Trekking to Everest Base Camp is a bucket list hike for the ages. Tens of thousands of hikers make the incredible 65-kilometer (about 40-mile) journey to the South Base Camp in Nepal annually, with the majority of hikers targeting the high seasons in the spring and fall.
But it’s not a journey to be undertaken lightly. The hike is physically and financially demanding, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars, and requires some planning.
Most trekkers use a Himalayan trekking company, which can provide guides and even porters to carry overnight bags. These guides are experts in the terrain and first aid, and can handle the necessary trekking licenses for Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park. Trekking companies offer routes of different lengths and prices depending on the season, size of your group, weather conditions and other factors.
A trek to Everest Base Camp is an incredible hiking milestone, and it’s important to recognize and celebrate the taxing process and journey — one that demands hikers prepare well before seeing the Himalayas. Here are six tips gleaned on a trek to Everest’s South Base Camp.
1. The 411 on tea houses en route to Base Camp
Each night, many trekkers eat dinner and sleep in Nepalese tea houses, which are accommodations along trekking routes with charging stations, bathrooms and even showers at lower altitudes.
It can get too cold to shower at increasingly high altitudes; bring deodorizing wipes to freshen up after a long day of trekking.
Cleaning wipes like the biodegradable Alcala deodorizing body wipes are ideal for freshening up on a regular basis, and for a deeper clean, opt for rinse-free bath wipes to work a lather without requiring water. Multipurpose “wilderness washes” by brands like Sea to Summit work well for washing clothes in a pinch, and many formulas also double as a shampoo and hand soap.
A money tip: ATMs are unreliable in the Himalayas, so bring a few hundred dollars in cash to convert to Nepalese rupees upon arrival. You’ll use this money to pay for meals at the tea houses, plus water, charging and tips for guides and porters. And as any seasoned traveler knows: Bring a portable battery to charge your devices on the go.
2. Mimic the trek while training
Training for Everest Base Camp will look different for every trekker, but the goal is to build cardiovascular endurance to prepare for 8 to 12 miles of trekking each day. During the journey to South Base Camp, you’ll rise to an elevation of 5,364 meters, or 17,598 feet.
High-intensity interval training can help build endurance and raise blood oxygen levels. And training is also a great opportunity to hit the trails in Western Washington — hikes with high elevation gain over short distances are your best bet. Conditioning hikes near Seattle include Mount Si, which covers 3,200 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles, and Mailbox Peak, which gains 4,000 feet of elevation in a little less than 5 miles. These are intermediate hikes that should be taken with a buddy. If hiking isn’t an option, opt for a heavily inclined walk on the treadmill or stair stepper.
Again, training should mimic the trek as much as possible, including your gear. Don’t forget to train in your hiking boots, use hiking poles and gradually add weight to a daypack. It also helps to cover long distances to build endurance until it’s manageable to trek five to six hours while gaining and losing elevation.
Even with your own trekking or visits to the gym, ascending to 17,600 feet will be a new experience for the body. To help the body adjust, most treks build in acclimation hikes ascending and descending 1,000 feet or so in elevation. Don’t forget to stretch to bookend each trek, with a focus on the hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.
3. Pack light but remember the essentials
Trekkers are typically allowed to bring a 22-pound duffel bag and an 11-pound backpack for day trekking, so pack light and wisely.
Merino base layers are light and ideal for layering. Don’t forget to bring items for everyday use like wool gloves, a purifying water bottle, sunscreen, cleaning wipes and a sleeping bag. Trekkers benefit from items that can be easily washed and dried quickly overnight. More essential suggestions for your pack: a quick-drying microfiber towel, wool sock liners that can be changed out daily, a waterproof Gore-Tex jacket, a rain poncho and dry bags.
An emergency kit looks different for every person, but the goal is to bring essentials you rely on that may be challenging to get at a higher altitude. That list could include blister bandages, alcohol wipes and medicine for altitude sickness.
It can be easy to overpack but less is more. If needed, last-minute items can be bought at Namche Bazaar, one of the largest Sherpa villages in the world, and typically one of the first stops on the way up to Everest Base Camp.
4. Take breaks and stay hydrated
Slow and steady wins the race, especially when scaling the Himalayas.
Trekkers are encouraged to take breaks every 10 to 15 minutes during periods of increasing elevation, and there are usually flat areas to sit, rest and drink water on the way. It’s recommended to drink between half and 1 gallon of water daily, which will help reoxygenate blood and prevent symptoms of altitude sickness.
Stops for tea and lunch are also a good chance to stay hydrated with soup and ginger-lemon tea, a staple in the Himalayas. For potable water, buy bottled water at tea houses along the way or use a water purifier like a LifeStraw water bottle or GeoPress Purifier water bottle from Grayl, which will filter tap or stream water.
5. Invest in gear that will last
Buy gear a few months in advance to test it out on the trails around Washington.
Having high-quality gear will make the biggest difference, so opt for merino wool, Gore-Tex and other durable and waterproof fabrics to last the entire trek.
During colder months, pack a sleeping bag made for zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t be afraid to ask employees at one of Seattle’s many outdoor gear retailers for recommendations, especially for hiking shoes. The recommendation is to leave an inch between your toes and the end of the boot, but try on a pair and ask a sales associate to check the fit.
6. Allow buffer days in your schedule
Uncertainty is par for the course when visiting the Himalayas to trek to Everest, so have patience and build buffer days into your schedule.
Guides recommend two to three buffer days on your itinerary in case there are flight delays between Kathmandu and the Himalayas. There’s no way to predict weather, but the most popular trekking seasons are from September to November and from April to June.
Variable weather also means Mount Everest is not always visible if it’s cloudy or overcast, so take a lot of photos if you catch a clear day with a view of Everest’s peak along the way.
To prepare for rain, consider a waterproof backpack cover and a rain Poncho to stay dry.
Patience is a huge part of trekking to Everest Base Camp, especially as things like weather change in an instant. Things never go exactly according to plan.
Prepare with the necessary supplies and training, and consult with your guide when needed. If you do your homework, a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp will be the trip of a lifetime.