|Location||Everest Region, Nepal|
Due to my oppressive desire to be succinct, this post will hardly do the this route justice. My hope is to give you a basic idea of how to accomplish this trip. If you need more information, feel free to contact me or leave a comment on this post.
Step one: Prepare yourself.
The Everest region of the Himalayas truly are mind-blowingly beautiful. This route is likely one of the top ten in the world.
More often than this route, you may hear about the “Three Passes Route”. Due to time constraints, this my modified version–which is essentially the same except it skips Kongma La. I’ve seen some people recommend skipping Rejo La, but I really enjoyed being on the other side of Rejo. This is about the only place you might get taste of remoteness. Thame is also a very beautiful town with an amazing Buddhist monastery. The hike over Rejo is hella-difficult though. I considered it my toughest day.
Step two: Get plane tickets.
In and out of Kathmandu is pretty simple, but to get to the start of this trek, you need to get to Lukla. This will either involve hiking there from Kathmandu (which will add on an extra week or so to the trip) or taking a exciting, albeit harrowing flight to Tenzing-Hillary airport.
Figuring out the plane tickets to and from Lukla can be confusing. The most important thing is to buy tickets ahead of time; I asked the hotel I was staying out if they could buy tickets for me on specific days, because I wasn’t sure how to purchase them. They said they would, but upon my arrive had no memory of the request. This led to me having to get expensive tickets and wait around in the airport for two days. So–buy them yourself.
The next thing to know is to expect delays. Bad weather will pretty frequently halt flights. Always build a buffer of at least two days around your expected departure.
Finally, it doesn’t really matter too much what time your tickets are for, so long as you have them. Because of the frequent delays and unreliable schedules, the airline will just do their best to put you on the next available flight.
To buy tickets, you can do so ahead of time for most airlines. I flew Tara Air on the way back to Kathmandu and found it to be a perfectly fine experience.
Step three: Hike!
Once you step off the plane in Lukla, it’ll be pretty easy to figure out where to go. You’re headed toward Everest Base Camp, just like the rest of the swarm. You can hike this route backwards, but I preferred hitting the busy trail first and enjoying the relative solitude of of the non-Base Camp trail afterward.
My days went essentially like this:
Land in Lukla and have a ridiculously expensive beer. Hike through the town. At the end of Lukla, you may be required to check in and give information on your camera (for some reason…). From the end of town it is pretty much all downhill to Phakding, where you’ll spend the night.
Wake up early and make up for all the downhill yesterday. This is a rather long uphill day in to the incredible town of Namche Bazaar. On the way you will need to get your TIMS card and National Park pass. This will be available at a large building on the route–impossible to miss. Make sure you bring two passport photos, as you may need them for the TIMS card.
Once you get to Namche, find some accommodations and then go exploring! I highly recommend trying the mystery homemade distilled liquor at the Irish/Rasta bar helpfully named “The Irish Pub”.
Today is an acclimation day. Spend the time walking up to Everest View Hotel, where you can have midday tea and enjoy your first big view of Everest (not to mention a pretty kick-ass view of the much prettier Ama Dablam).
Hike up and through Namche, back on the path to EBC. The route should be pretty obvious and will be initially the same path taken to Everest View Hotel. Then the rest is a fairly easy trek with a bit of climb at the end to reach Tengboche. There is a beautiful monastery that absolutely should be toured. When I was there, a large ceremony was going on that was incredible to watch. You can either stay in Tengboche, or head down the hill on the other side of town to Deboche. You may need to do this in the event that Tengboche is full (as I needed to do because of the ceremony). There were two tea houses in Deboche when I went through (2014).
A pleasantly flat walk to Dingboche will take up half the day. Once there, settle in and roam around the town. If you’re feeling ambitious you can hike out toward Chhukung. If you’re feeling even more ambition, you can try to do some laundry (which is what I ended up doing).
Today is an acclimation day in Dingboche. Hike up the beautiful and brutal Nangkartshang Peak (16676 ft / 5083 m elevation!!). The path up should be relatively easy to find; it is a standard acclimation hike. If you’re unsure, you can ask someone in the tea house to point you in the right direction. It should take you about half the day to get up to the peak.
Here is where you break off from the standard three passes route. Instead of heading toward Chhukung, you will head west out of Dingboche toward Pheriche and Lobuche. This is still the main drag of the EBC trail, so you should have no trouble finding the route.
Half-way through this day, right after Dughla, you pass by the Everest Memorial. Here there are stone memorials dedicated to fallen Everest climbers. I was told that for each climber that dies, a memorial is built.
End your day in Lobuche, which is a small and crowded town. If you have time, hike out to the north-eastern edge where you can climb up over a ridge to get your first look at the massive Khumbu Glacier.
Skip through a relatively flat and crowded hike to Gorakshep. It shouldn’t take much time. Once you get in to town, grab a room, drop your bags, and head out for Everest Base Camp. After a few hours of winding alongside the Khumbu Glacier, you’ll find yourself at the famed Everest Base Camp. Take some pictures to prove how badass you are and then head back to Gorakshep.
Wake up early and scale Kala Patthar if you’re feeling it. It gives you a nice view of Everest with the Khumbu Glacier and is a classic checklist item for the EBC trek. However, if you’re not in to it then don’t worry too much. You’ll get much better, and less crowded, views of Everest in Gokyo.
