There are a couple lessons here. One, travel is stressful. Jet lag and sleeplessness in a germ-filled metal tube is a recipe for a cold. Two, you’re gonna be tempted—tempted to “stay fit,” eat local delicacies, sample the local inebriants. Just remember: People seldom fail on expeditions because the climbing is too hard. As fickle and critical as weather is, it still comes in second as the leading cause of failure. Illness is the number one reason that expeditions fail. While you’re travelling as a climber, you are not the average tourist. You’re an athlete on your way to a serious physical and mental undertaking. The adventure should take place on the mountain and not on your way to the destination. Exploratory eating, carousing at clubs, and spontaneous cultural forays should be left for after the summit attempt. Brushing your teeth from the tap in Pokhara might turn into a a fever that knocks you flat in Camp I on Annapurna. The crux of your climb is not your fitness, your gear, or your partner. It starts before you step out the door. Plan ahead and take precautions. By doing so, you’ll give yourself the best shot at getting to basecamp and on to the summit.
Whiteouts can happen in a storm or any local atmospheric event that creates low cloud cover, and they’re very common in the mountains. Not being able to see where you’ve been and where you want to go is an obvious problem. To mitigate whiteout hazards, consider the following:
While you might crave fresh fruits and veggies, the water used to wash them might be the cause of illness. Sometimes wrapped bars and food brought from home are best. Use bottled water if you necessary, but keep in mind the plastic waste you’ll be producing. Consider the refillable Lifestraw water bottle, or use a pump water filter for tap water. For multiple users at basecamp, use a gravity water filter.
“You just have to stay healthy—that's all it is,’” Smithwick says. “That starts as soon as you walk out the door of your home. Just don't roll the dice at the start of the trip until you've had your summit attempt. Your body is presented to so much new bacteria when you travel, to a different climate, different locations. Keep it simple: basic food and focus on fluids. I don't really eat on flights. I just drink a lot of water, and I try to sleep based on the new time zone.”
For travel in-country, it’s often a good idea to have an agency that takes care of everything from the minute you land to the minute you depart. They handle all transactions because you pay them electronically. This eliminates language barriers and manages the time-consuming details of lodging, itinerary, and red tape. Madison says, “For complex expeditions I have partners that help me with permits, transportation, local labor, and food. They also have the latest on-the-ground info of the region, range, or peak you are heading to. You might learn some valuable information that can really impact your success and enjoyment.”
Having assistance is important because something is guaranteed to go wrong. Flights get cancelled, luggage gets lost, or a hurricane jams the airports. The road might wash out in a monsoon or there might be a labor strike near the trailhead. Keep a level head and know that everything will work out in the end. If you’re going super remote, the farther you get from a major town or city, the smaller the plane gets, the worse the weather can be, the more likely flights will be cancelled.