Everest Base Camp - Gokyo - March/April or December ?
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Feb 17, 2013 11:40 PM Last Post By: wibbledonkey
Feb 14, 2013 4:39 AM
Everest Base Camp - Gokyo - March/April or December ?Hi
Trying to decide which would be the better option between trekking to Everest Base Camp in the Spring (March / April) or December.
We had initially picked December but advice we've been given recently regarding the sheer depth of the overnight temperatures in the tea houses (-20 & -27) have caused us to look again at our options.
We'd chosen December as it seemed to offer the best compromise between weather and the trails not being overcrowded but is this at a cost of having a hugely miserable experience during the evenings?
Spring offers better weather but i've read that you normally have heavy cloud every afternoon and rain reducing visibility with some trekkers never actually getting decent views at all.
If we were to go in December we are quite prepared to be equipped for something just short of a polar expedition and take sleeping bags that could handle the extreme cold along with down jackets etc. If its worth braving the cold for views and empty trails then we are happy to do this but would Spring overall be a better option?
I'd really value any input on this as its our first trek in Nepal and would like something that is challenging whilst not being absolutely horrific.
Feb 14, 2013 5:38 AM
1We trekked up to the base camp a couple of years ago in late December. The temperatures are low, yes, but nothing that cannot be handled. The lodges along the way provide blankets, which you can throw on top of your sleeping bags. We used down sleeping bags with an additional thermal liner and also slept with our thermals on and a wool/fleece beanie to keep the head warm. We spent about 16 days on the trek and had clear skies every day. The only problem we saw in the mornings was that the water they gave us for washing had to be used up within a few minutes otherwise it would freeze. They had to keep on adding hot water to the bucket every few minutes.
Feb 14, 2013 5:48 AM
Feb 14, 2013 9:22 AM
I trekked EBC at the end of March, beginning of April last year; there was afternoon cloud on some days but the mornings were clear. There were a couple of overnight snowfalls ]; at Pheriche but it didn't stay on the ground for long and a heavier fall at Namche but we soon trekked out of it on the way down. Trekking days are often short because of altitude gains so by the time any clouds built up we were drinking tea at a lodge and watching them develop is atmospheric and good photo opportunities. There was no trouble finding rooms though a couple of the lodges did fill up.
I wouldn't let the weather or crowds put you off a spring trip though I would try for as early as possible for slightly better weather and fewer trekkers. However, I would choose a December trek anyway and certainly if the other option is a late March start. The cold can be dealt (the temps you give seem to be night time lows); the lodges heat the dining rooms usually. There are likely to be fewer lodges open and they should be busy enough for the dining room stove to be lit but it's worth checking. The weather should be settled with crystal clear views because of the low humidity though snow is possible. I have trekked in December but not EBC but others will be along with their experience.
The trails were quite busy but not a problem apart from occasionally getting delayed briefly by organised groups .
Feb 14, 2013 12:25 PM
4Something else to consider - if you're intending to do some of the passes between the main trails (with a guide usually), then the cold weather is beneficial - harder snow, less crevasses.
I've had perfect weather in Dec to Island peak. Just had to keep the camera and water bottle warm (including overnight, in the foot of the sleeping bag).
Feb 15, 2013 12:41 AM
5Re trekking in Dec: this is very doable - I even prefer trekking at that time of year, as the trails are far quieter, the weather is generally at its clearest (so you get some absolutely fantastic views), prices for hotels in Ktm are much better, domestic flights are easier to get etc. I would not trek on any of the main routes in say October, because of the crowds.
I have done the full 3 high passes trek in Jan 2010 and again in Dec 2010 - Jan 2011, Langtang - Gosainkunda - Helambu in Jan 2011, and the full Annapurna Circuit, including some side trips, in Dec 2012 (we walked all the way - we did not use any vehicles once we were trekking).
Re temperatures: during the day the sun is generally very strong, and so it is surprisingly warm most of the time. We had about 5 days of cloud, and some snow, over the 4 treks (combined) when it was cold, but otherwise we were fine.
