Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Final Adventure - Bonus Entry: EBC Trekking Tips

This blog entry is more of a guide for anyone doing the Everest Base Camp trek, or any siilar mini-expeditions, rather than a retelling of our own time en route. I'll try as best I can to give a full itinerary of things you may need to bring, where to go, how long it should take etc., as well as any general tips we picked up ourselves along the way.

I'm sure any reader will come across other such guides written by people a lot more qualified than me, but that's a large part of the reason why I'm writing this. In guide books or dedicated trekking forums or websites, it's sometimes difficult to know who the target audience is: experienced trekkers, beginners, those with porters and/or guides, or neither? It is, of course, impossible to take accurate advice from such books or websites when you don't know where on the spectrum the advice is being aimed, so I'm writing this entry wholly specific to our own set of circumstances and abilities, and if anyone who happens to stumble across this is in a similar boat, hopefully it'll provide some assistance.

I guess it's easier to write (and read) in a bullet point format, so without further ado...


To anyone who just found this randomly, or was linked by a friend, I guess it's a good idea to briefly describe ourselves and our own physical condition and trekking experience, so you have a better gauge on our recommendations. We're a couple in our mid-twenties and certainly beginners when it comes to serious trekking like this. We're relatively fit but nothing exceptional, and definitely not overly strong. We did this trek in 12 days, without porters or guides, carrying everything ourselves.


Another factor that will have a major bearing on how you fare on this trek is when you decide to go. The main tourist seasons are from Mar - May and Sept - Nov, when the weather and visibility are at their best, although this also means sharing the route with thousands of other trekkers. We went in mid-Feb, just at the end of the winter season. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages of going at any time of the year (except probably during the monsoon season of July and August which isn't recommended), you just have to decide when is best for you, or more likely, when you can get the time to do it.

From our experience in mid-Feb, flights were easy to get (and also easy to rearrange) and the routes and lodges were quiet, so I would advise visiting at this time if you're looking for a more personal experience. On the flip side, it is a fair bit colder than the main tourist seasons, and it may be a bit lonely if you're a solo traveller.


I'll give a proper day-to-day guide of where we went later on in this entry, so feel free to skip down at any time. For now, I'll deal with where the route starts, in a small village called Lukla. You have two options to get here: by flight (the common, and certainly easier option), or by bus, followed by a 6-day trek (the cheaper, but longer and harder option).

I'll just deal with the former as it's what we did and definitely the more advisable of the two. Flights from Kathmandu are readily available outside the tourist season and numerous planes leave every morning for the 20 minute journey to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla (the most dangerous airport in the world!).

We booked ours a month or so in advance through our hotel, so everything was sorted by the time we arrived in Nepal. Flights to and from Lukla are a flat rate of $160 US each way, regardless of when you book or what airline you choose. As I said, we didn't visit during the busy, tourist season so I can't give much help when you should book for this period, although I'm sure the longer in advance, the better. My advice would be: book yourself into a reasonably nice hotel in Kathmandu and email them to sort it for you. The Kathmandu Home Hotel were very helpful for us in this respect and organised everything at no extra charge.


Well, this is a question you can probably only answer yourself, but after completing the trek, the two main answers for us would be, the great views, and the even greater sense of accomplishment. I won't lie, you will have some tough times, especially in the colder months and especially-ier (???) if you go without a porter or guide, like we did. So, before putting in the effort of planning your trip, you need to consider if you're prepared to go through these trying moments. If all you want from this experience is to see Everest and nothing more, then there are many agencies and airlines in Kathmandu that offer mountain flights in the Everest region, so you can see it all in one afternoon from the comfort of your seat. I don't mean to deter anyone in this paragraph, but it's certainly not a walk in the park, and it's definitely something you should put a lot of thought into before you start planning and even hiking the route itself.

Having said all of that, if you commit yourself to it fully, do the preparation and come out the other side, then I guarantee you it'll be an experience you will always remember.

What and How?

To answer these two questions, I'll have to go into a bit more detail, starting with what you should bring with you. Bear in mind also that if you go it alone without a porter, anything you pack, you carry!

