Everest Base Camp is a spectacular hike full of history, incredible scenery, and amazing people. It’s one of the most outstanding hikes we’ve been on, and the two weeks we spent in the Everest region flew by much too quickly. Logistically it’s the easiest trek we’ve been on, with permits, eating, and sleeping all being effortless. While many people worry about crowding issues and trash, we didn’t find either to be a concern during our visit in May. Trash cans are found constantly along the trail, and everywhere we stayed but Gorak Shep (the closest town to Everest Base Camp) we had plenty of options for accommodation.
As with any trek, there are plenty of options to take into account, which we’ll cover below. Questions on budgeting, time of year to visit, whether to use a guide or not, and what to bring are all touched on here. Use this article as a basic guide and if you have questions or are in doubt, either email us, comment below, or reach out to a guide company in Nepal for further guidance.
Time of Year to Visit
The main seasons for hiking to Everest Base Camp are March – May and October – November. Outside of these seasons there is a high likelihood of poor weather, including Nepal’s heavy monsoons. Early to mid May is expedition season when climbers will be attempting to summit, and late May is when the monsoons begin. October and November generally enjoy the clearest views and least rain, however they are colder than the spring season and more crowded.
To Hire a Guide or Not
There are various reasons both to hire a guide and porter or not to for virtually any trekker. While the standard route to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is generally easy to navigate without a guide, people do get evacuated due to altitude sickness relatively often, and it is easy enough to get lost if you venture off of the main trail (going via the passes or to a smaller town). While we enjoyed hiking to Everest Base Camp and venturing over Cho La Pass to Gokyo without a guide or porter, read below on some basic guidance when deciding if you should hike with a guide or not.
Pros and Cons to Hiring a Guide
|-Supporting a local economy that is generally financially poor||-A lack of independence, especially when joining a group tour|
|-Being shown the correct path, which is especially helpful in poor weather conditions||-Higher cost, generally double to quadruple compared with an independent trip|
|-Not needing to worry about a bed being available (guides book in advance)||-A lack of self reliance and accomplishment compared with an independent trip|
|-Potentially learning about the culture and area from your guide||-Guides often choose inferior accommodation due to their relationships with lodge owners|
|-Being taught about how to properly deal with altitude and possible sickness||-A lack of understanding your route and where you are due to reliance on an expert|
|-Having a helping hand in case of an emergency||-A feeling of regret due to the ease of finding the trail and organizing independently|
Ultimately the choice rests with you. We found the hike exceptionally easy and enjoyable without a guide or porter, but some others we met felt the opposite. If you are experienced at high altitude, generally 5,000+ meters, you should have no issues if you’re careful. If you’ve never been so high but have a good amount of trekking experience, just take care to follow the high altitude guidelines and you should be fine. When in doubt, take a guide.
Clothing and Gear
If you are coming to Nepal without hiking gear, it’s easy enough to pick up decent clothing and supplies in Kathmandu. In Thamel, the main tourist area in Kathmandu, you can buy knock off North Face clothes for every occasion, and if you have the funds, there’s even a real North Face store. Everest Base Camp is a relatively cold hike as you get higher up regardless of the season, so you’ll need to pack accordingly.
As with most cold weather hikes, layers are necessary. The long uphill hikes in the middle of the day will bring you down to a base layer, possibly even shorts and a short sleeve depending on the day, where the early morning hikes and stormy days will have virtually every part of your body completely covered. A sweat wicking short sleeve is a good idea, especially since you may only be carrying a single hiking shirt along with a single downtime shirt to save weight in your bag. On top of the short sleeve, a breathable, lightweight long sleeve is enough to get you through the bulk of the trek in the warmer season.
A down jacket makes a good top layer, which can be picked up in Thamel for around $15. The quality of the fake North Face jackets varies greatly, as do the prices. A mid quality knock off should do just fine, which you can tell by feeling the thickness of the jacket and inspecting the stitching. The asking price will likely by $20-30, and can generally be bargained down, especially if you’re buying multiple items. If you’re visiting in the cold season (October – November) you may want a sweater or fleece layer as well.
Standard hiking pants should take care of your legs for the bulk of the trek, with waterproof snow pants coming in handy above Lobuche depending on the weather. Fake North Face waterproof pants in Thamel can be bought for $15 or so for a good quality, thicker pair. Wool or smart wool socks are always a good idea, and at least two pairs would be wise in case one pair gets wet. A buff is a very handy item to have on the trail, both to keep your neck warm and free of sunburn, and to cover your face up high when it’s too cold to walk comfortably without one.
Sunglasses and sunscreen are necessities, even if you have darker skin like I do. The sun bearing down on a small patch of exposed skin at altitude for hours and hours of hiking every day will burn, and the sun reflecting off of the snow and glaciers will burn your eyes without any protection. A pair of medium weight gloves or a pair of glove liners and a shell will take care of your hands, and a rain jacket or poncho is a wise move since it can rain at lower altitudes and snow up high any time of the year.