At night inside the lodges they generally keep a stove type fire going in the dining area until at least 8pm, sometimes after 10pm, if enough people are up and spending money. The bedrooms are not heated, but the enclosure (walls and roof) traps heat from sleepers, and I always choose a room that gets maximum exposure to the sun during the day - some heat gets released from the stone walls at night.
Temps inside the bedrooms at night are highly unlikely to go as low as in the OP. The only precise temps for inside the bedrooms that I am aware of is minus 4C at ABC in late Nov 2005, and minus 5C at Tagnag on 1 Jan 2011. Both figures were provided by other trekkers who had thermometers - they sound about right to me. Outside temps will probably be as low as minus 20C to minus 30C high up. With the right gear and preparation I have never had a bad nights sleep in the winter, even when high up.
I did put up quite a long post about mid winter trekking about a year ago, but thanks to all the issues on the TT, it and most of the archive is currently unavailable. If ever the TT gets back to normal, I will re-issue and update my post and add some links to photos to show the sort of weather I have had. No point in me updating at the moment if posts become inaccessible after just a few months.
Feb 15, 2013 5:21 AM
6Thanks for the replies, all really helpful.
I'm convinced now that we are making the right decision by going in December. I can't think of anything worse than being on the trails when its overcrowded. It would completely spoil the experience for me.
I think we need to prepare for the worst regarding the temperatures and make sure our equipment is up to the job. Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised.
RDCCOMMENTS, I read your long post regarding mid-winter trekking, it was really helpful and actually one of the reasons we started looking at December as you addressed a lot of our concerns. Such a pity its no longer available as I thought it was very helpful and I really would like to read it again to have it as a reference.
Feb 16, 2013 4:22 AM
7Re post 6: I can't access any of the archive, and I assume others can't, so below is my original post about mid winter trekking, slightly tweaked. If ever the LPTT gets back to normal, I'll comprehensively update and re-post the item, and add links to photos to show the sorts of weather we had. There was some feed back and further discussion following the original post, and I want to go through that before properly updating and re-posting.
Mid-winter trekking in Nepal (updated Feb 2013).
Firstly a very brief introduction: many, indeed most, trekkers and many guides do not seem to be aware that it is quite possible to go trekking in Nepal in mid-winter, ie in December and January, even to altitudes of well over 5,000m. Most trekkers seem to be aware of the benefits, some of which I think are immense, of trekking at that time of year. This post is an attempt to try and “remedy” this.
Just to be clear, for trekking in mid-winter it is not necessary to have any specialist skills, though trekkers do need to have the appropriate kit. The main benefits of mid-winter trekking are that the trails, in my experience, are very quiet and the weather is generally very clear which gives some fantastic views, especially when high up.
When questions about mid-winter trekking are posted up on the LPTT forum, many of the responses, including many from Nepalis, advise people against trekking at that time of year. Though no doubt well intended, much of this advice seems to be from people who have little or no actual experience of trekking in mid-winter, and so they effectively repeat what they have heard from others. I believe that this helps perpetuate some of the myths about the supposed difficulties of mid-winter trekking.
Most of what follows is based on my experience of mid-winter trekking, which briefly is:
The 3 high passes trek in the Everest region in January 2010, flying into and out from Lukla.
The 3 high passes trek again, in December 2010 and January 2011, this time walking in from Jiri, and flying out from Lukla.
Langtang - Gosainkunda - Helambu in January 2011.
The full Annapurna Circuit trek, including a number of side trips, in December 2012.
I have also trekked Gokyo, Cho La and EBC in mid to late November 2005. Brief details of my other trekking experience in Nepal can be found under my LPTT profile. I am now 50, keep myself reasonably fit, I carry my own backpack (15-17 kilos) and live in southern part of the UK, where we do not usually get severe winters. I trek with my guide (or his brother), whom I engage directly, and with whom I get on very well - I have stayed in their completely non touristy village 3 times so far.
The weather in mid-winter.
It seems that the main reason that people do not seriously consider trekking in mid-winter is concerns about snow, strong winds and low temperatures.
