Ready to get high? A high-altitude mountain trek makes for the ultimate adventurous challenge. Multi-day hill hikes can be physically tough, but they always come with an amazing reward for your efforts – the pure joy of reaching a summit and the panoramic views of surrounding peaks and valleys will stay with you forever. I’m off to trek 6,000 metre peaks in the Indian Himalayas this summer, and in the meantime I’ve rounded up five amazing summit adventures around the world to cut your mountaineering teeth on, plus some tips on dealing with altitude.
FIVE HIGH ALTITUDE MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES AND TREKS
Climb Mount Kenya, KENYA
Kenya may be a hair behind Mount Kilimanjaro in the height stakes, its 5,199 Batian peak making it the second tallest mountain in Africa, but in my opinion it’s a far better trek than Kili – it’s far quieter and is seriously beautiful. I climbed it with Exodus – their trip follows lesser-used routes through a glorious landscape that changes each day from alpine moorland to bamboo forests, glaciers and tarns on the way to Point Lenana at 4,985m. Tough and totally worth it. Read my diary from the trek here.
Trek the Inca Trail, PERU
It doesn’t matter how many photos you’ve seen of the sacred valley of the Incas, coming across the ancient abandoned citadel of Macchu Picchu, high in the Peruvian hills, is a totally awe-inspiring sight. A classic Inca trail trek is a great trip for anyone who hasn’t tried a high-altitude hike before – you’ll have an experienced guide and a group for the journey, starting in Cusco and trekking into the peaceful Silque Valley to acclimatize, then walking through a landscape of blue glacial lakes and cloud forest, spotting orchids and hummingbirds and following ancient stone paths before arriving at the ruins at dawn one morning. One for your bucket list.
Reach Everest Base Camp, NEPAL
Both revered and feared, Everest has to be the ultimate high-stakes challenge for outdoorswomen. But even if you don’t put the time (and the serious money) into attempting to reach its summit you can still experience the sheer beauty of life at 5,364 metres in the shadow of the fabled peak by hiking to the base camp from which summiters head to the top. Treks to Base Camp abound, but try Explorers Connect’s 2019 trip if you’re keen to hike with like-minded adventurers – the 11 day hike follows in the footsteps of Hillary and Norgay up to base camp from Lukla, passing through Namche Bazaar and past monasteries adorned with prayer flags, stopping in traditional tea houses along the way.
Hike Mururata, BOLIVIA
The months I spent living and trekking in Bolivia were some of the best in my life. We lived in La Paz, which is an amazing base for exploring the surrounding Altiplano’s glacier-capped mountains. It’s the highest capital city in the world at 3,640 metres, so you’re acclimatizing just by exploring the city, which is full of cool cafes, bars and weird and wonderful markets (make sure you pick up some llama knit sweaters – great for cold nights on the mountains). Lots of adventure activity companies offer treks to the summit of Illimani, the huge mountain that towers over the city like a guardian, but I’d recommend hiring a guide and trekking into the quieter Cordillera Real mountain range – I hiked up to the glacier at the top of Mururata with my friend Max and we didn’t see another soul (unless you count some llamas and a condor) for three days, following narrow llama tracks past glassy lakes and up into the peaks. Magical.
Summit Jungfrau, SWITZERLAND
There’s no need to fly around the world to bag an epic peak – there are plenty in Europe to challenge would-be mountaineers. The lush green valleys and snowcapped peaks of the Jungfrau region are ideal for hiking solo, and there are plenty of easy-to-follow routes on jungfrau.ch. The peak itself, at 4,158 metres, is best suited to more experienced mountaineers – Swiss Rock Guides offer a two-day hike up the glacier from a mountain hut.
HOW TO DEAL WITH ALTITUDE
Hiking at altitude is a fickle friend – altitude affects everyone differently, and can hit you out of the blue even if you’ve been fine at similar altitudes before. Breathing less oxygen usually causes side effects at 2,400 metres and above and can include breathlessness, nausea, difficulty sleeping and eating and a rapid pulse – for me, it always feels like having the hangover from hell. It’s worth reading up as much as you can on coping with altitude sickness before your trip, and if it’s your first trek at altitude I’d recommend joining a trip or expedition with a team doctor or a trained first aider. My own experience at altitude has taught me this:
Go slow: ‘Pole pole!’ Is the neverending cry of the fantastic guides leading hikers up Mount Kenya. Their advice to go ‘slow slow’ is golden – it’s very tempting to stride off at a brisk normal pace when you get going on a summit attempt, especially when you’re still in the foothills, but the slower and gentler you take the trek, the more your body will acclimatize. Slow and steady wins the race.
Go down: Feeling dizzy? Heading down just a few hundred metres can make you feel a million times better. Even if the summit you’re desperate to reach is looming close it’s far more sensible to head down again a little way, rest and acclimatise for a day or two and then trek back up when you’re feeling fitter.
Climb high, sleep low: Look at any good trekking itinerary and you’ll notice a pattern – you’ll be trekking up to new heights each day, but descending down to a lower camp to sleep. This helps your body acclimatize without the shock of sleeping at a big leap in altitude.
Eat ginger: Ginger is a folk remedy for altitude – I’m not 100% sure it definitely works, but I do pack ginger biscuits or crystallized ginger on higher hikes, as they’re also good for a quick sugar hit as well as a good old placebo effect.
Drink coca tea: In Bolivia we swore by a natural local remedy for altitude – coca tea. Yes, it’s the same plant that produces cocaine, but no it won’t get you high. Bolivians often chew coca leaves to keep altitude sickness at bay but I think it’s nicer as a tea. It tastes very similar to green tea, and if you’re planning any trekking in South America it’s definitely worth packing. Coca tea is only legal in South America, so don’t be tempted to bring any back in your suitcase.