How to trek to the base camp of the world’s highest mountain?
Mount Everest never ceases to provide enough material for books that fly off the shelves and documentaries which are watched by huge audiences. Detractors may grumble about rubbish and over-crowded trails but no-one can dispute that the mountain is spectacular and lords it over every contender as the world’s greatest mountain. It will always captivate the imagination of both arm-chair enthusiasts and those wanting to see it for themselves.
In the article below I aim to assist those captured by the lure of Everest and who want to see the mountain up-close by trekking to the basecamp used by climbers aiming their sights at the summit. This journey, a near pilgrimage for some, not only involves walking straight into the heartland of some of the most fascinating people on the planet, but gets up close and personal with some the stunning peaks of the Khumbu region and follows in the footsteps of giants; the men and women who sometimes gave their all to stand on top. The journey to basecamp surely for these reasons alone must rate as one of the most spectacular undertakings that should feature high on any trekkers bucket list.
But what factors should you consider before running off to the travel agent? Should you buy mosquito repellent? Chew coca leaves? Study Buddhism? Invest in an AK-47?
Wonder and Desire
“Leaving home without a sense of wonder and keen enthusiasm seems to me the wrong way to begin.”
To my mind the most important thing to consider is that you are about to embark on an amazing adventure that will captivate you and is certain leave you with a sense of “why hadn’t I thought of this before?”. The reason I say embark on an adventure is that the right mental approach goes a long way to experiencing the best of what this unique part of the world has to offer. To my mind it is important to differentiate between considering this an adventure or a journey as opposed to thinking about this as a challenge.
The necessity for a challenge factor where a tough endeavour needs to be conquered in order to raise money for a worthwhile cause or as a thing to “tick off” brings about a lot of performance anxiety that has no place on a trek like this. Thought of in these terms climbing the steep hill before Namche is going to reduce the experience to a grunting ordeal rather than an exercise where every step up opens up a brand new panorama, trying new food is going to be challenging and meeting locals is going to be an obstacle.
Sure this trek has many challenging aspects but leaving home without a sense of wonder and keen enthusiasm seems to me the wrong way to begin. So here you are; you’ve read a bit about Everest, Sherpa’s and the famous Khumbu valley of Nepal. You have clicked on a thousand You-tube links and are champing at the bit to see it all for yourself. You can’t wait to get onto that bouncy ride to Lukla and begin your journey to the foot of Mount Everest. Let’s start the journey of a lifetime!
Small first steps
“An organised trekking group can submerge themselves into the experience much more”
The next things to consider is your experience level, the level of comfort you want your budget and the amount of time you can get off work. Put simply, should you go at this alone and enjoy the obvious satisfaction that comes with this or should you sign up for an organised trek that takes the sting out of many logistical hassles. As a basic rule of thumb consider that organising your own trip will be around 30% cheaper but also entails 30% more time in sorting out flights, trek logistics, prior research and tea-house booking etc.
A plus for a reputable trekking company which works closely with the local people will be that they include a lot more into an itinerary than solo trekkers would have time for when continuously having to fret about additional spending and those carefully planned logistics not working out. An organised trekking group can submerge themselves into the experience much more as the logistical hassles are dealt with by professionals.
On my last trek to EBC for example my group ended up enjoying a game of football with a group of young monks living in an out-of the way monastery, scaled several small peaks en-route to enjoy eagle eye views, climbed Kala Patthar to be hypnotised by the sun rising over the big E and had a few hours in the Khumbu icefall with some real ice-fall doctors before heading back to their house for a party. It pays to have a guide there who is good friends with the locals and who can take you to places not mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This adds enormously to the experience and is what you pay your money for.
The right stuff
“Are there going to be any unpleasant financial surprises once on the way to EBC?”
Having said this how do you go about picking the right company? The answer to this is to not just slide your finger down the list and say “they’ll do” but to ask them lots of questions and compare what they offer. How long have they been operating in Nepal? Have the trek leaders in their employ been to the Khumbu before and do they have a good relationship with the locals? What, despite the advertised price of their itinerary, is included and not included? Are there going to be any unpleasant financial surprises once on the way to EBC?
How much time do you spend in trekking to basecamp? Is there going to be enough time to acclimatise naturally without having to resort to drugs? What medical and emergency equipment do the trek leaders carry? Are they trained to use it? Is an ascent of Kala Patthar to get those jaw-dropping views of the big E at sunrise included in this itinerary? Knowing the answers to questions like these will go a long way to picking a reputable company that can deliver on their promise of providing you with the trek of a lifetime.
“What is really required is actually fun to do in its own right”
No matter how ambitious you are to see the big E up close, the many miles it takes to get there will not get any shorter. Even though there are many roadside attractions and a brand new world to enjoy the walk still has to be walked. And this is where becoming or being relatively fit before you leave home will enable you to experience this trek all the more.