Snow: all the statistics which I have been able to find, some of which are from the Italian weather station near to Lobuche (the others do not list the source of the statistics), show very little precipitation in Nepal in the winter months, and virtually none in December and January. This is not that surprising, as the main precipitation is during the monsoon, which is in the summer months (Nepal is in the northern hemisphere).
My own experience bears this out, as in my mid-winter treks, most of the time we had amazingly clear weather, with almost cloudless, pure blue skies and very little haze, especially higher up. I actually think that the clearest weather, for trekkers, may in fact be in mid-winter, though I am not certain about this. There were only five days, over my four mid-winter treks, when we had significant cloud and snow, and most of the time we took rest days.
Usually there will be noticeable changes in the weather which will indicate the likelihood of snow. I would advise people to pay particular attention to major changes in the strength and direction of the wind, as it could be bringing in cloud, and to keep an eye generally on any cloud build up. Most experienced trekkers will do this whenever they are trekking.
One other indicator of possible snow is the local livestock. When we crossed Cho La, a high pass, for my third time, on 31 December 2010, we encountered unusually strong winds at the top of the pass. When we got to the lodge at Tagnag, after crossing the pass, the 12 or so yaks belonging to the lodge owner were clustering very near to the lodge. The lodge owner explained that when the yaks did this, it was usually a sign that there would be significant snowfall. Sure enough, that night and for much of the next day it snowed. Towards the end of the day, the yaks wandered away from the lodge, and that night it stopped snowing. The next day we crossed the Ngozumpa glacier to Gokyo in clear skies, and with about 4 inches or 100mm of snow on the ground. I also got some light snow when walking up to Gosainkunda in late January 2011, but this soon stopped and the skies cleared.
Generally speaking, in the winter and at other times of the year, lower down any precipitation will most likely fall as rain, higher up it is more likely to fall as snow.
I understand from talking to some veteran trekkers that about every 10-15 years there is a very unseasonal, heavy snowfall which can block the trekking routes, though this seems to vary from region to region within Nepal. I am not sure exactly in which months this has occurred in – it would be interesting to hear others’ experiences. The only time that I have encountered heavy snow was, ironically, at “peak” season in the middle of October 2005, when very heavy snow effectively closed the Annapurna Circuit, and we had to wait 5 nights at Manang, after which we were able to carry on.
Temperatures: during the daytime, even when at well over 5,000m, in mid-winter I have generally needed to wear only 2 layers, which are usually a trekking top or tee shirt and a medium fleece. With the cloudless skies, and the strength of the sun at altitude, and as I carry my own backpack (14-17 kilos), that has sufficed, though I do keep a Goretex top and gloves easily to hand in my backpack. The only time it has felt noticeably chilly during the day is when in the shade (which is not often) or when at the top of hills or passes where the wind can get concentrated.
At night though, in fact as soon as the sun goes down, it gets very cold, especially once above say 3,000m. It is therefore absolutely essential to have a good down jacket, a four season sleeping bag and a thermal hat and gloves, as a minimum. I usually supplement my sleeping bag with a blanket from the lodge – this does not cause any problems as the lodges are very quiet in mid-winter.
I would estimate that the lowest, outside, night time temperatures at say 4,800m or above, will be in the region of minus 20C to minus 30C. Inside the lodges the staff keep the dining area warm until at least 8pm, using old fashioned, but very effective, “frontier” type cast iron stoves, fuelled mostly by dried yak dung (there are no unpleasant odours from burning the dried dung, in my experience). If there are enough people around, and especially if the trekkers are still spending money on drink and food and if the guides and porters are playing cards, then the stove may well be kept going, and I have sometimes stayed up until gone 10pm in the winter. Once the stove goes out, temperatures will drop quite quickly and people go straight to bed.
The lodge bedrooms, which are unheated, benefit from the heat released from the fabric of the building at night, especially where there are high density materials such as stone walls, and from heat from occupants being retained by the enclosure formed by the walls and roof. I always try and pick a room that gets the maximum exposure to the sun during the day, to benefit from the heat release at night. As it is usually quiet, there is usually a good choice of rooms. However people should expect rooms, especially higher up, to drop below freezing at night. The only precise temperature that I have is from a German trekker who recorded a temperature of minus 5C inside his room at Tagnag on 1 January 2011. This sounds about right.
