Pringles anyone?! Five key points to staying hydrated in the Himalayas
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The French call it 'les beaux malaises' - to English speakers it's something like 'silly moments'. I mean those occasions where you think to yourself "Christ, did that actually just happen?!"
Martin Matte, comedian and star of Canada's 'Les Beaux Malaises'
At the end of this article you should takeaway:
1. Background on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
2. Five key recommendations for staying hydrated on long treks
The Annapurna Circuit - not for the faint hearted
To this day, the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal is the biggest physical adventure I've taken on:
*11 days hiking from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal to the Tibetan border
*13 miles per day average distance
*5,400m max altitude at the Thorung-La mountain pass
*0.5 km's higher than Mont Blanc, Europe's highest mountain
*50% less oxygen at this altitude yet still over 3km's lower than Mount Everest
Only once I had returned home did I and the rest of the group really appreciate the full scale of the challenge. Challenges come in different forms of course and for me at least, the effects of poor water intake became more impactful than the steepness of the hikes...
Every hikers' worst nightmare of being caught short eventually happened at a guest house deep into the journey - the queue for the bathroom long and slow, my need for the bathroom intense and panic-stricken. In a sweat-laden beaux malaises trance I grabbed whatever was nearby, in this case a tube of Pringles Original, emptied it on to the bed so that I could finish them later, and then did what I had to do. I'm not proud of it, although it did display some pretty innovative thinking under pressure, but the fact is that situation could have been avoided through better hydration. Here's how:
1. Sounds simple, but make sure your water bottle is cleaned regularly
Nepal, as with many high altitude countries, is a dry, arid and consequently very dusty place. Particularly on the wide open planes it's easy to get dirt and debris into your water bottles. Use wipes to clean the bottle each evening or morning and consider hand sanitizers as a disinfectant.
2. Take plenty of water purification tablets and give them the necessary time to work
Effervescent Iodine or Chlorine based tablets are the best and most commonly used chemical purifiers. They will leave an after taste, cause impurities to sink to the bottom and should be left for at least five to ten minutes to work. I would recommend combining with a water bottle that has an in-built filtration system to separate solid particles and bacteria e.g. the LifeStraw Go. To counteract the taste consider flavored additives like squash, fruit concentrate or protein powders. Water from mountain village kitchens is ok, as long as it has been boiled for at least five minutes.
3. Consider ultraviolet solutions
One of our Australian group members brought along a 'SteriPEN', a hand-held ultraviolet purification device. The theory is that a UV lamp can eliminate all microorganisms in the water. I remained unconvinced only because it was the first time of seeing one, but check out the online reviews. Similar to the above I would suggest combining with a water bottle that has an integrated filtration system. Worth noting that there is no chemical after-taste.
4. Avoid purchasing new plastic bottles of water
Plastic process: People seem to forget that producing plastic is a resource intensive process. It is widely understood that producing one litre of water in a plastic bottle requires 3 litres of water in the production process (source: The Pacific Institute). This accounts for the water required to facilitate oil extraction to produce Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) - the polymer resin used in plastic bottles, clothing, containers etc. - as well as the water used to cool the PET moulding process. In a region of the world where clean water is so scarce, what could be more irresponsible than drinking from a plastic bottle.
Littering: Just like the Everest Base Camp trek, the Annapurna Circuit is becoming more popular with tourists and consequently more littered. Own a re-useable water bottle, purify your water and negate the potential for littering this beautiful part of the world.
5. Emergency Backup
Most of you will be with an experienced local tour guide. If trekking on your own or in a small group and you run into hydration issues then you would do well to remember the constituents of saline solution:
1 litre of disinfected water
10g or 2 teaspoons of sugar
2.5g or 0.5 teaspoons of salt
2.5g or 0.5 teaspoons of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
Overall I had a fantastic time hiking the Himalayas - you'll see evidence of this in later posts - but I was negligent in the way I looked after my clean water intake. I drank like Poseidon, but if what you're drinking is contaminated then it may do more harm than good.