A trekkers guide to the himalayas: Everest Basecamp

In Travel Guides
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Kathmandu’s airport must be one of the smallest, most chaotic and unorganised airports in the history. Getting there at 5am, ready to board a domestic plane to Lukla we faced a pitch black hall due to the fact that electricity rarely work in Nepal. Tons of people people queuing up in the dark for a check in that didn’t open until past border time. Getting squashed between locals, kicked between queues and pushed in to a crowded chaos of travellers we fought our way to our tiny flight. Bringing us to one of the most dangerous airports in the world; Lukla, we would start a challenging 20 day trek along the exited paths of Himalayas. In the company of my sister Alice her boyfriend Matti and my friend Charlotte, we took off into a cloud of adventures.

Getting to Everest Basecamp:

You don’t necessarily need a guide or a porter to reach Basecamp. The path between Lukla and Everest basecamp is highly trafficked , specially during the season. Passing heaps of people and villages along carefully signed paths makes it hard to get lost. Watch out for the Yak-attack.

Saying that, we did end up booking a guide ourselves. The package we got was the cheapest 20 day option including guide, permits, flights and accommodation for a price of $600 per person. A fantastic deal despite the expensive flight fare between Kathmandu and Lukla that lands on $170 each way. Food prices ascend with the altitude but a good guideline is to budget for around $15 a day.  All inclusive packages includes flights, accommodation, permits, guide, porter and food. The price for this would be around $1500 for 20 days depends on the group size. Its usually more expensive to book through an agency online.

We got in contact with mr. Nepal as soon as we landed in Kathmandu and after becoming good friends he brought us to his agency ‘Top of the world Adventure’ located in the heart of Thamel. Kathmandu is full of travel agencies  at every corner, but I’d highly recommend this guy. Not only did he sell us a great deal, he also provide excellent service and made sure we had a great trek.  Parts of his profits goes straight to a project of rebuilding schools that got destroyed in the earthquake, which I’m more than happy to support.

When getting a guide, make sure to get one of the company’s own guys. Preferable meet him before heading off as 20 days is a long time being stuck with someone you don’t get along with. We made the mistake to get a cheaper, local guide from Lukla with no personal connection with the agency itself.

 

Altitude sickness:

The most important thing when considering climbing Everest Basecamp is to take it easy! You’re gonna reach an altitude of 5300 metres, and the last thing you want to happen is to get altitude sickness and having to turn around.

My friend Matti (sisters boyfriend) was so keen to get there that he kept pushing himself through headache and dizziness, which in the end forced him to turn around before reaching his goal.
Symptoms can be headache, dizziness, exhaustion, a feeling of hunger but no appetite, trouble to sleep, shivering, hard to breath, vomits and fainting. When feeling any of the symptoms it’s highly important not to ascend to a higher elevation. Stay where you are until you feel better, or decent to a lower altitude. There where so many signs telling us to descend, or add another day of acclimatisation, but we just kept going. Trying to convince ourselves that we’re imagining our symptoms. That nothing was wrong.


Day 7.  Dingbuche- Lobuche

“This is the day the altitude really started to show. The daily trek was not harder than the previous ones, rather the opposite, but getting close to an altitude of 5000m made me struggle. Not getting enough oxygen in my lungs gave me a feeling of hunger mixed with an urge to throw up. I had to concentrate so hard not to faint. By the time I reached Lobuche I collapsed and sat down in panic. Charlotte carried my bag to our room and as I was about to follow her it blackened in front of my eyes and I fainted onto the floor. Leaning  on our guide and my sister I managed to get to the room where I could lay down”

I wrote this in my diary. And despite how i had been feeling and  Matti’s stage of constant headeche, shivering and trouble to breath we must have been out of our minds trying to aim for Basecamp the next day, and 2 hours in we had to turn back to Lobuche. We tried again the following morning, but halfway to Gorak Shep Matti had to acknowledge his miserable stage and accept the hurtful truth that he wouldn’t be able to make it.

 

Basecamp, Kalaparar & Gokyo Ri:

Everest Basecamp is an amazing experience, and on top of many bucket lists. However, it’s not to forget that the Himalayas have so much more to offer. Basecamp itself is far from my favourite Himalayan experience. It’s crowded and the view is not half as good as the ones we’d already passed. It’s been one of those places I wanted to visit only to be able to say ‘been there, done that’.  It snowed as we got there and there was about 20 people lining up just to get a picture with the sign ‘Everest Basecamp’. We didn’t stay longer than 10 minutes before fighting the snow back to Gorak Shep.

