Everest Base Camp Trek
- Duration 14 to 20 days
- Maximum elevation 5545m
- Best season October to December
- Start Lukla
- Finish Lukla
- Permits Sagarmatha National Park ticket, local admission permit
- Summary Spectacular high mountain scenery, Sherpa culture, excellent lodges and views of beautiful Mt Ama Dablam are the highlights of this busy and popular trek.
A return trek to Everest Base Camp from the airstrip at Lukla takes at least 14 days but you are better off budgeting a further week to take in some of the stunning and less-visited side valleys. If you have the time, one way to beat the crowds and acclimatise slowly is to walk in from Shivalaya (six days). If you fly straight to Lukla, be sure to schedule acclimatisation days at Namche and Pheriche to avoid altitude sickness.
The trek reaches a high point of 5545m at Kala Pattar, a small peak offering views of Mt Everest and the Khumbu Icefall. Ironically, the Everest views from base camp are actually quite unimpressive (in the words of mountain writer Ed Douglas, ‘Everest is like a grossly fat man in a room full of beautiful women’). Far more stirring are the graceful lines of surrounding peaks, such as Ama Dablam, Pumori and Nuptse. Perhaps the best scenery of the trek is found in the neighbouring Gokyo Valley, off the main trail.
In the last decade the tourist crowds in the Khumbu region have swollen to record numbers, with 36,000 attempting the trek each year. This is one trek you might consider tackling outside of October or November, when you won't face such a scramble for bed space and aeroplane seats.
Facilities on the Everest trek are excellent. The upper reaches of the trek are through essentially uninhabited areas but lodges operate throughout the trekking season. These days trekking and mountaineering are the backbone of the Sherpa economy. More than half of the population in the region is now involved with tourism, and the bookstore, trek-gear shops, bakeries and internet cafes in Namche Bazaar make it look more like an alpine resort than a Sherpa village.
The villages of Khumjung, Pheriche and Thame were badly affected by the 2015 earthquake but most lodges have been rebuilt and there is accommodation in all the key overnight stops.
The walking on this trek is (surprisingly) not all that strenuous, mainly because new arrivals can only walk a few hours each day before they have to stop for the night to acclimatise. If trekkers fail to reach their goal it is usually because they failed to devote enough time to acclimatisation. It may be tempting to keep walking at the end of a three-hour day, but it’s essential to take it slowly on the first 10 days of this trek.
The introduction by local Sherpa authorities of a Rs 2000 entry fee to the Everest region has effectively replaced the TIMS card here, so there's no need to get a TIMS card in Kathmandu if you are just headed to the Everest region.
There are small hospitals in Jiri, Phaplu and Khunde (just north of Namche Bazaar); the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) has a medical facility in Pherichen and at Everest Base Camp. In the Gokyo Valley the International Porters Protection Group runs clinics in Machhermo and Gokyo. All three have foreign doctors and offer a recommended free daily talk on acute mountain sickness (AMS) at 3pm.
Day One: Lukla to Phakding
After flying to Lukla, arranging your packs and maybe a porter, trek downhill to lodges at Cheplung (Chablung). From here the trail contours along the side of the Dudh Kosi Valley before ascending to Ghat (Lhawa; 2530m). The trail climbs again to Phakding, a boisterous collection of 25 lodges and several bars at 2610m. Alternatively, you could continue to Zamfute or Benkar.
Day Two: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
The trail crosses the river on a long, swaying bridge and then leads you along the river to climb to Benkar (2700m); a decent alternative overnight stop. A short distance beyond Benkar the trail crosses the Dudh Kosi on a suspension bridge to its east bank, and then climbs to Chumoa.
From Chumoa, it’s a short climb through forests to Monjo (2800m), where there are some good places to stay, despite a fair bit of earthquake damage. Show your park ticket or buy one for Rs 3390 at the Sagarmatha National Park entrance station, then descend to cross the Dudh Kosi. On the other side it’s a short distance to Jorsale (Thumbug; 2830m), the last settlement before Namche Bazaar. This is a good lunch stop, though several places were damaged by the quake. The trail then crosses back to the east side of the river before climbing to the high suspension bridge over the Dudh Kosi.
It’s a tough two-hour climb from here to Namche Bazaar (3420m). As this is the first climb to an altitude where acute mountain sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness, may be a problem, take it easy and avoid rushing. Halfway up is a public toilet marking the first views of Everest. There is another national park entrance station just below Namche where permits are again checked.
