When I set out to tackle the Everest Base Camp trek in February 2013, I knew it would be challenging. To be certain, hiking 125km and ascending 2500m is no walk in the park.
But what I didn’t know beforehand was that other aspects of the trek, rather than the trekking itself, would prove more difficult to manage. I had to quickly learn on the fly how to deal with the frustrating Nepalese infrastructure, piece together the myriad logistics of my trek in under a day, and above all: cope with the coldest temperatures my body has ever endured.
Scouring various packing lists and itineraries online beforehand is helpful, but these can only prepare you for so much. So to supplement them, I present here my 5 best tips for crafting the most comfortable and enjoyable Everest Base Camp trek possible:
Rent or buy most of your gear in Kathmandu
There’s no need to come to Nepal lugging every item of gear you’ll need for the trek; you can find most everything for sale or rent in Kathmandu. Even though the bulk of it is a knock-off of major brands, the quality is good enough to last through your trek – and at an affordable price tag.
I recommend renting the more expensive items, such as a highly-rated down sleeping bag and jacket, and buying cheap layers and fleece accessories in town. If you’re going to bring anything from home, pack merino wool socks/underwear and broken-in hiking boots: you won’t be able to find these things once you’re in Kathmandu.
Hire a porter or porter-guide
Unless you’re exceptionally strong or prone to self-punishment, I strongly encourage you to hire a porter. Imagine carrying a massive heavy backpack for 8 straight hours on the best of days. Now, picture doing this while scaling mountains in the snow at very high altitudes. If that doesn’t sound too appealing, you’ll want a porter to carry your bag for you.
Or, for just a bit more money, consider a porter-guide. In addition to walking with you through the whole trek and carrying your bag, a porter-guide will have a decent command of English and will be able to provide insight into the local life and the trail ahead.
The best way to find a reputable porter is to ask around in Kathmandu. I asked the staff at my hostel, who knew of someone that owned a local tour outlet providing porters and guides for trekkers. If you have enough time to spare, it’s a good idea to meet with a few different porters before choosing one to accompany you on your trek.
Be sure to sort out details like your route, who will pay for food, and who will choose the nightly accommodation. Choose someone who not only agrees with you on all of these points, but who you also get along with and feel like you can trust – after all, you’re going to be spending lots of time with them!
Bring lots of cash from your home country
As in most other developing countries, credit cards are rarely accepted as a form of payment in Nepal. You can expect to pay for nearly everything on your trek with rupees, including daily food and accommodation, your porter’s wages, and likely most of your gear and supplies (though a few stores in town may accept cards for large purchases).
I knew I’d be needing plenty of cash for the Everest Base Camp trek; what I DIDN’T know was how fickle the ATMs in Nepal are. On any given day, there could be some issue with your card, the machine, or the bank that prevents you from being able to withdraw cash. On top of that, most machines have limits as to how much you’re allowed to take out – and it’s not much. You can imagine the difficulty I had coming up with several hundred dollars’ worth of local currency upfront to pay for my 3-week trek.
Don’t count on the ATMs in Nepal – instead, bring plenty of cash from your home country and exchange it for rupees once you arrive in Kathmandu. You’re allowed to carry in up to 2000 USD without having to declare it at customs.
Don’t underestimate the cold
Whether you’re trekking to base camp in the winter or in warmer months, you can count on extremely cold weather at higher altitudes. After dinner is served, tea houses typically stop running their wood stove, which is their only heat source. At this point, all you can do is jump into your -10F down sleeping bag and wait til sunrise; but before you do that, try out these tricks for a warmer night’s sleep in the tea house:
- Wear a fleece hat and gloves.
- Wear 2-3 layers on your feet, legs, and torso – including your warmest jacket.
- Ask the house owners for extra blankets.
- Fill your water bottle with boiling water and put it in the foot of your sleeping bag with you.
Start the trek south of Lukla, from either Jiri or Phaplu
The traditional Everest Base Camp trek begins in Lukla; however, the trail actually begins further south in the SoluKhumbu region. If you have an extra 5-8 days to spare, it’s worth starting out from Jiri or Phaplu and hiking up to Lukla before continuing on with the trek to base camp. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
The region south of Lukla is vastly different from the north, as you trek through rice terraces, farmland, and lively villages. The weather is warmer and free of snow. And perhaps best of all: since this is off the tourist track, you’ll likely be the only foreigner on the trail for much of it. I was able to immerse myself and get a better sense of the culture in these southern villages where far more locals and sherpas were milling about, as opposed to the north where I hardly encountered anyone wandering around town because it was so cold.
To start the EBC trek south of Lukla, you have 2 options:
- 10+ hour bus ride to Jiri, then 8 days of trekking to Lukla
- 35 minute flight to Phaplu, then 5 days of trekking to Lukla