After all, having to beast yourself over every lump in the topography is no way to enjoy yourself and detracts enormously from the essence of the experience. I say relatively fit because there is no need to become an Iron Pumping Arnie to enjoy the trek to basecamp.
What is really required is actually fun to do in its own right; get out into the local hills for a few hours for several days a week, carry a light rucksack and discover the natural wonders of your own country. Whole Magazines have sprouted up and rave about this singular activity for good reason. The more you are accustomed to walking for hours in the hills carrying a small load the more you will enjoy the experience; it’s that simple.
Does my bum look big in this? What to wear?
“My daysack never weighs more than 4 kg”
This question is hard enough to answer when heading out on the town let alone flying halfway around the world to trek the Himalaya. In one case you’ll be aiming to flatter and the other you’ll be wearing what’s right for the right conditions. So what are those conditions? Kathmandu is hot and steamy; think summertime UK, so wear what you wear in summertime UK.Basecamp itself is cold and frosty so wear what you wear when it’s cold and frosty. It’s that simple.
Of-course if trekking with a trekking out-fitter you will not have to worry about carrying your clothes and equipment to deal with these widely ranging conditions but the porters they employ to do this job for you will. The average weight allowance for the porter load is in the order of 15 kg per person. So what do you take along for this trek? Personally I start off wearing summer gear; light trekking trousers, a light long sleeve shirt and a hat. Inside my daysack (30 litres) I always carry a fleece and full set of waterproofs (top and bottom) I am in the mountains after-all and even though the sun is shining they can unleash their fury at any time.
Additionally I pack sun protection, a small first aid kit, a camera and a water bottle. For demanding days I might pack a snack or two. My daysack never weighs more than 4 kg. In my porter bag I will have the clothing that I wear for when conditions turn cold and frosty plus a very cool minus something ridiculous Berghaus sleeping bag to use in the un-heated rooms of the Tea-houses we stay in on the way. As I gain altitude I add a pair of gloves and a beanie to my daysack and perhaps a thin down-jacket in case that snow-storm does come through. My trekking shirt (or thermal base layer for higher up the trek) layered with a fleece and this down jacket plus covered with a water/wind proof Gortex shell will allow me to stay warm even when Mother nature throws its worst at me. For my legs I usually begin to put on a thermal layer when I get above 4000 meters.
When packing my trekking clothes before I leave I always adhere to the principal of having one “wet” set for the hill and one “dry” set for the camp. With this I mean I pack a dry comfortable warm set of clothes and socks in my porter bag that I only wear inside the Tea-hoses (camp) whilst my wet set is drying in front of the pot-belly stove ready to be worn again the next day. And of course nowadays even the question of your bum looking big in this has become irrelevant; simply click that Berghaus link for the kit that is not only functional but pretty dammed stylish to boot!
Ouch I have a blister!
“You don’t want to be the guy who nearly made it but was crippled by blisters.”
The most important item to consider before embarking on a trek like this is your boots. The terrain to basecamp is extremely varied and is mostly uneven, rocky and can be iced up or snowy. It’s imperative that you have the right boots that can cope with this variety of conditions. Boots need to be warm, offer proper ankle support and be tough enough to deal with walking for 2 weeks in arduous terrain. And your feet need to be equally tough. Break those boots in on the recommended training walks and by the time you get to wear them on the big trek itself they’ll feel like silk gloves and you’ll want to wear them to bed! You don’t want to be the guy who nearly made it but was crippled by blisters.
The simple things in life
“was my shoe-lace undone before I stepped into the long-drop”
You will be sharing your basecamp experience with many other people; not only those in your group but many other trekkers and the locals who live in the villages and settlements you pass through. Whilst this may be cause for grumbling for those seeking a wilderness experience it has never been anything but pleasant for me. At the Tea-hoses it is fun to chat with like-minded people who are equally passionate about the experience and to stop in at local houses to say a brief hello to a familiar face.
There are things to think about when travelling on the road well-travelled however the most important being hygiene. When it comes to Personal Hygiene it pays to be vigilant and to pay attention to detail; was my shoe-lace undone before I stepped into the long-drop? Getting Delhi-Belly can totally ruin your experience so use that hand gel and wash your hands before every meal. Also be aware that hydration helps in acclimatisation. Drink at least 2 to 3 litres of water per day (additional liquid will be provided in forms of soup, hot-drinks etc.) and understand that for every 1,000 meters you ascend your sun cream ability to protect you decreases by 5 factors.
Most of the trek is at 4,000 meters so factor 20 sun protection doesn’t work. Your trek leader will help you get into the swing of things and point out the details that can make a huge difference to the outcome of the trek. Never be shy to ask a question. The most stupid question is the one that’s never asked.
I have trekked EBC many times and have always enjoyed the experience. The satisfaction for me has always been seeing my clients reach new heights not only in terms of altitude but experiences. It really is true that this trek with its many facets of interest never fails to captivate everyone lucky enough to experience it.