Everest Base Camp Trek; A Survival Guide

Trekking in Nepal, and especially to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is not a holiday, at least not in the usual sense. It is a challenging prospect which is not suited to the faint hearted, and determination is probably the most common trait displayed by successful trekkers.

It is one journey which is at least as important as the destination. Those prepared to take up the challenge are rewarded with stunning views and a sense of achievement beyond the scope of the average vacation.

Trekking in Nepal; Sherpa guides at Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu glacier in the Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Sherpa guides at EBC

Here are a few tips for potential EBC trekkers that probably won’t be found in the brochures.

Culture Shock – Nepal is a developing country, poverty is still rife here and average wages are incomprehensibly low to most westerners. The culture is alien to many of us, with different values, but this is also part of the appeal. Dealing with the regular attention of hawkers and beggars however is a challenge which some struggle with and there is not always a guide to help. Polite but firm rejection is usually the best tactic, and probably the responsible one.

Most of us will be aware of the Sherpa’s legendary ability to transport huge, heavy loads around, but it can still be a shock when experienced for the first time. Sandaled men and women negotiating the steep and rough paths with impossibly heavy loads are commonplace sights. It is especially distressing when children, often as young as eleven are the porters carrying the backbreaking loads.

Hygiene – Poor sanitation is commonplace and a visit to the toilet a genuine ordeal. One toilet break actually brought tears to my eyes, the stench was unbearable. A pee bottle is recommended, to avoid the need to visit too often.

Trekking in Nepal; A Sherpa porter on the Everest Base Camp trek route in the Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A Sherpa negotiating an awkward load

Porters – Commercial operators will arrange porters to transport luggage between overnight stops, avoiding the need for trekkers to carry themselves. Responsible companies will also restrict the weight of each bag, typically this is around 15kg. Independent trekkers can arrange their own guides in Kathmandu or even Lukla which will then carry their surplus luggage. The responsibility for ensuring they are not overloaded then lies with the trekker. Poverty stricken Sherpa guides are often exploited, accepting excessive loads to put food on their tables.

The Scott Fischer memorial on the way to Everest Base Camp in the Khumbu region of Nepal in the Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

The Scott Fischer memorial

Altitude – This is obviously the biggest challenge to anybody trekking in Nepal. Everest Base Camp sits at a height of 5545 metres, which is probably above most people’s previous high point. Anybody sleeping at altitudes above 2,000 metres maybe affected by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Slow, steady acclimatisation is the key to a successful ascent, carefully controlled by experienced guides.

AMS can strike regardless of physical fitness, but sensible preparation with a training regimen including regular aerobic exercise and light load bearing hiking is recommended. Good hydration and maintaining energy levels are essential for avoiding AMS, drink well, eat well and sleep well. Sleeping at altitude is challenging, use lip balm liberally before retiring and keep plenty of water handy to avoid dehydration. Sleeping alone above 3,000 metres is not recommended because of potential breathing difficulties.

Trekking in Nepal; Tibetan prayer flags above the village of Dingboche in Khumbu region of the Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Tibetan prayer flags in the clouds

The use of medication is a complex issue which each trekker should consult with a doctor before deciding. Diamox works by acidifying the blood, stimulating faster breathing and allowing more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. It is often taken before climbing and for several days afterwards. There are a number of side effects, but the main reason it is not advised is because it removes one option for treatment of the effects. Headaches can also be treated with painkillers as normal.

Signs/symptoms – The onset of AMS is diagnosed when the following symptoms are clear: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, chills, sleeping problems, appetite loss, nausea/vomiting or uncharacteristic behaviour. Experienced guides will spot these symptoms and take action, trekkers often ignore the signs. If several symptoms exist, or persist, immediate retreat to a lower altitude is  required.

Terrain – Climbing is of course expected as part of the trek, but the terrain is often steeply undulating. Each day usually involves some descent, regaining this loss in altitude is then required. The most tiring aspect of the trek however is where rough steps exist, they are often high and exhausting.

Water – Plenty of fresh drinking water is essential for good hydration. Bottled water becomes expensive, one litre costs just 20 rupees (RPs) in Kathmandu but climbs steeply to 350RPs at Gorak Shep. Where shops exist the price is often cheaper than the tea houses, sometimes a third of the price, so shop around.

Iodine/chlorine treatment leaves an unpleasant after taste and two tablets will be also be required above 4000m. Additionally the water at Gorak Shep comes from a well, filled with silt. Buying a filtration bottle pre-trip maybe a worthwhile investment.

Adding Dioralyte to one bottle a day will enable fast and effective replacement of essential salts.

Food – Meals in the teahouses along the route  although basic and the variety limited are remarkably good. Meat should be avoided at higher altitudes as its reliability cannot be assured and stomach upsets have ruined many a trek. The Sherpa stew is hearty and usually good, Dal bhat (lentil curry with rice) is a cheap filling meal,  and seconds are often available, while various momos and spring rolls always seem popular.

