Everest Base Camp - a name that draws thousands each year to visit its historic trail, witness some of the world’s tallest mountains and test their endurance. It has been a dream of my own for years to “do EBC.” After all, the 12-day journey takes adventurers 120km across swinging bridges high above the forests, through ages-old teahouse villages and to the star of the show itself, Sagarmatha (the name for Everest given by the Nepalese, meaning “Peak of Heaven.”) Naturally then, when the chance to see it in person became a reality, I was over the moon.
But journeying to the tallest mountain in the world comes with a few challenges and surprises, many of which I had not anticipated myself before taking on this 2-week trail. So here I want to give you a little gift, the things I wished someone had told me about the Everest Base Camp trail - all the unknown packing tips, little tricks, hacks and occasional things to watch out for that can make the difference between a good adventure, and a great one.
10 Things to Know Before Trekking EBC
1. Sit on the Left Side of the Kathmandu - Lukla Flight
To the man sitting on my left-hand side during that flight, my sincere apologies - but man, how can you not lean over whatever is in your way to gawk at that view? On the way from Kathmandu to Lukla, the trailhead for EBC usually only accessible by air, a royal view waits for you - if you know where to sit, that is. While the right side of the plane faces out towards rolling, green foothills and smaller Himalayan formations (also beautiful), the left side is full of white peaks that pierce the sky, straight through the clouds.
The flight itself in these tiny planes that shuttle thousands of hikers to a from this legendary region is an adventure, but if you manage to snag that special window seat, you get a glimpse of the kind of mountains you will soon stand at the base of, and the preview is thrilling.
2. Give Extra Days Around Your Flights
There is air travel, and then there’s air travel to Lukla. Allow me to explain.
First off, Lukla is a Himalayan village with an airport the size of a small house. Security check is someone who sits at a desk and asks you if you have any knives. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport has a runway with a length of only 527m and has often been named the ‘most dangerous airport in the world’ for both its short takeoff and landing requirements, as well as its weather.
You’ll notice that most flights available to or from Lukla are for the early morning. Given the difficulty of landing on the short runway surrounded by mountains, almost any adverse weather will cause delays or cancellations of all flights. By mid- to late-morning, tailwinds change in the area and clouds tend to form, after which most flights become grounded, rescheduled for the following day.
We were lucky enough to have only an hour delay flying from Kathmandu to Lukla, but met people had been waiting two to three days for their flight, and were now on their third attempt at making it to the trailhead.
Getting out is just as tricky. After waiting hours for our plane, being told ‘weather was bad’ and talking to people who had been stuck in Lukla waiting for their flight, we realized how lucky we were to get out on the day we had scheduled for. Many trek back into Lukla, just to end up staying in the village teahouses, trying again each morning to catch a new flight.
Moral of the story? If you’re thinking about making plans or booking international flights within 48 hours of your Lukla flights, don’t.
3. Acclimatization Hacks
If you’re headed to the EBC trail, you should understand prior to that the implications, symptoms and prevention techniques for AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). The trek involves extensive time above the 4,000m and 5,000m marks, so knowing how to deal with AMS in general is required, but here is what we noticed specifically about the acclimatization process at EBC that I’d like to share with you.
On the route people generally take, Day One is the flight into Lukla and a trek to Phakding, Day Two is the trek to Namche Bazar and on Day Three, most trekkers are advised to stay there again and do an acclimatization hike up and back down to Namche before heading onward the next day.
The thing is, Namche Bazar is at an altitude of 3,440m. The next place you stay (Tyangboche) is at 3,860m, and after that, given the traditional itinerary, it’s Dingboche at 4,410m. As a general rule of AMS prevention, you don’t want to sleep more than 500m above the last place you slept. If you take out the extra day in Namche however, you have time to split your journey from Tyangboche to Dingboche in half, with a mid-way stop at Pangboche (altitude of 3,985m). This gradual increase in altitude is a great alternative to the standard approach (we did it ourselves during the recce), and gives your body a more incremental way to deal with the climb to EBC.
Note: In Dingboche also, there is another day following your arrival that is set aside for an acclimatization day hike up the nearby peak of Nangkartshang (altitude of 5,083m). Do not skip this. As tempting as it may sound to take a rest day and stay cozy in your teahouse, you’ll thank yourself later at the higher lodges for having done it.
