On May 26, 1953, mountaineer Edmund Hillary and his sherpa Tenzing Norgay completed the first successful summit of the 29,032-foot Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. In 2023, I walked the same path as Hillary and Norgay to complete my own trek to Everest Base Camp Nepal.
Though I didn’t go any farther than Base Camp, it was one of my biggest accomplishments in life so far. That trek challenged me to push past my self-imposed mental and physical limits.
This trek took a little over two weeks. But my journey to Everest Base Camp Nepal started years ago, when I read Jon Krakauer’s autobiography, Into Thin Air. It’s a harrowing account of the 1996 blizzard that claimed several lives on the mountain.
On my first visit to Nepal in 2019, I understood what compels people to take this trek. The commanding power of the Himalayas inspired me to challenge my limits and test my inner strength and ability to persevere.
What You Need to Know
Certainly, if you want to summit the magical mountain, you’ll need an enormous amount of training, strength, and money – and more expertise than I can offer here. My trek to the Base Camp was a much more affordable and easily attainable option.
If you are one of the many people who find themselves drawn to Mt. Everest, here’s what I learned on my trek from Kathmandu to Base Camp Nepal.
Plan for Delays
The Everest Base Camp trek takes an average of 12 days. Do not assume this means you’ll be back at work on the 13th day! Even if everything on your trip goes perfectly without any delays or modifications, you’ll still want to have a few more vacation days to adjust to home life and the time change.
Besides, the chances are slim that you’ll even get home on the 13th day.
Bad weather often affects flights in Nepal and you can wait a day or several days for a flight out. I blocked off three weeks for this two-week trip – and I needed it.
We were delayed three days in Kathmandu waiting for a flight to Lukla, where we started our trek. That meant we had to shift the entire itinerary.
From what I heard, we got lucky…some people were delayed for over a week!
Create a Packing List, but Keep it Light
Your home will be on the trail for the next two weeks. You’ll want to pack for all necessities, but remember that you’ll be carrying it on your back.
The weather in Nepal changes quite rapidly so you’ll want a lot of layers.
For example, I was rocking a short-sleeved shirt in the crazy bustling city life of Kathmandu. On the eve of reaching Base Camp, I wore two sweaters, two layers of wool socks, fleece pants, gloves, and hand warmers – to sleep!
As for what to pack, think of layers, not quantity. Two pairs of pants and thermal shirts are enough, along with about seven pairs of socks (tailor this to your own needs). You’ll have options to wash your clothes along the trail.
If you get to Nepal and find that you didn’t pack enough, you can buy things such as a sleeping bag, and down jacket in Kathmandu. But it’s best to purchase high-quality items such as trekking boots and battery packs at home. I picked up a rain jacket and trekking poles in Kathmandu.
Tourism in Nepal Means Staying in Small Sherpa Villages
A good portion of Nepalese tourism comes from trekkers, and these small sherpa villages rely on that business each season.
The first few stops in lower altitude – Phakding, Namche Bazaar, Tengboche — offered plenty of homey comforts. We found Irish bars, bakeries, plenty of souvenirs and gear shopping, and religious sights such as the Tengboche Monastery.
This monastery, built long before anyone ever summited Everest, is home to local practicing Buddhists. One of the monks blessed us to offer spiritual guidance and support along the trail.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Remember, the monasteries are sacred religious places. Respect the rules such as no photography and no shoes.
In higher altitude towns -Dingboche, Lobuche, and Gorak Shep- you’ll still find shopping, however, we noticed that their prices were higher and the quality was lower.
The main mode of transportation for materials, goods, and food to these higher elevations is by helicopters, yaks, and sherpas. That means the products cost more and take longer to get to consumers.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Because meat and dairy are more likely to spoil upon lengthy transport, it’s highly advised to stick to a vegetarian diet after Namche Bazaar. When in doubt, the traditional Nepali dish Dal Bhat with lentils is always a safe option.
Accommodations Are Cozy
You’ll be staying in tea houses en route to Base Camp. These tea houses are designed to meet your most basic needs – food and a place to sleep. Extras like a hot shower, wifi, toilet paper, and charging stations are available, for an additional cost.
Because there’s not much to do in your room besides sleep (the wifi signal didn’t reach our room in most of the tea houses where we bunked), we spent our time in the common space of the tea house.
That’s the place to meet fellow travelers winding down from a long day of trekking. Here, you can wind down playing cards, reading books, and chatting.
