A once in a lifetime trip!
For most, climbing all the way to the top of the world’s highest mountain isn’t realistic, but getting to Everest Base Camp is a much more achievable goal! Here is your complete guide to the trek – including what that the guides and guide books don’t tell you!
How to Get There:
Kathmandu is the kick-off point for Everest Base Camp, and Cathay Pacific has direct flights from Hong Kong. The majority of trekkers fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and begin their trek there, 2400m above sea level. It is possible to begin your trek from the base of the Himalayas but this will add quite a few days to your journey. However, starting at the base does help with acclimatisation, so there are pros and cons!
The most common route is a 12-day trek where you will reach Everest Base Camp on day eight; this generally includes two acclimatisation days (eg. days where you sleep at the same level for two nights in a row). This is critical to manage acclimatisation as altitude sickness is your biggest foe.
The trek back to Lukla takes three and a half to four day and is more direct than the one you take up to Base Camp. However, like the rest of the trek, you are still going up or down 90% of the time – flat paths are few and far between (the majority of tours allow a couple of days buffer at the end). Weather conditions in and out of Lukla are volatile and there are often major delays!
When to Go:
There are two peak times:
September/October: generally this will mean clearer weather and better views. However, there will be no tents available at Base Camp as Everest summits only take place in April and May.
Late April/early May: This tends to be the peak window to summit Everest so Base Camp will be full of its famous coloured tents. However the weather will not be as clear as September/October.
You can also trek between November and March but gosh, it would be cold and I wouldn’t advise it. It was very cold at high altitude when I went in late April – temperatures were literally freezing and it was snowing.
Training and Preparation:
If you have a decent fitness level I would recommend beginning your training three to four months before your trek. If you need to build up basic fitness then I would recommend beginning at least six months in advance! In addition to good cardio, building up strength in your glutes and quads is also key as much of the trek is uphill. Hong Kong is nice and hilly so frequently walking up The Peak (or the Twin Peaks!) would be a great way to start your training. I did endless lunges and squats, increasing the load as I went, as well as using the step machine in the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week, building up the pace each time.
As soon soon as you start your training, I would suggest walking and using the machines with your hiking boots on, as well as filling your day pack to mimic the weight you will be carrying throughout (which will work out to be between eight and ten kilos!). Each day you’ll need to carry at least three litres of water, waterproof trousers and jacket, snacks, electronics (including your phone and camera), first aid and sunscreen – to name but a few!
Unfortunately, there is no way to prepare for altitude sickness. There are very mixed views on using Diamox (as it can mask dangerous symptoms) and as advised by medical professionals, I chose not to use it before hand, however opted for it the day before reaching Base Camp as we were walking downhill by that stage. It’s also really important to stay as hydrated as possible and eat large meals at the beginning of the trek, as virtually everyone loses their appetite due to sickness, so you’ll need those backup calories!
What to Bring With You:
- A day pack
- Kit bag/backpack
- Walking poles
- Hiking boots
- Flip flops and trainers for evenings in the tea houses
- Two or three pairs of zip-off hiking trousers
- Thermal socks
- High altitude sleeping bag
- Three or four breathable tops
- Travel towel
- Two pairs of sunglasses (incase one breaks)
- Water bladder
- Water bottle
- A fleece
- Zip neck wool top
- Cotton cap
- Cold weather hat/beanie
Suggested medical supplies:
- Passport photo (for our park permit)
- Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Diamox, Imodium, throat lozenges, electrolytes
- Antibacterial wipes
- Toilet paper or wipes
- Travel-sized shower gel and shampoo/conditioner
Suggest food supplies:
- Tea bags or instant coffee
- High energy food such as chocolate, sweets or protein bars
- Portable charger
- Kindle (for reading at night)
- Head torch/flashlight
Who Guides Me up the Mountain?
I did my trek with Exodus, who is the biggest tour agent for Everest Base Camp, but you can absolutely look to find your own guide in Kathmandu and head up independently rather than in a group. I would advise organising your trip well in advance as many of the big tour operators book up the best Teahouses, so you may face issues finding accommodation. The higher up you go, the fewer options there are. Camping is also an option, however remember that once you are over 4,500m it is likely that you will be camping in snow.
If you’re looking for companies to book through, G Adventures book the same accommodation as Exodus and The Mountain Company is also another popular option. There are a large number of mountaineering and specialist operators in Nepal itself, some are bigger organisations based in the US or UK, but either way almost all the big global tour companies out source the actual running of the tour to local operators.
What the Guide Book Doesn’t Tell You (and what the food and accommodation is really like!)
