Last Updated 1 July 2015
Can I Do the Everest Base Camp Trek in 2015?
Even after two earthquakes, one on 25 April and another in early May, the Everest Base Camp trek is open for business. Tourist dollars are important to Nepal, but, with the exception of New Zealand, most governments persist in advising against travel to Nepal, invalidating most travel insurance. I am not aware of any travel insurer who will cover tourists trekking at altitude in Nepal where their government advises against travel (even Frontier Travel Insurance don’t seem to cover it). Medical evacuation can come in extremely expensive.
The monsoon season (roughly, June to August) is always a difficult time to travel in Nepal: plan to do the Everest Base Camp trek in September, usually the start of peak season, when hopefully travel warnings will have been removed, or after September, rather than right now. While I’d normally advise against trekking in September or October, 2015 might well be the year to do it.
How Much Does the Everest Base Camp Trek Cost?
The Everest Base Camp trek can cost $400-$450 for shoestringers who walk in from Jiri, then straight in and straight out to Everest Base Camp, unguided, over 24 days or so when the weather is warm, or as much as 20 times that for people who book luxury treks overseas over routes such as the Three Passes.We flew in and out of Lukla, walked at a leisurely pace through Gokyo with a porter-guide who carried the bulk of our gear, staying at cheap lodges and purifying our own water but enjoying the odd beer, pudding and bucket wash: 19 days in the mountains cost us around $1100 per head, including $280 on flights, all food, fees, accommodation, passes and tips.
For more detail and cost breakdowns, see my post How Much Does the Everest Base Camp Trek Cost? Note that for most trekkers food will be the single most expensive item on the trip, followed by flights and travel insurance: most organised budget Western tours exclude food, while putting you up in shared rooms that cost a princely $5 a night.
How Fit Do I Need to Be to Do the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Children as young as six and adults of over 70 have walked to Everest Base Camp, and the straight-in, straight-out trek is less demanding than you would think, provided you allow yourself the time to acclimatise to altitude that YOUR body needs, and listen to your body when it tells you to stop.
Because of steep ascents and descents, rocky paths, rock steps and some moraine walking, the Everest Base Camp trek isn’t suitable for anyone with knee problems or weak ankles, while people carrying significant extra weight are likely to struggle with this at altitude. Anyone with heart trouble or lung problems should check with their doctor.
Although the days of walking are short enough for even slow walkers to manage them comfortably, provided you are travelling at your own pace, a reasonable level of fitness is required. If you get puffed out climbing a few flights of stairs, then ascending over 3000 vertical metres with lots of ups and downs along the way is not for you. But my twelve-year-old son and I did it (for an account of doing Everest Base Camp with a child, start here), and, though we’ve done some challenging trekking, we’re neither of us your stereotypical super-fit hikers.
As a rule of thumb, if you are reasonably fit, have some experience of hiking at altitude, have done some mountain or gorge hiking, and have done hikes that last multiple days and involve basic conditions, you’re fit enough to get to Everest Base Camp and enjoy it. For many, a porter will be a wise investment: in my experience, carrying 10kg at 5000m is like carrying 30kg at sea level.
Do I Need To Do the Everest Base Camp Trek as Part of an Organised Tour?
You are much better off simply arranging a porter, porter-guide or guide and porters yourself, either independently or with the help of a Nepali agent, who can also coordinate flights and passes. You are far more likely to die of AMS on an organised tour than you are while trekking independently.
The two instances where organised tours might make sense are where you require less basic accommodation – the higher-end lodges discount heavily to tour operators and not to independent travellers — or where you want to meet climbers at Everest Base Camp proper.
Organised camping tours are a mystifyingly popular option. Before booking these, be aware that you will not be wilderness camping, or free camping: almost all of the time you will be in a tent encampment in the middle of a village where everyone else is staying in lodges.
What Is Everest Advanced Base Camp?
When mountaineers climb Everest they set up their base camp on the moraine below the Khumbu Icefall, and proceed up the mountain in a series of different camps. Advanced Base Camp, also known as Camp 1, is on the other side of the Khumbu Ice Fall, the lethally dangerous series of ice slabs where sixteen climbers were killed fixing ropes in 2014: getting there requires mountaineering skills, mountaineering equipment and expedition-level support. The route across the ice fall is set by professional teams of Sherpas during the March-May climbing season each year: to use it, you’ll need to be a mountaineer, or pay top dollar to tag along with a mountaineering expedition.
