Trekking to Everest Base Camp was one of the highlights of the travel adventures I have been lucky enough to experience. I travelled to Nepal in April 2014 with my Dad on a two week trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) with Private Expeditions.
Nepal is a country engulfed in sumptuous natural beauty and is home to the kindest people I have met in my travels. It sounds crazy but the energy in the air felt different other countries, a calm serenity envelops the country, it is a country I would return to in a heartbeat.
I imagine you are reading this article pondering whether it would be something you will do, I hope after seeing the photographs and reading more detailed information you will decide to go for it.
I hope this question and answer style article answers most of your questions, if you have any other questions please comment below or send an email.
This post is written for those trekking to Base Camp not the Summit.
1. ALLOCATE EXTRA TIME IN KATHMANDU
If I could impart just one piece of information it would be to book your international departure flight several days after your trek/tour is completed, at least three to five days if you are doing the EBC.
The small planes that fly between Kathmandu and Lukla are manually operated without radars or the advanced technology. They are landing on the most dangerous runway in the world (in Lukla) and are at the mercy of the ever changing weather patterns of the Himalayas.
Countless flights are cancelled when patches of fog or cloud blow through town, if your allocated flight is cancelled you are put on the bottom of a long waiting list. If your allocated flight takes off the day it was scheduled, thank your lucky stars! Once the days scheduled planes depart, they will add more flights to take those on the waiting list down to the capital, weather permitting.
2. CARRY PRE-MADE SNACK BAGS
Walking between five to ten hours a day burns an incredible amount of energy. Prior to our trek in Kathmandu, I made individual snack-pack zip-locks, one for each day and each person in the group.
Each bag had several muesli bars, gummy bears, mini chocolate bars, lots of dried fruit and nuts and a few sweet biscuits. Each day we would take one from our big packs and carry it in our little day packs.
The higher the altitude, the less you will feel like eating but we decided it was mandatory to eat one snack bag per day.
These items are available at the supermarkets in Thamel in Kathmandu, though you could bring your favourite granola bars from home if you prefer. I highly recommend doing this, it made the world of difference to our energy levels.
3. HOW LONG DOES THE TREK TAKE?
Generally, the basic plan is to ascend in six days and descend in three, usually with two acclimatisation days on the way up. The company you sign up with will send you a detailed itinerary.
You will need a day or two in Kathmandu prior to the trek to get yourself organised in Thamel (Kathmandu) and have a good sleep after the international plane journey.
After the EBC trek you will need three to four days in Kathmandu up your sleeve to ensure you are able to get a plane down from the mountain and time to explore Kathmandu. I would leave most of your Kathmandu sightseeing for after the trek.
4. BRING POWDERED CORDIAL/TANG
In Australia, we call it cordial, in the US I believe they say squash, the Nepalese call it Tang, what you are looking for is the powdered fruit crystals that dissolve and flavour drinking water.
I bought these tang sachets in Thamel (Kathmandu) and we used these once we were a few days into the trek.
To avoid altitude sickness and from the sheer amount of walking you do you need to stay well hydrated.
Our guide told us that once you are above 4000 metres (16,040 ft) you lose one litre (33oz) of water from you body simply from breathing in your sleep!
We did as we were told and each drank five litres (170 oz) a day, which we can all agree is a lot of water!
After a while the last thing you feel like drinking is water so the tang sachets helped us a lot. Mix up the flavours each day and get drinking!!!
5. ALWAYS STAND ‘UP MOUNTAIN’
As you walk you will see countless animal trains on the path transporting anything and everything the locals and tourists need.
Between Lukla and Namche Bazaar it is mostly donkeys as they get altitude sickness if they go beyond 3500 metres.
From Namche Bazaar you see dzo (male) or dzomo (female) which are a special hybrid breed of domestic cattle and yak. The closer to base camp you find pure yaks.
These animals are familiar with humans on the walking tracks and barely notice you, they also have no interest in getting out of your way.