A water bladder will free your hands up and keep you from taking breaks when you’d rather not, and at altitude you’ll want to drink 3-4 liters of water per day, so you may grab one for $5 in Thamel if you don’t already have one. Water purification tablets are a good idea since water costs as much as $3.50 per liter up high, and 50 liters worth of tablets only costs $2 in Thamel. Diamox or a substitute altitude sickness treatment is a must have, even if you’ve been at altitude without issues before. $1.50 for 10 tablets is about the going price in Thamel, and it can be purchased along the trail for higher prices as well. Probiotics and charcoal pills are smart to bring to address the high likelihood of stomach issues, even if you’ll be making the wise decision to be a vegetarian on the hike.
A pocket knife will likely come in very handy on the trail, for cutting packaging, opening bottles, and cutting snacks, and a headlamp is always handy, although not as necessary on this hike as most others we’ve been on. If possible I’d bring some worn in boots instead of buying new ones in Kathmandu, if only to avoid blisters. Renting or buying sleeping bags can be done at reasonable rates a bit off the main street in Thamel. If you’ll be spending a month or less in the country you’ll likely find it cheaper to rent. Avoid the places charging high (or any) cleaning fees for the bags, and you shouldn’t have to pay any deposit either. A good shop will let you leave an ID from your home country as collateral or may not want anything at all. Eighty cents to $1 per day is what a -10C or -20C sleeping bag (either is fine) should cost to rent. Last but not least, a kindle or reader with a few unread books is essential since you’ll likely have a lot of downtime. A pack of playing cards can be bought while hiking, and should also be considered an essential for passing the time and meeting others in the lodges!
Tea Houses, or basic lodges are available virtually anywhere you look on the trail, eliminating the need to camp or haul food. For this reason a porter isn’t likely to be necessary since you won’t be carrying much beyond your clothes, water, and a sleeping bag. All three meals a day can be had in restaurants, which are relatively inexpensive by western standards, and become pricier the higher you go. There’s no need to worry about packing a lunch as you will inevitably find a restaurant on the way. Being a vegetarian is highly recommended while in the country due to a wide range of cleanliness and quality of food preparation, leading to extremely high rates of food poisoning when consuming meat.
If you’re hiking with no guide or porter you should say so when approaching the person running the lodge and ask if there’s a charge for the room in that case. Outside of Namche Bazar and Gorak Shep, we didn’t pay for a room while on the trail. It was explained that guides and porters are given free accommodation when they bring trekkers, and for that reason FIT – Free Independent Trekkers – are desirable and rarely charged for a room. In exchange for the free room you’ll be obligated to eat each remaining meal that day and breakfast the next morning in the lodge. Rooms are generally private with two or three beds, depending on availability and your preference.
Lodges, or tea houses, are generally basic but most that we stayed in were nicer than a lot of the accommodation we paid good money for in other countries. Expect them to be cold inside due to lack of insulation and single pane windows, but the beds are generally decent, blankets are provided to go over your sleeping bag when needed, and the common rooms usually have a fireplace to heat the place up during dinner time. When you get above the treeline expect dried yak dung to be burned as wood isn’t available, but there wasn’t a difference in smokiness or smell that we experienced.
You’ll need a TIMS card ($20pp per trekking area, ie Everest area, Annapurna area, etc) and a permit for the area – $34 for Everest. You can get both of these at the tourism office in Kathmandu, which is a short, dusty walk from Thamel. The office is open at least six days a week (not sure about Sundays) and the TIMS portion closes at 5pm, and the permit office closes at 2pm. You can expect the process to take about 10 minutes depending on how busy it is, and you’ll need two passport photos (when we visited if you didn’t have them they would take them for you and print free of charge).
If you won’t have time to get the TIMS and permit in Kathmandu you can get them on the trail, TIMS before Monjo, and the permit in Monjo. When we visited the fees were the same regardless of where you got it, however officials warned that Monjo is known to charge as much as double for trekkers looking to get their permit there. The process in both areas (we had friends with us who got theirs in Monjo) was exceedingly painless and simple.
To reach the start of the Everest Base Camp trail the most common option is to fly into Lukla from Kathmandu. You can also take a 4×4 to Jiri and hike for three days to Lukla to save the cost of the flight, however you’ll be paying for the extra days of meals then. The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is a highlight of the trip in itself, since you’ll be in a small, 14 seat plane, and flying beside the tallest mountains in the world. Approaching Lukla you’ll see a tiny, 500 meter long runway that is at a steep 10% incline with a stone wall at the end. Hitting the runway your plane will slow down and take a hard right at the top of the runway, just before the wall.
You can organize your flight ticket from Kathmandu on very little notice, with 24 hours usually being enough time. If the weather has been bad you are likely to have more issues, since flights from Kathmandu to Lukla are canceled often due to weather. The earlier the flight you can get on the better, however booking for a specific time online doesn’t guarantee you’ll get that time slot. Passengers with local help or guides tend to get first priority, and passengers without tend to need to push and shove and speak up quite a bit to finally get a flight. Yeti Air, Simrik, Nepal Air, and a couple of others run countless flights back and forth each morning, and none of them seem to care much for any organization or customer service unless you have a local taking care of things for you.