Can I Camp at Everest Base Camp?
Base camp only exists during the climbing season – at other times of year it’s just a moraine with some prayer flags to mark an abstract spot. During climbing season, it’s reserved for expeditions. Out of climbing season, because of the instability of the moraine – basically heaps of rubble atop a half-decayed glacier – camping is discouraged. Even organised camping tours camp at Gorak Shep, the cluster of lodges an hour or so’s walk from base camp proper.
I’ve Never Trekked Before. Can I Do the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Before committing to at least eleven days hiking in (generally) basic conditions, it’s a good idea to establish that you like hiking and don’t mind basic conditions, so that you can actually enjoy the experience when you do it. Bank a two or, optimally, three-day hike to see how you feel about walking each day and being away from home comforts before committing.
How Should I Prepare for the Everest Base Camp Trek?
The Everest Base Camp trek is less physically strenuous than some people make out – although not a walk in the park. The main issue is going up and down steep slopes and steps, and so the best preparation is to go up and down lots and lots of stairs with the weight that you’ll be carrying when you trek.
Can I Drink the Water on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Nepalese tap water is not safe to drink. Bring water purifying tablets or a water purifying stick to save money and the environment. Note that at higher elevations during the coldest times of year the water will freeze, so you’ll need to buy boiled water from teahouses. Buy a decent thermos flask or plastic water container in Kathmandu so that you can top up with hot, boiled water at the beginning of the day – starting with hot water will stop it freezing.
Can I Do the Everest Base Camp Trek If I’m Scared of Heights?
Yes! I did! Provided you take a guide, or porter-guide with you, there are actually relatively few scary bits on the straight-in, straight-out Everest Base Camp trek.
A few suspension bridges will take courage to walk across: they’re sturdy and well-guarded, with handrails and wire mesh below the rail, but they are high, and move with the motion of your feet and the feet of anyone else on them.
In most places the path follows steep slopes rather than sheer precipices, and most of these have tree cover too. Where the path does trace a sheer precipice, it is wide enough not to provoke too much panic.
Is the Everest Base Camp Trek Dangerous?
The first rule of trekking Everest Base Camp is to step to the wall side when you meet a yak or mule train, since otherwise you can be knocked off the edge. The straight-in, straight-out route, though, is relatively danger-free: the path has been widened and in many places smoothed for trekkers, especially where it traces a sheer slope.
The main danger for most people doing the straight-in, straight-out route is altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS). For most people, this can be avoided by sleeping no more than 300m higher than you did the night before and taking an acclimatisation day every 1000 metres. Serious AMS is more common in folk doing group tours than in independent trekkers.
Other common injuries are twisted ankles and sprains. Rock falls, moraine and glacier crossings add significant risk to longer treks involving crossing high passes such as the Cho-La. As always, it’s unwise to trek solo in case you fall and can’t extricate yourself: people disappear on this route all the time.
Will My Travel Insurance Cover Me for the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Check the terms and conditions of your travel insurance very carefully before embarking on the Everest Base Camp trek – the elevations involved are above 5000m, and many companies simply will not cover you at that level. (World Nomads offers trekking up to 6000m under its level 2 cover for most nationalities.)
You need to be covered for helicopter evacuation from the mountains in emergencies, and, if you have a connecting flight to your home country, are flying out of Lukla, and planes stop running, your insurance should cover the cost of a helicopter out of Lukla.
World Nomads’ Level 2 insurance covers most bases, and, unlike with local specialist mountaineering companies, you can book it when you’re outside your home country.
Can I Get Cash Out on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Yes, but it will cost you! The bank in Lukla charges a fee of 5%; in Namche, there is a Visa ATM which sometimes works, plus moneychangers who will run Visa, Mastercard and Union Pay cards for a fee of 8%. A few of the more expensive lodges on the main Everest Base Camp route will take Mastercard and Visa cards and, I’d imagine, will run them in emergencies for a fee.
It’s still a good idea to carry all the NPR cash you think you will need for your trek with you (Nabil Bank offers daily withdrawals of 35,000 rupees at a 400 rupee fee), plus a couple of hundred dollars in cash in case, for example, you break a limb and need to be transported on a mule down to the nearest helicopter evac point.
