There are pretty much 3 ways you can take on the Everest Base Camp trek;
- Option 1: In an organised group where everything is included, you follow a guide and a porter carries your bag;
- Option 2: Hire your own guide and porter to accompany you; or
- Option 3: Just wing it and carry everything yourself (by far the cheapest option).
Can you guess which one we went for?
Yep, option 3. We really don’t like making our lives easy.
So here we are in Lukla, having just disembarked from a very scary flight to one of the most dangerous runways in the world, the starting point of our much anticipated trek, unfortunately with an arrival time 5 hours later than expected, for no real reason. We had to make a decision between staying the night in Lukla or pushing through quickly to reach the town of Phakding before nightfall. Keen to get walking we opted to head onward to Phakding. Our Everest Base Camp Trek had begun!
Day 1: Lukla to Phakding
Height gain: Net loss of 200m
Weather: Cloudy, dry, cool 3-4 degrees Celsius
Time: 2 hours 15 mins
Terrain: Generally downhill, easy path with donkeys everywhere
Start height: 2840m
End height: 2610m
We felt fresh as we walked the path up and down through a number of small villages, heading toward us were a number of tired walkers with beards a plenty. It was a scary sight to see as in about 3 weeks time that would probably be us.
We passed by prayer wheels and crossed over bridges, all of this was exciting although they would be the first of many experienced. At one point I was adopted by a young school boy who couldn’t have been older than 6, he grabbed my hand and made me walk with him while he sang his way home along the path, really cute.
We reached Phakding in good time and decided upon the Buddha Lodge as our accommodation for the night – they offered us free lodgings provided we ate dinner and breakfast there. The policy in the mountains is very strict that you eat where you sleep as it is the food that makes the lodges their money.
Our room was basic and we soon came to learn pretty standard for the mountains: ply-wood walls, a thin single glazed window and two single beds.
Dinner was an easy decision, the most popular dish in the mountains is Dahl Bhat and this was to be our dinner almost everyday as it offered the best value for money – refills were free and it provides all of the nutrition you need. It is made up of 4 components;
- vegetable curry;
- garlicky lentil soup; and
- a poppadom.
With a good nights sleep in us tomorrow would be our first full day of walking and we couldn’t wait.
Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Net height gain: 830m
Weather: Sunny morning, clouded over by the afternoon
Time: 7 hours
Terrain: Okay to start but a very step climb for the second half of the walk.
Start height: 2610m
End height: 3440m
This was going to be a big day, we were aiming to walk to Namche Bazaar, the provincial capital. On paper the walk didn’t look too bad but this was the first time we would understand what people mean when they say the altitude is toughest part.
Getting enough water into you during the trek is really tough, from our research we knew that as we got higher up the mountain we would need to be drinking at least 5 litres of water a day each. Not an easy task as when there is running water it is not fit for drinking without treatment. We took two different approaches to our water plan, using our trusty Life-straw bottles which contain a 2-stage filter and using iodine tablets in our regular bottles. On the first fill up of the bottles we where glad we had a plan in place as a not so small critter was living in the water, God knows what else was in there that we couldn’t see.
The first half of the day was an okay trail, the path was good and there was a good mix of up and down to keep us entertained. We did get held up at parts due to a few large groups walking too slowly for our London bred sense of urgency, we managed to pass by quickly enough and made really good time to the town of Jorsalle. From here the only way is up….baby!
For me this next part was one in a collection of about 3 of the toughest moments on my Everest Base Camp Trek. The altitude was rendering me almost useless, I would take 3 steps forward and have to stop for a minute to catch my breath. I felt awful and really frustrated that I was finding it so hard, I kept thinking “this is only day 2, how am I going to make it?” Andy wasn’t struggling in the same way I was, which was great for him but didn’t help my current battle. After a number of hours and a check point or two we arrived at Namche Bazaar, very tired.
The world is a cruel place because as you may notice from the above photograph, the town is built on a very steep mountain side and it would be several more steps before we would be able to call it a day. It took us some time to choose a lodge for the night but eventually we settled on one, little did we know it was probably the coldest lodge in the town.
Day 3: Namchee Acclimatisation Day
Net height gain: 0m
Height gain: 450m
Weather: Glorious morning, clouded over by the afternoon
Time: 4 hours
Terrain: Steps and then steep paths
Start height: 3440m
End height: 3440m
When you are at altitude the biggest threat to your health is altitude sickness. It can be quite serious but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk. Once over 3000m you should not ascend more than 500m in a day and it is good to take so called “rest” or as I prefer “acclimatisation” days. On these days you make sure you do your height gain in the day but then go back low to sleep. Every few days it is recommended that you build these days into your itinerary. From my experience these are anything but restful!