Where to begin on this one… there is a lot that you aren’t necessarily told before you go! I think this must be because so much changes depending on the season, trekking group, accommodation and food availability… but, to be more cynical, I do believe that fewer people would sign up if they knew in advance the conditions they’d be facing!
Believe it or not, the trek is great in terms of being able to charge your devices and connect to the internet! I could charge at every Teahouse I stayed in, although you will have to fork out USD$5. The internet wasn’t great during the first couple of nights, but once you hit around 3,000m ‘Everest Link’ kicks in. This is a Wi-Fi system that is devised for Everest and it works all the way to Base Camp, however you will have to pay for access which is about USD$8 for an hour.
The food was better than I expected! I actually went vegetarian for the trek; quite a few people do this but you can also opt for yak meat, which apparently isn’t too bad. The issue is the repetitiveness of meals, as lunches and dinners are pretty much the same each day. I became a big fan of vegetarian Dal Bhat for lunch as it was quite light, and then Sherpa Stew for dinner. You won’t see much green veg, mainly potatoes and carrots, but there is also a lot of pizza (with major variances in quality). Don’t eat the apple pie above 4,000m as we’d been told by our guide that it has often been there a long time as the colder temperatures freeze them!
My favourite treat was a honey, ginger and lemon hot drink. My whole team converted to this delicious hot beverage – the one thing that always tasted good and is great for altitude sickness.
Don’t let the cosy name, ‘Teahouse’ fool you – they’re hostels, at best! The standards are much better the lower down you are, but in fairness the rooms were always clean – the biggest issue was the cold! The way the accommodation works is that there is one central room where the food is served and you can relax (the stove is heated by yak poo!), but there is no other heating throughout.
The good news is that there are quite a few showers available to use along the way and the ones further down are great and the water is nice and hot. They are far from glamourous however, so definitely wear flip flops! Once you hit 4,000m you are actually advised not to shower. At this point you will find it really difficult to remove your clothes due to the cold. It really wasn’t clean at this level either, so you will probably rather not take one. Wipes, wipes, wipes, wipes!
The toilets. Again, they are not so bad lower down, however once you get higher there are generally two toilets for about 30 people… Take a deep breath before you go in.
Tips and Tricks
– Lukla airport is VERY strict on luggage weight. Your limit is 15kg, which includes your day pack and your backpack. You might be able to get away with a few extra kilos if you pay, but I’d suggest wearing as much as you can through security and filling your pockets with any electronics.
– From day one, use rehydration sachets in your water bottle, don’t wait until you start to feel dehydrated. A nurse travelling with me used these from day one and had one of the least severe reaction.
– Buy some dryer sheets! These are normally used to minimise static and add a nice scent to your freshly washed clothes. They are fantastic to use in your trekking bag. I tucked mine away throughout my bag, including in with my dirty clothes. Your stuff will begin to smell quite quickly and this will offset that nicely.
– Bring your own pillow case. Teahouses will provide a pillow and pillow case as well as a duvet, but it is hard to tell how clean these are so it is nice to have your own.
– Pack a cotton and a fleece snood. I never knew why climbers always had those sort of necklace like scarves on – I actually thought it was something a bit pretentious… I was very wrong! You need the cotton one lower down the mountain so you can pull it up over your mouth and nose to protect yourself from inhaling dust. Move to fleece when it gets colder. Your neck is a critical area to keep warm due to altitude headaches.
– Buy a portable charger as a back up. I bought an Anker which is powerful enough to charge an iPhone four times over.
– Sleep with your devices! Yes, odd I know, but iPhones and Kindles do not like the cold – they will either shut down or you will lose all battery charge. I slept with both of these and my portable charger in my sleeping bag every night.
– As soon as you arrive at the Teahouse log on to the internet. Once everyone has arrived and is online the speed is very poor. Also, it is usually quite good in the morning.
-As soon as you arrive at a Teahouse with a shower, use it! Queues will form fast. More importantly this is when the shower will be at its cleanest and you will be most assured of hot water.
– If you are a coffee lover, bring your own. The coffee wasn’t great. I bought some Lavazza instant (as I couldn’t exactly drag my Gaggia up!) and was very pleased I did so. Ask for hot milk separately otherwise you will be given powdered milk. I would ask for boiling water and warm milk.
– Bring flip flops. You will need them when you shower and when you get up in the night to use the bathroom (one of the ways your body deals with altitude is to use the bathroom more often. The fun never stops!).
– Bring your own toilet paper (there is none along the way), lots of little hand sanitiser and wipes.
– Keep your chocolate and snack bars next to your water bladder in your day pack so they don’t melt.