Climbing Mt. Everest is a serious alpine challenge that’s only for the most experienced high-altitude climbers. It takes a commitment of time and money that most people don’t have. But travelers to Nepal can still get a taste of the experience by making a trek to Everest Base Camp, the starting point for most who seek to reach the summit. The trek to Base Camp offers an up-close encounter with the planet’s highest peak while traversing the Solu Khumbu region and showcasing Sagarmatha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Don’t get us wrong: This is a serious trek of a significant distance, reaching an ultimate altitude of more than 17,000 feet. Expect to take close to two weeks (or more), including days to acclimate yourself to the higher altitude. But if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, this trek is tough to beat. The trip to the Everest base camp also immerses travelers in Sherpa culture, and highlights along the route include the massive monastery in Tengboche.
Unlike a trip to the top of Everest, a trek to the base camp doesn’t have to cost a fortune. While hiring a guide service can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000, it is possible to hike the route independently and save a ton of money. By hopscotching between trailside tea houses, it’s also possible to do the trek with minimal gear. For adventure-loving travelers, the Everest Base Camp trek is an iconic Himalayan journey filled with natural wonders and cultural treasures.
The two most common starting points for the trip to Everest Base Camp are Lukla and Jiri. The shorter and more popular route begins and ends in the city of Lukla, and it’s expected to take between 12 and 14 days. Starting the trip from Lukla—which is perched at 9,383 feet—the trek is about 80 miles round trip with more than 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Although the distance may not seem daunting, multiple rest days are required to acclimate to the altitude.
The longer version of the Everest Base Camp trek begins in the town of Jiri at the edge of the Khumbu region, and like the shorter route, it also ends in Lukla. Beginning in Jiri, trekkers start from an elevation of 6,250 feet, which adds another five to seven days to the trip. The entire route from Jiri to Everest Base Camp is approximately 115 miles.
For most trekkers, the actual visit to Everest Base Camp (which sits at 17,598 feet) is completed as a day-trip from Gorak Shep, and it takes about six hours round-trip. However, from Gorak Shep, which is situated at 16,942 feet, the more panoramic option is to hike to the 18,514-foot Kala Pattar, which offers an unrivaled view of Everest.
Although tent camping is possible, the teahouses strategically located along the way to Everest Base Camp allow trekkers to tackle the route with minimal gear. Cozy but not fancy, the teahouses offer amenities like warm meals and hot showers. However, facilities vary, with the most luxurious teahouses located in trekking hubs like Lukla, Namche Bazaar, and Pheriche. Expect the standard teahouse to cost about $10 to $20 per night for accommodation.
For a little pampering, there are some plusher lodges along the route in Lukla and Namche Bazaar, offering perks like wifi and en-suite bathrooms. Near Khumjung, the amenity-loaded Hotel Everest View even garnered a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004, distinguished as the highest hotel on earth at an altitude of 13,000 feet.
The best way to train for a trip to Everest Base Camp is to climb stairs, lots of stairs. When the stair-stepping gets tedious, add other preferred cardio workouts, like biking, running, or swimming. Plan to spend some time hiking, too. Expect to trek between three to six hours a day on the way to Everest Base Camp, and tailor training outings accordingly. Don’t forget to consider pack weight when training, and practice carrying any gear bound for the Himalayas on trial hikes at home.
Fortunately, technical climbing gear is not required for the hike to Everest Base Camp, but sturdy, waterproof boots are vital. Hikers planning to camp will need a four-season tent, able to withstand snow and temperatures that can dip to zero degrees Fahrenheit. A sleeping bag rated to zero degrees is also essential, even for trekkers planning to sleep at teahouses. Moisture-wicking clothing is ideal for base layers, but higher elevations require cold-weather gear, including heavy-weight long underwear along with both a fleece jacket and a mid-weight down coat. Along the Everest Base Camp route, weather can fluctuate, so waterproof rain gear is essential, and the frosty conditions also necessitate bringing a hat, mid-weight gloves, balaclava, and expedition-weight socks. For rest days, bring a pair of lightweight running shoes to give those weary feet a rest from the hiking boots.
Beyond clothing, other handy items include a headlamp, trekking poles, and a portable charging device. Hikers prone to sunburns may also want to consider bringing a mineral-based sunscreen for extra protection, particularly because acetazolamide, the drug commonly prescribed to prevent altitude sickness, can also increase sensitivity to the sun. And while the route to Everest Base Camp is well-traveled, a map is still handy. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Series has published maps for Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu region.
Food and Water
Trailside teahouses can take care of meals even for trekkers planning to tent camp. Expect breakfast spreads with eggs, hearty Tibetan bread, and steaming tea. For other meals, teahouses typically serve up dishes catering to travelers, like spaghetti, fried rice, and pizza, or local cuisine. That often includes a noodle soup called thukpa and dal bhat, a mixture of steamed rice and lentil soup that’s a staple throughout Nepal.
Trail snacks become more expensive as the route gets more remote, so plan to stock up at a grocery store in Kathmandu, or pick up a few things in Lukla. Buying water along the trail can get costly—and generate waste. Instead, bring two wide-mouth bottles and treat tap water with a portable water-purification system or tablets.
Dealing with Altitude
Altitude can be a challenge even for the fittest climbers, and the trip from Lukla to Everest Base Camp involves more than 8,000 feet of elevation gain. The best way to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness, better known as altitude sickness, is to go slow and allow time for acclimatization by building rest days into the trip.
When hiking at elevations above 9,000 feet, the Centers for Disease Control advises planning a rest day for every 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Between Lukla and Everest Base Camp, rest stops are typically taken in Namche Bazaar and Pheriche. Staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, and consuming enough calories are also crucial for coping with altitude. Additionally, acetazolamide (commonly called Diamox) is also widely prescribed to aid acclimatization and prevent altitude sickness.
When to Go
In the Khumbu region, the best months for trekking are typically October and November or March and April. Generally, conditions are more challenging during the summer monsoon season, from June through September. For hardy backpackers, winter treks are also possible, but icy temperatures can create hazardous conditions along the route to Everest Base Camp.
Permits and Fees
Trekkers bound for Everest Base Camp will need the Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card, and you will also need to pay for the entry permit for Sagarmatha National Park (about $35) and the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality Fee (approximately $18).
Getting to the Everest Region
For hikers beginning in Lukla, direct flights are available from Kathmandu. However, flight delays are common at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla. During peak season, a string of canceled flights can cause a logjam of travelers bound for Kathmandu. Adding a few buffer days in Lukla at the end of the trek is helpful to deal with any last-minute flight delays. For travelers beginning in Jiri, express buses are available from Ratna Park in Kathmandu, and the journey typically takes 8 to 10 hours (with bathroom breaks and a lunch stop).
Of course, if you have the money, you can hire a guide service to help you make all these arrangements. No matter how you decide to do the trip, a trek to Everest Base Camp is an incredible way to see this beautiful part of the world, meet locals and fellow international travelers, and experience the majesty of the world’s highest peak in person. When people talk about the trip of a lifetime, this is what they mean.
Written by Malee Baker Oot for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.
Featured image provided by John Strother