Once you do or do not climb Kala Patthar, head back down through Lobuche. Hug the right side of the trail and take the trail leading to Dzongla. This is probably the only part of the route that is confusing and could potentially be missed. You’ll stay high and eventually pull in to the small town of Dzongla. Here is where the crowds pleasantly thin out. Grab a room for the night and enjoy the amazing view.
Wake up early and get psyched for your first pass–Cho La! Head up out of Dzongla and wind your way toward a ridiculously tall rock scramble. Make your way up this narrow rock/step section. At the top is a large snowy glacier that you make your way up and through to get to the actual pass. This was likely the most dangerous part of the hike, as the terrain was slick and there were large crevasses downhill of the trail. However, if you go slowly and surely you can make it through without traction aids (as I did), though they certainly would have helped.
Once you get to the top of the pass, it is a gradual stroll down to the town of Dragnag. This is a good spot to grab lunch, as you won’t see any more towns until Gokyo.
After Dragnag, you spend most of the rest of the day crossing the Ngozumpa Glacier which I found both eerie and beautiful. The trail can be tricky to follow here (since there isn’t really a consistent one…), but there is likely to be existing trample marks or spray paint to mark the way. At the end of the glacier, you hike your way out of the valley, around the corner, and BAM! Gokyo awaits. Grab a room and relax.
Gokyo is a gorgeous town and deserves another day. Today hike up to the top of Gokyo Ri, which is the dominating brown “hill” next to the town. This will give you amazing views of Everest as well as other 8k+ peaks in the region. It’ll also gives you great views of Gokyo and the glacier butting up along side it.
Another day, another pass–Renjo La! I felt like this one was more difficult than Cho La. The first part of the pass winds northeast around Gokyo lake and then up in to the rocks. Make sure you turn around. You’ll get amazing views of Gokyo, Lohtse, and Everest. Through the rocks can be tough to follow, but there will likely be porters making their way through the pass that you can surreptitiously follow.
After passing through the initial rock scramble, you’ll get to a small valley and then back up, up, up through more rocky switchbacks. Once you get to the top, enjoy the view and then head down the other side.
This side of the pass is mostly comprised of narrow, icy, rock “steps” that will eventually lead you to a tranquil grassy valley. You’ll descend from the valley and start passing through small towns. Since I was ahead of schedule, I stopped and spend the night in Lungden. However, if you’re itching to get out then you could easily make it to Thame.
After a short, mostly downhill hike you’ll get to the beautiful town of Thame. Grab a room and explore. There is a fantastic monastery above the town that is very welcoming to visitors.
Head out in the morning and make your way to Namche Bazaar. In lieu of taking the easy route (down), I opted to head up toward the Everest View Hotel and spend a night there. I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ve got to do a lot of elevation gain and, frankly, the Everest View Hotel is pretty lame compared to the bustling town of Namche Bazaar. Either way, spend the night in or around Namche.
Head out in the morning and descend down the familiar path out of Namche. It’ll be startling to see the last of the big, snowy peaks disappear from view. You could make it Lukla if you pushed it, however since I was ahead of schedule I opted to spend another night in Phakding.
Hike slightly down and then briskly up and out to Lukla. Catch your flight or, as I did, catch a room because your flight has been delayed due to weather. If you do get “stuck” in Lukla, it isn’t hard to enjoy. The bustle will be an enjoyable shock after your two weeks in the mountains. Either way, be sure to spin your last prayer wheel as you tragically head out of those glorious mountains.
- On guides: I did not plan on having a guide, but sort of got swindled in to getting one on the taxi ride from the airport.
My guide was really nice and it worked out well, but I think I would have rather have gone without (which is totally doable). It depends on if you will enjoy the stress of navigating the foreign country. If not, you should definitely get a guide. Without a guide, the most difficult things will be figuring out the flight to Lukla and getting your TIMS card.
If you don’t want a guide, just lie to the person that will jump in the taxi you take and tell them you already have one. Whatever you do, don’t go through an agency. It’ll be more expensive and a lot of the money won’t go in to the local economy. It is easy to find a guide once you get to Kathmandu.
- A map is not necessary, but I bought one anyway because I like maps. The National Geographic one was pretty all right.
- When you see a prayer wheel, spin it! It is quite satisfying and nobody looks at you odd for doing so. Just make sure you spin it clockwise, otherwise it is bad luck!
- I went in November, and it got freaking cold! Especially up and around Gorakshep. I took my 0* bag, though probably could have lived with a 20*. The daytime temps were great, but I still found myself occasionally slipping on my beefy puffy jacket.
- Water purification is critical. Because of the environmental stress of all these folks trekking about, Nepal struggles with contamination. Tea houses will gladly fill up your bottles for free, but you’ll want to use an anti-viral form of purification on the water. I used a SteriPen and never got ill (and also met some folks that did get ill from their insufficient purification).
- To help with acclimation I got a prescription for diamox, but I really wish I hadn’t. Recent studies have show that ibuprofen can be almost as effective. Diamox gave me some pretty crap side effects–having a difficult time holding my bladder and making my toes and finger tips constantly tingle as if they had fallen asleep.
Once you start taking it, you’re supposed to continue the dose until your back down to elevation. So, you’re really stuck. Many folks on the trail weren’t taking anything to help with the elevation. One just has to take it slow and not ascend too quickly.
- There aren’t any ATMs in the mountains, but there are plenty of ways to spend your money. I brought just barely enough, but by the end found myself wishing I had a bit more so that I could have a nice pot of tea after some of the more difficult days. From my experience, I’d recommend taking along $500-$600 USD in Nepali rupees before you head out.