From Gorak Shep you can also do the 4-5 hour return trek to Kalapatar, which gives you the best view  over Basecamp and the mountain ranges of Everest. Most people would reach Gorak Shep from Lobuche by early midday which gives them enough time to make the return trip to Basecamp the same day. The next morning they could make the return trip to Kalapatar for sunrise before descending back down.
Knowing that our sick friend was waiting by himself in Pheriche we wanted to get back down as soon as possible. Which is why I never made it to Kalapatar myself. Many people I met along the way would say it’d been one of their highlights.

My own highlight would -hands down- be Gokyo. A beautiful area with massive snow filled mountain ranges rising behind the clear turquoise lake. A few days detour from the main trail makes the path less of a pedestrian traffic jam which gives you a different Himalayan experience. Don’t get fooled by the beauty of Gokyo lake – it looks highly inviting but coming straight from the glacier makes it freezing cold. Think twice before jumping in and make sure to have lots of warm clothes available.

I went by myself to the top of Gokyo Ri for sunrise as Charlotte had been suffering breath pain all night thanks to the altitude. It takes about 2 hours to reach the top and I got up just after sunrise. The view breathtaking, indescribable. Like something out of a fairytale. Overlooking the snowy mountains, reflected in the lake below I could feel the warmth given by the sun, surrounded by a clear blue sky. I had found my happy place. Joy was spreading throughout my body as I smiled to the beauty of the Himalayas.

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Different routes:

Depending on how much time you got to spend, there is a few different routes options around the area that all includes Basecamp. I have listed the 3 most common ones.
With an extra few days to throw in gives you a cheaper option with Jiri as your starting point instead of Lukla. Jiri is only a bus ride away from Kathmandu and located on a lower elevation which gives you more time to acclimatise and get into the right trekking mode. It is about a 5 day journey to reach Lukla from where you can follow listed itineraries.

12 days is the least time recommended for reaching Basecamp, Kalapatar and back. Most agencies and trekking guides would explain following itinerary:

1. Kathmandu – Lukla- Phakding
2. Phakding- Namche Bazar
3. Namche Bazar (acclimatising day)
4. Namche – Debuche
5. Debuche – Dingbuche (or Pheriche)
6. Dingbuche – (acclimatising day)
7. Dingbuche – Lobuche
8. Lobuche – Everest Basecamp – Gorak shep
9. Gorak shep – Kalapatar – Pheriche (or Dingbuche)
10. Pheriche – Namche
11. Namche- Lukla
12. Flight Lukla – Kathmandu

(Dingbuche (day 6) and Pheriche (day 9) are located on the same elevation, on opposite sides of a mountain and could easily be swopped for one another.
I’d personally stop in Pheriche on the way up instead for on the way down. This because the village has a medical centre which hold a public information meeting about altitude sickness everyday at 3pm. This is perfect to gain the last knowledge and get you prepared for what you might experience as you ascending higher)

With 16 days you would have time to reach Everest Basecamp, Kalapatar and Gokyo Ri starting off following the same itinerary as the one above.  Instead of descending back to Pheriche there is a turn off after Dougla, taking you up and over Cho La pass (5300m). A challenging shortcut that would bring you to Gokyo over a couple of days. To avoid the high pass you could also walk around through Phortse and Machechermo reaching Gokyo that way.

Having 20 days to play with gives you the great option of tackling the 3 high passes, all pending around 5000m. It’s a bit more challenging but nevertheless doable even for the inexperienced trekker. Expect tracks to be steep and narrow.
Starting from Namche the trail takes you to Thame from where the ‘Renjo La Pass’ starts bringing you on a steep ascend to the top of the pass where you greets by the most breathtaking view leading you down to Gokyo.
Followed by ‘Cho La pass’ linking Gokyo together  with Lobuche and Basecamp the trail ends with ‘Kongmala’ pass that takes you between Lobuche and Chukkung on your way back to Namche.

Equipment:

Kathmandu is like an ocean of travel shops who provide everything from hiking boots to sleeping bags, down jackets and trousers.  And it’s cheap. Note that most of the things from street shops is of fake brands, but would last you throughout your trek. There’s one ‘North face’ shop and one ‘Marmot’ shop where you’ll get the real deal.  Sleeping bags and down jackets can be rent for 50-70 rupees a day. It gets really cold as you get higher, so make sure to bring lots of layers. Water purification tablets is a good way to get away from the high prices for bottled water. Use one tablet per liter of tap water and it will be good to drink within an hour.

Have fun!

You don’t need to be extremely fit to tackle Basecamp. Everyone can manage as long as they believe in themselves and walking their own pace. Some parts will be physically hard, but nothing is beyond your strength.

I know I mention earlier that the most important thing when consider Basecamp is to take it slow. What I really meant is that the most important thing is to have fun, but it often goes hands in hand. Enjoy your walk. Make stops to acknowledge your surroundings, breath in the air of Himalayas. It is truly a beautiful, life changing experience

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