Life’s sweetest moments are generally preceded by some of the toughest ones. My reaching Everest Base Camp, at 5364 meters, starting point for the toughest leg of Everest Summit climb, was one such moment. While reaching EBC itself is the mission, the journey involves many beautiful moments, small victories, close encounters with the simple Nepali community, the enthusiasm and spirit of fellow trekkers, many micro challenges and unending breathtaking views of the majestic Himalayan mountain range. Through this article, I have shared my experience during the trek.
Every year, when many mountaineers make an attempt to scale the highest mountain in the world, hundreds more attempt the EBC trek, a 10-12 day trek which takes one from Lukla, a city at an altitude of 2800 meters to EBC @ 5364 meters in about 9 days, including 2 days of acclimatization.
The Pre Trek Planning:
The trek is best planned by locals trekking agencies based in Kathamandu, the capital of Nepal. These agencies have pre-configured the best set of guides, Sherpa, tree houses, etc for the trek. The choice of the agency is made by the India/ home country agent, who is just a go-between the trekker and the Kathmandu Agency, only interested in the ‘cut’ in the deal and do not have much info on the on-ground logistics and the challenges it entails.
Pre Trek Shopping:
Once you have settled for the Trekking package, which as a ballpark, will be between $800 to $1100, the next step is preparing the trekking gear, especially for a first time trekker. While the trek is best attempted in the months of April/May, when the weather will be generally warm, the temperature at the base camp can be as low as -10 C even in May.
The most expensive part of the shopping are trekking bags. One is expected to have a 60L large trekking bag or a duffel bag (latter is more convenient, as the same will be carried by the porter and not oneself during the trek) and a small 25L bag. The next expensive item are the shoes. The High Ankle trekking shoes from major brands including Columbia, Salomon, etc. are what is recommended for the trek.
Next on the shopping list are clothes, which include three layers of inner-wear, warm thermals (base layer), a thick fleece jacket and a Down Jacket, suitable for the coldest part of the trek. The lower layer clothing would include one warm inner layer thermal wear and at least 3 sets of trekking pants.
While its advisable to get along a sleeping bag, one may not use it at all, as the case with me, if the stay are in Tea houses, which provide a proper bed and warm blanket. But if one is not comfortable with the level of cleaning/hygiene, then either buying a sleeping bag, or renting one in Kathmandu is a better option.
What we observed in our trip was that the cost of many items in small shops in Kathmandu were quite reasonable/cheap, compared to the cheapest of brand stores like Decathlon in India. Of course, this brings into question the authenticity or genuineness of these products, but based on feedback./inputs, they were all pretty good quality.
On to the Trek:
Day 0: Fly into Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, the Himalayan Kingdom. At 1800 meters above mean sea level, Kathmandu is a simple city buzzing with tourists all the time.
An overnight stay in Kathmandu is recommended to enable an early morning flight to Lukla the next day, where all the action begins. The flight from KTM to Lukla is a short 30 mins in a twin engine 30 seat aircraft, which gives the first, aerial view of the majestic Himalayan Ranges.
Day 1: Short Flight to Lukla and the trek to Phakding: Lukla (Nepali: लुक्ला) is a small town in the Khumbu Pasanglhamu of north-eastern Nepal. Situated at 2,860 metres (9,383 ft), Lukla means place with many goats and sheep, few are found in the area nowadays. Lukla contains a small airport servicing the region, and a variety of shops and lodges catering to tourists and trekkers, providing western-style meals and trail supplies.
The first day of trekking is a short 3 hour journey to a city called Phakding.
Phakding is a small village in the Khumbu region of Nepal. It lies in the Dudh Kosi river valley just north of Lukla and south of Monjo, at an altitude of 2,610 m, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Its primary function of the village is to support the tourism industry and as such consists of a number of guesthouses.
Day 2: Trek from Phakding to Namche Bazaar: This the first full day of trek for 6-7 hours to the popular town of Namche Bazaar.
Namche Bazaar is a town in Khumbu region of north-eastern Nepal. At an altitude of 3,440 metres (11,286 ft) at its low point, populating the sides of a hill. Most Sherpa who are in the tourism business are from the Namche area. Namche is the main trading center and hub for the Khumbu region with many Nepalese officials, a police check post, pubs, restaurants, banks, and even beauty salons.
The trek from Phakding to Namche constitutes the most scenic part of the trek. It includes the longest stretch walking through lush green mountains and beautiful river valley passing through these mountains with strong wind blowing when crossing these mountains on long swinging bridges like the famous Lakshman Jhoola.
