Everest Base Camp Trek Day 10: The best drugs are found in the Himalayan mountains

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 5th, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Tengbouche Monastery the highest in the world

Tengbouche Monastery the highest in the world – it’s all down hill from here … well not really

Don’t rush a trek to Everest Base Camp

I say something like this every time I do a trek. I guess it’s in my nature to try and “get somewhere first”. With age comes wisdom, so they say. And a hint of laziness mixed up in the guise of a lot of “been there, done that” style of murmurings.

I like the unknown. As in doing, or seeing something new. Like trekking to Everest base camp in the winter as opposed to peak season. It’s an added challenge. So the return trip from Everest Base Camp instilled very little enthusiasm in it for me. You are essentially going back over an old path.

There is one exception to all this though. The fountain of youth is surging through your veins.

Bad boots, bad mood, good people, better drugs

Slipping and sliding along the trail was not doing me any favors. With every other step my boots would skid or slip out from under me.  A physical and mentally exhausting process.

By now my head was filled with time to think. Had I taken enough photos? Did I miss anything? Why the hell didn’t I get new boots in Thailand … oh yeah, they didn’t have any worth buying.

Distraction was at hand though. My concentration from watching my every step had increased. I was sharing jokes and stories after being joined by a group of fun-loving Italians. There was a spring to my step. Heck I was bouncing along a trail that only a few days ago was near on insufferable

Yes, I was high. As in drug high.

One of the major side effects of high altitude is getting the physical high of the decent. A high that makes you feel as if you are in your teens again!

The best drug in world is found in the Himalayan mountains

Helicopters near Everest

Walking like new again, while others leave by Helicopters

When you climb or trek at altitude the air thins. Meaning you get less oxygen to power your body and mind. During this period your amazing body adapts to having less oxygen in your bloodstream. Slowly, over some more time you start to work just as efficiently on less oxygen.

So what happens when you quickly descend and the air once again is richly filled with oxygen? Well, you get an incredible high!

I can only explain it like this. If you are 50 remember what it was like to be 20? Now add some red bull or a litre of coffee. If you are 20 and reading this then you’ll feel better than that rush you got on your first big date. Got it? Good.

Want to taste the fountain of youth?

It’s there for the taking. The price is suffering for days on a grueling ascent. The reward, a day or two feeling like new again on the decent.

Well, no one said it was going to be free!

More about acclimatization when trekking

Fallen victims evacuated from the trail

Perhaps all the extra oxygen is the reason that over the next few days I saw and met two people who were being evacuated by helicopter. Over stretching their limits? Or, something else.

I don’t know the sense in this. But one of them was a friend of the Italian group. He slipped, hurt his back. Then asked for a helicopter to fly him down to Namche.

I don’t understand the logic in this as it would have been better to fly back to Kathmandu. But, sure enough the guy was waiting in Namche for us and looking quite healthy.

The second person was a North American who’d slipped on the ice and twisted his ankle. Again, another helicopter evacuation. This guy was actually limping. And, although many people would wonder why he could not just grin and bear it. I assure you the current terrain and weather does not make it easy at all.

How much does it cost to be evacuated from trekking in Everest?

Roughly speaking, about USD $5,000. That’s per person on a helicopter.

I’ve asked about why the cost is so high. Remember how much locals were paying for a helicopter ride earlier.

The answer was several fold. The primary reason is that there will be a medical person on-board. This ranges from a red cross trained local, to a doctor for severe cases.

Namchee Bazaar on the way down

Namchee Bazaar’s market on the way down

The next answer was the cost of fuel. For those that don’t know: Nepal buys its fuel from India through a disputed border and there are regular fuel shortages.

The final answer is to do with health insurance. Most trekkers have it, and everyone knows they are covered to a certain level. So, they cash in.

Moral of the story: If you go trekking in Nepal, or anywhere, make sure you are covered.

Personal note: Trekking above 3,000 to 4,000 meters is often not covered in many travel insurance policies. Do check, and if need be, buy more. It’s cheaper than USD$5,000 plus all the extras you’ll need to be covered.

Coming Soon

Everest Base Camp Trek Day 11 (Trekking at night)

The Everest Base Camp Guide:

Planning a trip to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp? For all the details on what to do, when to go, permits need, costs, maps and much more check out my dedicated Guide to Everest Base Camp.

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8 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 10: The best drugs are found in the Himalayan mountains

  1. Informative post. I wasn’t aware of the high costs associated with an evacuation or the fact that most insurance policies don’t include hiking above 3,000 feet. Looking forward to reading about day 11!

  2. I have a friend who is a diplomat whose next assignment is Nepal, so I will probably be visiting this country in a couple of years. I look forward to getting that high from coming down to regular elevation and oxygen.

  3. Jason says:

    I can certainly vouch for that feeling of strength and youthfulness on returning from altitude. I also remember that feeling of an endless appetite as well.

    I felt as if I could eat 5 Yak Steaks in one sitting when I returned to Kathmandu, after seeing my body waste away for 5 weeks in the mountains.

    I feel that even a bigger drug than the high as you describe above is that feeling of accomplishment after returning from such a trip, and that never to leave urge of one day returning.

    After climbs and treks in the Himalayas, Andes and Karakoram. I still feel the urge to one day return. The pulling power of the mountains is strong after you’ve had a taste and no doubt it was this feeling that brought you back again Dave.

    • Funny you should mention that about the mountains Jason. Currently writing up a chapter in a book about someone who finds the same thing up there.

      Indeed, there is something addictive about the mountains. Not sure if it’s an achievable “end goal” or something else. They say the mountains give you permission to walk on them, maybe it’s something to do with reaching another level.

  4. I’m jumping to #10 before I read #9 simply cause I was curious what kind of drug you’d be talking about. Not that I do drugs, but still curious… hee hee. That’s actually really cool that all that oxygen rush causes giddiness. But oxygen is a good fountain of youth and even yogis claim many similar benefits from pranayama/breath practice.

    I still think if I got into an accident, I might force myself to hobble back rather than spend that $5000. I probably wouldn’t have known better and done that without the travel insurance.

    • There’s a story about Hillary running back from Everest Base Camp to Lukla in about 48 hours. Once you hear it, then you suddenly hear about lot’s of other people doing it too. Now there’s an annual race.

      Something about being superman for a few days. if only we could bottle that one up!