Mount Everest. Two words that conjure up dreams of adventure, excitement, and achievement. To actually reach the summit of Mount Everest, on the crest of the Great Himalayas of southern Asia, is a legendary feat that demands huge sacrifices. Everest Base Camp (EBC), at 18,300 feet, is no walk in the park, but it does offer an achievable goal for people with a good level of fitness and determination, and who want a glimpse of the world’s highest peak. The trek to EBC is among the most dramatic and picturesque in the Himalayas. The scenery is spectacular, the trails of a high standard, the accommodation a cultural experience, and interactions with the local Sherpa people will make this a truly memorable trip.
The route to Base Camp is often referred to as “the steps to heaven.” At every bend, the trail provides another incredible photo opportunity, with beautiful forests, dramatic rugged mountains, alpine lakes, glacial moraines, interesting Sherpa villages, and, depending on the season, valleys filled with the gorgeous pink blossomed rhododendrons. For active adventurers who are not afraid to break a sweat, the trek to Everest Base Camp opens a window to the top of the world.
I am going to address some of the frequently asked questions about trekking to Everest Base Camp and give you a few tips to help you really enjoy the journey.
How Long Does It Take?
It takes between 11 and 14 days for an Everest Base Camp round trip. Most people will do it in 12 days: 8 days to hike from Lukla (where you fly from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu) to Everest Base Camp and then 4 days to trek back to Lukla. You could shorten the journey by hiring a helicopter to fly you back from base camp, but this adds considerable expense to your trip, and as the return trek is all downhill, all the hard work is done and you can really appreciate the scenery.
How Far Will You Walk?
The entire trek is an 80-mile round trip. This is the distance from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and back to Lukla.
Probably the more important question actually, is how much altitude will you be gaining? Lukla is at 9,383 feet above sea level and Everest Base Camp is 17,600 feet. That’s a pretty substantial increase in elevation. The closer you get to Everest Base Camp, the more challenging the trek becomes. Once you get up beyond 14,000 feet, you are breathing only 50 percent of the oxygen at sea level, so walking on flat ground starts to feel surprisingly difficult and even small hills start to feel more like mountains!
When Is The Best Time To Go?
There are two main seasons to trek to EBC: in the fall (October/November) and in spring (April/May).
The climbing season for those attempting to summit Mt. Everest is April/May, but the better season for the trek is during fall since this is when skies are clearest and the scenery magnificent.
Should You Book A Guide, A Trekking Company, Or Do It Alone?
While it is not compulsory to have a guide to trek to Everest Base Camp, and the trail itself is well marked, I believe a local guide will enrich your experience, even if you’re an experienced trekker.
Hiring a guide will cost you around $30 a day. When hiring a local guide, you are providing much-needed employment and also giving yourself the opportunity to learn about the local culture. Many people also hire a porter for about $20 a day. Your porter will carry the bulk of your luggage, leaving you with just a day pack (and a much easier journey).
Alternatively, using a trekking company has the advantage of having everything pre-arranged for you, including flights, accommodation, transfers, meals, guides, porters, insurance, etc. Another advantage of booking with a trekking company is that the guide will have been trained to spot signs of altitude sickness and will be carrying oxygen. I’d recommend White Magic Adventure Travel.
How Fit Do You Need To Be?
Most days, you will be hiking between 5 and 8 miles, a very doable distance. There are no “technical” sections on the hike, this is just a graded hiking trail. No rock scrambling, no rock climbing, no special skills needed. But bear in mind, it’s not the distance of the daily hikes that makes the trek a challenge, it’s the elevation. Having a good level of fitness will make the whole trip much easier and much more enjoyable. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest you should be able to easily walk 10 miles a day, several days in a row while wearing a backpack.
How Do You Stay Healthy?
My biggest piece of advice here is to go vegetarian. If you see meat on a menu during your trek, be aware that all meat is carried up by porters from below Lukla, due to the no-killing policy in Sagarmatha National Park. That means by the time you’re eating it, it’s old and probably not that fresh! Another food-related tip is to avoid the yak cheese, it doesn’t seem to sit well in most western tummies! Do bring along some snacks though, because the food can get monotonous!
Secondly, take your time. “Slow and steady” is the key. Altitude sickness can affect anybody, even the super fit. Watch out for signs of altitude sickness, like pounding headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and breathlessness. I’d recommend that before your trip, you get the prescription medication such as Diamox, which helps prevent altitude sickness, but if symptoms persist, turn around and descend.
Stay alert. The trail is relatively wide and well marked but can be treacherous in places. Listen for the bells of oncoming animals, and stand on the inner side of the trail as they pass, so you can’t be knocked off! Also stand aside for porters, who often run along the trails; this is a sign of respect, but also helps prevent traffic jams.
Finally, drink bottled/treated water and forgo alcohol, it dehydrates you, making you more susceptible to altitude sickness. Bathroom facilities can be pretty dire, so some hand sanitizer can be worth its weight in gold. Lastly, cover up — the sun is harsh at high altitudes. Use a good sunscreen and wear a hat, long-sleeve shirts, and pants.
What About Altitude Sickness?
You may already know to expect shortness of breath and fatigue when trekking at high altitudes. It may still come as a surprise though to discover just how draining hiking at elevation can be. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself out of breath just rolling over in your sleeping bag some nights!
Altitude sickness can start to occur at elevations over 7,900 feet; though most people need to be at much higher altitudes before they really start feeling symptoms. Symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, headache, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Altitude sickness can be a life-threatening condition that, in severe cases, can lead to cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and even death. The best treatment for altitude sickness is to descend immediately to a lower altitude.
I am not trying to alarm you or scare you off. While you can expect to feel at least some effects of altitude, the eight-day trek to Everest Base Camp is designed to give you enough time to acclimatize.
What Is It Like To Fly To Lukla?
The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla is found on the list of “The world’s most dangerous airports.” The geography of the airport’s location, combined with often adverse weather conditions and a very short runway, make flying in and out of Lukla a nerve-wracking experience. So come mentally prepared.
How Much Time Do You Need In Nepal?
If the only thing you want to do in Nepal is to trek to Everest Base Camp, you need the number of days for the trek and two days in Kathmandu on either side of the trek, to get over any jet lag and explore the city. So if you plan to do a 12-day trek, then you will need a minimum of 16 days in Nepal.
- Accommodations are in basic trekking lodges, known as teahouses, run by Sherpa families. Each lodge has a central communal area with a large stove to provide heat. Bedrooms are unheated and generally have two beds, with mattresses, pillows, and a blanket. You should bring a sleeping bag and I’d recommend a pillowcase. Access to electricity points for charging devices costs extra. Wi-Fi is available in some locations, but connections are generally poor.
- EBC trek is a very popular route and you will encounter many other trekkers and groups on the trail and at the teahouses and at times it can feel crowded.
- If you are travelling with a United States passport you will require a visa for Nepal, this can be purchased on arrival.
Aside from breathtaking scenery, the trek to Everest Base Camp gives travelers the chance to experience local culture and hospitality. You will have the opportunity to visit Buddhist monasteries and shrines (stupas), you will traverse metal bridges strung over deep canyons, you will pass strings of colorful prayer flags, and in the evening, you will enjoy hot Nepali food and delicious chai (tea) around the teahouse fire. To crown it all, you will feel the incredible personal sense of achievement of having trekked one of the world’s most unforgettable hikes.