The Everest Base Camp trek is on many travellers’ bucket lists, and for good reason. The there-and-back route takes adventurous trekkers to the foot of Mount Everest (called Sagamartha in Nepali and Chomolungma in Tibetan), which is the highest mountain on earth.
To actually reach the summit of Mount Everest is a legendary feat, which demands huge sacrifices. At 5,600 meters, Base Camp is no joke, but it does offer a much more achievable goal for people from all walks of life, who still want a glimpse of the world’s highest peak.
In fact, the Everest Base Camp trek has become so well-known that there has been controversy in recent years about trekker “traffic jams,” littering, and potential limits on numbers of trekkers permitted per year.
Coronavirus and Everest
Despite its ultra remote location and bounty of fresh air, the Everest region was still impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, both China and Nepal closed their borders and canceled the 2020 Everest climbing season.
In November 2020, Nepal reopened borders to trekkers in a very limited capacity. While most non-citizens still cannot enter the country, trekkers can now seek prior approval and special permits via their trekking company for the spring 2021 trekking season. Stay up to date with current travel restrictions by checking your country’s travel advice.
What's it like trekking to Everest Base Camp?
Aside from breathtaking scenery, travellers to the region can experience unique local culture by visiting monasteries, connecting with local guides and teahouse owners, and admiring Buddhist stupas and mani stones along the way.
Days are filled with walking for the sheer pleasure - and determination - of it. You will pass colourful prayer flags and traverse metal bridges strung across deep canyons. Evenings are rewarded with hot Nepali food, chai, and conversation with fellow trekkers and local guides around the teahouse fire.
The heady mix of natural beauty, fascinating culture and a personal sense of achievement, as well as warm Nepalese hospitality from the people of the Solukhumbu region, makes the Everest Base Camp trek one of the world’s most unforgettable.
This isn’t to say that a trek to Everest Base Camp is simply a beautiful walk. The trek, while not challenging in a technical sense, is still brutally tough on your body due to the altitude. Most, however, would agree that the physical challenges make the trek that much more worthwhile.
When should I make the trek?
From March to May and from September to December. It gets hot in May, just before the monsoon season; be prepared for possible rain but gorgeous blooming rhododendron flowers. December reaches below-zero temperatures but the days are still stunning and there are fewer trekkers (but remember to wrap up warm in the evenings).
Do I need a guide?
It is not compulsory to have a guide for the Everest Base Camp trek, and the trail itself is well-marked. Nevertheless, a local guide can greatly enrich your experience, even if you’re an experienced trekker.
Hiring a guide has many advantages: for US$20 to $30 a day you’re giving someone a valuable job and in turn you will learn plenty about the local culture and natural environment. Many people also hire a porter, for $10 to $20 a day, who will carry the bulk of your belongings, leaving you with just a day pack (and a much easier journey). To further save money, multiple trekkers often share one guide, and two trekkers can share one porter. Be sure to tip both at the end of your trek.
A trekking company offers the advantage of having everything arranged for you, including airport transfers, flights or helicopters to Lukla airport, pre-booked teahouse accommodation, daily lunch and dinner, and porters and/or guides and their insurance. An additional benefit is that guides are trained in the signs of altitude sickness, and carry canisters of oxygen with them, helping to keep you safe along the way.
You can book before you go with western tour companies, though you’ll pay significantly less by booking in Kathmandu – ensure they’re registered with the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN).
How do I get in shape?
If you are not a pro trekker, don’t be put off – people with average fitness and little hiking experience can do this trek. Still, it is important to prepare for Everest Base Camp with physical training. After all, you’d rather be enjoying the views than complaining about how much your thighs ache.
Your individual training plan should include cardiovascular, endurance, and strength work several times a week. Try to focus on running, stair climbing, hiking, and other exercise that will condition the same muscles you will need for trekking.