Day Three: Acclimatisation Day in Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar is the main trade and administrative centre for the entire Solu Khumbu region and has outdoor gear shops, restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, hotels with hot showers, bars, massage, a post office, a moneychanger, a bank, an ATM and wi-fi everywhere. Pay a visit to the Sherpa Culture Museum, on the ridge east above town, and the nearby Sagarmatha National Park Visitor Centre for its visitor displays and Himalayan views. There is a colourful market each Saturday.
There is plenty to do around Namche Bazaar and you should spend a day here acclimatising. Remember that victims of AMS are often the fittest, healthiest people who foolishly overextend themselves. It’s helpful to do a strenuous day walk to a higher altitude as part of your acclimatisation, coming back down to Namche to sleep. One popular day trip is the seven-hour return walk west to Thame village and its earthquake-damaged monastery. Alternatively try the strenuous but scenic six-hour loop hike north to charming Khunde and Khumjung villages.
Day Four: Namche Bazaar to Tengboche
The slightly longer route from Namche Bazaar to Tengboche via Khumjung and Khunde is more interesting than the direct one. The route starts by climbing up to the Syangboche airstrip. Above the airstrip is the Hotel Everest View, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest hotel on earth.
From the hotel or the airstrip you climb to Khunde (3840m), then Khumjung (3790m), which lost a number of houses in the earthquake. From here you drop down to rejoin the direct trail to Tengboche. The trail descends to the Dudh Kosi (3250m) where there are several small lodges and a series of picturesque water-driven prayer wheels. A steep 400m ascent brings you to Tengboche (3870m). The famous gompa, with its background of Ama Dablam, Everest and other peaks, burnt down in 1989 but rose phoenix-like from the ashes. There are several busy lodges, or you can carry on 30 minutes downhill to quieter Debuche.
During the October/November full moon, the colourful Mani Rimdu festival is held here with masked dancing and Tibetan opera in the monastery courtyard – accommodation becomes extremely difficult to find.
Day Five: Tengboche to Pheriche
Beyond Tengboche, the altitude really starts to show. The trail drops down to Debuche, crosses the Imja Khola and climbs through rhododendron forest past superb mani stones (carved with the Tibetan Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum) to Pangboche (3860m). The gompa in the upper village above the main trail is the oldest in the Khumbu and houses the skull of a yeti. The village is a good place for a lunch stop.
The trail then climbs past Shomare and Orsho to Pheriche (4240m), where there is an HRA trekkers’ aid post and possible medical assistance. Accommodation is available, but you can also continue to Dingboche (4410m), 30 minutes over the hill.
Day Six: Acclimatisation Day in Pheriche
Another acclimatisation day should be spent at Pheriche or Dingboche. As at Namche, a solid day walk to a higher altitude is better than just resting. Nangkartshang Gompa, an hour's climb up the ridge above Dingboche, offers good views east to Makalu (8462m), the world’s fifth-highest mountain.
Chhukung (4730m) is a six-hour return hike up the Imja Khola Valley, which offers stunning views. There is food and accommodation at Chhukung and some great full-day side trips to Chhukung Ri and Island Peak Base Camp but don't overnight here before spending a night first at Dingboche.
Day Seven: Pheriche to Duglha
From Pheriche, the trail climbs to Phulang Kala (4340m) then Duglha (4620m). It’s only a two-hour trek to Duglha and many trekkers are tempted to push on but the HRA doctors at Pheriche urge everyone to stay a night in Duglha in order to aid acclimatisation. There are two lodges here.
Day Eight: Duglha to Lobuche
From Duglha the trail goes directly up the gravely terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier for about an hour, then bears left to a group of memorials to lost climbers and Sherpas, including Scott Fischer who died in the 1996 Everest disaster. It’s a short climb past views of Pumori to the summer village of Lobuche (4930m). The altitude, cold and crummy beds will combine to ensure a fitful night’s sleep.
Day Nine: Lobuche to Gorak Shep
The return trip from Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5160m) takes just a couple of hours, leaving enough time to continue to the peak of Kala Pattar (three hours return) – or you can overnight in Gorak Shep and reach Kala Pattar early the next morning for the best chance of good weather. At 5545m, this small peak offers the best view you’ll get of Everest on this trek.
