The Mt Everest Base Camp trek is one of the most popular and iconic treks in the world. Located in Nepal, it takes trekkers right up to the foot of the tallest mountain on Earth – Mt Everest, at an altitude of 5,364 meters (17,598 feet). The round trip of the Everest Base Camp trek is about 130 km (80 miles) and takes between 10-14 days to complete.
For many trekkers, completing the Everest Base Camp trek is the adventure of a lifetime. However, for those who smoke, the question often arises – can smokers safely complete the Everest Base Camp trek? Let’s take a look at some of the challenges smokers may face on this trek, and whether it’s feasible for smokers to take on this bucket list hike.
How Altitude Affects Smokers
The main issue for smokers attempting the Everest Base Camp trek is the high altitude. The trek reaches altitudes of over 5,000 meters, with the Everest Base Camp itself located at 5,364m – well above elevations where altitude sickness can occur.
Being at high altitude affects oxygen absorption in the blood. For smokers, the effects are even worse. Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke bonds to red blood cells in place of oxygen, meaning the blood is already less able to carry oxygen. On top of this, cigarettes damage the tiny air sacs in the lungs, reducing their ability to absorb oxygen.
These combined factors make it much harder for smokers to get enough oxygen at altitude. They are at a significantly increased risk of developing altitude sickness, which can produce symptoms like dizziness, nausea, headaches, shortness of breath and fatigue. Severe cases of altitude sickness can be fatal.
Physical Fitness Challenges
Even without the altitude difficulties, smokers may find the Everest Base Camp trek more physically challenging than non-smokers. Smoking impacts cardiovascular fitness, lung function and endurance – all critical for hiking and trekking. Just completing daily activities can become tiring for smokers.
The Everest Base Camp trek requires trekkers to hike 6-8 hours daily, covering long distances and significant elevation gain. Oxygen levels drop as you gain altitude, adding to the difficulty. Being physically fit enough to handle the demands of the trek could be a struggle for some smokers.
Other Health Risks
On top of the altitude and fitness challenges, smoking can exacerbate other health issues during a hardcore multi-day trek like Everest Base Camp. For example:
- Respiratory infections – Smokers are more prone to chest and lung infections. The cold dry air combined with physical exertion puts extra strain on the lungs.
- Poor circulation – Smoking damages blood vessels and can cause poor circulation in the extremities. This increases the risk of frostbite and numbness.
- Reduced immunity – Smoking suppresses the immune system, making smokers more susceptible to picking up bugs and illness while on the trek. Something as simple as a chest infection can ruin the whole trek.
- Poor sleep – Many smokers experience disrupted sleep patterns and insomnia. Lack of sleep on a long trek impairs focus, coordination and decision making and increases injury risk.
Is Everest Base Camp Achievable for Smokers?
Based on all these compounding factors – altitude, fitness, general health – Mt Everest Base Camp is certainly a tougher proposition for smokers than non-smokers. However, completing the trek is not necessarily impossible. Here are some tips for smokers wanting to take on the challenge:
- Consult your doctor – Discuss your plans with your physician to identify any medical conditions to monitor or treat before embarking. Being cleared as “fit to trek” is advisable.
- Quit smoking – The earlier you can quit smoking before the trek, the better. It takes time for your lungs and circulatory system to heal and strengthen. Even quitting a few months out from the trek will be beneficial.
- Train – Work intensively on your cardiovascular fitness. Go hiking carrying a pack up hills and steps to condition your lungs and leg muscles for the trek. Spend time walking and exercising at higher elevations if possible.
- Go slowly – Don’t rush up the pass and push yourself too hard. Go slowly, take frequent breaks, stay hydrated and listen to your body. Be ready to turn back if you experience altitude sickness symptoms.
- Allow extra days – Schedule additional days in your itinerary over and above the standard 10-14 days. This allows time for rest days, acclimatization and dealing with any health issues.
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With ample preparation, a sound fitness level, and taking the trek at a steady pace, it is possible for smokers to complete the Everest Base Camp trek, although it will be more challenging than for non-smokers. Consulting a doctor, training hard in advance and being ready to turn back if faced with altitude issues are all vital for staying healthy on the trek. The rewards of gazing up at Mt Everest make all that hard work worthwhile!