Bhutan Trek Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I trek Bhutan with IMG?
We know we're not the cheapest deal around, and we don't want to be. We spend more providing the best personnel, equipment, logistics and safety measures things that many lower-cost programs cannot afford and do not have. We don't cut corners. As you shop around, consider the following:
- IMG guides are professionals and are great teachers as well as strong climbers. All have done numerous high-altitude expeditions, including the Himalaya. Our clients enjoy the immense benefit of a core group that has climbed together extensively, producing a team that knows how to work well together. We do not think you will find any other Bhutan trekking programs that will be led or staffed by persons of the caliber we field. We challenge you to try!
- IMG always complies with all local, state, federal, and international regulations for the countries in which we climb. This includes proper visas and climbing permits, full insurance and equipment for our guides and Sherpa support teams, and complete adherence to all environmental regulations. Our clean business record allows us to operate with full liability insurance. All client funds are deposited in a regulated trust account. We take our business seriously!
- IMG Sherpas are top-notch. We hire the same great Sherpas every year, we treat them with respect, we pay them well and they like working with our teams. Most of them have been on many climbs and treks with us over the years and many of them have multiple Everest summits. Our enthusiastic cooks do a great job and our menus are well considered. It makes a difference!
- IMG trek itineraries are longer than most others offered on the market. We know how to acclimatize properly and we don't rush. If you want to trek Bhutan, go with a team that actually gives you a real chance to fully experience it!
How do I get there?
What kind of insurance do I need?
We invest in insurance coverage for commercial liability and medical and disability insurance for our employees and Sherpas while participating on our programs. We cannot insure you for your personal needs, but we do expect you to be as fiscally responsible as we are. We require that you insure yourself against potentially expensive difficulties that may arise. First, Trip Cancellation Insurance may provide financial relief should you be forced to withdraw from the program before it even happens. Next, make sure you have adequate Travel Insurance for coverage should you have a problem during the trip. Medical care and evacuation in remote locations can be expensive. For more information, please see our page on Trip Cancellation and Travel Insurance.
What's included in the expedition fee?
Costs Included in Trip Fee:
- Guide fees
- all meals and all hotels in Bhutan
- all meals while trekking
- a shared tent on the trek
- all porters, cooks and assistants during the trek
- all group equipment
Costs Not Included in Trip Fee:
- All flights to and from Bhutan
- visa fees
- any nights required going to and from Bhutan
- personal equipment
- items of a personal nature
- costs incurred as a result of delays or events beyond the control of IMG
- required travel insurance policy (for trip cancellation, medical treatment, evacuation etc.)
- and customary but optional tips for IMG guides
What immunizations will I need?
- Tetanus/Diphtheria: You should already have. Do you need a booster?
- Polio: You should already have. Do you need a booster?
- MMR: You should already have. Do you need a booster?
- Meningitis: Recommended. Consult your physician.
- Hepatitis A: Recommended. Consult your physician.
- Hepatitis B: Not a bad idea. Ask your physician.
- Cholera: Ask your physician. Not usually recommended any more.
- Typhoid: Not a bad idea to be safe. The tablet form, Vivotif Berna, is good for five years.
- Rabies: The new vaccine is easy.
- Malaria: No problem in Bhutan, since we are above the zone of malaria, but if you plan on traveling to lower elevations, or to certain parts of Thailand before/after the trip then malaria chemoprophylaxis is highly recommended.
We recommend that you visit the travel clinic at a major University Hospital or your local Public Health Department for the most up to date info on travel requirements, or check the Center for Disease Control Website at www.cdc.gov.
How does IMG treat their local staff?
We take great pride in the long term relationships we have built with our local staff. They do a great job, we pay and tip them well, and they enjoy working for IMG. We make sure that the IMG porters have adequate clothing, equipment, shelter, sleeping arrangements, food, cooking equipment and water. Sick or injured porters are properly cared for. All loads are weighed to ensure that porters are carrying loads that don't exceed their physical ability or legal limits. Porters are paid a fair wage for their work and are paid tip money directly from the tip pool at the end of the expedition (no middleman taking a cut).
What is the policy on Leave No Trace?
IMG is committed to Leave No Trace. All human waste and garbage is disposed of properly.
How much climbing experience do I need?
For the Bhutan Trek, no previous climbing experience or technical climbing skills are required. The hiking is on rough trail. A small amount of snow or mud may be encountered, so good hiking boots and gaiters are recommended, but the terrain does not necessitate the use of crampons or an ice ax. Trekking or ski poles can be very useful. Some very short and relatively easy sections of rock scrambling are also encountered, requiring "using of your hands" in a couple places.
How should I train for the Bhutan Trek?
Good conditioning is the primary requirement for Trekking in Bhutan. These are strenuous trips. Participants must be in sound "hiking shape" and capable of traveling for a full day with a modest pack (clothing, lunch, water, camera, etc). Don't underestimate these mountains, we're going high! Follow a conditioning program that will strengthen your lungs, legs and heart. Any hiking you can do before the trip will be of the most value. At home, we recommend stair climbing, bike riding and running hills. Conditioning is a process that should continue throughout the year.