ALWAYS stand up mountain as they pass, meaning on the higher side of the mountain.
Many oblivious trekkers have been pushed of a ledge or hill and been injured and several even died. It’s such a simple concept, be sure to move when you hear the clang of the bells around their necks.
6. AVOIDING ALTITUDE SICKNESS
I live at sea level and had never ventured to crazy heights before, in fact landing in Lukla to begin the EBC trek we were already standing above the highest mountain in Australia!
Altitude Sickness is very common and everyone is susceptible to it, even the most experienced mountaineers. Our guide had decades of experience and was adamant that if we followed these three rules we would be ok.
1. Go slow!
From the very beginning our guide would set the walking pace and we would slow down and follow, whether we were brimming full of energy or it was a particularly easy stretch.
2. Drink five litres of water everyday!
This was a challenge and as I touched on in a previous tip we used cordial/squash/crush/tang to help us. We would try to have a big canister of hot tea at breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as the warm water was absorbed faster.
Make sure you bring your own tea bags up the mountain and simply order hot water, this is a much cheaper option as the tea itself was very expensive.
The higher the altitude the less interest you have in eating and drinking, this is when you need to encourage one another and make it a goal for each day,
3. Sleep with your head covered
This was very important to our guide so we slept with beanies/tuque/knitted cap every night. Even in summer the temperature drops at night and the common room of the tea house is the only heated room.
Most trekking companies will also take your vitals daily and monitor you. Listen to the Nepali guides, they have generations of wisdom and knowledge, if they say you need to go down the mountain for the night I would listen.
Fortunately my dad and I had no dizzy spells or experienced any altitude sickness symptoms but we could hear people vomiting at night in the tea houses and tried to help a few people who were stumbling and dizzy on the path and urged them to go back down for a while. It can be fatal, don’t risk it.
Make sure your water canister is full when you head out and big 2.5litre bottles are available from the tiny shops you pass on your way up. This is heavy in your day pack but essential and of course the faster you drink the lighter it will become.
7. BABY WIPE SHOWERS?
Not only were there very few shower facilities but it was absolutely freezing that taking off your clothes for what you hope will be slightly warm water is a tough choice.
There was only one teahouse we stayed in that had a shower.
For two weeks we didn’t shower and simply used baby wipes everyday to keep as clean as possible.
Everyone is in the same boat and the teahouses burn yak dung to heat the common room which gives off a curious smell…. in the end you don’t notice the smell of yourself or anyone around you.
8. BRING BOOKS AND CARDS
As there is limited electricity down in the capital, it would be no surprise that there is very little electricity up on the mountain.
I read six books during the trek as there is little else to do other than talk, play cards and read. Being a book lover, I was pretty happy to curl up in my sleeping bag and read for hours.
Have at least two books on you and you can swap them with other trekkers.
Namche Bazaar also sold some books though the choices were predominantly Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into thin air’ and ‘Into the wild’ and Heinrich Harrer’s ‘Seven Year’s in Tibet’. I read all three books, they are all great!
9. HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD I BRING?
Nepal’s currency is called Rupees and easily exchanged in the major cities. There are ATM’s in Kathmandu and Pokhara you can withdraw from (using International VISA or Mastercard) to receive your rupees.
I would suggest bringing cash in USD, GPB, EURO, or YEN denominations and exchanging them once you arrive in Kathmandu City.
For the EBC trek there are only one or two ATM’s once you get to Namche Bazaar and hopefully they are working and have a stock of money.
Be sure to fly to Lukla with cash, I would take $400 – $500 USD equivalent up the mountain with you as the meals along the trek are much more expensive than you would expect.
The meal prices in Kathmandu are cheap compared to those on the trek but when everything is carried up on the back of animal or people I can understand why it is so expensive.
10. IS THERE WIFI AVAILABLE?
There was WIFI available in Kathmandu as well as Lukla and Namche Bazaar, though it is just one cafe in each mountain town that offers WIFI at a steep price.