Can I Do Everest Base Camp with Kids?
A number of families with children, including us, have done and enjoyed the Everest Base Camp trek (my account of doing the Everest Base Camp Trek with my child starts here).
It is unwise to take a child to Everest Base Camp unless that child is old enough to recognise and communicate the early signs of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness, previously known altitude sickness) – otherwise, they could die.
It should go without saying that any child who does not understand risk and does not obey its parents is risking life and limb in the high Himalayas. Further, any child that’s averse to exercise, not good with cold climates, fussy about what it eats, where it sleeps or what bathroom facilities it uses is unlikely to enjoy the Everest Base Camp trek.
Points to consider before you go: toilet and washing facilities become progressively more basic the higher you ascend, which may make the trek unbearable for some teen girls. Unless you arrange a custom camping tour with your own menu, or bring your own cooking equipment and ingredients, the food becomes very monotonous. At least one porter will come in handy at altitude unless your children are good to carry all 12-18kg of their own gear.
There is pretty much nothing to do in the evenings at any of the lodges and it can cost as much as 500 Nepali Rupees ($5.50) per hour to charge electronic devices at higher elevations, even when the charge is available: consider bringing lightweight games.
The golden rule with kids is to allow for lots of rest and acclimatisation days. But there are plenty of delights in the mountains, from animals and wildlife, through to icicles to shatter, glacier lakes to skate on, rocks to chuck and safe places to climb that active children will find the trek really fun.
Horses, mules, yaks and porters provide alternatives to carrying tired children at a price. Chocolate is really expensive at high elevations – as much as $4 for a Snickers bar – so bring all consumable bribes with you from Kathmandu or Pokhara. And – obviously – bring spare sets of gloves, including liners, and hats.
I’m a huge fan of travelling with kids whenever you can, so I’d say do it.
Can I Bring My Laptop on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Yes, though you may regret it if you have to carry it. There is wifi, when it’s working, at many points along the main Everest Base Camp trek, all over Lukla and all over Namche, also in Gokyo and in Thame. The headline charge can be an eye-bleeding 20NPR (22 cents) per minute, but most lodges will negotiate a decent daily or, at the very least, hourly rate.
Battery charge costs from 200NPR per hour to 500NPR per hour, and is only available where there is solar electricity to spare. Again, you may be able to negotiate a flat rate for this. If you’re trekking in winter, you may find your battery won’t even charge in the low temperatures.
Do I Need a Guide, a Porter, a Porter-Guide or No Guide?
The Everest Base Camp trek is busy and generally well-marked, so you don’t need a guide to find the way, except, perhaps, when it comes to navigating the moraine at the end. That said, it’s definitely best enjoyed with someone who speaks Nepali and some Sherpa and understands the local culture, and arguably more pleasant if you’re not carrying much. Technically, tourists are now supposed to be accompanied by a guide, but this does not seem to be enforced.
A porter’s role is to carry loads. You shouldn’t pay less than 1000 rupees a day to a porter, and shouldn’t give them more than 15kg to carry, as they have their own stuff to carry as well (the legal limit in Nepal is a total of 35kg). It’s your responsibility to see that they have the right gear for the elevations they’ll be headed to.
A porter-guide will speak some English, carry loads and do some basic guiding – showing the way, explaining the basics of a monastery or a ceremony, knowing the height of a mountain, helping negotiate rooms at a lodge, or translate a conversation with a local. You can’t expect an in-depth history of a specific spot, though. Expect to pay around $20.
Most guides will not carry anything (unless you’re exhausted and they want to get somewhere), but will look after every aspect of your trip, from arranging rooms, meals, flights, or camping gear, through to timing your arrival at a peak for sunrise, knowing the history of that monastery, etcetera. They should speak fluent English and will handle any porters they recruit: expect to pay $40-$60 per day.
Because porters, porter-guides and guides pay their own accommodation, you can expect to end up at lodges that offer them good deals. If you want a different lodge, the right thing to do is to cover your porter’s increased costs.