Clothing (per person):

  • 2 thermal, long-sleeved tops (non-cotton): this will be your bottom layer and you should use one for hiking and the other for relaxing/sleeping.
  • 2 warmer long-sleeved tops: your next layer, again one for hiking, one for sleeping.
  • 1 warm hoody/fleece: all you'll need when trekking in lower areas before it starts to get really cold, and a nice extra layer for truly freezing areas.
  • 1 proper down-jacket: this will be your best friend in really Arctic weather conditions. You can rent or buy them in the Thamel area of Kathmandu (we rented ours for 60 Rupees per day).
  • Hat, gloves & scarf: pretty self-explanatory.
  • Hiking boots: You can also buy these in Thamel but it isn't advisable as you should ideally break them in and feel comfortable wearing them before you begin your trek.
  • 2 pairs of thick hiking socks: Again, one pair for hiking, and one to change into upon arrival each day.
  • Silk socks (as many as you can): These are my top tip, and I promise you, you won't get a single blister if you wear a pair of these under your hiking socks each day. We bought ours in Beijing the year before so I don't know if they're available in Kathmandu. I'm sure cutting up some silk tights would work in a pinch.
  • 1 pair of warm trousers: Some recommend proper thermal leggings, but a thick pair of tracksuit pants were fine with me.
  • 1 pair of warm, windproof outer leggings: To give you some extra warmth and to shield you from any cold winds.
  • 1 bandana: Helpful to cover your face on days when the wind is biting and also to prevent you from having to breathe in the sharp, cold air at higher altitudes.
  • 1 pair of sunglasses: On blustery days, to stop anything from blowing into your eyes. On sunny days, the sun and fresh snow can combine to blinding effect.
  • A few pairs of spare socks and underwear: Be prepared, you will be roughing it here so don't plan on bringing a pair for every day of the week!

These are all of the essentials you will need. You can always bring extra sets of everything if you're prepared to carry them, or even better if you're paying someone to carry them. Some people also recommend bringing a pair of comfortable shoes or warm slippers for the evenings, but we survived fine without them. Remember, you will most likely be staying in very basic accommodation, not a 5-star ski lodge!


  • Iodine tablets: fresh water here isn't safe to drink, and you're recommended to consume 3 litres per day (I don't think we ever did, but we tried at least!). Each packet comes with 50 tablets, and each tablet will purify one litre of water. You just fill up your bottle from numerous springs or taps along the way, pop in a tablet, wait for 30 minutes, and you have your own supply of drinking water.
  • Diamox: This is for altitude sickness, a very common ailment, especially if you try to ascend too high, too fast. It's generally a good idea to take one each morning as a preventative measure, although you can wait to see if you develop any symptoms if you prefer. They're not expensive, so you're better off just taking them from the start.
  • Sun cream: Just because you're in the snow, doesn't mean you won't get burned! A small tube should be enough, just to protect you nose and cheeks as everything else will most likely be covered up.
  • Lip balm: Your lips will get very dry and very sore from the freezing conditions. Apply some of this regularly when hiking and also before bed.

These are the most important things to bring, although it's always handy to have a stash of general remedies for things like diarrhoea, headaches, muscle pain, sore throats etc. So, if you have room, here are a few more things you should add to your first aid kit:

- throat lozenges
- Imodium tablets
- ibuprofen
- tiger balm
- rehydration salts
- plasters

General supplies:
  • sleeping bag: In most, if not all lodges, they do have blankets available but I'd certainly recommend bringing your own sleeping bag along too, especially if travelling in the colder months. As with our down-jackets, we rented ours in Thamel for 60 Rupees per day.
  • money: I think there might be an ATM in Namche Bazaar, but to be safe, you should really bring all of the money you need with you first day. It's always hard to gauge how much you'll need, but for 12 days, we spent a total of 33,250 Rupees (for two people). 99% of that went on meals as we didn't pay for a single night's accommodation (I'll come to that later). Bear in mind, you'll also have to pay extra for things like battery charging, internet and hot showers.
  • 1 litre water bottle/flask: As mentioned, you should be aiming to drink 3 litres a day, so it's handy to have your own bottle to refill instead of buying expensive mineral water.
  • 1 head torch: I'd even recommend one torch between two people as you only really need it to use the toilet at night. Most lodges will have lighting in the rooms.
  • toilet paper / tissues: Always have your own, although most places will have them for sale if you run out.
  • snacks: We probably packed too heavily in this respect. A few cereal bars, some chocolate and a pack of hard sweets should be plenty. You'll be eating your three square meals in the lodges so everything else is just to keep you going in between.
  • toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste and a small towel should be enough. You won't be doing any extensive bathing or grooming here, so leave the creams and lotions at home.
  • book/notepad/cards/games: You should definitely bring something to keep yourself entertained as you'll have a lot of free time once you finish your trekking for the day. Some lodges (mainly in the lower levels) have book exchanges available.
  • camera & charger: Batteries can be charged along the way, but at a fee which increases the further up you go.
  • a plastic bag or two: Always handy to bring anywhere you go, to separate wet or dirty clothes in your bag.

