JIll and our guide, Lopsang, on the descent from Gokyo Lakes. While planning our trek to the Everest Region, we heard that the Nepal was passing a law which requires foreigners to have a guide while trekking. So as far as we knew, our decision had basically been made for us. Later we found out they never actually passed that law for fear that it would deter trekkers from coming to Nepal and cut back the flow of tourist dollars. Either way, in the end we're really glad we ended up going with a guide.
We broke down some pros and cons, just to help you make your own choice.
Choosing Your Guide
There are a lot of American and other Western guide companies that would likely provide you with a great trip, but we highly encourage you to support the local communities when choosing your guide. It helps to do a bit of research beforehand and booking in advance is a smart move. If not, you could also very easily find a decent guide in Kathmandu.
If you do choose to wait and find a guide in Kathmandu, make sure to have them walk you around the block just to get a sense of whether your personalities jive. If not, there are probably three dozen other eager guides within shouting distance if you're in Thamel.
It's also worth considering whether you want to sign up with a group, or get a guide on your own. On our trip it was just us and our guide, and we thought that was ideal. Many big groups commonly struggle with people being on different fitness levels. It was much easier to make on-the-spot decisions and changes in our plan with just two people.
After shopping around for guide companies based on a few recommendations, we ended up choosing Mountain Experience for our trek. They're based in Kathmandu but owned and operated by people from the Khumbu. They primarily hire local professional guides and porters. They also seemed the most organized and professional out of the companies we considered. They were flexible with customizing our itinerary, but also provided helpful suggestions and guidance as needed.
Trekking group beneath Pengboche.
Considering Your Impact
Just by trekking in the Himalayas, you're supporting change that might be seen as good in some ways, but also harmful in others. A huge boom of commercialism in the region has dramatically transformed the culture and the local economy in the past decade alone. Although individual interactions are almost always cordial and pleasant, there is naturally a cultural rift between Sherpa people and Westerners. Whether you're conscious of it or not, you're accelerating cultural change and contributing to environmental degradation (at least to some degree) by trekking in the region.
These changes will probably continue taking place regardless of whether you go trekking, they're already in effect and many of them can't be reversed. That considered, you can still help make the best of the situation. You're supporting your guide and their family by employing a local resident as your guide. Western dollars go an extremely long way in Nepal, and entire families get by on scant compensation for weeks of hard work carrying bags and accommodating trekkers.
There are also a few other small ways you can help steer these inevitable changes in a positive direction. Show the local people that you care and assume they care too, take interest in their history and traditions, and outwardly show respect for the insanely beautiful place they call home. Making an effort to understand the nature of your interactions helps shape relationships responsibly in this increasingly interconnected and fragile world. Plus you're likely to make some friends and learn lots of new things just by showing a little interest.