The standard tip is 25%. We found our excellent porter-guide Nir through Narayan Bhandari. All agencies take their cut, but it means the negotiation is done, the upfront payment’s delivered, you have someone you can rely on who won’t run off with your gear leaving you stranded, and everything’s clear at the end of the trek.
For more difficult stretches, like crossing the Cho-La pass, most lodges can arrange porters, guides or porter-guides for the relevant day.
Is It Worth Bringing My Own Food?
Snacks are expensive on the trail, so they are definitely worth bringing. Lodges charge extra if you bring your own food in, not to mention for hot water, so shoestringers hoping to make a bag of rice last a twelve-day trek will find this a false economy. Fuel is really at a premium in the mountains. Dal bhat, the Nepali lentil stew, is the most economical way to eat.
How Long Does the Everest Base Camp Trek Take?
This depends very much on what route you do. It is possible, and most group tours plan, to walk in from Lukla and back out the same way in twelve days, but you should allow extra days in your schedule in case you get sick, need extra acclimatisation or flights are backed up in Lukla either heading in or heading out. I’d recommend planning for twelve days plus a two day detour up to Chhukung to catch some views, then if you get sick or have trouble acclimatising you can drop the detour but still see Everest Base Camp and get the views from Kala Patthar.
The route we took leads up the Gokyo Valley to beautiful Gokyo Ri, over the Cho-La Pass (which isn’t always passable) and then up the Khumbu to Everest and back down to Namche and Lukla. While not a complete loop route, you do avoid the repetition of an in-and-out trek. This took us nineteen days, going at a leisurely pace with multiple rest days. It’s possible to do it in sixteen.
Another alternative, which is physically challenging and involves a lot of altitude, is the Three Passes trek, for which you should allow at least twenty days. This takes you down the Thame Valley, over the Renjo-La to the Gokyo Valley, over the Cho-La to the Khumbu, up to Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar, then down and over the Kongma La to the Imja Khola Valley, and back down to Namche and Lukla. You only repeat the first two days of the trek and get incredible mountain views.
Other variations include the Five Passes Trek, the Seven Passes Trek, and a custom route allowing you to climb some walkable peaks along the way.
National Geographic has a great map and Trekking in the Everest Region makes a great guide book if you want to plan your own route.
Can I Wear Trainers on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
No, because if it gets cold you could get frostbite. You need decent waterproof boots with a bit of ankle support (not necessarily hiking boots, unless you’re doing a pass that needs crampons or similar), also some sandals or, if you fancy yourself as a mountaineer, down booties for when you take them off in the evening. For more on this see my post “What Gear Do I Need for the Everest Base Camp Trek?”
What Is the Accommodation Like on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Accommodation on the Everest Base Camp trek is basically available at two price points – 200-500 Nepali rupees (you might need to haggle a little), or $150+ (or, of course, you can do a camping trip).
Entry level accommodation typically buys you a clean, sunlit plywood cell, with two beds, perhaps a table and some hooks on the wall, a window, perhaps with a view, plus a couple of shared squat toilets and a shower room in which you can wash from a bucket of hot water for an extra fee. Only the main shared dining area will be heated and then only at certain times of day, and you will need to purchase everything from boiled water to toilet paper.
At busy times of year there may not be enough quilts, so it’s critical to bring a cold-weather sleeping bag. Toilets are generally not for the squeamish, and the absence of insulation can make lodges hell for light sleepers.
At lower elevations, 500 rupees will buy you a bathroom of your own with a Western toilet, although you’ll almost certainly need to shower elsewhere. The pricing assumes you will eat dinner and breakfast in your lodge, rather than elsewhere – lodges charge 1000-1500 rupees for rooms without meals.
Top-end accommodation features similar rooms, but stone built and slightly larger, with carpeting and en suites and perhaps a desk. In many of these, though, you will need to flush your en suite Western-style toilet from a bucket, and request a bucket of hot water to use under your decorative shower. Most have some form of in-room heating but you will not be lounging in the boudoir in a negligee or dining in shirtsleeves.
At Lobuche and Gorak Shep, where fuel and solar electricity are at a premium, all accommodation is basic. Yes, even if you’ve spent $9000 on a group tour. Sorry!
What Is the Food Like on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
For this, see my post Food on the Everest Base Camp Trek, over on my food blog. Expect to eat a lot of rice and dal, with perhaps some yak, at higher elevations: Namche Bazar, however, even has an Irish pub!