What gear will I need?
The equipment list is meant to help you compile your personal gear for a high altitude trekking trip. Most items are required, while a few are optional. Please consider each item carefully and be sure you understand the function of each piece of equipment before you substitute or delete items from your duffle. Keep in mind that this list has been carefully compiled by Phil Ershler, the expedition organizer. Don't cut corners on the quality of your gear.
Should I bring a jacket?
Spring and autumn season are normally very stable weather periods. That said, it is always difficult to predict the exact weather conditions we will encounter during our treks. Warm rain can occur down low and we can experience cold and windy conditions higher up, with the possibility of snowfall. It is not unusual for the temperatures to be well below freezing at higher elevations. A down jacket (or equivalent) is required. We expect that the weather will be perfectly reasonable, but it is important to prepare for all possibilities.
What's the best way to pack for the trip?
Most of us will pack our gear in two duffle bags. Put your day pack in one of these bags. Most airlines limit checked luggage to two pieces each weighing no more than 20-30 kg., depending on the airline. New security measures make it impossible to lock luggage. Use zip ties to close the zipper tabs on your bags. The TSA can easily cut those off if necessary and they will then replace it if they have done so. Then, we suggest you get two small combination locks that you can put on the zipper tabs once we are in Bhutan. These are nice for your peace of mind. They help to prevent pilfering. In addition to these two bags, it's nice to use a small rucksack as your carry on luggage. You'll then have this small rucksack available for while traveling.
We suggest that you use a travel wallet that you can hang around your neck and place inside your shirt. This is a safer way to carry your money and travel documents. Leave expensive jewelry and watches at home. Experienced travelers will also carry a couple of extra passport photos with them as well as a photocopy of the first pages of your passport. These should be carried in a place separate from your passport. Having these available will greatly facilitate the replacement of your passport if you lose it. Carry a pen with you for completing travel forms. Get to the airport early and make sure your luggage gets checked through to the correct destination.
How much money should I bring?
Cash should be carried in the form of U.S.dollars. Bring small bills. Well-known credit cards are also accepted at better business establishments throughout the world. Plan to take about $500. That's probably more than you'll spend but it's always nice to have extra dollars. We also ask everyone to bring one blank check. It's easy for us to simply put all group restaurant meals on one bill and divide that by the number of participants and guides at the end of the trip.
How does the tip pool work?
We will split up the tip pool among all the different people who work for us: the porters, trek staff, cooks, hotel staff, and others that help the team.
What other medical info should I consider?
While it's always nice to have a doctor as a participant on our trips, we cannot guarantee a doctor's presence. We ask that you carefully complete the Medical Information form included in the registration materials. We need to be informed of any allergies you may have, medicines you are currently taking and any medical conditions that could possibly effect your ability to safely participate on a climbing expedition.
In addition to the first aid items listed on the equipment list, there are a few additional medications that you should consider. These should be discussed with your personal physician and some will require a prescription. We want everyone to bring two regimens of the antibiotic azithromycin ("Z-Pak") and some Immodium in case of bad traveler's diarrhea. A sleeping medication can be useful for napping on the international flights and for the first few days (due to the big time change). We do not recommend the automatic use of Diamox while trekking but you might find a small dose (125mg) useful if altitude sickness symptoms appear. Discuss this and your other medication requirements with your physician. Any medication should be used only if necessary and use should be discussed thoroughly with your physician and with your guide before you take the medication.
Water purification is also very important. An effective and inexpensive method is the use of iodine crystals or tablets. These are available commercially at mountaineering stores as a product called 'Polar Pure' or 'Potable Agua'. Filters, such as the ones made by MSR, are also good. Either can be used or both can be used in combination. On the trek our recommendation is to plan on treating your water bottle water with an iodine tablet (Potable Aqua) or other purification method. You can buy bottled water, but we do not encourage you to buy bottled water on the trek since the bottles are garbage and constitute an environmental issue. If you want to buy boiled water at the lodges for your water bottles, you should bring some extra money. We also recommend that each participant bring a small bottle of a hand disinfectant such as Purell. Anything that we can do to stay healthy is worthwhile. Health issues will be discussed during the expedition and we encourage you to contact us if you have any questions before or during the trip.
Do I really need to bring the high altitude medications Nifedipine and Dexamethasome?
Our IMG guides are very experienced with dealing with altitude illness, but we are not allowed to provide prescription drugs to our customers. For this reason we ask each trekker to consult with their own physician and to bring their own emergency medications to use (while descending!) in case of onset of high altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema symptoms. These include Nifedipine and Dexamethasome, which will help to "buy some time" to get down to a lower altitude. The Nifedipine is useful for pulmonary edema (take one 30mg sustained release tablet every twelve hours) and the Dexamethasome is useful for cerebral edema (take one 4mg tablet every 6 hours). Our suggestion is that climbers each bring a few tablets of each medication (2 tabs of Nifedipine and 4 tabs of Dex is plenty) and that should be sufficient to provide one day of treatment so the patient can get down, if they start to get sick. For more information see this recent article in WILDERNESS & ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE, 21, 146-155 (2010).