January 16, 2019
Telling people you’ve hiked to Everest Base Camp (EBC) in Nepal can be… interesting. Many people will think you’re the coolest outdoor adventurer they know. Some, despite your heavy emphasis on* base camp*, will even think that you’ve climbed Everest – the entire mountain. Edmund-Hillary style.
Regardless, saying you’ve stood at the foot of the world’s largest peak will never get old. I’ve done this trek as part of a small group tour, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the top trips I’ve done. And while it’s an experience you can’t fully understand until you’ve done it, there are a few things you should know before you go.
What to expect
Hiking to Everest Base Camp is unlike anything else. You’ll be (comfortably) pushed to your physical limits and humbled by absolutely monstrous mountain peaks. It’s a trip where every moment has the power to surprise you, whether it’s finding a mountainside temple or stumbling upon a brigade of yaks.
Technical climbing experience not required
It’s a physically-challenging trek, not a technical one. You won’t need to wield an ice axe or wear crampons, but you will need to be sure-footed, especially in the final (sometimes icy) kilometres. Most of your days will be spent climbing forested inclines or meandering along mountain passes – and crossing some pretty impressive suspension bridges. It sounds easy, but the higher altitude makes it more challenging than the terrain you’re used to at home.
Tea houses and trekking lodges
I had certain notions about sleeping conditions before I made my way to Nepal, none of which included the cozy movie nights I would share with my trekking crew. The entire length of the trek to Everest Base Camp is inhabited to a certain degree, so you can sleep in tea houses or trekking lodges along the way. These are complete with beds (some tea houses provide the mattress and you bring your own sleeping bag, while others provide a full sleeping set-up) and, true to name, serve some of the best tea I’ve ever had.
A different vantage point
Once you arrive, it’s less about viewing the mountain and more about experiencing it – feeling a sense of accomplishment and community – which is good because you won’t have a decent view of the peak from base camp anyway. Don’t worry though. There are plenty of opportunities to see Everest in all its snow-sheathed glory at other points throughout the trek.
Strength in numbers
Some people will hike to Everest Base Camp alone or in pairs, but going with a small tour group is a great option. You’ll have guides who set an optimum pace for high-altitude trekking, and fellow travellers to connect with while you sip Masala tea in the evening.
Preparing for takeoff
Flying to the trek’s starting point in Lukla is epic – snag a seat on the left side of the plane to get the best views – but it can also be unpredictable. Flights are often cancelled due to weather, so make sure you have a few days to spare in Kathmandu. You don’t want to risk missing your flight back home!
Tips and field notes:
- Spring and fall are great times to trek. If you happen to plan your trip around climbing season (late April/early May), you’ll see a bustling tent city when you arrive at base camp.
- Most tea houses will have extra blankets on hand for super-cold nights, and some have heated blankets or hot water bottles.
- You’ll see a lot of vegetarian options served at meals. It’s recommended you don’t eat meat while hiking to EBC since it has to travel for days by yak from lower altitudes (so it may not be at its freshest).
- Prices rise with the altitude, so buy snacks and other supplies sooner rather than later.
- Bring a book, journal or pack of cards. You’ll have a lot of downtime during the evenings and acclimatization days.
- Keep your gear (and electronics!) in your sleeping bag overnight to ensure everything’s warm for the next day.
How to prepare for Everest base camp
The effort you put into training before you arrive is worth it – trust me.
No train, no gain
For at least three to four months prior, you should spend a considerable amount of time on a stairmaster or treadmill with a significant incline. The EBC trek is about mental perseverance just as much as it is about physical endurance though – it can be hard to adjust to the high altitude, so make sure your body and mind are prepared.
It’s recommended that first-time trekkers who have no experience at high altitude take Diamox to help with the symptoms (which can vary from slight headaches to more severe dizziness and nausea). Always remember to consult your doctor first to see what they suggest for you. And since it’s a diuretic, be prepared for additional bathroom trips, which can be quite rugged in the mountains.
Packing tips for Everest base camp
For all the packing details, check out the official packing list from your tour operator. Here are a few of the most helpful pieces of gear I had along:
On most small group tours, porters will take care of your sleeping bag and pad, but you’ll need to carry everything else that you need to access during the day, like snacks and additional layers, in a 20–35L daypack.
Merino base layers are great for keeping warm and wicking away sweat, and a down puffy jacket (plus a waterproof-breathable shell) will be necessary to protect you from the elements. Mountain weather is notoriously temperamental – it’s not uncommon to experience all four seasons in one day.
If treated water isn’t provided by your group tour, then you’ll need a water-filtration system. Tablets are definitely easiest as they can be put right into your water bladder or Nalgene. You can find tablets in Kathmandu, but it’s best if you stock up before leaving home.
A few types of footwear
Solid hiking boots are the most obvious packing choice – make sure they’re sturdy, well-broken in and you’ve worn them lots before. You should walk around in them for at least a month before your trip.
Flip flops or lightweight sandals might not seem like the most sensible thing to pack for a mountain trekking trip, but the weather can be quite warm when you’re stationed at Lukla, and you’ll be happy to have them on hand.
Hut booties. Bring them. Trust me.