So you think you want to go Trekking in Nepal but you have tons of questions and apprehensions and you don’t know if you would make it. Or maybe you know you can, but want a first-hand report of how it differs from a backpacking trip here. Either way, here are some of the things you’ll encounter if you decide to trek to Mt Everest base camp.

Mt Everest Base Camp

Where do you start the trek?

You’ll most likely fly into the village of Lukla at 9600 feet elevation and the official beginning of the Everest Highway.

Do I need to have a porter or Sherpa?

No, it’s not a legal requirement, but I’d highly recommend it. Having a guide and someone who knows the good local lodges, food and language is well worth the money you’ll spend on him. And they’ll let you carry your own stuff if you insist on it.

What do they carry ?

They carry whatever you pack in the bag you give to them. There are weight maximums which I think are around 55 pounds, but honestly, pack for a standard backpack trip, then put it in 2 bags, one for you and one for him. You get to see your stuff every evening when you reach your stop point. As a note, Porters are laborers who you hire to carry things for you, Sherpa guides are usually trained in navigating the local trails and often speak quite a bit more English.

Mt Everest Base Camp

How is it different from our trails?

It’s hotter, colder, higher, windier, sunnier and dustier. Many of the locals wear face coverings (bandannas or cloths) that cover their mouth and nose to keep dust out. The standard high-SPF sunscreen is a must, and if you are there in the high season, bugs may be an issue, though I didn’t run into any until below 7800 feet.

Because of the elevation – you begin the trek at 9600 feet – you will move more slowly than on most of the trails around the Pacific Northwest. Distances are counted in days because most traffic on the Everest Highway moves at about the same speed. Don’t plan on running up it. You’ll set yourself up for elevation sickness. Acclimation and understanding how your habits affect it are key.

You burn more calories at elevation, and you will be trekking for 4-8 hours a day for many days in a row. Eat wisely, hydrate and give your body the best chance of making it to Base Camp.

Mt Everest Base Camp
Mani Stone, Pangboche and Ama Dablum

How far do you get each day?

Elevation rather than distance is usually the limiting factor. My group averaged about 1200 vertical feet per day, net. Elevation and training makes a lot of difference. We trekked 2400 vertical feet for one of our early days, but you physically cannot do that above 12,000 feet – it would most certainly be too rapid an ascent. Another key to acclimation is mini hikes above your sleeping spot. In Namche, for example, most people overnight 2 nights. During one of the days you are there, select a day hike up above the town 1000 feet and then descend and sleep in Namche. This increases your body’s ability to acclimate the next day or two. Mountaineers that spend a lot of time at elevation do this often.

Do I need oxygen?

No. Well, let’s hope not. The trek is designed to allow you enough days of acclimation that you don’t need to carry and breathe supplemental oxygen. But (and it’s a big but) if you don’t acclimate correctly, or get altitude sick en-route, the people who administer your aid will most likely supply oxygen. Once oxygen is given from a tank, the trekker is then required to descend at least 1000 feet and be observed overnight before any additional trail progress can be made. You don’t want that.

Mt Everest Base Camp

What is some key equipment?

Everything you’d bring for a 5 day for our local backpacking trip, but I’d personally suggest the following as well since they came in handy for me:

Handi wipes, extra sunglasses and sunscreen, dust cover for your face, flavor tablets for your water, backup water purification, more snacks, one heavier layer – like ski pants and a windjammer jacket, more layers, more socks, sandals or easy slip on shoes that don’t go on the trail, a very warm set of comfy clothes to sleep in, hand towel or small bath towel, extra toilet paper.

Subtract the following: Tent, sleeping pad, food, stove, fuel. My knife wasn’t even very handy, for all the trouble I took to get it over there and have it on the trail.

Mt Everest Base Camp

Why no food, fuel, stove?? No tent and pad?!?

