I visited the Everest Base Camp (or EBC as it’s called generally by tour operators) with Tibet Vista in May of 2014. Admittedly, I hadn’t done a lot of research outside of altitude statistics and figured we’d be hanging out with real trekkers and Sherpas who were making their ascent.
Now I know the reality: there are many “Everest Base Camps” for the real mountaineers and they make their way slowly up the mountain, acclimatizing at various base camps along the way. The EBC that visitors go to is simply that: a visitor’s EBC. You can see the high-tech gear of the real trekkers from afar but you’re not allowed to mingle. That said, you still reach an altitude of 5,200m (~17,000feet), so it’s nothing to be ashamed of on that end. Additionally, you have incredible views of Everest, even from the rocks behind which you relieve yourself in the morning. I’ve never had a more amazing view from my “bathroom” window.
Getting to Everest Base Camp
There’s no other way to say it: we had a hell of a drive. Depending on conditions and what kind of vehicle you’re in, it can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to get to EBC from Shigatse.
The “good” road was under construction so we had to take a longer way and after a checkpoint, the pavement ended and we descended onto a gravel path. At some point, the gravel gave way to dirt and as we bounced along the bus became stuck. We piled off and watched as our driver and guide piled rocks under the back wheels and eventually, the bus got out. (We were instructed to walk beside the bus until it got onto safer, less bumpy, less muddy, ground.)
So it’s an adventure. But if you’re a small group in a 4-wheel-drive, it won’t take you so long. But I'd still advise you to be prepared to add a few hours onto whatever the time on your itinerary says.
Arriving at the EBC
You’ll pass through a small village where there’s a monastery called Rongbuk. The monastery has a small guesthouse that accommodates travelers but we were told it is better (cleaner, more comfortable) to stay in the tent encampment if possible.
Read my review of Staying at EBC Tent Village.
We arrived just as the sun was setting but we did manage to see a dusk view of Everest and the exhilaration of seeing the mountain made the drive worth it. We piled our things into the tent as the light faded and tried to get comfortable as the wind whipped around the tent, dogs howled and a few of us succumbed to altitude sickness.
Dawn Trek to the Everest Base Camp Scenic Point (5,200m)
The idea is that you walk the 2 hours from the ten village to the highest point where there is a scenic view of Everest (and the mountaineers’ base camp, incidentally). If you don’t want to make the trek, a tourist bus can drive you from the tent village to the scenic point in about 15 minutes.
Those of us feeling fit enough to do it got up before the sunrise to start the trek. At over 5,200m (~17,000feet) the going is slow but the views are stunning. The trek leads you from the tent village up a gradual rocky pathway that gets slightly steeper as you go. After ascending the hill (with amazing views of Everest already), you get sight of the scenic spot and all the other visitors. You descend from this hill to meet up with the road and then ascend another small hill that is covered with prayer flags – the scenic viewpoint.
Everest Base Camp Scenic Point 5,200m
It’s difficult not to feel completely elated at the sight of Everest, the thousands of prayer flags at the scenic point and fellow visitors making their way to the top. You really feel like celebrating and there’s a real sense of camaraderie – handing around cameras to take photos in front of the best view in the world.
We hung a set of prayer flags at the top of the lookout, posed for a hundred photos and then sadly, turned our backs to Mt. Everest. Of our group of ten, only six of us made it on the morning trek and while it would have been nice to sit in the sun and look at Everest all day, we needed to get back to check on our friends and to start the long drive back to Shigatse.
One note, while there’s no outward show of authority, in other words, you don't see armed guards marching around like you do at the Barkor, our guide warned us not to try to hang any national flags at the scenic point. One of us had brought an Australian flag but our guide said at best we could be barred from hanging it and at worst, he could get in serious trouble. This is just another sign of the heavy hand that Tibetans survive under.
Departing Everest Base Camp
We managed to get a lift back to the tents from one of the tourist buses and were thankful not to have to walk the two hours back. After arriving back, we had a quick breakfast, packed up and loaded everything back on the bus. We were on our long way back to Shigatse by about 10am.
The visit seemed too short. It took us so long to get to Everest, the literal and figurative highpoint of our journey, and now we were already on our way back. I had to sit backwards in the bus for a while to let the view linger.