29 June 2013

Everest Base Camp Trek - How It All Started

Everest Base Camp Trek Himalayas
The Himalayas - photo by Gina Sales, 2013
Yes, I've made it to Everest Base Camp this year.  And yes, I'm pretty much unscathed, unscarred from the experience--and raring to do it a second time in 2014.

Just to make it clear from the very start, I'm no trekker. At least not the kind that joins local mountaineering groups and heads for the mountains every weekend.  I've done a few treks here in the Philippines, since I enjoy the outdoors (as long as I don't encounter any frogs, I'm fine) and I like to keep fit.  But that basically classifies me as a casual, one-off trekker, and not some person who ogles the stuff at R.O.X. and owns camping gear and whatnot.

So why the sudden and insane leap to do Everest Base Camp?  Even I have managed to surprise myself.

After my trip to Egypt last October 2012, I was scouring the Internet in January 2013 for ideas on my next--okay, I'll say it, even though it sounds so hokey--big adventure.  My window of opportunity this 2013 was only between end May to July (and to hold it in July was pushing it, due to my work commitments).  I thought about going back to Europe and I was, like, meh, never mind.  Western cities can wait even until I'm old with wobbly knees and a bad back. Machu Picchu (one of my biggest dream destinations) was at the top of my bucket list, but the whole trip and its corresponding expenses--plane ticket, the trek, accommodations, etc--was something I couldn't afford right now. The air fare alone was too rich for my blood.

Those on my 2013 travel destination short list were:
1. Machu Picchu, Peru
2. Petra, Jordan
3. the Ancient Silk Road within China
4. the TransMongolian Railway route from Russia to Mongolia to China
5. Myanmar

Italy-Austria-Czech Republic nabbed the desperate, I-don't-know-what-else-to-think-of 6th place.  I was getting frustrated during my online travel researches; I wasn't keen on doing Jordan yet because I just got back from Egypt. I wanted to do the Silk Road and the TransMongolian Railway journey in my late thirties, and Myanmar was said to be better in December.  And Europe was, well, oh I don't know, uninteresting at this point in time.

I had my heart set on doing the 4-day trek to Machu Picchu, and I was feeling depressed about the astronomical costs, but then suddenly, in a totally wild Eureka-like moment--Everest Base Camp popped into my head.  A few seconds of disbelief at the utter absurdity of my idea; a snort (I snorted at my own craziness) followed by a fit of nervous giggles; a heart-pounding, looming realization that, hello, Everest is in Nepal, and Nepal is in Asia, and that meant a more affordable trek--and then two minutes later, there I was, typing madly to see what good old Google could come up with in terms of 'Everest Base Camp trek' searches.

The Internet is teeming with information on local trekking organizations in Kathmandu who offer Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek packages.  I wasn't planning to wing it by flying to Kathmandu and just picking a guide and porter there on the spot, hell no.  I'd normally crave my share of adventure, but I like being organized about it.  Some people like to live a little more on the dangerous, unpredictable side and just plan travel arrangements as they go--but you see, travel costs money, and I subscribe to that school of thought that proclaims it is more cost-effective if I plan my travels well before flying out to my chosen destination.

I sent out several email inquiries to Nepalese trekking agencies on my not-so-short list regarding their trek package costs. When I went online the next day, I was, like, whoa, why is my inbox  flooded already and why are all these Nepalis asking to be friends with me on Facebook? Was I (my name, my identity) that searchable so much online? To their credit, these Nepalis were amazing in terms of speed of response to my inquiry, and I liked how they were so, um, proactive in searching for me on Facebook, haha.

But there was one particular trekking agency that stood out from the 20 or so that emailed back. It wasn't the cheapest nor the most expensive. The package was just right. What made me choose this agency was the quality of response and the thoughtfully prepared 9-page trek brief (saved and sent to me as 'Everest Base Camp - 16 days - for Gina') that was attached to the email.  Yes, I'm a sucker for good client service and packaging.

More importantly, it made sense for me to choose that agency because the trek dates were fortuitously scheduled in such a way that the date I was to reach Everest Base Camp was June 5, my birthday.

That was honestly the clincher.  I wanted to do something big (a.k.a. the Machu Picchu trek) on my 33rd birthday this year, and Everest came in as the sweet and much-anticipated answer to all this narcissistic searching for a birthday adventure.

Suddenly, Machu Picchu looked so corny compared to the mighty Everest.

