The most common question people ask when I tell them that I hiked to Everest Base Camp is, “Wow! You went to the top?” I laugh and say “Hell no!” To be clear: I did not summit, or even attempt to summit Mt. Everest. I did, however, stand at the base of it and spend two weeks trekking through the breathtaking Khumbu region, surrounded by some of the world’s tallest peaks. It was an incredible and memorable experience, and well-defined routes, short travel distances, and guesthouses providing food and lodging make it possible for almost anyone with a backpack. With the right gear, a little know-how and a plane ticket, you too can look up at the world’s tallest mountain.
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, standing at 29,029 ft. in elevation. Also known as “Samgarmatha”, meaning “Goddess of the Universe” in Nepalese, Mt. Everest is surrounded by equally awe-inspiring peaks such as Lhotse (27,940 ft.), Nuptse (25,771 ft.), and Changtse (24,870 ft.). In the past 20 years, adventure tourism has boomed in the area as increasing numbers of climbers seek to stand at the top of the world. Much of this boom can be accredited to the locals, a community of inhabitants known as Sherpas. Sherpas originally migrated to the Khumbu region from Tibet as a result of trade routes between Tibet, Nepal, and India. Scientists have since discovered that Sherpas have adapted genetically to living in high-altitudes. These genetic adaptations prevent them from overproducing red blood cells in thinner air that in turn prevent the lung and brain complications that other climbers are more susceptible to. Sherpas can be seen mounting ropes during summit season and moving supplies up and down the mountain year round.
There are many mountains throughout the Himalayas and tons of options for trekking. The Annapurna Circuit, also in Nepal, is actually more popular than the Everest trek. On top of these, there are lots of options so do your research and pick a place that best suits your interest and time schedule. We decided to trek to Everest base camp via the Gokyo Valley. Even if you do decide to head to Everest base, you still have a few route options. Beginning any route to Everest from Lukla, you will stop in Namche Bazaar. At that point you can entertain any of three routes. You can hike to Gokyo via Thame and over Renjo La pass, hike to Gokyo via Gokyo Valley, or hike to EBC via the traditional route. Also, you can return via a different route by crossing a connecting pass should you desire to change up the scenery.
I have a small aversion to out-and-backs and much prefer loops. That’s one of the reasons we opted to head to Everest via Gokyo valley. Another great selling point was the breath-taking view of Everest at sunset from Gokyo Ri at 17,988 ft. (5,483 meters). After leaving Namche Bazaar, we hiked through Gokyo Valley until we reached Gokyo. From there we had three options: 1.) Return the way we came, 2.) Head away from Everest and return via Renjo La Pass and Thame, 3.) Hike over Cho La pass to Gorak Shep to catch the view of Mt. Everest from Kala Pattar. We decided on the third option and returned to Namche via the traditional Everest Base Camp route.
Our journey consisted of being surrounded by unbelievably large mountains, acclimatizing to high-altitudes, staying in guesthouses with Sherpa families, eating a variety of potato based meals, and meeting fun and interesting people along the way. The route itself was filled with incredible scenery and while the trail was challenging at times, it was very peaceful and secluded despite its popularity.
The breath taking views of mountains that only seemed to get taller as we got closer, the locals that were more than hospitable, the fellow trekkers that we shared experiences and stories with, made my time in the Khumbu region unforgettable. The overwhelming vastness of the world’s tallest mountain range and the Sherpa culture make hiking in the Khumbu unique and captivating.
While the Himalayas can be enjoyed by almost anyone, they can humble and should be respected by everyone. At 18,000 feet, the mountains are figuratively and literally breathe taking. The main concern when hiking in the Himalayas is altitude sickness. There are many signs that people often disregard or believe to be independent symptoms. For example headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and loss of appetite are some symptoms of altitude sickness. If you feel two or more of these symptoms, hike to a lower elevation and rest there until symptoms subside. If you continue on, you will only get worse and will most likely have to return home or in worse case scenario get helicoptered out… in a body bag. For more information on how to avoid altitude related illnesses, click here.
Another important topic for visitors and trekkers to carefully consider is porters. While porters can be hired for around $10-15/day, trekkers should only use reputable companies and should make every attempt to not over pack. The general assumption is that all porters are Sherpas but the reality is quite different. Sherpas only account for one percent of the Nepali population. If you hire a porter to assist you on your trek in Katmandu, they are likely vulnerable to the same high-altitude related illnesses you are. Many of the altitude related illnesses reported in the Khumbu are sick porters. Similarly, trekkers hiring porters should make sure before departing that their porter has the proper gear to hike at high elevations. This includes both suitable footwear and plenty of warm clothing (usually down jackets).
Hiking in the Himalayas is surreal. As you climb higher, the mountains only become larger. Experiencing the magnitude of the Himalaya is something no nature lover should miss. The culture and people are unique to the region and the trekking is some of the best in the world. Just remember, a porter (aka another human) carries everything that supplies the region up the mountain. Therefore do not be alarmed by increased prices for food and other items as it takes a lot to make them available to you. Lastly, if you plan to venture into this stunning region of the world, be knowledgeable of the risks, be respectful of the culture, and be aware of the effort that goes into making your guesthouse experience enjoyable. If you do both those things, both you and the region will benefit from your experience.