Trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal is the adventure of a lifetime. Although actually climbing Mount Everest is out of reach for many of us, anyone with enough grit and good enough fitness can reach EBC and the Khumbu Icefall, the starting point for climbing Mount Everest. You’ll need an $11,000 permit and some serious equipment to go any higher from there!
The Himalayan scenery through Sagarmatha National Park is unrivaled on earth. Snowy sentinels will witness your struggle toward the top of the world. Stupas, prayer flags, and Sanskrit tablets will remind you of the spiritual significance of the area. Sadly, the numerous memorials to hikers who perished along the trail betray the seriousness of your undertaking.
You’ll battle freezing cold, thin air, weather changes, and your own body as you ascend. Once at Everest Base Camp, you won’t even get to see the famous mountain itself unless you take a day to climb Kala Patthar (18,519 feet), an adjacent prominence that affords views of the “Holy Mother” when weather permits.
In this guide for trekking to Everest Base Camp, we’ll cover getting to South Base Camp at 17,598 feet in Nepal, not North Base Camp in Tibet.
What to Expect
Trekking to Everest Base Camp involves hiking between lodges (or “teahouses”) found in villages along the trail. Some days may only consist of four hours or so of uphill trekking, depending on how much elevation is gained that day. Sometimes you’ll have the option of pushing on to another village higher up, but no matter what, never gain more than 500 meters in a day or get caught on the trail at dark.
The common rooms in your lodges will invariably be heated by yak-dung-burning stoves once above the treeline. Weary hikers hang around the stove warming themselves and socializing until retiring early to their unheated rooms. The shared toilets are sometimes located in snowy outhouses.
The village of Namche Bazaar (11,290 feet) is considered the last fully “civilized” stop on the trek to Everest Base Camp. Trekkers can enjoy treats from a German bakery while watching screened documentaries. You’ll find last-minute gear and souvenirs for sale along with the last ATM on the trail. You can even indulge at the “highest Irish pub in the world” on your way down after a successful trek!
The Best Time for Trekking to Everest Base Camp
The best time for trekking to Everest Base Camp is in either spring (March – May) or fall (September – November). If you want to see the camp in full form with climbers, support teams, and film crews, you’ll need to time your trip with spring climbing season, usually late April or early May. This is also the busiest time to be in Nepal.
For less traffic on the trails, consider making your trek to Everest Base Camp in September or October. Unfortunately, this means hiking in cooler weather with even less daylight than usual.
Avoid making the trek during monsoon season in summer. Humidity reduces beautiful views at lower elevations, and snowfall closes trails at higher elevation.
Booking a Tour or Going Independently
There are three options for completing a trek to Everest Base Camp:
- Book a group tour and have all arrangements made for you.
- Arrive in Nepal then hire a guide and/or porter yourself.
- Make the trek to Everest Base Camp independently.
No matter which you choose, try to spend an additional day at Namche Bazaar. The extra time at 11,290 feet reduces some of the effects of elevation later. You’ll enjoy a better overall trekking experience and suffer less. The extra day isn’t “wasted”—many day hikes around Namche Bazaar provide beautiful views while giving your body time to adjust. Your chances of successfully reaching Base Camp vastly improve if you spend more time at Namche Bazaar.
Everest Base Camp Tours
Although the most expensive option by far, having everything organized before you arrive provides peace of mind. You’ll be taken care of all along the way and have access to better safety measures such as supplemental oxygen. Bigger companies use yaks to take your gear ahead; you’ll find it waiting for you in your teahouse room at the end of each hiking day.
You can book an Everest Base Camp tour online from home, or if time permits, do so after arriving in Kathmandu. Booking on the ground through a Nepalese agency saves money and better helps the local economy. You’ll find trekking agencies on every corner in Thamel, but unfortunately, not all are reliable. Choose a reputable agency that’s a member of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal. You can see in the member directory how long an agency has been in operation, and hopefully, make a better informed decision.
First, independently trekking to Everest Base Camp doesn’t necessarily mean solo trekking. Trekking alone in the Himalayas is dangerous no matter your experience level. A simple slip or unexpected weather change could keep you from reaching the next teahouse before temperatures plummet at night.
