The Himalaya mountain range is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on Earth. As you hike to Mount Everest Base Camp, prayer flags blowing in the wind, jagged snow-capped peaks looming right in front of you, you can’t help but think that you are walking into a little piece of heaven.
Not all people can attempt to summit the world’s highest peak—in fact, very few visitors actually make it to the top of the 29,029-foot Mount Everest. But it is possible for regular travelers to visit the southern base camp, one of two base camps on either side of the giant peak. An active, healthy, and adventurous person can reach the base camp at the Khumbu Icefall, on the Nepal side, where most expeditions set up camp to prepare to conquer the mountain.
Touching down in Kathmandu after a scenic flight over the Himalayas immediately shocks your senses. The city is crowded, polluted, and filled with trekkers chasing their dreams of following in the footsteps of legends. As we walked through the streets, we couldn’t help but think that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay started here too!
Most Himalaya trekkers stay in hotels in the tourist district of Thamel in Kathmandu. This is the center of all the action and the place to do all of your pre-trek gear shopping. Kathmandu is famous for its name-brand knock-off items. When we visited, we were on a tight budget, so these items were perfect for us. Everything you possibly need for mountain trekking is available in the city at an affordable price.
Dave and I had been traveling in warm weather for months by the time we made it to Nepal. Other than our sturdy hiking boots, we required everything else one could need for cold-weather conditions. We took a couple of days to explore the markets. We honed our bartering skills before we finally settled on waterproof jackets and pants, a variety of mid-layer items for warmth and comfort, gloves, wool hats, and thermal underwear to wick away moisture.
We always try to hire a local guide when we have the chance. On Mount Everest, there are plenty of options to do this. You can book tours before you leave your home country, but there also are plenty of guides for hire in Kathmandu. We found a great guide named Dipendra; not only was he dependable, knowledgeable, and safe, he also has become a good friend. We were thrilled for him when we heard he opened his own local trekking company, Simrek Real Nepal.
By hiking with a guide that grew up in the area, we gained first-hand knowledge of local customs and traditions. Plus, we saved hundreds of dollars by booking directly.
The adventure on Mount Everest actually begins the minute you catch your flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, where the trek starts. The reason: The runway in Lukla is one of the shortest in the world, located on a cliff’s edge at 9,383 feet above sea level. Flying through the turbulent skies of the Kathmandu Valley can be a harrowing experience, but Nepalese pilots are some of the most skilled aviators in the world. We had faith that we would land gracefully. (In case you’re wondering, we did.)
Starting from the village of Lukla, the round-trip Everest Base Camp trek takes anywhere between 10-14 days. The beauty of hiring a local company or guide is that you can make the experience as long or as short as you like. (Acclimatization to the high altitude can take longer for some people.)
Once your trek begins, it’s important to take your time and drink plenty of water to keep from experiencing serious altitude sickness. When it comes to trekking at altitude, slow and steady wins the race.
Viewfinder Tip: Leave extra days at the end of your trek for your international flight home. Flights from Lukla back to Kathmandu are often delayed or cancelled.
On the way to Mount Everest Base Camp, you don’t sleep in tents. Instead, tea houses line the trail in small villages along the route. At the end of a long day of walking you roll into a warm lodge heated by stoves burning yak dung. In these tiny shelters, you can sleep in comfortable beds, enjoy hot meals, and even re-charge batteries for a fee. You can fill up your water bottles anywhere along the journey; just make sure to bring water purification tablets.
When we took this trek, we kept our packing to a minimum and brought only the essentials. Once you pass the busy town of Namche Bazaar, located at 11,286 feet, a couple of trekking pants, technical shirts, a few warm layers, and a protective wind and rain jacket is all you need. We also brought with us an extensive first-aid kit containing the likes of antibiotics, ibuprofen, and altitude sickness medication.
Between stops, our large backpacks went up the mountain with our porter, Sher. We then carried daypacks filled with camera gear and clothing layers. Even if you aren’t traveling with a porter, you can hire one for a few dollars a day to take your gear from lodge to lodge. This is a great strategy because it supports the local economy and you have a better time enjoying the scenery without all that weight on your back.
Along the journey, we took our time to soak up the views while walking through the most glorious scenery we’ve ever experienced. There were monasteries to visit and villages to explore along the way. There were pagodas to examine, monuments paying tribute to climbers and sherpas from yesteryear, and long suspension bridges to cross. Each day is a great adventure and the adventure ends with a magnificent view of the Khumbu Icefall.
The Mount Everest Base Camp trek is physically demanding and emotionally draining. You will experience all sorts of different emotions during your time in the region, but the struggle is worth every trial and tribulation. Once you lay your eyes on Everest, it is a moment you’ll never forget.
To where would you like to take an epic trek?