Mount Everest : How to get there?

Abhishaik Sud

Last updated: 14-12-2019

Mount Everest: How To Get To The Top


Reading the complex answer to this seemingly simple question will only take about 10 minutes of your time. However, the entire process that has to be undertaken to prepare and finally set foot on the highest summit on this planet (and successfully returning back to base!) takes about 1 to 2 years. Acquiring the passion, grit, and experience needed can sometimes take decades.

We’ll be tackling the question in three parts:

  1. How people get to the top (The Process).
  2. The three greatest barriers (Money, Fitness & Experience).
  3. Road map suggested by Bikat Adventures.


Mount Everest : How to get there?

Picture Courtesy: Vivek Thakur  


The Mountain


Mount Everest (known as ‘Sagarmatha’ in Nepali & ‘Chomolungma’ in Tibetan) is Earth's highest mountain above sea level with the current official elevation at 8,848 m (29,029 ft). Located in the Himalayas, the international border between Nepal and China runs across its summit point. In 1865, Everest was given its official English by the British Surveyor General of India, who chose the name of his own predecessor, Sir George Everest.

Highly experienced mountaineers will tell you that the expedition does not pose substantial technical hurdles but that doesn’t mean that this exercise does not present challenges such as altitude sickness, weather, wind, as well as significant hazards from avalanches and the Khumbu Icefall.

Based on records available, the first attempt to reach the summit was made by British mountaineers from the North ridge approach on the Tibetan side. In 1924, one expedition team may or may not have summited the peak, but since they never made it back, the truth behind the first-ever men who stood atop the summit will always be a mystery. Finally, in 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest, using the southeast ridge route. The first successful summit using the north ridge was accomplished by a Chinese team in 1960.


Mount Everest : How to get there?

 Picture Courtesy: Mario Simoes


The Process


Location – Even though Mt. Everest can be summited from both Nepal & China, most agencies operate in Nepal, as climbing in Tibet has become more expensive and more controlled in recent years. An experienced mountaineer will tell you that two routes are equally difficult but the challenges faced are very different. The southeast ridge approach from Nepal exposes climbers to the hazardous Khumbu Icefall, but past that, this route makes more sense since the summit day is shorter. The northern ridge on the Tibetan side has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. You can drive your jeep straight to the base camp but in this case, mountaineers have to face a route that runs for several kilometers over 27,000 feet before they reach the summit.       

Timing - Most outfits plan to summit Mt. Everest in May. This month presents a small window of time when the temperatures are warmers and the high-altitude winds are less harsh.

Duration – The entire round trip from your home ends up being 2 months. The group takes about 2 weeks to reach the Everest Base Camp which is located above 17000 ft. Another 2 weeks are spent on acclimatization walks at the base camp and waiting for the right weather conditions. Once the conditions are more favorable, the team climbs for another 5 days to reach the summit camp and attempt a summit push.

Route – Climbers who choose to take the Nepalese’s southeast ridge approach report for the expedition in Kathmandu. From there, they take a short flight to a hilly airport in Lukla village. The trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp takes about 10 days. After the acclimatization process has been taken care of, summiting Mt. Everest is a rigorous 5-day round-trip from base camp. After the precarious Khumbu Icefall, the expedition slowly moves up to camp 2, camp 3 and camp 4 before setting up the summit camp near South Col.


Mount Everest : How to get there?


Regulations – With the intention of reducing mishaps, the Nepal government recently announced some new regulations that are proposed to be put in place before the next climbing season in 2020.