Not only during the lunch break, but many times in between the trek, one would just want to stand, take in lungful of fresh air and absorb the beauty of the breathtaking sight around.
Namche also constitutes the last stop where one can get all amenities and comforts of a city. From here the frills start reducing as one gains altitude.
Day 3: Acclimatization in Namche: In order to accustom to the 3400 altitude, the acclimatization involves a short hike from Namche city to the Everest View Hotel, located at 3800 meters. The chances to view Everest depend on the weather and on a cloudy day, be prepared to be disappointed!!
Visit to the local monastery, viewing the skull of a Yeti (supposedly) and shopping are some other avenues that one can indulge in, based on the time and energy levels.
People: Early in the trek, one thing which stands out as ‘world class’ are the Nepali people. These mountain tribe believe in the simplest of living standards, extremely hard working and have a smile on their face, despite the multitude of challenges and hardships they face in their daily life.
Day 4: Trek to Tenbouche: With the altitude now beyond 3400 meters, once would notice the mountains turn more bland, bereft of much vegetation and one can sight Mt Everest about 45 mins into the trek on this day.
One may also view many other majestic peaks, lesser known but even more attractive than Mt Everest. These include:
- Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world at 8,485 metres (27,838 ft). It is located in the Mahalangur Himalayas 19 km (12 mi) southeast of Mount Everest, on the border between Nepal and Tibet Autonomous Region, China. One of the eight-thousanders, Makalu is an isolated peak whose shape is a four-sided pyramid.
- Lhotse is the fourth highest mountain in the world at 8,516 metres (27,940 ft),
- Lhotse Shar is a subsidiary mountain of Lhotse, and the 11th-highest mountain on Earth, at 8,383 m (27,503 ft) high. It has the highest fatality rate
- Cho Oyu (Nepali: चोयु; Tibetan: ཇོ་བོ་དབུ་ཡ) is the sixth-highest mountain in the world at 8,188 metres (26,864 ft) above sea level. Cho Oyu means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan.The mountain is the westernmost major peak of the Khumbu sub-section of the Mahalangur Himalaya 20 km west of Mount Everest. The mountain stands on the China–Nepal border.
- Ama Dablam is a mountain in the Himalaya range of eastern Nepal. The main peak is 6,812 metres (22,349 ft), the lower western peak is 6,170 metres (20,243 ft). Ama Dablam means “Mother’s necklace”; the long ridges on each side like the arms of a mother (ama) protecting her child, and the hanging glacier thought of as the dablam, the traditional double-pendant containing pictures of the gods, worn by Sherpa women. For several days, Ama Dablam dominates the eastern sky for anyone trekking to Mount Everest basecamp. For its soaring ridges and steep faces Ama Dablam is sometimes referred as the “Matterhorn of the Himalayas.”
- Kangtega, known also as The Snow Saddle, is a major mountain peak of the Himalayas in Nepal. Its summit rises 6,782 metres (22,251 ft). It was first ascended in 1963.
- Thamserku, at an altitude of 6800 meters is a mountain in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal. The mountain is connected by a ridge leading eastward to Kangtega. Thamserku is a prominent mountain to the east of Namche Bazaar and lies just north of Kusum Kangguru.
Finally, after a long and bit more difficult trek, due to the higher altitude, one reaches the small city of Tengboche.
- Tengboche (or Thyangboche) is a village in the Khumbu subregion of Nepal, located at 3,867 metres (12,687 ft). In the village is an important Buddhist monastery, Tengboche Monastery, built in 1923, is the largest gompa in the Khumbu region.Tengboche has a panoramic view of the Himalayan mountains, including the well-known peaks of Tawache, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku. Tenzing Norgay, was born in the area in the village of Thani and was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to be a monk.
- Day 5: Trek to Dingbouche: Having gradually got accustomed to higher altitude, seeing more of snow capped mountains gleaming in the sunlight, one makes the progress towards the next stage of journey, trek to Dingbouche.
- Dingboche is a Sherpa village in the Khumbu region of north eastern Nepal in the Chukhung Valley. Its population was estimated at approximately 200 in 2011. It is situated at an altitude of 4,410 metres (14,470 ft).
By now, one is accustomed to a routine. Waking up at 6- 6:30 AM, breakfast by 7- 7:30 AM and departure by 8AM.
Considering the cold, it’s best to have showers the previous evening than to have early in the morning. Hot showers were available in most of the Tea Houses that we stayed in. However, there is a charge for every shower and is not included in the package cost, which does cover daily three meals cost.
As the trek is considered doable for all age groups from 8-80, it accounts for variance in the trekking time, physical ability of all people and hence there is buffer in the total time taken for the trek.