Those who camp in mid-winter, and some do, will obviously not benefit from the stoves, heat retention and enclosure effects of the lodges, and so should be prepared for very low night time temperatures.
I always make up my bed shortly after I arrive at the lodge, ie well before nightfall. I usually tuck the lodge blanket under the mattress and then place my sleeping bag inside the bedding, ie between the blanket and the mattress. I only zip my sleeping bag up part way, to give me some movement, but in combination with the blanket, after about 10 minutes, even when it is very cold, I find that I get warm and feel amazingly snug. I always wear a thermal hat at night when trekking in mid-winter. Because any liquids will freeze at night high up, I wrap my water bottle and contact lens fluids in my down jacket, and place them right next to my head. Sufficient warmth radiates out, and this avoids the various liquids freezing. I keep any batteries inside my sleeping bags at night.
Generally I have had some of my best ever nights’ sleep high up in mid-winter. If you have the correct kit, make up your bed the right way, are well acclimatised and have had a good day’s trekking, then once you are warm you should sleep very well. When very high up, I always move a bed away from direct contact with walls or other such things, to avoid any “cold bridging”.
The lodges: for the main trekking areas, ie the Everest region, Langtang, Gosainkunda and Helambu, and Annapurna, enough lodges now stay open to enable all the usual trekking areas to be visited in mid-winter. The only exception to this that I have encountered were the lodges at Tilicho Lake base camp in mid December 2012, which we were told had closed in about mid December.
Generally there seems to be an effective system of rotation, whereby at least one lodge stays open right through the winter, whilst other lodges close and the owners move down. In my experience this avoids wasteful competition, but ensures sufficient provision is made for those who want to trek in mid-winter. Generally I have found the lodges to be well provisioned, though some tend to have the “B” team running them, as some of the main staff also head to other areas. I do not know what, if any, lodges are open in mid-winter in areas such as Manaslu and Kanchenjunga, and anyone looking at trekking in mid-winter in those areas should check this carefully.
I have not had any stomach problems when trekking in mid-winter, but have had a few when trekking in April – May. Possibly this is due to the reduced load on the kitchens, and the much lower number of flies in the winter. The only exception, which does not really count, was when I unwisely had some local chang beer to which my stomach was definitely not adapted, though various types of raksi have been fine (the higher alcohol content may explain why the raksi was OK).
Other benefits: apart from the generally very clear weather, the main benefit for me is the lack of crowds, especially when compared with October – November, which now sounds horribly crowded, particularly the route from Lukla to EBC. This means that there is also a good choice of rooms in the lodges which are open, meals and so on are much quicker and there is less mixing up of orders.
I have found that flights into and out of Lukla in mid-winter are very easy. The time I flew into Lukla from Kathmandu we arrived at Lukla before about 7.40 am, and the two times I flew out the flights were also pretty quick. On two of my mid-winter flights I was the only tourist. Weather related flight disruption seems to be much less frequent than during peak season.
If anything quite a few of the villages were too quiet, and Namche Bazaar in early January 2010 and 2011 and Muktinah in December 2012 were all was a little like a ghost town in early January. For this reason I would strongly advise people not to trek alone in mid-winter, especially if doing the high passes or going to other less visited places, as both times I did the each of the 3 passes, my guide and I did not see a single other person from setting out for the pass until we got to the next village. So if someone was trekking solo and say broke a leg, they could well have to wait for 2 or 3 days until someone else used the pass, which could involve staying in the open at high altitude in mid-winter.
Prices: I have found that the biggest savings were on the flights to Nepal, and the hotel rooms in Kathmandu. For the latter I was able to get discounts of over 50% including taxes, as did some other tourists, as many of the hotels are very quiet. I did not really save any money in the lodges, as the prices are pretty much fixed, though I did come across one group who had had some success bargaining with lodge owners. Hiring good guides should also be much easier.
It will be interesting to see what others think, and hopefully this will encourage some to trek in mid-winter. I think that it is not much colder high up in December – January when compared with late October – November.
Feb 16, 2013 4:25 AM
Feb 17, 2013 11:40 PM
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