Keep your eye out for a sign advertising this luxury, when I was there it was a fake ‘Starbucks’ in Lukla and Everest Bakery in Namche Bazaar.
11. WHAT IS THE FOOD LIKE ON THE TREK?
This surprised me the most!
The food was American style fatty foods such as frozen pizza and pasta as well as chow mien or a ramen noodle soup. I was really hoping for some authentic Nepali food along the trek but it was really hard to find.
I wouldn’t eat the meat on the trek unless you were sure it was cooked properly, the electricity is patchy and I don’t image it is kept in a proper freezer as it was transported by animals or when it is stored.
12. IS A GUIDE ESSENTIAL?
In short, yes, absolutely. Unless you are a well experienced mountaineer who has trekked in the Himalayas before I would say don’t even think about trekking solo!
The trek itself wasn’t overly strenuous in terms of dangerous terrain but in the mountains you are at the mercy of the ever changing weather.
One day we were walking beneath crisp blue skies and all of a sudden we were scrambling into our wet weather gear as a huge cloud began to engulf us and the track completely before we descended beneath it to be rained upon.
After walking for seven hours you will want to just follow your patient guide to your teahouse and have them organise your dinner with the local cooks.
I chose to do a private tour, just my dad, our guide, our porter and myself as my Dad had recently been sick and we wanted to do it at our own pace and not with a group.
Most groups we passed seem to be having a great time and for those travelling alone, sharing such an extreme experience can earn life long friendships with those you meet.
Most importantly, our guide took our blood pressure everyday and monitored us closely which certainly gave me peace of mind. I felt well looked after by Private Expeditions.
There was a trekker who went missing while we were three quarters of the way to base camp, he was trekking alone and went out for his acclimatisation day.
Unfortunately did not return to the tea house that night where his belongings were and the tea house had to put out an emergency call.
There were posters on the trees as we continued our trek and met with Nepali search parties who were looking for him. Sadly, I never found out whether he was found or survived.
I am not saying this is what happens when you don’t have a guide, but when it’s just yourself amongst the mountains you can be at the mercy of many things beyond your knowledge and awareness.
Our guide was an incredible source of knowledge and we learnt so much from him about his Nepali Mountain life. We trekked in 2014 and were on our way to Base Camp when the 16 Sherpas were killed by the serac on the Khumbu Glacier, it was also the year they decided to shutdown the Summit expeditions.
We were kept up to date with the local information by our guide and he managed to get us on the plane down from Lukla when our flight was basically cancelled!
You can fly to Lukla and hire a guide if you do not want to organise it prior.
13. WHAT IS THE ACCOMMODATION LIKE?
From Lukla to Gorak Shep (the town before EBC) trekkers stay in guest houses or tea houses which resemble a school camp set up. They are usually a wooden building with a common room where guests eat meals, socialise and relax in.
A dark corridor usually leads off to small cabin bedrooms and communal washrooms on either end of the structure, occasionally you will have an en-suite.
The tea houses are kept clean and tidy, the common room is usually heated by burning yak dung, which gives off an indescribable smell.
The cabin bedrooms are not heated but they often have some heavy blankets to pull over your sleeping bag.
Alcohol is rarely available and tea is served in big thermos canisters, you pre-order your dinner and breakfast for the next morning.
14. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TREK?
The most popular trekking months are March to May and October to November.
I went in April and this was when most of the trekkers seeking to summit Everest are heading up for their acclimatisation at Base Camp before beginning their accent.
We were lucky with weather and had sunshine for majority of the trip, it rained on the very last day as we came back into Lukla.
The early mornings are crisp and we began most days around 6am, we would take off several layers of clothing by lunch and begin to put the back on as we neared dinner.
Once the sun was down the temperature dropped and you would find me reading my book in my sleeping bag with gloves, a beanie and multiple layers!
Depending on which time period suits you to trek, speak with your tour company as they will be able to give you the best and most recent advice.