SheBuysTravel Tip: That TV show you’ve been putting off for so long… download it to your device. You’ll have plenty of downtime to watch it.
Be Open to New Friendships
A mountain isn’t climbed alone. Quite literally. As of April 2023, the Nepal Government requires all trekkers to enter Sagarmatha National Park with a licensed guide. Solo trekkers will be turned away.
The trekking season draws people from around the world, climbers and hikers alike. Expect to meet them along the way. Get acquainted with them, exchange contact information, and revel in your mutual challenges and adversities together.
My traveling partner, Cynthia, an avid adventurer, and I were lucky to meet new friends from all over the world – Australia, Saudi Arabia, France, Canada, and even a few new friends from our home country of the US.
Because most guided treks follow the same schedule, we saw them again along the trail, nearly every day. Linking up for a cup of hot ginger tea after a long day of trekking provided us with the sense of community that we needed as we journeyed onwards.
While you still have the strength to spare, gather around one of the local pubs for a round of pool. We did just that with our new friends. I didn’t win, but I can now say I played pool at the world’s highest Irish Pub, located in Namche Bazaar.
Share your misery, triumphs, and worries, your wins, and your tears together. They will be your tribe for the next two weeks.
It Can Be Dangerous
When you find out that you’ll be flying into the world’s most dangerous airport (Lukla Airport), it can be all too easy to panic and start getting your affairs in order.
I was comforted after I did a little research and learned that if there’s so much as a wisp of cloud in the sky, airport operations shut down for the day – leading to those unplanned travel delays.
It’s not uncommon to have several days of flight cancellations before a successful take-off. Keep in mind if the airport shuts down, it’ll take some time to get things back in operation and back on schedule, as there will likely be plenty of other people waiting along with you.
Once on the trail, the EBC trek (as we veteran trekkers refer to the Everest Base Camp trek) is fairly safe and well-marked. And even on your longest trekking days, you’ll be finished and safely indoors well before sundown.
Don’t Look Down
The many suspension bridges along the Everest Base Camp Nepal trek are sturdy – and very, very high. So if you’re afraid of heights, prepare to be challenged.
I admit I was a little scared crossing the Hillary Bridge, which is more than 400 feet in the air, but there was no way I was turning around. I won’t ever forget the rush of excitement crossing this bridge, with the Dudh Koshi River rushing below.
As with all adventures, you’ll want to make sure you take the proper safety precautions. On the EBC trek, that means watching where you walk, keeping your valuables with you at all times, and not disturbing the wildlife – don’t pet the yaks!
Altitude Sickness is Real
The Everest Base Camp trek started in Kathmandu, where the elevation is around 4,000 feet. That means you’ll gain around 13,000 feet in elevation over the next two weeks.
Pack medication for all sorts of ailments, even if you are relatively healthy. Most trekking schedules allow for two days of acclimatization; you’ll stay in place for two nights in order for your body to adjust to higher elevations. Don’t skip these days, even if you’re feeling strong.
Because you won’t know how your body will react to the elevation until you experience it, be proactive. For me, a petulant and persistent headache started around Namche Bazaar. In hindsight, I think this was the beginning of altitude sickness. I warded this off with acetazolamide oral tablets (Diamox).
Along the Khumbu Region, you may develop what is commonly referred to as the “Khumbu cough” – a dry cough that tends to intensify during the evening. A couple of cough drops should keep this at bay. I had read about it before my trip and foolishly thought I was going to be immune to it. I can now confidently say it comes for nearly everyone…the last time I coughed that much, I had COVID.
Finally, hydration is imperative. Drink plenty of fluids. There will be plenty of opportunities to purchase bottled water along the trek. If you are committed to eliminating single-use plastics, pack filtered straws.
If, like me, you choose to buy bottled water, know that Nepal is committed to eliminating waste along the Everest trail. A non-profit organization called Sagarmatha Next turns waste into art.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The key is to listen to your body. All the medication in the world won’t be enough if your body is simply rejecting the change in altitude. Honor your body and your health first.
Lastly, it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in everything that may be going wrong. You’re cold and homesick, the wifi isn’t working.
Now is the best time to look up, quite literally. Stop and look up at the views of Everest, remind yourself of your “why,” and connect back to that. I met my limits many times during my trek. I waved to these limits like an old friend and carried onward without them.
Know that any discomfort you may feel is only there for a few days. Welcome your discomfort for just those few days, in exchange for the triumph of reaching Everest Base Camp Nepal – a feat that you’ll carry for the rest of your life, long after the discomfort has gone.