We awoke early and started our rest day by climbing to the National Park which sits above the town. The walk up was slow, I forgot that the altitude was again going to make walking way more of a challenge than it needed to be. The trek up the hill was worth it, the views were spectacular and there was a museum all about the region and the Everest attempts.
After this we walked on up a big steep slope to look at the view of Everest from a coffee shop on the top of another hill and the Everest View Hotel, the highest hotel in the world.
After we made it back to Namche it was time to grab a hot pot of tea and some of the best chocolate cake I had ever eaten whilst we tried to plan the rest of our trek.
Day 4: Namche to Tengboche
Net height gain: 420m
Weather: Very clear morning with clouds by the afternoon
Time: 6 hours
Terrain: All the way down and then all the way up again
Start height: 3440m
End height: 3860m
We learnt from day 2 and didn’t want to get stuck behind groups again so we decided to set off early to Tengboche. There was a theme emerging whereby the first half of a days walk is lovely and second half is a killer… today was no exception.
We started off walking with a couple of Alaskans who were on their way to Gokyo, an very popular alternative to the Everest Base Camp trek but in the same region, it is meant to be really beautiful and up until today the route follows that of ours. Once the path split out we noticed the trail was a lot quieter. The trail went very steeply downhill which always bothers me as I know that what goes down must come back up again! We stopped at the lowest point for a spot of lunch in a really picturesque valley.
The afternoon’s walk was about 3 hours of very steep uphill, the sun had really heated up by now and we knew about it. Unlike our arrival in Namche two days before, this time we had done a bit of research on lodges and picked the warmest lodge we stayed in for the whole trip thanks to the roaring fire. The food was good and we got talking to a lot of people which was really nice.
Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche
Net height gain: 550m
Weather: Very clear morning with windy in afternoon
Time: 6 hours
Terrain: downhill start but mostly uphill
Start height: 3860m
End height: 4410m
We awoke to a freezing cold room, the curtains had frozen onto the window from the inside. The views from the town were beautiful and there was a monastery there which we had a quick look around before we set off for the day. About an hour into the walk we realised that Andy had dropped the camera case somewhere, so back he went to find it. Camera case found we carried on our way.
The halfway point was marked by a beautiful bridge which crossed over a river, we stopped for lunch and took longer than we should just enjoying the stunning surrounds. We made it to Dingboche in good time and found a lodge with a French bakery attached, we settled in for a slice of cake whilst watching a documentary on helicopter rescue in the region; scary stuff.
We decided to treat ourselves to a hot water bowl wash that evening, the showers in the lodges aren’t great and it costs between £5 to £10 for a hot-ish shower so the wet wipes had been getting us through so far. We planned to wash ourselves quickly and then rinse through a few of our clothes, this was very cold but all went well enough and we hung everything up to dry overnight.
Day 6: Dingboche Acclimatisation
Net height gain: 0m
Height gain: 700m (stupid!)
Weather: Cloudy an breezy
Time: 5 hours
Terrain: all up hill
Start height: 4410m
End height: 4410m
Time for another one of those acclimatisation days… We woke up to check on the status of our washing, it was not good in fact it was all completely frozen stiff!! Lesson learnt. We put it outside to hopefully thaw out.
Today we needed to get in some moderate height gain, from speaking to others at the lodge and reading our trusty guide book the thing to do was to walk up the hill which overlooks Dingboche. People had said that it was easy enough, took a few hours and offered good views. We set off up and kept going up, we had been walking for a long time but still hadn’t reached the top. I was starting to really feel the impact of altitude, my head was pounding and I was struggling to get enough air in. Stupidly I pushed through and my God it was worth it, when we finally reached the summit the views were incredible – I don’t think I have ever seen something so breathtaking, the photos don’t do the scale of the range any justice (the photo at the top of this article was from here). We enjoyed a celebratory snickers bar before it was time to head back down.
My headache wasn’t going anywhere and I was really struggling to make it down, I fell over a fair few times but eventually we made it down. That quick easy stroll up the hill turned into a 5 hour walk, turns out everyone usually just stops at the first view point which is about a third of the way up, only idiots like us go all the way to the top and exceed the 500m height gain rule, another lesson learnt the hard way. Speaking of lessons, by the time we got back, our clothes had finally dried so things were looking up.