I’ve Heard Flying into Lukla is Dangerous. Do I Have To?
Yes, Lukla is a dangerous airport, and flying into Lukla is terrifying. And, no, you don’t have to fly. If you have the time, you can walk in from Jiri (technically Sriwalajaya), which is a strenuous six day trek that goes up and down the sides of valleys, or Phaplu, or other more distant destinations, and walk out to one or the other of those places.
What If My Stuff Breaks? Can I Buy a Replacement on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Both Lukla and Namche are full of trekking stores selling things like hiking poles, gloves, windproof jackets, sleeping bags, headtorches and day packs, as well as books, energy bars, snacks and the usual tourist tat. You are much better off buying everything you need in Kathmandu or Pokhara, where prices are lower.
Outside Lukla and Namche, options are much more limited: don’t plan on finding anything more than loo roll, snacks, drinks, batteries and possibly the odd pair of gloves in many villages.
Should I Buy My Gear at Home or in Nepal?
That very much depends on how much use you intend to get out of it. Reasonable quality fake gear is available in Kathmandu and Pokhara for a fraction of the price of the real deal – be aware that standards are lower, so a -30C rated sleeping bag will only be good for -20C, a 900 fill down jacket is more likely to be 700 fill, etcetera. You can expect fake sleeping bags and jackets to leak down, and should feel everything you buy for fill before you spend.
Whatever boots you wear need to be broken in before you get to the mountains – unless blisters are part of your trekking plan, buy these outside Nepal, or with enough time left to break them in, and don’t even think about renting boots. Many places in Kathmandu and Pokhara also rent out down gear and sleeping bags, which are the most sensible option if you don’t think you’ll be using them again for a while.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Do the Everest Base Camp Trek?
If you value solitude, the monsoon season (June-August) and midwinter (January-February) can make a great time to do it, depending how well you cope with extreme climate, although if you’re adding in high passes to the route they may become impassable. When trekking during those times, allow space for delays, be aware that trail conditions can be difficult and do not assume that flights will run on time.
The main peak season is late September to early December, but during October and November the trails can become unpleasantly crowded with trekkers and the yak and mule trains that support them, and lodges are often block-booked by tour groups. March to May, when the flowers are out, is increasingly popular – one advantage of trekking in April-May is that there are tents and climbers at Everest Base Camp.
If you only have time to do the basic Everest Base Camp route, I’d opt for early December, early September or March, personally. As everyone going up and everyone coming down follows the same route, as do all the yak and mule trains bringing in supplies, it’s hideously busy in the spring and autumn peaks. But I’d honestly recommend you do a loop route, either the Three Passes or the Gokyo route.
I’d Like to See Everest but I’m Not Sure I Want to Spend Twelve Days There. Are There Alternatives to the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Yes! There are tonnes. And, given you can’t see Everest from Everest Base Camp ANYWAY, a shorter trek to lower altitudes might well make sense, although you’ll miss out on the high mountain experience.
The walk from Lukla to Namche takes two days – some folk walk in to Namche, climb to the top of town to see the spectacular Everest view, complete with jetstream, and then walk back. Others use Namche as a base for shorter treks in the region, divert off into the forest to go wildlife spotting, or pick a valley to explore.
One advantage of staying lower is that conditions are a lot more pleasant than higher up the trail, particularly if you’re staying in luxe lodges.
What Medical Facilities Are There on the Everest Base Camp Trek?
Medical facilities catering to tourists operate on a seasonal basis – so in peak season there are basic altitude clinics as far afield as Gokyo and Pheriche, and a more sophisticated facility in Namche.
Outside peak season there are pharmacies in Namche and Lukla, and a small hospital in Khumjung, but other than that you’re on your own.
It’s important to bring all medicines you think you might need with you, including treatments for every minor ailment you’ve ever had, all the common stomach bugs and AMS, and to have full medical cover, including helicopter evac, on your travel insurance.
And – whew! — I think that’s that covered. Drop me a comment with any questions, and I’ll edit this post to include the answers.
Looking for more on the Everest Base Camp trek? My story starts here. Trek Around Nepal arranged our flights and introduced us to Nir: they also offer full service Everest Base Camp treks.