Gorak Shep was the base camp for the 1952 Swiss expedition to Everest. There is good accommodation here but the altitude makes life uncomfortable. If the altitude is getting to you, descending to Lobuche or, better, Pheriche or Dingboche makes a real difference.
Day 10: Gorak Shep to Lobuche
If you want to visit Everest Base Camp (5360m), it’s a six-hour round trip from Gorak Shep. EBC is dotted with tents in the April/May climbing season but outside of those months, there’s not a great deal to see except for views of the Khumbu Icefall; Everest itself is hidden from view by the surrounding peaks. During the 2015 earthquake an avalanche killed 18 climbers and guides, making it the mountain's worst disaster to date. If you only have the energy for one side trip, make it Kala Pattar.
The two-hour trek back down to Lobuche seems easy after all the climbing, and some trekkers continue for another three hours down to Dingboche or Pheriche the same day.
Day 11: Lobuche to Dingboche
Descend to spend the night at Pheriche or Dingboche, which boasts Nepal’s highest internet cafe and fine views of Island Peak (Imja Tse; 6189m) and Lhotse (8516m).
Days 12 to 14: Dingboche to Lukla
The next three days retrace your steps down to Lukla via Tengboche and Namche Bazaar. If you are flying out of Lukla, get to the airline office between 3pm and 4pm the day before your flight to reconfirm your seat. Your lodge owner will often do this for you. If the weather has been bad, you might be vying for a flight with hundreds of other trekkers, but generally you shouldn’t have a problem.
The world’s highest peak has attracted many commendable achievements: the first ascent without oxygen (1978), first summit with an artificial leg (1998), the first ski descent (2000), the first blind ascent (2001), most ascents (21), youngest ascent (aged 13), oldest ascent (aged 78) and fastest ascent (eight hours). Sherpa Babu Chiru spent a particularly amazing 21 hours on top of Everest without oxygen in 1999.
But there have also been some admirably silly achievements. Perhaps most ambitious was the Briton Maurice Wilson, who planned to crash his Gypsy Moth airplane halfway up the mountain and then climb from there to the top, not letting his almost total lack of mountaineering or flying experience get in the way of an obviously flawed plan. He eventually froze to death at Camp III dressed in a light sweater (and, it is rumoured, women’s clothing).
Maybe it’s something in the national psyche (this is after all the nation that gave us Monty Python), for it was also a team of Brits who trekked all the way to Everest Base Camp to play the ‘world’s highest game of rugby’ at 5140m. They lost.
Our personal Everest heroes are the (inevitably) British pair who carried an ironing board up Everest to 5440m to do some extreme ironing (‘part domestic chore, part extreme sport’). For anyone contemplating a repeat expedition, the duo have revealed that expedition preparation can be limited to three important factors: ‘a few beers, a drunken bet and a stolen ironing board’.
Alternative Routes & Side Trips
The side trips off the Everest Base Camp Trek rank as some of the region’s highlights, so it makes sense to add an extra week or so to your itinerary to explore the region more fully.
A particularly scenic side trip is the six-day detour from Namche Bazaar to the multiple blue lakes of the Gokyo Valley, culminating in the Everest region's most spectacular glacier and lake viewpoint at Gokyo Ri (5360m). It’s important to ascend the valley slowly, overnighting in Phortse Thenga, Dole, Machhermo and Gokyo to aid acclimatisation. From Gokyo you can rejoin the main Everest Base Camp trail near Khumjung or upper Pangboche.
You can combine both the Gokyo Valley and Everest Base Camp by crossing the Cho La (5420m) via Dzonglha, for a total duration of 17 days, but you need to take this route seriously and enquire about the conditions before setting out. Some months the pass is clear of snow; at other times you’ll need crampons for this high crossing. You can hire a guide (Rs 2000) at most lodges to guide you across the glacier and pass.
Throw in the high crossings of the Renjo La (5345m), between Thame and Gokyo, and the Kongma La (5535m), between Lobuche and Chhukung, and you get the Three Passes Trek, a 20-day trek for experienced connoisseurs.
Another recommended three-day side trip is up the Imja Khola Valley to Chhukung, for awesome mountain views. Chhukung is also the staging post for climbers heading to Island Peak and the valley is well worth exploring.
As an alternative to flying back to Kathmandu, you can escape the crowds on the nine-day teahouse trek southeast from Lukla to Tumlingtar, from where you can fly or bus back to Kathmandu. For full details see Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya guide.