Very few of us will on ever get to stand top of Mount Everest – expeditions to the top of the planet’s highest peak (8,850m) take around 70 days, costs in excess of £30,000 and require a special blend of fitness, skill and insanity. However, the trek to Everest Base Camp (5,340m) is a much more achievable goal for those hiking in the Nepalese Himalaya – and almost as rewarding.
The classic Everest Base Camp trek takes about 14 days from Lukla, the remote mountain airstrip that provides a gateway to the region. During those 14 days you will hike by the Kosi River to the thriving hub of Namche Bazar; you’ll trek through the Sherpa heartland, passing vibrant monasteries; you’ll spend days acclimatising to the thin air; you’ll ascend the Khumbu Valley to reach Everest Base Camp itself; and you’ll retrace your steps back down again, buoyed by the buzz of having seen Everest at extremely close quarters.
It is a strenuous trek. You’ll be walking for around three to six hours a day, at high altitude. Hiring a porter and/or guide will ease the strain, and is recommended, not least to provide vital employment for locals. Although independent trekking is permitted on the Everest Base Camp route, paying a tour company to organise the details for you (flights, teahouses etc) will leave you freer to relax and soak up the magisterial mountain views.
You start the Everest Base Camp trek by flying from Kathmandu (1350m) to Lukla (2886m) in a small airplane and you will see an amazing aerial view of Mount Everest.
The flight lasts about 40 minutes, and from Lukla you will trek for 3 hours to Phakding (2640m). Depending on the time of the morning flight, you may have breakfast in Kathmandu or Lukla. From Lukla, you will have great views of Kusum Kangru (6369m). The trail to Phakding has numerous ascents and descents through forests and rocky cliffs.
On day two you will trek from Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3440m). The distance between Phakding and Namche Bazaar is not that far, however the high altitude can make this trek difficult. It thus takes 5 hours.
The best strategy is to trek at a slow and gentle pace. Namche Bazaar is a large town surrounded by two great valleys, Dudh Kosi and Bhote Kosi. It is also the gateway to Mount Everest. There are well-stocked markets and shops giving you one last chance to buy anything that you may have forgotten.
You will spend a second night at Namche Bazaar, which is a great place to spend an extra night when acclimatising. Even if you feel fantastic, it is important to sleep at this altitude as it will help in your ascent to Everest Base Camp. During the day, you can hike to the Sherpa village of Thami or Khumjung, or you can choose to relax and explore the mountain village of Namche.
The following day you will trek from Namche to Tengboche (3860m). On the trek to Tengboche, you will experience your first great views of the Everest, Lhoste, Nuptse and Ama Dablam peaks.
The trail has a steep descent towards a bridge over the Dudh Kosi. Then you climb up a zigzagging path through rhododendron bushes. There are some superb mountain sceneries towards Tengpoche, which is famous for its legendary monastery - the largest in the Everest Region.
Day five is again a designated acclimatisation day in Tengboche. This is the second day and night you will dedicate to acclimatisation. You can hike to Pangboche, climb the hill in Tengboche for great views, or explore the monastery. Without a second day of acclimatisation you are likely to suffer from headaches or more severe symptoms of altitude sickness further up the trail.
On the following day you will trek from Tengboche to Pheriche. The trail starts with a steep descent through woods towards a suspension bridge over the Imja Khola River. Then you begin a steady climb up to Pheriche via Pangboche, which houses the most ancient monastery in the region.
As it is important to ascend slowly you'll spend another day acclimatising. As such, you will spend your third and final acclimatisation day in Pheriche. There are many day hikes you can take from here, or you can simply have a day of rest and save your energy for the days to come.
Day Eight consists of a trek from Pheriche to Lobuche. The trail continues up the wide valley beneath the impressive peaks of Cholatse (6440m) and Tawoche (6542m). Afterwards, the climb gets steeper to reach the foot of the Khumbu glacier. It then zigzags up and through the boulders of the glacier terminal moraine. Here there are superb views of Nuptse.
The following day you will trek to Lobuche, Everest Base Camp (5400 m), and then back to Gorakshep (5140m). The trail continues along the side of the Khumbu glacier. The path becomes rocky and awkward as we keep climbing across the moraine. The sugar loaf dome of Pumori (7145m) lies directly ahead. On the right-hand side, Nuptse rises in a sheer spire and behind it is an elusive sight of Everest.
You will have all afternoon at Gorakshep to rest. You may also choose to continue on for an additional 6 hours to Everest Base Camp and back. Contrary to popular expectations Everest Base Camp, whilst still a fascinating place, does not provide any views of Everest.
It is the following day at Kala Pattar that you get the amazing panoramic views. If you are feeling tired and suffering from any altitude symptoms, it is recommended that you save your energy and rest for the following day's trek to Kala Pattar, one of the highlights of the trip.
Making the most of the clean morning air, you will trek to Kala Pattar. This is one of the most rewarding parts of the trip, as it is from here that you get the most impressive views of Everest. You will follow an intricate route threading its way between crevasses, almost translucent ice pinnacles, and over moraine ridges.
You'll glimpse an unforgettable vista from Kala Pattar: Ama Dablam, Makalu, Nuptse, Lhotse, and the impressive black pyramid of Everest. From Kala Pattar you have to retrace your steps back to Lukla where you will celebrate your achievement.
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
Nicola Shepherd, founder and CEO of The Exploration Company, organises unusual trips for HNW and UHNW clients ranging from birthday parties at an Indian Maharajah's palace to reliving Sir Vivian Fuchs's 1950s expedition to the South Pole. Citywealth caught ...
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