Staying Healthy While Trekking in the Himalayas
My original Asian itinerary didn’t include Nepal. I only went to the beautiful country to renew my Indian visa. I’m so glad I did–despite the beating my body took in the Himalayas. I wasn’t prepared for the activities I chose to do in Nepal. As the old adage goes, you should hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
I hadn’t planned on going to Nepal, so I hadn’t researched options for trekking. When I was in Kathmandu I met another traveler who told me all about it. My new friend told me about the twelve day Annapurna circuit. As I consider myself to be fairly fit and healthy, I decided to give Annapurna a go.
This trek is not for the faint of heart. It’s long and arduous, but the terrain itself isn’t bad. Many people do it in just tennis shoes without problems, although proper trekking boots are a much better idea, so it’s highly recommended that you invest in some. Whatever you choose to wear on your feet, make sure they are comfortable and well broken in. This was my downfall.
I’ve had problems with my feet since I began walking, and I long ago came to terms with the chronic affliction of blisters. When I decided to take on Annapurna, I knew my poor puppies would pay the price, but I was determined. I packed extra socks and plenty of Band-Aids and antibiotic ointment. These simple first aid items probably saved my feet. By the end of the first day, blisters were already forming. By day ten the blisters had grown to an obscene size and ceased being blisters at all—they were just open sores. It was by some small miracle that I managed to avoid infection. The pain became too intense to walk and I had to hire a horse.
I rode the horse a couple of hours to the peak, but I had to stumble down the mountain on my own because it was too steep for the horse. At some point while riding the horse I succumbed to altitude sickness. Maybe it was because of the quick ascent on horseback; maybe my body had used all its energy to fight off infection in my feet; or maybe it was just bad luck. Regardless, I became very sick. I was delusional, had a nauseating migraine, and I even fainted a couple of times.
Some very kind trekkers helped carry my pack and guided me down the mountain. We met a doctor who gave me some Diamox, a pill to counteract the effects of altitude sickness. When I made it to a manageable altitude, I visited the village doctor and was given a paper sack of colored pills. My altitude sickness subsided within a few hours.
I don’t consider my trek a failure as I saw incredible things. But I do wish I’d done things differently in order to stay healthy in the Himalayas:
- Make sure to have good shoes or boots designed for trekking, and to protect from blisters and rolling your ankle on uneven terrain. Although these are available in Kathmandu, footwear should be well broken-in before starting a trek.
- Prioritize your health. I should have stopped at day three when my blisters started to get really bad. I should have bid my new friends goodbye and rested for a few days to let my feet heal, or even put my Annapurna dreams temporarily on hold until I procured some better footwear.
Thousands of hikers trek the Annapurna circuit every year. It’s rare that they suffer from altitude sickness, or have to ride a horse to the summit. This is because most trekkers prepare better than I did.
Another old saying rings true to my story: Do as I say, not as I do.
Article by Maggie Dickman.