Trekking in Nepal; The village of Gorak Shep in the Khumbu region of the Nepalese Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Gorak Shep, last stop before Everest Base Camp

Gadgets – In the modern world of social media and smoasting, smartphones and cameras are an essential part of travelling. Network coverage is patchy throughout the trek and above Lukla Wi-Fi is only available at a cost. Connections are often slow, costing up to 15RPs a minute, so posting that selfie on Facebook can work out expensive.

Power cannot always be relied upon and charging of devices also needs purchasing. Therefore alternative methods of powering up such as solar panel devices or battery storage packs are worth the extra weight.

Equipment – Effective layering is the answer to a comfortable trip; the ability to add or remove layers is a versatile method of controlling heat. Opt for artificial fibres or merino wool products as they will dry quickly and wick sweat away from the skin. Cotton is a poor option as it remains wet and can actually chill the wearer. A warm fleece or down jacket is useful for the evenings when it becomes cold. A windproof/waterproof jacket is essential for warmth and because it does sometimes rain.

Trekking in Nepal; A panoramic of some Himalayan giants in the Khumbu region on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Himalayan panorama

Quilts and blankets are available in the lower villages, but use a good sleeping system above Namche Bazaar. Four season sleeping bags are often suggested but a better option would be a three season bag and a silk liner, which will offer greater versatility.

Trekking poles are useful if used properly. They will ease the strain on the knees, especially when travelling downhill. Remember to change the length to suit the terrain, otherwise they will be of little help and even become a burden.

List – a detailed list of suggested equipment is available here Everest Base Camp Kit List

Trekking in Nepal; Prayer wheels at the Tengeboche Monastery in the Khumbu region of the Nepali Himalaya on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Prayer wheels at the Tengeboche Monastery

Budgeting – There is an airport tax of 200RPs for flying in and out of Lukla, payable in local currency. The costs of dining in the teahouses rises on a sliding scale as EBC becomes closer. This is understandable due to the logistics and challenges of transporting equipment. Remember those children and their heavy loads. Breakfast is usually included at the teahouses but lunch and dinner is not. Allow around 1250RPs per person per day for food at lower altitudes and an extra 600RPs at the higher villages. Those requiring shower/charging facilities may need to allow another 600RPs.

I managed on a much tighter budget, but my dinner options were more limited, and a cold bath in a local river was my choice in place of a shower on at least one occasion.

Emergency money – It is advisable to carry dollars or sterling for medical treatment or other unexpected costs. In late season return flights from Lukla are often cancelled, and helicopter transport maybe required to return to Kathmandu. Fees are around $450, and airport tax increases to 800RPs.

Blisters – A blister can at best be the cause of a miserable day and at worst ruin a trek completely. Get a blister treated at the first sign of discomfort.

Trekking in Nepal;A Dzo (yakow) train in the high Himalaya, on the Everest Base Camp trail in the Khumbu region on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A dzo train, yak/cow hybrid known as a yakow

Yaks –Trekkers will be probably be pleased to hear these are commonplace at higher altitudes, but they are often irritable and unpredictable. When passing on a tight path, give their horns a wide berth, stand uphill and away from any drop.

Best views – The weather is unpredictable at anytime but for the best chances of amazing views avoid late season trekking. March/April or October/November are the recommended times.

Ego – The aim of the trek is to reach Everest Base Camp. Don’t attempt to disguise any illness as false pride is a mistake. Allowing a guide to carry a daypack if feeling ill is a sensible precaution. The following day a full recovery maybe made and EBC will still be possible, this is preferable to being sent back.

Nepal is a remote country, there will be surprises on route, remain flexible and patient. During our trek rebuilding of a hydro-electric plant led to generator power only being available in several towns. Charging devices became an additional challenge for several days.

This post is about trekking to EBC, most of the tips for avoiding AMS, hydration and equipment are equally pertinent to any high altitude trek. Those travelling to other greater ranges such as the Andes or Rockies should find them equally useful.

Trekking in Nepal; Tibetan prayer flags in the Himalaya mountains of Khumbu on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Nepal, mountains and prayer flags

Follow this simple guidance and a successful and enjoy a pleasant trek. Do you have any tips for high altitude trekking in Nepal? Please share them here.

Trekking in Nepal; Sherpa guides standing in front of Everest in the Himalayan Khumbu region on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Our Sherpa guides posing in front of Everest

*All images were taken on a Samsung WB250F compact WiFi camera.

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Comments 21

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      Thanks Katy, I hope you make it one day, it’s a great experience and just being in the Himalaya is mindblowing.

  1. Beverly

    EBC is unofficially on my bucket list but I sometimes wonder if I’ll get too old before I get around to making it happen. Then I see those two 80 year old climbers racing to the summit and I think surely I could make it to EBC? And now I have your experienced tips to help me when I finally commit. Great post on a great adventure!

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      Age is merely a state of mind Beverly, an 80 year old man managed to reach the summit days before I visited. I’m sure you can make it and hope you do so soon, glad the tips will be of use.