4. Water Purification
Everyone has a different preference for this, but if saving a few (hundred) bucks is your aim, then invest in some water purification tablets of a reusable water filter prior to your EBC adventure. Some people don’t mind, and will drink the water along the way straight from the taps - but if you’d like to be extra sure about water purity, your options once you’re on the trail will be limited, and expensive.
Since there are no roads to the only villages, the only way for them to get the supplies they sell is to have them carried up on the backs of porters or flown in via helicopter - which means heavy things like water bottles will be very pricey. The higher up you go, the more expensive it gets, with water bottle prices at Gorakshep hitting 450 to 500 rupees (NPR) per bottle.
Easy fix? Bring a filter/purification tablets with you, fill up along the way and drink easy on your trek.
Note: At Gorakshep, there are no faucets or taps to fill up your own bottles. The lodge we stayed at had bottled water for sale and water that they boiled for sale with no other access to water. If you want to avoid this, make sure to fill up extra bottles at Loboche (the village before Gorakshep) and bring them up with you.
On the subject of expensive things: toilet paper. While most of the lodges provide the standard water/bucket for your bathroom needs, remember it’s ice cold at most lodges given the altitude (literally, at Gorakshep there were ice chunks floating in the water meant to wash your bum).
If this isn’t your cup of tea, a bin is provided for toilet paper waste, but you have to bring your own - which also racks up a pricetag of about 350 to 450 NPR depending on which lodge you’re buying it from.
My suggestion? Bring your own from Kathmandu. If not, many lodges (warning though, not all) have tissues set out on their dining tables in the common room, so if you really find yourself short on cash and toilet paper, you may be lucky enough to find this back-up.
6. Bring Power Banks
Another simple but great way to prepare for EBC. This one is pretty straightforward, but the lodges know people want to take pictures, which means they’re going to need a battery re-charge (which you can have, for a price of course).
Same principle applies here - the higher up you are, the more expensive it is. Battery charging goes for anything from 100 NPR/hour to 400, unless you’re lucky and find free charging somewhere at one of the earlier, lower altitude lodges.
The fix? Bring a couple of power banks, and keep them warm on the high altitude days to keep them from draining quickly.
7. Chapstick and Moisturizer
Bring them. The dry, dusty, sunny, high altitude, windy climate isn’t friendly to skin. Your face, lips, hands, etc. will thank you.
8. Sleeping Bag
We met several people along the route that hadn’t brought their own sleeping bag, and we felt very bad for them. The lodges provide you with a bed and fluffy blanket, but as you reach the higher altitudes, the blanket isn’t enough anymore. I used a winter-rated sleeping bag almost every night and still felt a bit chilly at times. It might cost a bit more and add weight to your pack, but being able to sleep at night on EBC will make or break you.
9. Gokyo Route
The last two hacks have more to do with an alternative way to return (or start) the trek, depending on what you want to see first. Instead of returning the exact same way we had come, we went back to Lukla via a route that passes through the village of Gokyo, a beautiful community nestled in between Gokyo Ri, a peak from which you can see Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu, and the shores of an enormous high-altitude lake.
To reach Gokyo from EBC (or vice versa), you have to cross Cho La, a pass that tests even the best trekkers, but leaves you feeling massively rewarded. If you’re not interested in seeing everything again a second time on your way down, the adventure to Gokyo is an awe striking detour that only adds on two extra days.
10. How to do Cho La
While you can technically come at Cho La Pass from either side, there is definitely a better choice of the two directions. Dzongla to Dragnag is the preferable direction to do it in, arriving at Gokyo after EBC instead of the other way around. Both sides involve scrambling up large, loose boulders, icy/waterfall sections, steep sections of hard-packed and/or rotten snow and a whole lotta climbing.
The thing is, from Dzongla, the ascent is steep, but all at once, and easier to navigate. Coming up from Dragnag, on the other hand, involves a several kilometer ascent up the river, another ascent into a neighboring subsidiary valley, descent onto the moraine, and then finally you can begin the ascent to the actual pass.
Either day is long and strenuous, but attempting the pass from the Dzongla side, at least we felt, sets you up for a more successful day. Whatever route direction you decide to take, microspikes for the top section are a must, as is an early start to the day (leave at 5:30am/6:00am max).
So there you have it - the toolkit we wished we had had when we began our journey. Luckily, we do this often enough that we troubleshooted a lot of these beforehand, but these ten things will make anyone’s life exponentially easier on their journey to Sagarmatha.
Oh, and one more thing - enjoy yourself. Countless people dream about doing this route, so if you’re lucky enough to be one of the few who find themselves there in person, make it count.