Day 7: Dingboche to Leboche
Net height gain: 500m
Weather: Glorious sunny day but breezy
Time: 5 hours 30 mins
Terrain: Gradual incline on dusty paths, steep section after lunch
Start height: 4410m
End height: 4910m
Every day we were getting closer, we were really starting to feel the tiredness and even with our wet wipes and attempted bowl wash we were really starting to smell. But this was the final push, no more acclimatisation days required, tomorrow, if all was well we would be at Everest Base Camp, yesterday it had seemed so far away but today it seemed so close.
We set off and the weather was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky, the route took us over gentle rolling hills with amazing views behind us the whole way, we crossed a river and then enjoyed lunch before the only section of height gain for the day. This part was hard and steep, lots of people were struggling their way up, just putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually we reached the top and the highlight of the day, the memorials to all those who have lost their lives in the region, either as a result of earthquake or failed Everest attempts. I wasn’t expecting the scale of the site, it was really nicely done.
We managed to drag ourselves away and continue on the path, we ended up bumping into two of our friends who we had met on the dive boat in Komodo – they were a few days ahead of us and were on their way back from base camp, it was a short but sweet crossing of paths. When we arrived in Lobuche we were in great spirits, maybe killing ourselves the day before had actually made today easier.
It was now time to reward our days efforts with a visit the highest bakery in the world, the carrot cake was amazing!
Day 8: Lobuche to Everest Base Camp
Net height gain: 230m
Height gain: 454m
Weather: Beautiful hot day but cold in the morning
Time: 3 hours to Gorak Shep and 4 hour EBC and back
Terrain: Gradual climbs up and down over rocky paths
Start height: 4910m
End height: 5140m (Gorek Shep) (5364mm Everest Base Camp)
Today’s the day!!! we awoke really early, we wanted to get on with the day and enjoy our time at base camp without having to rush. Andy drew the plan for the day on the frosted window. Another British couple and us were the only people that keen for the day.
Our first stop of the day was the Pyramid Research Laboratory, it studies the impacts of altitude on the human body among other things. It was only a small detour out of our day and we had time. There wasn’t really anything to see but the building was really cool and despite being made entirely of glass, had survived the earthquake of 2015.
After this the walk to the next and final village before base camp, Gorek Shep, was gradual. The path surface was odd as it was so dry and rocky. We arrived at Gorek Shep and found a lodge for lunch and to leave our bags before we would make our final walk to base camp itself.
Gorek Shep is based around the outside of a dried up lake, there is no running water at all in the area and it a bit of a grim place to be. Most of the sherpas we had spoken to on our journey so far had admitted how much they hated being there. The air is so thin that very few people manage to sleep there, but fortunately we had no problems.
The path to base camp was the same as before, the uphill sections were tough but we took it slow and didn’t have any problems. Finally we made it! Everest Base Camp = Check.
We had heard that it is a bit underwhelming and I have to agree – the place itself doesn’t offer the views we had been spoilt with so far nor is there anything to do other than enjoy another celebratory Snickers and take a few photos before giving ourselves a massive pat on the back for making it.
For the walk back we were fuelled by the natural high so it was a few games of cards and some chatting with people over dinner before we called it a night. The fun was a long way from over!
Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Pathar to Dingboche
Net height gain: -730m
Weather: Beautiful clear day with a gentle breeze
Time: 2 hours 30 mins summit and return of KP and 5 hour 30 mins to Dingboche
Terrain: a bit scrambly to KP and rocky path for the rest
Start height: 5140m
End height: 4410m
The views from Everest Base Camp are not great, you can’t even see Everest from there so the Kala Patthar mountain which overlooks Gorek Shep is a popular summit to make before you start your return journey. It’s popularity is driven by the fact that although its summit sits at 5,600m it can be reached by hiking and scrambling without any climbing and it is the closest view you can get of Everest. We went later than the 5am start that the groups all had, so had the whole summit to ourselves when we made it and were spoilt with beautiful blue skies yet again. We were running a bit behind time today as our breakfast had been slow so we decided to run down the mountain, it was great fun and significantly easier than the slow trudge up had been.
After making it back to Gorak Shep, we packed up and hit the road as we had along way to go today. It was all just back down the way we had come up, so we knew the paths and views we had in store. Towards the end of the day our spirits were high but we were definitely starting to feel the physical impact the last few days had had on our bodies and brains.
I was walking along a path which had fallen away so had to relocate to a lower path, I thought jumping would be smart, I was wrong. I fell and landed on my walking pole snapping it clean in two, all I could do was laugh. We eventually made it back to Dingboche and were so happy to relax into a nice pot of tea and a plate of Dahl Bhat.
That was it for the Everest Base camp portion of the trek – the groups just doing that all head straight back to Lukla over the next couple of days but not us. The next morning we would be off to begin our next adventure, Island Peak.