Porters, who, while singing, walk up with a 50-kilogram load on their backs while smoking a cigarette, look like super-humans to panting tourists who can barely move their legs. This is partly true. After all, they are the only reason all high-altitude expeditions are possible. Porters also accompany us on all Nepalese treks, carrying our belongings and making our hiking life easier. Who are they and why are they so hardy? Is it worth taking a porter on a trek and how much should we pay him? Let’s try to find out.
Probably everyone has at least once heard the terms “Sherpas” or “Porters. They are often confused with each other. Sherpas are a people who live in the Everest region of Nepal. Porters (from the English “porter“) is a profession, someone who carries things. Precisely because Sherpas, due to their endurance and genetic altitude adaptation, most often work as porters, inexperienced tourists make such mistakes.
In the modern world, the profession of a porter has remained only in remote mountainous areas where there are no roads or cars. Their services are quite common in regions such as Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, China and of course Nepal, as well as on many high-altitude ascents.
It is worth noting that the work of porters used not only in tourism. In many high-altitude villages porters and pack animals are the only option for the delivery of food and other essential goods. Tourists mostly use porters on popular hiking trails and when approaching a mountain. There are also high-altitude porters – those who carry loads when climbing peaks, especially 7-8 thousand meter peaks.
The life of the Sherpas, including the porters who take part in most Nepali expeditions, is well shown in the documentary film Sherpa. For information on this and other high-altitude films, see “Top 10 Best Mountain, Climbing and Mountaineering Movies”.
It all depends on the region and the destination. Porters working at construction sites may carry 50 or 80 kg. Moreover, they carry rather bulky things, such as sheets of slate, fences, beams, refrigerators… Porters, who work on the tracks with tourists, often have a weight limit of 20-25 kg. One porter generally carries two 10-12 kg bags, tying them together.
It all depends on the region and complexity. High-altitude porters are the most expensive. There, the price is determined per kilogram, depending on the altitude. There are separate rates for each mountain. On the hiking trails the cost of porter services is less and is calculated mainly by the number of days. For example, if you hike to Annapurna (9 days of trekking + transfers) you would pay $100 per program for 12 kg of cargo, while on the trek to Everest via Gokyo you would pay $140 for a longer trek. During all our programs every porter is entrusted with two bags from two participants, thus, one porter carries 24 kg of cargo and earns 200-300$ for one trek.
In addition to the basic pay, it is customary to give tips. All porters love them, and in Nepal they are obligatory. Don’t be offended if you are reminded of them at the end of the trek. This way the travelers themselves have been accustomed to it for years. Moreover, porters often do a lot of other additional work which is not part of their duties as porters: help in the kitchen, furnace firing, taking and carrying orders in the canteen, escorting on the radials and so on. Many of them try to learn English, so that they can communicate with tourists and be more useful to them. All for your convenience. They do all this throughout the hike. Therefore, if we conditionally divide the tip by the number of days of trekking – it turns out quite a small amount, which they honestly deserve. Usually our groups leave $30 and more per participant.
About a week and a half before the start of the program, we check with all group members to see who wants to use the services of porters. Usually all just “for”. Only a few of them, who have a lot of trekking experience at altitude, decide to do it themselves. After that we order the necessary number of porters from a Nepalese agent we have been working with for 6 years. This is especially important during the peak season (end of April – beginning of May), to have time to book good porters. Even some of our porters are inexperienced, weak, or drunk.
When you arrive in Kathmandu at the hotel, you get your things ready for the porter, and leave everything you don’t need on the trek here for safekeeping. A rubberized bag is the best way to carry your things. We’ll give you one right after check-in, so you may arrive with a suitcase. Of course, for the transfer of the porter can also suit your large backpack. But after transportation it will be dirty, dusty and probably a little wet. And a bag protects against all that. Plus, porter baulks are tightly tied together with ropes, and if you have an expensive new backpack with a good back, you won’t really want it to be squeezed like that.
Stuff in boules put in bags, that with them for sure nothing happens. By the way, this advice applies to absolutely all hiking in any region.
Утром ваша задача как можно раньше собрать и упаковать свой баул и передать его своему портеру, потому что до выхода ему тоже нужно время, чтобы подготовить всё для переноски. Помните, что он несет не только ваши вещи. Чаще всего это 2 баула и плюс ещё небольшой рюкзак с вещами самого портера. А это тоже нужно запаковать правильным образом, чтобы было удобно нести. Все баулы связываются по два. По этой причине не рекомендуем к своим вещам добавлять бутылки с водой, так как они попросту треснут и намочат ваш спальник и всю одежду.
Во время переходов портер не идет рядом с вами беспрерывно. В течение дня вы не имеете доступа к вещам в бауле. Портеры передвигаются в своем темпе, сами выбирают себе место на обед. Хорошие стараются по возможности прийти в лоджу раньше вас. Но помните, что они несут большой груз и тоже люди. Они могут уставать, болеть, на них также действует высота. Поэтому вы должны быть готовы, что в конце дня вам, возможно, придется немного подождать свой багаж. За это время можно попить чаю, почитать меню и заказать себе ужин. По приходу в лоджию портеры баулы складывают на входе или разносят в коридоре под двери ваших комнат.
If you have little trekking experience, are not confident in your abilities and have never been to heights of 4000 and above – we highly recommend using the services of porters, we almost insist on it. Maybe before the trek $100+ may seem like a lot, but in Nepal directly on the trek, when you will be walking up, carrying these 12-13kg (which at the altitude will seem at least 20kg), and trying your best to enjoy the scenery – you will really regret not taking advantage of this option, watching the lightweight members of the group. In addition, at altitude the body’s strength is better spent on acclimatization, passing the route, rather than on proving to myself or someone that I can pass this route with a backpack. According to the evacuation statistics, about 80% of the participants who did not pass the route and had to go down because of the mountain sickness are those who overestimated their strength and did not take a porter.
It is impossible to foresee how your body will behave at 4000-5000 meters without having been there before. And no training can prepare you for that. There are people who easily tolerate altitude, but there are those who find it hard to acclimatize. And it does not depend on level of physical preparation.
Of course, you don’t need to take porter. Some participants need to carry their own things and some want to test themselves. But this way you spend much more energy, so you’ll have less to enjoy the trip, go in the evening to take pictures of the sunset, play games, and not just lie down and relax after a difficult climb.
Go to the mountains, take a porter, have fun!
Kuluar – your life-changing mountain experience!