  1. Climbers must be accompanied by a guide at all times – no solo climbs.
  2. Climbers must have summited a 7,000m peak prior to attempting Everest.
  3. People over the age of 75 are banned from climbing.
  4. People who are blind are banned from climbing.
  5. Double amputees are banned from climbing.
  6. Climbers will have to provide a medical report
  7. Climbers will have to get appropriate adventure insurance

Conditions – At 29,029 ft., the air pressure at the summit is only a third of what we’re accustomed to at sea level. Consequently, climbers struggle to breathe in enough oxygen. A lower oxygen intake along with other extreme conditions exposes climbers to the risk of AMS, HAPE & HACE. Additionally, the risk of frostbites becomes quite real at such altitudes and temperatures. When tasked with the responsibility of pumping blood (providing oxygen & warmth) vital organs are the first priority, fingers/toes are last. Dangers present during the expedition include subfreezing temperatures and extremely high altitude, especially when the supplemental oxygen runs out or when you get caught in a sudden storm. Deaths from falls or avalanches, and other health problems like heart attacks. Over-exposure in the 'death zone' due to the increasing number of climbers playing a role in jammed routes.

Numbers - The peak attracts many climbers and unfortunately not all of them are highly experienced mountaineers. Some ardent mountaineers call the Everest expedition a tourism activity because of the number of people who attempt Everest each year. Typically, more than 600 people reach the summit of Everest, which is about half of the number who attempt it. 


Mount Everest : How to get there?

  Picture Courtesy: Vivek Thakur


Barrier 1 - Money


When it comes to Mt. Everest, they say that the only thing tougher than the actual climb is raising the funds for it. The cost of climbing the Everest starts from the time you start training 12-15 months before the climb since one cannot do it without being physically and mentally fit. Even if you are built for it, it is not necessary that you can afford it.

Since there are so many variables involved, the focus of this section will be more on the different sources of expenditure rather than the actual amount.

  1. Mountain Craft & Mountaineering - This stage includes the entire cost incurred right from the moment you picked up mountaineering as a hobby to the moment where you finally are technically adept at the craft. It’s nearly impossible to put a price tag to this exercise since the pace and time required varies from person to person. However, there is a great option of learning all there is to learn about mountaineering under INR 50,000 by getting a Basic & Advance Mountaineering Course certification in India.
  2. Fitness Training – We will analyze in-depth this aspect of your preparation in the next section. Hiring a trainer and sticking to a dedicated training schedule will cost about USD 8,000. An Indian climber’s estimation of money spent on fitness training was north of INR 5 lakhs.
  3. Endurance Expeditions – Once you’re confident in your mountain craft and you’ve managed to get considerably fit, the next logical step would be to start with some semi-technical height gains (peaks above 6000m) and to eventually move on to a 7000m expedition. Again, estimating total expenditure under this stage is hard to ascertain as one expedition in India can cost between INR 80,000 to INR 2.5 lakhs.
  4. Personal Gear & Equipment – Although you can rent most of the items required for your expedition, it not recommended since its best to have personal gear that fits you. You shouldn’t compromise on quality either since buying a cheaper pair of gloves might cost you a hand to frostbite. Speaking of which, an expedition grade pair of mittens can cost you upwards of USD 200! Additionally, a pair of high-altitude boots will set you back for another USD 1000, so will a good down-suit.
  5. Agency costs – The agency/operator/outfitter that you choose to go with majorly dictates the cost of your expenditure, with a wide range of USD 25,000 to USD 75,000 to even USD 100,000 per person, depending on factors such as desired comforts, the amount of bottled oxygen, Sherpas, etc. The typical cost with a western agency is close to USD 45000. In comparison, local operators range between USD 20,000 to USD 40,000. The cost covers Nepalese permit cost (USD 11,000), guide charges, bottled oxygen, high altitude equipment (tent, sleeping bag, etc), medical care, food.
  6. Extras – Other costs to consider are travelling cost, adventure insurance, and tips.

To arrange funds, one can make use of the following options.

  1. Sponsorship – For athletes with considerable standing in their respective fields. Based on what value you’re offering in return to the sponsors, you can apply for sponsorships that can cover part of or the entire expedition expenditure.
  2. Donation – Similarly, you can share your story and ambitions on various crowdsourcing platforms and seek donations to fulfill your dreams.
  3. Mountaineering Clubs - If you are a member of any of the many private mountaineering clubs present in India, you can join their periodical expeditions or seek aid from the club.