Including flights to and from Lukla ($148 pp each way), all food, accommodation, and incidentals, we spent $700 per person for 13 days in the Everest Region. We purified virtually all of our water, eliminating the huge expense of bottled water (approximately $2 per bottle on average x 4 liters per day x 13 days = $104 per person), took showers every few days ($2-5 per hot shower), and ate as much as we could handle. The average guided tour seems to run around $1,400 for a similar itinerary and often lower quality accommodation. We didn’t drink any alcohol due to the high price – around $5 for a can of beer – and instead stuck to coffee and tea since anything bottled or canned is expensive since a porter needs to carry it in.
We spent $75 each on clothing/gear in Kathmandu, which will vary greatly depending on what you bring and what you still need. $15 for a good down jacket, $15 for snow pants, $1 for a buff, $5 for a fleece, etc. We arrived with our backpacks, hiking boots, hiking pants, and a few base layers, buying the rest in small shops in Thamel. While on the trail we spent approximately $20 per person per day for food and accommodation, less down low and more up high. This was with free rooms every night outside of Namche Bazar and Gorak Shep, which you’d be best to bargain for. Be aware that Lobuche Village no longer allows free rooms, there is a kiosk that charges $5 for a ticket, which you then need to present to your lodge in order to stay. We bypassed Lobuche for other reasons, but most people choose to stay and should be aware of the charge.
The itinerary for our version of the Everest Base Camp hike included our alternate descent via Cho La Pass, which ended up being as much of a highlight for us as Everest Base Camp itself. If you have an extra few days to a week on your hands, you may consider the harder but potentially more rewarding Three Passes route, or if you’re looking for a quicker and easier descent, following the ascent route back down is the common way to finish the trek. The times written are the amount of time it took us at a medium pace and in poor to moderate hiking shape by our own standards. If you’re a fit, experienced hiker you can reduce the times, if you’re out of shape or don’t hike often you’ll need to increase them. We use Day 1 to indicate when you leave Kathmandu, while most other itineraries we’ve found use it to indicate when you arrive in Nepal. Do factor in a few days in Kathmandu to organize anything you may need prior to leaving. Altitudes listed are the height of the town above sea level in meters.
Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla flight, hike from Lukla (2,850 meters) to Monjo (2,873 meters) – 3.5 hours with an hour lunch break included
Day 2: Monjo to Namche Bazar (3,440 meters)– 3.5 hours
Day 3: Acclimatize in Namche Bazar, Hike to Everest View Hotel (3,880 meters) and back – 3 hours round trip
Day 4: Namche Bazar to Pangboche (3,960 meters) – 5.5 hours
Day 5: Pangboche to Dingboche (4,349 meters) – 3 hours
Day 6: Acclimitize in Dingboche, Hike up Nangkartshang (5,073 meters) – 4 hours
Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche (5,000 meters) – 3 hours – Note we pushed on past Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5,175 meters) due to the short hike prior and only 1.5 hours between Lobuche and Gorak Shep, however this can be risky if you aren’t feeling 100% due to altitude
Day 8: Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp (5,364 meters) – 1.5 hours (add 1.5 hours if coming from Lobuche)
Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kalapathar (5,545 meters) and back – 2.25 hours, Gorak Shep to Dzongla (4,830 meters) – 3.5 hours
Day 10: Dzongla to Gokyo (4,750 meters) – 7 hours – Note we were held up at a town on the opposite side of Cho La due to a storm, which made our hike 5 hours this day and an extra 2+ the next day to Gokyo. Without the storm we would’ve preferred to do it in one shot.
Day 11: Gokyo to Namche Bazar (3,440 meters) – 6 hours
Day 12: Namche Bazar to Lukla (2,850 meters) – 6 hours
Day 13: Lukla flight to Kathmandu
Altitude Sickness Prevention
A few rules to keep you safe from the dangers of altitude sickness:
-Altitude sickness can strike anyone, even if they’ve been at altitude before without issues.
-4 liters of water per day should be consumed while at altitude (over 4,000 meters but start lower as a precaution).
-Bring Diamox or an alternative with you, it’s easy to find in Kathmandu or on the trail. A half pill with breakfast and a half at lunch over 4,000 meters is smart for prevention of symptoms. A full pill in the morning and a full pill with lunch is for treatment once symptoms have occurred.
-Aim to sleep no more than 500 meters higher than the night before – If you sleep at 3,300 meters one night, sleep at 3,800 or lower the next if possible.
-Take a day here and there to acclimatize. Hike high on these days, spend an hour or two up there, and then descend. This will get your body used to the altitude without forcing it to stay so high immediately.
-Eat what you can, even if you lose your appetite. You’ll need the calories if you’re going to keep hiking.
-If symptoms become moderate, descend a few hundred meters and see how you feel. Sleep lower if possible. Once the symptoms are completely gone you can attempt to ascend again.
Read on in our detailed post about the hike for day to day info and more pictures of the scenery you can expect!