  2. Cyndi

    This is the best practical advice and honest tips I’ve read on trekking to EBC. I tried to make a trip there for this December work out… unfortunately it didn’t, but I’m looking to go next year. I’ll keep this bookmarked for when I do get over there! I giggled at “smoasting” – I love the name, and the concept is spot on!

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      Thank you Cyndi I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it useful. I do hope you make it to EBC soon, shame it didn’t work out in December but that isn’t the best time to visit to be honest, it’s pretty rough weather then. I enjoy a little smoasting and glad you found it amusing.

      Incidentally tried commenting on a post on your site but the login required wasn’t encouraging.

    1. Post
      Author
  3. TammyOnTheMove

    Great advise! I did the EBC trek in April this year, but unfortunately I had to abort one day before I was supposed to reach base camp. I had severe altitude sickness, so had to decent and rest up a couple of days. I was gutted, but I am still glad I made it as far as I did. So people attempting the trek should definitely take AMS seriously. We saw a few people being airlifted back to Kathmandu.

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      Thank you Tammy, sorry to hear you didn’t make it to EBC, we also had a case of AMS in our groupn and as mentioned in another post several Sherpa guides lost their lives. So yes totally agree, it really needs to be taken seriously.

  4. Everest base camp trekking guide Recommend, base camp trek reviews

    Everest base camp Trekking tour hiking Travel
    The Everest Base Camp is two base camps, each on opposite sides of Mount Everest. South Base Camp is in Nepal at an altitude of 5,364 meters (17,598 ft) (28°0′26″N 86°51′34″E), and North Base Camp is in Tibet at 5,150 meters (16,900 ft)(28°8′29″N 86°51′5″E). These camps are rudimentary campsites on Mount Everest that are used by mountain climbers during their ascent and descent. South Base Camp is used when climbing via the southeast ridge, while North Base Camp is used when climbing via the northeast ridge.
    Supplies are carried to the South Base Camp by sherpas or porters, and with help of animals, usually yaks. The North Base Camp has vehicle access (at least in the summer months). Climbers typically rest at base camp for several days for acclimatization; to reduce the risks and severity of altitude sickness.
    The Everest Base Camp trek on the south side is one of the most popular trekking routes in the Himalayas and is visited by thousands of trekkers each year. Trekkers usually fly from Kathmandu to Lukla to save time and energy before beginning the morning trek to this base camp. From Lukla, climbers trek upward to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, 3,440 meters (11,290 ft), following the valley of the Dudh Kosi river. The village is a central hub of the area, and food, sundries and even mountain climbing equipment may be purchased here.
    This takes about two days. Typically at this point, climbers allow a day of rest for acclimatization. They then trek another two days to Dingboche, 4,260 meters (13,980 ft) before resting for another day for further acclimatization. Another two days takes them to Everest Base Camp via Gorakshep, the flat field below Kala Patthar, 5,545 meters (18,192 ft) and Mt. Pumori.

  5. Francis Cassidy

    Some good advice here. Having been there, I would definately second what you say about altitude. I saw quite a few people in real discomfort at Gorak Shep (5,200m) and even came across one italina at 4,200 m who had to be rescued by helicopter.
    Having said that, the views are spectacular and I hope to return again some day on a different route.

  6. Fabien Meunier

    You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.Great pictures with snow mountains back by the way.

  7. Aditya Bikram Karki

    I came across your travel blog. I read some of your posts and they are such good reads on Nepal.

    I have a similar travel blog called Gorgeous Nepal which is a Nepal dedicated travel blog aimed at sharing travel experiences and stories from Nepal. We aim to help potential travelers navigate Nepal through fellow travelers experience and stories.

    If your are interested to share your Nepal experience or stories you can share it with us. We allow already published post and also include your shot bio at the end in (parentheses) and possible links you want it to linked back where-ever you want.

    The link to submit your stories/experience: http://gorgeousnepal.tumblr.com/submit

    P.S: Nice pictures of Nepal 🙂 great blog.

  8. Manish

    Hi Iain,

    I have climbed upto 20000 Ft before i.e. Kang YAtse 2 in Leh.

    Want to do EBC in June from June 10th -11 th onwards . Can you let me know local contacts in Nepal i.e. local guides who can offer the trek for a cheaper price? Looks like I might do it solo!

    Looking forward for your reply

    BYe
    Manish

  9. Trekking In Nepal

    Thanks for the information Iain. It is nice to read on others point of view on the EBC trekking. I practically love the experience. However it is sad about the avalanche that had happened recently. May the victims rest in peace.

  10. Michele Roberts

    It is very nice and advisable blog. Everest base camp is really an inspiration for trekking and much more. it is very difficult for one to manage there untill they are not fully trained and have much experience of trekking before. This blog explains well about the survival at Everest base camp. Will surely keep in mind all the trips shared! http://himalalayadestination.com/ even i have red some useful tips on this site. thought should share.

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