So, from January to April 2013, I was corresponding frequently with Naba--owner and managing director of Himalayan Planet Adventures--who must have thought I was the most obsessive-compulsive traveler alive.  I had all these neurotic questions about the trail, what to expect, how to deal with altitude sickness, what the weather would be like (I was going to do the trek during the monsoon season, after all). And Naba answered them all, patiently and thoroughly.  He must have had years of experience already of dealing with weird questions from travelers like me.

At some point during all this interrogation and online research about other people's EBC experiences, I was horrified to find out that trekkers could get stuck in Lukla (the starting and finishing point of the EBC trek and a 35-minute plane ride away from Kathmandu) for days due to adverse weather conditions. DAYS. I felt I wasn't ready to commit myself to a world of what-ifs, it-depends and we'll-sees--all brought about by fickle mountain weather. When I travel, I'm always Little Miss Fixed Itinerary. And the weather had always cooperated with me. So far.

I must have realized that at some point though, I was embarrassing myself enough with all these never-ending questions to Naba, and I just had to gulp down my fears and finally say yes, I'll do the trek and I'll just pray to the highest heavens that I won't have to be flown out of Lukla via helicopter after a 5-day delay and that I won't die of altitude sickness, and sure, I'll be sending you my 20% deposit tomorrow, thank you very much.

As the date of my scheduled flight to Kathmandu drew near, I was getting more anxious. I told myself that this was NOT going to be a good trip. After all, who the heck worries this much over travel? I was losing sleep already over leeches, possible ankle sprains, the perpetual online debate over whether Diamox (altitude sickness medicine) should be taken right before or during the trek, and the crushing agony of being forced to go without a bath on the trail for 12 days. The Lukla Fear Factor (a.k.a. being stuck in that place for days and being forced to shell out US $500 for a helicopter ride) was enough to make me consider calling the whole darned trip off.

Some nasty inner voice was telling me I had it all wrong and that I had no business climbing up to 5,364 meters when the highest I've climbed in my life was 2,900 meters and all I've done was 2-3 months of conditioning through boxing and running before the Everest trek.  Hell, I've read stuff on the Lonely Planet forums that many first-timers to EBC do conditioning a year before their treks.

And the worst part was that I didn't even know anybody in my circle of family and friends who had done the Everest Base Camp trek before. Some of my friends were saying I was insane to push through with it even though I'm physically fit; the ones who know me more (sometimes they know me even better than I know myself) assured me that I was going to make it to Everest Base Camp because I had the capacity and endurance to do so. But I was still beside myself with terror and I kept telling those close to me that in all likelihood, I wouldn't be able to reach Base Camp, that I might be forced to go back down after all due to altitude sickness.

All these fears (and my stupid desire in wanting to reach Everest even if it may literally kill me) didn't make for a good start.  And it was way too late to back down now, I realized on the 28th of May, when my plane touched down on Kathmandu.

* * *
If you want the same Everest Base Camp trek experience I had, visit Himalayan Planet Adventures and go for the 16-day Everest Base Camp trek package.  


  1. Hi. I've been reading your EBC articles and they've been quite helpful (and entertaining). :)
    I browsed through Himalayan Planet's website and it seems that you'll join a group when you avail their package. In your posts, you seem to be travelling alone with your guides--is this something you can coordinate with them?

    1. Hi, Sammii, thanks for visiting my blog. No need to join a group if you don't want to; you can opt to go on a trek package solo or with your own friends/trekking buddies. Just email them your preference. If you're trekking alone, you will have to pay a single supplement cost over and above the trek package. :)

    2. Thanks Gina!

  2. Suzanna7:50 PM

    Hey Gina, your solo EBC trek with just a guide and sherpa is inspiring. I had already decided to do it solo before going online to research but its nice to know that there are people like yourself that have actually done it without regret. I choose Nepal to be my solo spiritual trip and it would be my first time doing ANYTHING alone. I just want a more simpler experience which i am convinced now is easier to do alone then the peer pressure that is unavoidable in large groups. And its an oppurtunity to learn more about the culture by getting to know my local travel buddies better i.e guide & sherpa. Plus like you say there's plenty of trekkers enroute and at the teahouses if i fancy a chat with other human kind :) Thanks again for the helpful posts.

    1. Hi Suzanna! Am extremely grateful for your kind words. Very happy to see you're going on a solo trek; you'll enjoy it, I'm certain! Nepal is indeed a very spiritual place and the people are wonderful. I wish you luck and great memories in your travels. :)