Mount Everest : How to get there?


Barrier 2 - Fitness


The second major obstacle for achieving this feat is adequate fitness – from being in the right shape to building sufficient endurance. For a task this gigantic, the extent of fitness & endurance obviously needs to be extremely high. If you hate taking the stairs when the elevator breaks down, you probably have a very long way ahead of you! For those with an active lifestyle, dedicated fitness training for Everest should begin about 8-12 months before the attempt. ‘Being in the best shape of YOUR life’ may not cut it, so let’s get you in ‘Everest Shape’.

If you ask x number of people for the best way to train for Everest, you’ll probably get x number of different responses, and there’s no definite ‘perfect approach’. Some climbers have had success due to CrossFit, others benefitted from cycling or swimming. To each his own.

We recommend a mixture of gym & real-world training such as long and hard days of mountain trekking with a heavy rucksack. The goal should be to push yourself and build physical & mental endurance without harming your body. To get your heart, lungs, abs, thighs & calves (don’t forget training your mind!) in the best shape possible, let’s create a 3 point checklist.

1.       Foundation – Before you begin your preparation, having a strong foundation is important to withstand the rigorous training and also to avoid injury. Having a pre-existing active lifestyle is a prerequisite along with the right body weight & BMI. If you don’t think you’re there yet, take 3 months to get to that point.

2.       Stamina – Defined as the duration that your body can perform in peak condition, this phase of training takes about 6 months. Working on the important muscle groups along with increasing aerobic capacity should be the focus of this phase.

3.       Endurance – In comparison, endurance is defined as the duration that your body can perform at less than peak capacity. Long days of mountain trekking should increase endurance while also strengthening your mental discipline. Utilize rest intervals by mixing it up - play a sport, go for a swim, cycle around the countryside - the important thing being keeping yourself motivated.

If you followed all the above, maintained a balanced diet, took adequate rest in between, then you should be feeling pretty good a few months before leaving for Nepal. 

Help your body – All mountain enthusiasts must have heard this at one point or another - “climb high, sleep low”, make sure that you stick to it. Another suggestion to help your body acclimatize better is to keep your approach up the mountain as slow as necessary. One thing that you need to keep in mind is that the above-mentioned training module has to happen before you leave home. Some fairly fit people try to make up for the lack of preparation by training a bit at the Everest base camp. Once at 17500 ft., the altitude prevents muscle building and all the physical activity actually deteriorates your body.

Help your mind – Just like all the other requirements discussed in this blog, mental toughness is a non-negotiable requirement to having a successful Everest experience. Mental toughness is not just limited to the ability to push yourself physically but also the ability to keep your emotions in check and stay level-headed regardless of the situation. It happens more often than not that people are unable to stay focused & motivated for the entirety of the 2 months that this expedition demands. In this duration, about every Everest aspirant falls sick, the ailment could be internal or external, minor or major. In such a condition, almost all ailments can be tackled with but if you give in mentally, you’re probably done physically too.


Mount Everest : How to get there?

 Picture Courtesy: Sagar Kasana (successfully summited Mt. Everest on 22nd May 2019) 


Barrier 3 - Skills/Experience


Even though Mt. Everest is nowhere close to being one of the most technical climbs, you still need to have certain skills and a level of understanding about the equipment you’ll be using as well as the pros and cons regarding certain situations. It goes without saying that technical competence is required for a safe trip up and down such a high mountain peak. Regardless, some people go there extremely ill-prepared and in the event that a small fraction is able to successfully summit, they end up setting a bad example for others. The others may not share the same amount of extreme luck and therefore, best case scenario, may not succeed in summiting. Don’t rely so heavily on luck or your Sherpa and take ownership of your expedition and summit-success by mastering some of the following technical skills.