Again, these are all of the essentials, but I'll list a few more items that some people recommend and you can make up your own mind.
  • phone/ipod/tablet/laptop: There are of course obvious benefits to bringing these things, but remember, electricity isn't free, nor is wifi, and the price for both will increase steadily as you ascend.
  • hiking poles: I'm sure they do make the uphill climbs easier, especially if you have bad knees, but we decided to go without.
  • map: If you hire a guide, obviously there's no need for a map. But even if you go it alone, a map will only get you so far as there are an endless number of tiny paths and trails that didn't appear on any maps we saw. If you ever get lost en route, there should be enough people around (trekkers, villagers, yak herders) to point you in the right direction.
  • blister plasters (moleskin): The reason why I didn't mention these in the essentials is, as I mentioned previously, if you have a few pairs of silk socks, you shouldn't have to worry about blisters.

Our route:

Next, I'll talk briefly about what path we followed and how long each leg took. For the most part, we went by the Lonely Planet recommended route, although we veered slightly on occasion. Again, (and I'm sorry if I keep repeating myself) this was our own personal experience as a couple of beginners with no guides or porters, so if you have either of these things, or are relatively fit and/or experienced, then take these times as an absolute maximum.

  • Day 1: Lukla --> Phakding (3 hours 15 minutes)
  • Day 2: Phakding --> Namche Bazaar (7 hours)
  • Day 3: Acclimitisation day in Namche Bazaar
  • Day 4: Namche Bazaar --> Tengboche (4 hours 30 minutes)
  • Day 5: Tengboche --> Dingboche (5 hours)
  • Day 6: Acclimitisation day in Dingboche
  • Day 7: Dingboche --> Duglha (2 hours 15 minutes)
  • Day 8: Dughla --> Gorak Shep (5 hours 30 minutes)
  • Day 9: Kala Patthar roundtrip (2 hours 20 minutes), and EBC roundtrip (3 hours 50 minutes)
  • Day 10: Gorak Shep --> Tengboche (9 hours)
  • Day 11: Tengboche --> Namche Bazaar (3 hours 45 minutes)
  • Day 12: Namche Bazaar --> Lukla (6 hours 15 minutes)

For more detailed information on each individual day (scenery, pictures, landmarks, difficulty etc.), visit my previous blog entry:

That should be enough to get you started at least on your journey to EBC, and even if you're trekking elsewhere, hopefully some of the information will prove useful. Before I finish, I'll just share some general tips and tricks that we read, heard or learned ourselves along the way.

  • Batteries (from cameras, phones, ipods etc.) drain faster in colder climates, so each night, sleep with them close to your body (in your pockets or sleeping bag) to keep them warm and make them last longer.
  • If you're trekking off-season, it is possible to negotiate a free room in some lodges if you agree to eat all of your meals in their restaurant. During our entire trek, we didn't pay for accommodation once!
  • In Kathmandu, when buying your supplies, medicine is much cheaper in supermarkets compared to pharmacies or trekking shops.
  • Avoid meat at all costs during your trek (chicken flavoured soup or noodles are ok). All meat has to be portered up, so the further along you go, the older the meat is and the more likely you are to get food poisoning. It's just not worth the risk.
  • There actually is quite a good selection of food in most places though, below is a menu from Namche Bazaar with prices for reference:

  • It may sound like an obvious tip, but before you set out on your first day's hiking (or any day, in fact), make sure the straps on your back-pack are tightened properly and evenly. It's not good for your back, and a lot harder to carry if your bag is leaning to one side, or hanging too far down.
  • If you are going without a guide, and even if you do have a map, it's a good idea to ask locals every so often if you're going in the right direction, even if there were no diverging paths. It's always better to be safe than sorry.
  • And if you do hire a porter to carry your things, make sure it's in a rucksack or some other easy-to-carry bag. We saw some porters on the way having to carry big, awkward suitcases. If you wouldn't carry it up a mountain yourself, then don't give it to someone else to carry!
  • When flying to or from Lukla, try to book yourself on the first flight of that given morning as, in the event of bad weather, this is the most likely one to actually take-off. The later your flight, the more likely you'll be rescheduled til the next day.
  • For the EBC trek, you'll need to buy two things to be allowed access the route - a TIMS card and a conservation fee (2,000 and 3,000 Rupees respectively). These can be bought in advance in Kathmandu, or also on the trek itself.

If anyone has any specific questions, feel free to message me and I will try my best to help. Thanks for reading and safe travels!

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