Eat in the lodges, food is very inexpensive, hot and tasty. The tea is perfect for rehydration and inner warmth. Most of the way along the trek, you don’t go more than an hour or two before finding a tea house or lodge.  Fuel for propane or gas stoves is expensive and hard to find. Also running a camp stove at 17,000 feet in high winds in sub-freezing temps, isn’t probably a reliable way to plan dinner.

If you want to save a few bucks, then pack and carry your tent. I don’t want to steal that simple pleasure from anyone, but the lodges along the way are really just hard-sided tents with beds. The rooms are small, the walls are super thin, often with enough space between the slats to let light and all the snores of your neighbor through, common bathrooms, and they are unheated. I think about all the time I saved not setting up and breaking down a tent and it was worth it. Lodges can be as cheap as 300 rupees a night – about $5 or up to about $20. Meal costs are $5-10 and black tea is about 50 cents. Western conveniences are more: coffee, fried potatoes, hamburgers and pizza were all available along the trail, but at premium prices. So are showers.  Keep in mind ALL your beverages, even a glass of water should be boiled or treated before drinking.

How much does the elevation and lack of oxygen affect your performance?

Everyone is different. Your personal fitness level, comfort with backpacking and the ease with which you handle elevation changes all play in. Before I went, I spent 2 months hiking 2 times a week around here, and running and made sure to overnight at Camp Muir (the highest you can overnight reasonably around here in the wintertime). Basically, I did everything within my power to give myself a good chance of staying away from altitude sickness, as that was the thing I was most concerned about.

Mt Everest Base Camp
Yak herder passing a Stupa

Where did you find water?

The Himalayas shed a lot of water. We were never out of sight of accessible water for more than a couple hours. We drank from streams but only after boiling. The pack animals that travel and live up there walk through and drink from (and poop in) those streams. You should definitely take all precautions for drinking the water (including water for brushing teeth), but there was not a shortage of water while I was there.

Any food concerns?

If you don’t like chicken, eggs and dry beans, you may struggle with protein a bit. These are their staples, as is curry. Get used to spicy food. Also, you should eat everything thoroughly cooked. No slimy eggs, no fresh veggies. Peel your own fruit, etc. The USDA doesn’t visit here, and the chicken on your plate might have walked down the same stretch of road as you earlier in the day. I liked the food better than ours and didn’t have any trouble. I recommend the yak cheese and the potato pancakes (rikki tan) with whatever local sauce they offer on it. The green chili sauces they make are exceptional as well. If you have a tender stomach, bring all the stuff that the docs recommend and make your selections carefully.

What other stuff is different that I might not expect, or need to know about?

One of the warnings I got was “Always stay on the up-hill side of any passing yaks.” It became clear why once I saw the slopes that some of the trail cuts across.

Mt Everest Base Camp
Trail on an open slope

It’s like a steep avalanche slope in many places and if a pack animal were to bump you down by accident, you’d be done. Always respect the animals and remind your fellow travelers the same. I found them extremely docile and even timid, but they are large and carry heavy loads. One just needs to bump you to cause a big problem.

There are many, many cultural and religious artifacts along the Everest Highway. Tradition requires that you keep them on your right. Meaning, sometimes you have to take the long way around. Honor the traditions and culture you are visiting and just do it, regardless of how tired you are. You may just come to appreciate the sentiment and intention of the rule at some point like I did.

Mt Everest Base Camp
Thangboche Monastery

A fair part of this trek is above the tree line. Shortly above Thangboche, where there is a gorgeous monastery, the trees thin and disappear. For three to six days you will be on barren, rock-covered slopes and talus type fields. There is no shade and winds can be pretty relentless, and it gets cold at night, so prepare accordingly. Even though there are no trees, I would not call this part of the hike boring by any stretch. Some of the best views are once the trees stop.

If you want more story and background on this area, check out the Langtang trek (also in Nepal) that Dave did.

Then begin planning and make it a reality!

Mt Everest Base Camp
Sunrise on Everest
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