Independent trekkers can save a lot of money by foregoing organized tours and simply teaming up with other trekkers met in the lodges. Pretty well everyone is going one of two directions: up or down! You can walk between villages along the way with a new friend who matches your speed and fitness level. The well-marked trail to Everest Base Camp is busy during peak trekking seasons.
Going independently does carry some risk, of course. You’ll be responsible for your own well-being and making important decisions. On the other hand, you’ll be able to set your own pace and make adjustments based on how well your body acclimatizes. A majority of hiker deaths on the trail each year occur when people in group excursions are suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) but don’t speak up. They fear slowing everyone down or don’t want to forfeit reaching Everest Base Camp.
If guiding yourself, pick up a good trail map in Kathmandu. Don’t rely solely on electronic devices for making survival decisions! You’ll also need to store your luggage at a trustworthy guesthouse or hotel in Kathmandu. Locking duffel bags and padlocks can be purchased in local shops. Some shop owners will buy them back once you return from your trek.
The cost of trekking to Everest Base Camp depends entirely upon your needed level of comfort. One indelible rule holds on the trail: Prices rise as elevation rises. That 50-cent candy bar from Kathmandu becomes worth $7 at 17,000 feet!
Extremely basic accommodation in teahouses can be found for as low as $5 per night. You’ll be expected to have your meals where you stay. A hearty Nepalese meal of dal bhat can be enjoyed for $6 or less, but expect to pay much more for Western food. A can of Coke can cost up to $5; remember, it’s heavy and had to be carried up by a porter.
Other luxuries add to the cost of life on the trail. A (somewhat) warm shower can cost $5. Charging electronic devices and accessing the internet, if available, cost several dollars an hour. Depending on your food and drink indulgences, plan to spend $20 – 30 a day living on the trail. This excludes any fees you pay to porters and guides.
If not already covered, your greatest expense will be the short flight to and from Lukla. The 30-minute flight can cost around $180 each way.
Permits for Trekking to Everest Base Camp
You’ll need at least two permits for trekking to Everest Base Camp. Your tour organizer will probably provide these, but you’ll need to arrange them yourself if trekking independently. The Nepal Tourism Board office is an interesting, 30-minute walk from the Thamel area in Kathmandu.
- Sagarmatha National Park Permit: Get this at the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu (approximately $25).
- Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality Permit: You will get this permit from a checkpoint in Lukla; it isn’t available in Kathmandu (approximately $17).
- Gaurishankar Conservation Area Permit: You only need this permit from the Tourism Board if doing the longer trek to Everest Base Camp from Jiri instead of flying to Lukla (approximately $17).
The permit system changed in 2018. Disregard any information you read elsewhere about needing a TIMS card for the trek to Everest Base Camp.
Hiring Guides and Porters
Rest assured: Your pack is going to feel heavier at 15,000 feet than it does at home! Even as an independent trekker, hiring a local guide and/or porter are options. Hiring directly ensures money goes to the Sherpas instead of a Western tour agency that managed to rank well online. You’ll need to negotiate terms and contingencies before hitting the trail. Expect to pay between $15 – 20 a day for a porter or $25 – 30 a day for a guide. Guides may speak good English but aren’t expected to carry your pack.
Guides will approach you on the street in Thamel, however, you should hire only a credible and licensed guide through either a trekking company or your accommodation. You may still be able to hire a porter later on the trail by speaking to the staff at your lodge.
Paying up to half of the porter’s fee up front is common. You'll also be expected to tip guides and porters after the trip. Finalize details and other expenses to avoid a potential disagreement. The agreed daily rate should include their meals, drinks, and accommodation so you aren’t asked for money later.
Important Gear Considerations
Kathmandu, particularly in Thamel, has more than enough outfitting shops for gearing up. Unfortunately, those same shops are stacked with counterfeit gear that probably won’t survive the hardships of the trek. Sifting through the piles of used gear in dark shops requires patience. Prices are inflated, so put your game face on and start haggling!
Before shopping, find out what your tour company plans to provide (e.g., hiking poles, down jackets, etc). Consider bringing mission-critical items from home so that equipment failure doesn’t affect your experience. For instance, you’ll need quality sunglasses to prevent eye injury. Sunglasses for sale locally may have “UV Protection” stickers on them but don’t offer much actual protection.
- Good Hiking Boots: You should invest in high-quality, waterproof hiking boots and break them in properly before you leave home; painful blisters can ruin an otherwise-excellent trek.