The lunch is generally had at about 12 noon and is ideally mid way mark for the entire team to regroup. The fitter part of the group can easily afford to reach the lunch spot early and enjoy a nice siesta/nap before or after the meal. Yes, its possible !!
Day 6: Acclimatization in Dingbouche: This is the second day of acclimatization, to allow the body get used to 4400 altitude levels. After a relaxed breakfast, we go for a short hike on a peak 400 meters above, very much within the city. As its an easy trek with easy terrain, this is more of a fun activity than anything to be taken very seriously.
The food generally comprises of multiple options in each tea house. While the choice of omelette with Toast is more popular, one can choose from a variety of continental options, coupled with tea/coffee.
We were amused to find some really good french/German bakery in the small cities, which served some of the best coffee and cakes and some lip smacking desserts.
In case of Lunch, the prescribed option is the traditional Nepali Dal/Bhat/Veggie, which is very similar to the lentil curry and vegetables prepared in India, but generally bereft on any spices, hence easy on digestion.
However, again one can choose from a range of other options, both Veg and Non Veg, including Pizzas and Sandwiches. But mind you, the pizza is likely to have Yak cheese, which is more heavier and thicker! The Menu for Dinner again, is quiet elaborate with all major continental and Asian options available. One needs to decide based on ones dietary needs.
Day 7: Trek to Lobuche: The trek the next day is one of gradual inclines to 4900 levels to take us to the town of lobuche.
Lobuche (or Lobuje) is a small settlement in the Khumbu region of Nepal. It is the last overnight stop with lodging. No one dares to think of a shower at this stage! From here one can complete the trail on to EBC or stop at Gorak Shep, the last stop with lodging on the trail, and climb the modest nearby peak, Kala Patthar (5,545 m, 18,192 ft), for a rare view of the Everest summit.The structure of Everest is such that its actual summit is not visible from Base Camp.
Lobuche, elevation of about 4,940 metres (16,210 ft), is situated about 150 kilometres (93 mi) east of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and lies near the foot of the Khumbu Glacier, approximately 8.5 km SW of Everest Base Camp. It shares its name with several peaks in the area: Lobuche Far East, Lobuche East and Lobuche West (a separate mountain further west). Labuche Kang(sometimes spelled Lobuche Kang) is not local but is in Tibet.
The lodging accommodations at Lobuche are notoriously primitive, consisting mostly of stone huts with shared bunk dormitories. In recent years there have been some additions of more modern facilities and amenities including seven lodges providing 200 twin-bed rooms. Some lodges provide internet and oxygen services.
One of the biggest ‘ask’ of trekkers planning to do the EBC Trek is that of the Internet and phone connectivity. Plagued as we all are by the Smartphone malaise, we cannot fathom being away from Social Media and emails for a period of 11 hours, forget 11 days.
Fortunately for all, this is a NON issue. There are two clear options. One can take a NCell SIM card in Kathmandu with a data connection, which will ensure phone and internet data access at a reasonable cost till Namche Bazaar.
Beyond Namche Bazaar, one can sign up for the Everest Link WiFi Card that is available at many small shops. For something as low as INR 1300, one gets 10GB of Data for use for a period of 10 days, more than enough to account for the trip to EBC and Back.
The other key point to be taken note of Currency. One can of course exchange currency at Kathmandu Airport or in the City; The Local agent in our case was very kind and was able to get us the exchange done at the hotel itself. Apparently, the new Indian notes of 2000,500,200, etc are not accepted in the small cities in the trek, and one needs to have either Nepali Currency or the old Rs 100 notes for most of the payments.
Day 8 : Trek to Gorak Shep and Further on to EBC: Finally, the D day, the day we have been eagerly waiting for, when we can accomplish our mission for which we have been painfully slogging and trudging across mountain, valleys and bridges!!. The trek from Lobuche to Gorak Shep is about 3 hour long. After reaching the tea house in Gorak Shep, we have a quick lunch before making the final trek to EBC.
Gorak shep or Gorakshep (Nepali: गोराशप) is a frozen lakebed covered with sand in Nepal, and also the name of the small settlement that sits at its edge at 5,164 m (16,942 ft) elevation, near Mount Everest. The village is not inhabited year-round. Even though trekking lodges at Gorak Shep are basic, in recent times more modern amenities have become available, such as satellite high-speed internet access.
