Camp – it is quite a bit higher than the 2,700-metre threshold! However, it should be easy to prevent acute mountain sickness providing that you follow the normal steps to acclimatise properly.
However, in truth altitude sickness is an unpredictable beast – even the fittest trekkers can experience it. This makes it vital to do everything you can to prepare yourself for trekking at altitude and to take it slow during the Mount Everest Base Camp trek itself.
Preventing altitude sickness on the Everest Base Camp trek
The most important thing you can do to avoid altitude sickness on the EBC trek is to be aware of the symptoms and report them to your trek leader if you experience them.
However, there are also a number of other precautions you can take to minimise your chances of experiencing altitude sickness on the Everest Base Camp trek.
The most important of these steps is to ascend at a steady pace and take acclimatisation days. We always make sure that we sleep in teahouses that are lower in altitude than we have been walking that day, as this makes it easier for the body to adjust to the altitude when we are asleep.
On our EBC treks, we make sure to ascend slowly, always sleeping lower than we trek each day. We also include at least two acclimatisation days on all of our Mount Everest Base Camp treks. This is really important because it allows your body to adjust to the altitude while at rest.
We take our first acclimatisation day at Namche Bazaar (3400m). During the day, we take a short hike up to Everest View Hotel, at 3880m, to boost your body’s acclimatisation, and then return to the town for a day of relaxing and eating the delicious pastries at Namche’s many cafes.
Our second acclimatisation day is at Dingboche (4410m). We will take a hike up to Chukkung, at 4730 metres, enjoying the views of the iconic Ama Dablam and Nuptse ridge along the way.
Along the way, we will encourage you to drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a major trigger of altitude sickness, so you will need to drink at least five litres of water per day during your trek to stay healthy.
And remember, you can’t drink the tap water in Nepal, so bring along a filtering system such as a Water-to-Go bottle to clean your water (use our code, BLC15, to get 15% off!). The last thing you want is to get an upset stomach because then you will be even more dehydrated!
It is also important to eat well and get plenty of sleep during your trek to keep your body as healthy as possible – and therefore avoid AMS.
We also recommend Bucketlisters to avoid drinking alcohol during their Everest Base Camp trek. Yes, we know you’re on holiday, but at the very least after Namche Bazaar, it is not a good idea to drink alcohol. This is because alcohol dehydrates you and slows your heart rate, making the acclimatisation process harder for your body.
Of course, on the way back down you will be acclimatised, and so you’re free to enjoy a beer if you wish!
Preparing for your trek
As we have mentioned altitude sickness is rather unpredictable. However, there is evidence to suggest that being generally fit and healthy when you set out for a trek at altitude can help to reduce your chances of encountering serious problems.
So make sure to train as much as you can before your Everest Base Camp trek. The better your cardiovascular fitness, the easier you will find it to breathe during your trek – and so when you experience shortness of breath at altitude, this will be less pronounced. Being fitter will also mean you have an easier time of it during the trek, and enjoy yourself more!
You will also want to be mentally prepared for your trek. Mental determination is one of the most important factors necessary to reach Everest Base Camp, so prepare yourself for a challenge and be ready to have days when you struggle – it’s all part of the experience! For more tips on how to prepare for Everest Base Camp, check out our recent blog post on advice for trekking training.
Of course, you can take altitude medication to help your body acclimatise – but this is something you should research thoroughly and discuss with your GP before settling on. For more information, you can read our blog about whether to take Diamox.
So, there is everything you need to know about altitude sickness before trekking to Everest Base Camp. If you have any more questions about this – or any other element of your trip – do feel free to give us a call and one of our adventure travel experts will be happy to help! You can contact us on 01769 309 007.