- Lightweight Sleeping Bag: Rooms along the trek are unheated. Lodges provide weighty blankets for the freezing nights, but you'll appreciate having a layer between you and the unwashed bedding. Even a lightweight silk “sleep sheet” will do the trick.
- Alternate Footwear: Some lightweight shoes or sandals come in handy for wearing around lodges and to shared bathrooms after removing your muddy hiking boots.
- Water Purification: As elevation increases, so does the cost of bottled water and need to reduce plastic waste. You’ll be drinking more than ever to counter dehydration in the dry air. Although there are many options, the two-bottle, chlorine dioxide system from Aquamira is a reliable solution.
- Trail Snacks: Candy bars and nuts provide a much-needed boost to energy and morale while on the trail or in the lodge.
- USB Power Bank: If you plan to use a smartphone for photos or communication, you’ll want to bring along a rugged power bank. Keeping batteries charged in the extreme cold is a challenge. You’ll have to pay to charge devices at lodges. The solar charging systems are often slow and provide only a weak charge.
- Diamox Tablets: Diamox (acetazolamide) is medication for countering the dangerous effects of AMS. Guides should have some on hand, but independent trekkers will want to buy Diamox to carry. Beware of fake tablets for sale in Kathmandu. Purchase only from legitimate pharmacies—not from shops—and discuss how to use them.
If you won’t be taking your poles and other gear home after the trek, consider giving it directly to the Sherpas you meet in Lukla.
Although frostbite and rock slides are hazards along the trail, the biggest danger—by far—comes from the high elevation. Once symptoms of AMS begin (severe headache and nausea) you need to descend as soon as possible. Ideally, you’ll ascend slowly enough to minimize altitude sickness in the first place.
The CDC recommends never gaining more than 500 meters in one day and taking a rest day for every 1,000 meters gained. Whenever possible, you should descend to sleep at a lower elevation than the highest point reached during the day. Track and do the elevation math as though your life depends on it.
High elevation causes biological changes in the body. The increased production of red blood cells causes excessive urination, therefore, increasing the risk of dehydration.
Panting heavily in the thin air and dust of the region gives many trekkers the dry, hacking “Khumbu cough.” You can cover your face with a bandanna or balaclava for some protection. The cough usually goes away after time.
Yak trains always get the right of way! Never share a bridge crossing with one, and always pass them on the “inside” on the trail. Startled yaks are unpredictable and sometimes knock trekkers off the trail.
Ultraviolet rays are more damaging in the thinner air. Protect your skin, lips, and eyes.
- Take your stocking up on snacks seriously. Pack candy bars, even if you wouldn’t ordinarily indulge at home. You’ll experience strong cravings at higher elevation. Hikers are willing to spend $7 or more for Snickers bars near Everest Base Camp!
- Buffer days are important. The weather in the Himalayas changes quickly and unpredictably. Flights to and from Lukla frequently become delayed by a day or two, maybe longer if a winter storm system sets in. Add some buffer days to your Kathmandu itinerary just in case.
- Before retiring to bed, ask your teahouse staff to pour boiling water into your bottles and use them as bed warmers. Fair warning: They’ll probably be frozen next to you in the morning!
- Sleep with your smartphone and any batteries in the bed with you. Your body heat will protect battery life a little.
- Weight limitations imposed by airlines that fly to Lukla are strictly enforced—that’s a good thing. Lift doesn’t come easily in thin air. If an airline says 15 kilograms (33 pounds), that includes all baggage, stowed or carried. Don’t risk having to forfeit gear in Kathmandu Airport because you’re a pound or two over the allowance. You can stuff some items into your pockets, within reason.
Getting to the Everest Base Camp Trek
Fly into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) and plan to spend a few days resting and preparing for the trek. Unless you’ll be starting the trek in Jiri (requires a seven-hour bus ride and additional 5 – 7 days of trekking), you’ll need to book a flight to Lukla.
Taking the small prop plane from Kathmandu to Lukla (LUA) is one of the scariest and most scenic aviation experiences many travelers will have. Although not the highest airport in the world, weather and visibility changes have caused enough crashes at Tenzig-Hillary Airport in Lukla to earn it the title of “most dangerous airport in the world.”
The trek to Everest Base Camp begins in Lukla and finishes at the infamous Khumbu Icefall!