The important point to be considered when at Gorak Shep is the altitude, combined with the COLD. Even in summer, one can expect a sub zero to even -10 degree C temperature, even in day time. One needs to ensure the timely intake of altitude sickness medicine if one has been having them from the beginning of the trek. Incessant headache, vomiting, etc are some of the likely symptoms of altitude sickness.
The important element that becomes critical at this stage, is the cost of essential items like water. While bottled water is charged all through the trek, the cost of the bottle goes up from Rs 20 in kathmandu to Rs 100 in Namche Bazaar and to Rs 400 in Gorak Shep.
What is more interesting is that tap water, which is free throughout and can be consumed by using chorine /water purification tables all through the trek, is ALSO charged Rs 400 here is Gorak Shep.
The reason, logic behind this high cost is pretty simple. Between Lukla and Gorak Shep, a trekking distance of about 60 km, which includes all the huge mountain ranges that span a far greater area, there is ZERO MOTOR transport of any kind. Apart from the difficulty of building roads in this terrain, the high altitude also means that travel in motorised transport will not be advisable, as it will not allow one to get time to acclimatise to the increasing altitude. The only motorised/fuelled transport in the region are the helicopters, that are mainly used for emergency services and most essential of supplies. BULK of movement of goods is on backs of the Sherpa/porters or Yaks/Donkeys/Horses. Hence the bottles have been brought to these regions using lot of hard, manual labor and hence the high cost.
In case the above point is not known or well understood, one is likely to assume that the Nepalis are arrogant/opportunist and trying to make some easy money, which cannot be far from the truth.
The trek to EBC from Gorak Shep, roughly about 2 hours, is easy from terrain perspective, but gets a bit tougher due to the Altitude and the cold.
While the sense of achievement makes it a HIGH point, but the EBC is the least attractive part of the trek. As mentioned earlier, even the everest peak is not visible from EBC. The couple of large rocks that have ‘Everest Base Camp 5364 meters” written in Red are the only major landmark, apart from large collection of tents, which are for the climbers who begin their attempt to climb the Summit from here at EBC
Apart from the customary photo session at EBC. the trek winds back to a night stay in GorakShep.
Day 9-12: The Trek Back : Day 9 has an optional trek to Kala Patthar a mountain peak, 2 hour trek away at an altitude of 5600 meters. The Sun Rise from the top here is majestic and gives a great view of the major peaks in the region.
- Day 9 is from Gorak Shep to Periche.
- Day 10 is trek from Periche to Namche Bazaar
- Day 11 is trek from Namche Bazaar to Lukla.
- Day 12 is the flight back from Lukla to Kathmandu.
Among the observations during the trek, my strongest one was that this is a great practice in ‘Decision Making’. At every stage, one has to take a multitude of decisions and the right decision is so critical all the time:
- Should one buy, borrow or rent the equipment for the trek (especially for first time trekkers, who are not sure about the next trek).
Should one really go for the best brand and spend the most, or should one optimize. The terrain and weather is something which most people don’t have a first hand experience on.
- Cold Cream in the Night and Sun-Screen lotion in the morning..sounds trivial in a travelogue of this nature, but the importance of the activity became apparent when i had sunburn and skin on the back of neck and shoulder had turned REDD on day 2 itself.
- Two layers of clothing or three. Seems cold in the room at night, chilly in the morning during breakfast and is HOT one hour into the trek. One cannot pass on the extra clothes to the porter as they are long gone further ahead.
- What to eat and what not to eat. When one has to repeat bland food for one or two days, its still ok, but for 12 days, hmm.. Why not have that pizza or some nice spicy veg dumplings!
- When it comes to toilets, one sees a gradual change in the quality and facility. One has to really time the time in the toilet to make it just about optimal.
- When it comes to trek, maintaining a consistent pace is critical, easy to get carried away and speed up, then we realise after a few minutes, one is huffing and puffing and needs to sit down for a while to catch up his/her breath.
- Should one carry two trekking stick/pole or one is enough. Its a very personal issue and hard to decide in advance. Having one stick gives amazing flexibility as you have a free hand all the time.
- Whats the ideal pace in trekking ? Unlike running, where for the toughest of runs, one can plan ideal pace for specific stretch of the run, in a trek of this nature, the terrain, altitude, weather on one’s body response, all have a significant role to play. The job of the guide is nightmarish as he has to calculate the average of 10 people who don’t know their own average pace !!
As we board our flights home, I realised that my bag was heavier than when I landed. I am going back with tons of memories, sweet and special, that will be an integral part of my life going forward. Adios, til I trek again!
THANKS – thanks to friends and fellow trekkers Vivek Vyas and Aayush Bhatla for having provided some of the breathtaking pics including the panorama shots below for this article.