It’s also important to prepare yourself for the altitude. Try to cross-train at least once a week with swimming, yoga, or another exercise that focuses on breathing. Nobody really knows how their body will react to altitude until they’re in the situation, but this cross-training can help you prepare.
As you get closer to your Everest Base Camp trek, be sure to practice hiking, running, or exercising on continuous days. The hardest part of a long distance trek, like the trek to Everest Base Camp, is getting up the next morning when you’re sore, and doing it all over again.
What should I take to Base Camp?
Pack lightly – aim for 10-15kg. Consider your porter’s load before you include that big bottle of shampoo or pair of jeans.
The climate gets colder as your trek goes on, and the majority of teahouses are unheated, so packing layers is a must. For your base layer, take thermal underwear, two pairs of long pants, and two or three T-shirts (synthetic fabrics – not cotton – that wick away sweat). Your insulating layer should include a fleece jacket, and one or two long sleeve shirts. A raincoat and a down jacket (for the chilly high altitude nights) will complete your shell layer.
Footwear requires lightly broken-in boots, trekking socks, and sneakers or sandals for evenings at the teahouse. You will also need gloves, a woollen hat, a buff, a head lamp, and polarised sunglasses. A good sleeping bag (rated to -20°C/0°F) and trekking poles are essential, but these can be rented in Kathmandu before your trek begins.
Opt for travel-size toiletries, including a good sunscreen, lip balm, travel towel and tissues. Baby wipes and dry shampoo are handy for days when you can’t shower.
Your first aid kit should include medication for diarrhoea, antibiotics for a chest or sinus infection, adhesive bandages, and hydrocolloid blister bandages. Visit your doctor before you go for Nepal-specific immunisations. A pulse oximeter is also handy to have, especially if you’re a solo trekker, to keep track of your oxygen saturation. Be sure to also bring a supply of hand sanitizer.
Using a filtration water bottle, or two 1L water bottles with water purification tablets, is a reliable and safe way to drink water – and more environmentally friendly than buying bottled water from lodges.
Also be sure to bring a supply of Nepalese Rupee in cash with you to buy meals, wifi, showers, toiletries, and other necessities along the way. Get this from an ATM in Kathmandu before your trek. There are few and far between ATMs along the trek, and even a small rain storm can put the ATM in Namche Bazaar out of commission.
Staying healthy and safe on the trek
Take your time. ‘Slow and steady’ is the key to achieving, and enjoying, your trek. Altitude sickness can affect anybody – even the extremely fit. (The acclimatisation days, usually at Namche and Dingboche, are set for a reason.) Watch for signs of altitude sickness: symptoms include pounding headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, breathlessness, and low oxygen saturation. Before your trip, ask your doctor for the prescription medication Diamox, which can prevent altitude sickness. If symptoms persist, descend.
Stay aware. The trail to Everest Base Camp is relatively wide and well-marked, but it can still be treacherous in places. There are sheer cliffs, often made narrower by passing herds of yaks or donkeys. Listen for the bells of oncoming animals, and always stand to the inner side of the trail where you can’t be knocked off. Also be sure to stand aside for porters, who often run along the trails at marathon speeds. Not only will this help prevent traffic jams, but it’s a sign of respect.
Be vegetarian. If you see meat on a menu during your trek, be aware that all meat is carried up by porters from below Lukla due to the no-killing policy in Sagamartha National Park. That means by the time you’re eating it, it’s old - and potentially rancid. The safest, healthiest option is to eat dal bhat, like your local guides and porters do. Dal bhat is a delicious Nepali dish of lentil soup, rice, vegetables, and curry that’s batch-cooked. It’s made fresh daily and is a great source of protein and energy. As the saying goes, ‘Dal bhat power, 24 hour!’
Cover up. The sun at high altitudes is harsh, so use a good sunscreen and reapply regularly. Wear long-sleeved tops, long pants, and a buff – or be prepared to blister.
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First published January 2013 and last updated January 2021 by Sarah Bence.