  1. Basic Rock Climbing (indoors or outdoors)

Using of harness, helmet, carabiners, belay device. Climbing principles, belaying the lead climber, tying knots like figure8, clove hitch.
Timeline – 2-4 months (minimum) depending on how quickly skills are acquired. Many months or even years of experience will be very helpful.

  1. Rappelling

With slabby rock faces, vertical rock faces, different types of landing areas, how to tackle an overhang, rappelling diagonally. Progress to rappelling without a safety rope.
Timeline - a few sessions to many weeks or months. This is an essential skill but can be picked up quite easily. It is also a skill that is easy to get wrong, particularly when tired and not concentrating.

  1. Use of crampons & ice axe on snowy terrain

Kick steps diagonally up or down a slope, cutting steps using ice axe, self-arrest with or without snow axe, how to walk with crampons on.
Timeline - the more time spent doing this the better as there is quite a lot of snowy terrain to be covered on Everest.

  1. Glacier Travel

Previous experience with navigating glaciers, crevasse, icefalls, etc. would be a great plus.
Timeline - as much as possible so that everything becomes second nature.

  1. Campcraft

Packing your rucksack with right things and in the right way, a good understanding of the layering system of clothing, being acquainted with your own body (when to take breaks and take fluids/food), how to pitch a tent, how to use a camping stove along with some basic cooking skills, the tent routine.
Timeline - as much as possible so that everything becomes second nature.

  1. High-altitude experience

It is an absolute necessity that you’ve been to high altitudes before. Even though we define high altitude as anything above 9000 ft., in this particular case, we’re talking about have multiple experiences above 20000ft. under your belt. Having had a 20000 ft. the experience will not spare you from the process of acclimatization again when you go for Everest for your body needs to acclimatize back to the original state once you’re back home. However, it’ll prepare you mentally and also give you an insight into how your body responds to high altitudes. It’ll be a plus if the feeling of breathlessness on exertion does not feel alien.
Although not a mandatory requirement, it is suggested that the climber has basic knowledge of HAPE & HACE.
Timeline - as much as possible so that everything becomes second nature.

The aforementioned points are just some of the skills that a climber needs to have. To get a full scope of mountaineering and become a government certified mountaineer, it is highly recommended that all Indian aspirants go ahead and enroll themselves for the Basic Mountaineering Course (you need to ace the grade) and subsequently progress to the Advance Mountaineering Course(AMC). The courses are offered by government institutions at highly subsidized fees and the courses are designed in such a way that prepares you for all types of mountaineering obstacles. The most renowned institutes in India are NIM Uttrakhand, HMI West Bengal, ABVIMAS Himachal Pradesh, JIM&WS Jammu Kashmir, and NIMAS Arunachal Pradesh.

Even though you can get a permit for Mount Everest without having any certification, having an AMC certification is necessary for Indians to undertake an expedition to any technical peaks above 6000m in India. Since it’s a good idea to prepare for Everest by climbing multiple technical peaks within India and gradually increase your way up to 7000m peaks, it somehow becomes an indirect requirement for Indians to complete their AMC before they can confidently head out for an Everest expedition.


Mount Everest : How to get there?

  Picture Courtesy: Mario Simoes


Bikat Road Map


Following the road map as shown in the illustration below ensures that you take care of almost every obstacle that will come your way.  The treks mentioned are just to provide a reference as to the level of difficulty that needs to be tackled in order to be ready for the ultimate challenge. You can also get in touch with our team and choose from a plethora of options available in each difficulty level and accordingly move your way up the Bikat Rating Scale.


Mount Everest : How to get there?


If you dream of being on the highest point of the highest mountain, you have a long way ahead of you. There’s no better time to start but now, best of luck!

Abhishaik Sud

On an endless quest to explore, I document new trails and lead treks for Bikat Adventures. For more Read more

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