15. WHERE DO I BUY GEAR?
Of course many travellers are completely ready for their trek when they arrive in Kathmandu but I wish I had known prior to arriving the array of hiking clothes and equipment that was available in Kathmandu.
They have everything you can think of, incredible quality and a fraction of the price when the embroidered logo of a big brand is missing.
I would have saved a fortune waiting until I got there to buy hiking pants, water proof gear, sports wear, bluffs and the like.
I also was travelling prior so was unable to bring a sleeping bag from home, I was able to hire a sleeping bag from one of these shops for two week for just $30.
16. HOW DO I CHARGE MY CAMERA BATTERY?
While we are on the subject on electronics, or lack of, you can pay most tea houses to charge your camera batteries, this of course is expensive but unavoidable.
If you’re an avid photographer like me and take a ridiculous amount of photos I would strongly suggest travelling with a second or third camera battery.
You can also buy solar power banks as well in Kathmandu to hang off your pack.
17. DO I NEED TREKKING POLES?
Personally I didn’t use them as they get in the way of my photo taking! I would say 90% of people I passed on the trail used them.
Our guide organised them once we landed in Lukla, I am sure your guide or the company will be able to recommend where to get them, I am not sure if they are allowed on the little plane to Lukla.
18. WHAT LOCAL CUSTOMS SHOULD I BE AWARE OF?
Nepal is predominantly a Buddhist country, the main custom trekkers need to be aware of is keeping all stupas, mani walls (inscribed rocks) and prayer wheels on your right-hand side.
Like India, it is best to take food in your left hand, though they are forgiving of tourists and cows are also sacred like India.
The Nepali are also incredibly modest, public displays of affection are frowned upon and physical contact between men and women that are not your family members is offensive.
19. DO I NEED TO TRAIN PRIOR?
Everyone recommends to and I would too though I was on the road for months prior to getting to Nepal so my training and preparation was non existent, though I had youth on my side.
The track itself wasn’t as strenuous as I thought, it follows the valleys leading up to base camp, sometimes you were going up, sometimes down and across suspension bridges.
They are simply long days of putting one foot in front of the other for up to ten hours and it is no small feat.
Doing lots of hikes prior, breaking in your hiking boots and being fit will certainly make it much easier. The true test is stamina and the altitude.
20. DON’T GO WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE!
I know, I know…. You buy it every trip and never have to make a claim!
I have the same thoughts but the Himalayas are a volatile place and the cost of evacuation from the mountain when something goes wrong is astronomic!
One man in a little town we were staying at was incredibly sick with altitude sickness and needed to go to hospital as he deteriorating rapidly.
The 15 minute helicopter down the mountain cost him $9000 and he had NO insurance!
Be sure your policy covers you to altitudes up to 6000 metres, it is usually under the extreme sport add ons.
If you are ever going to skimp on travel insurance perhaps don’t do it in Nepal.
21. KID FRIENDLY
Between Lukla and Namche Bazaar there are many little villages you walk through home to shy locals and their boisterous kids. The kids love to come up to say hello or happily wave back to you.
I had some candy in my pocket and some little notebook and crayons to give them as we walked. Their smiles were worth the effort of carrying them!
22. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SHERPA AND A GUIDE?
Most people think Sherpa is another term for a guide or porter but they are, in fact, an ethnic community who live on the mountain at high altitudes, with about 155 thousand individuals.
Biologists have even studied Sherpas genealogy and found they produce fewer red blood cells at high altitude.
Many Sherpa’s lead expeditions but not all are involved in this business and due to their incredible mountain knowledge and physique they are highly sought after for summit expeditions.
Guides offer the same guided service but simply do not originate from the Sherpa tribe.
INTERESTED IN BUYING PRINTS?
I have been on the road for ten years accumulating an absurd number of images that I would love to share.
Head over to my photography site, IndiaParishPhotography.com to browse prints from across the globe.