30 September 2013

Tips on How to Prepare for the Everest Base Camp Trek

To read all posts on my Everest Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Seeing this map makes me realize how far I've trekked--from Lukla all the way to Everest Base Camp.
Oh my God. Image Credit: Himalayan Planet Adventures P. Ltd.

A lot of people have been asking me how I prepared for Everest Base Camp, what stuff did I bring, what life was like on the trail, etc.  Someone even asked me if I had to ration my food for 12 days and cook my meals over a campfire every night. Lol.

This blog post is written for those who are doing this trek for the very first time and wish to know what to expect. I've also made a previous post on a breakdown of all expenses during an Everest Base Camp trek as well as another blog entry on a complete packing list for trekkers to EBC.

I wrote all these because I wanted to share my experiences, and hopefully help somebody in preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime trek. And if this blog post does convince someone to go and do it, that would make me very happy!

1. Go solo or go with a group or buddy?  Trek costs can be shared between friends and/or couples, especially when it comes to food, lodgings or a nice pot of piping hot chocolate. Plus, you're bound to take each other's photos the whole way going up, so there won't be any shortage of captured memories. Just be sure your trekking buddy is someone you really get along with--because you'll be stuck with one another 24/7. Joining a group can also be arranged prior to the trek. If you are hiring a local trekking agency, they normally group you with others who are scheduled to trek on the same day as you are. You can also arrange with the agency for you and your buddy to trek as a private group. Or, you can always go on those Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor forums where people are looking for fellow trekkers to trek with them on specific two- or three-week periods.

I traveled solo, and I loved every minute of it. There is absolutely no reason for anyone--especially for solo female travelers out there--to be concerned about doing Everest Base Camp alone. First of all, you aren't really alone. There's a guide and porter with you, and at the end of each day, you get to meet fellow trekkers in the teahouse you're staying in for the night.  The trail is full of people, especially during peak season. However, independent trekkers are normally discouraged to travel completely alone; in the event that one needs medical assistance, someone may not be readily on hand to answer the call for help.

The advantage of traveling solo is that I got to do everything at my own pace.  I didn't have to deal with the pressure of keeping pace with total strangers, who may be impatient and way faster than me, or may be super slow. Or they may be the type to complain a lot, talk too much, exhibit annoying characteristics, etc. If I had happened to get stuck with people I didn't really like, then I would have had no choice but to spend 12 full days in their company.

When I craved solitude, I got to have my 'alone' time. When I felt like chatting with people, I'd talk to other trekkers in the teahouse or I'd strike up a conversation with a stranger on the trail. Most of the time, I talked and played cards with my guide and porter, and those were great bonding times. But whenever I felt the need to be alone, I had enough space and time to enjoy my solitude. Solo traveling is pretty fun as it puts you in control of all your travel arrangements.

in Tengboche on the Everest Base Camp trek by gina sales, on Flickr
I traveled solo--and my best friends on the trek were Dhan Kumar (left) and Madan (right), my porter and guide, respectively. This is my favorite picture of us in Tengboche. Everest is right behind us three.

2. Getting a local trekking agency vs. Do-It-Yourself. I didn't even include foreign trekking agencies (located outside Nepal) as an option. They are just too expensive. I mean, sorry, but what's the point of going through them? You can arrange the trek logistics yourself or search the Internet for credible trekking agencies in Nepal. There are plenty of them, and the Nepalis are honest people to deal with.

That said, once you decide to go DIY or through a local agency, this will pretty much spell out how your trip will look like. Decide between these 2 options, and everything else will follow.  It all depends on your comfort level, budget, and how you want to control things. For more information on what to budget for, visit my blog post on costs to expect during an Everest Base Camp trek.

Going DIY means hiring your own guide and/or porter and making your room and food arrangements as you go. Guides and/or porters can be hired the moment you land in Lukla. You will of course need to talk to them (and rely on your wits and gut instinct to see if you're comfortable enough to be with them for 12 days) prior to striking a deal. Most, if not all, of the Nepalis I've met along the trail are polite and friendly. Tourism is what drives the economy of the Khumbu region where Everest is, and trekkers are treated with great hospitality.

I opted to get a local trekking agency, Himalayan Planet Adventures (HPA), and I chose their 16-day Everest Base Camp trek package. While getting an agency may be rather pricier than trekking independently, I felt it suited my budget and my idea of how I wanted my trip to be. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of looking for a guide and porter, securing my own domestic flights, choosing a teahouse at the end of each day, and reaching for my wallet after every meal I ate.

When I arrived in Kathmandu, everything was conveniently arranged for me; I just paid for the full package cost--which included my hotel in Kathmandu, teahouse lodgings, food, guide and porter fees, permits, domestic flights, and airport transfers. With this package, I could pick any food item on the menu in any teahouse I was in, and I could also have my choice of hot drink with each meal plus a bowl of soup a day. I didn't have to worry about carrying loads of cash (or losing all that cash!), because my guide Madan took care of the lodging and food arrangements in my behalf. All I had to shell out personally as miscellaneous expenses were mineral water, hot showers, treats (like chocolate), battery charging and Wi-Fi.

When I was stuck in Lukla for a day before heading out to Kathmandu, the HPA team was the one arranging for my revised domestic flight bookings and a possible chopper ride. For me, it was all about leaving the nitty-gritty logistics to the agency so that I could fully focus on the physical demands of the trek.

Again, it all depends on your budget and the level of comfort and control you're expecting on the trail.  It's your Everest Base Camp trek, so feel free to choose whichever option makes you happy.

3. Physical Conditioning. Obviously, you have to be decently fit for this trek. You don't need to be ultra athletic (I'm most definitely not!); just make sure you have had some form of physical preparation a few months before EBC. Some trekkers do conditioning for an entire year prior to the trek. If you do regular exercise, you'll be fine. I do running, boxing and bikram yoga (hot yoga) during my spare time. When I was preparing 3 months before Base Camp, I just merely had to increase the rounds I'd do for boxing, or run a few more extra kilometers as endurance training. I've been doing bikram yoga for two years now, and I've realized that all those breathing exercises at the start of each bikram session really helped me during the hardest days of the trek.   

vegetarian food on the Everest Base Camp trek
I'm not the best in taking food photos, but this
tomato garlic pasta with yak cheese tastes so good!
Fresh or  dried chili is always available if you like
your food spicy like I do.
4. Going Vegetarian for 12 Days. It's not like you have much of a choice, actually. Be gastronomically prepared to go vegetarian all throughout the trek. There is no frozen storage system in the Khumbu region, and all uncooked meat are carried up and down by Sherpas. The freshness of the meat can't be guaranteed. So if you have a sensitive stomach or if you don't want to risk acquiring some gastrointestinal illness, avoid meat altogether while you're on the trek. My guide Madan said I could have meat at Namche Bazaar or at lower elevations, so if you are really craving a burger or meat pizza, you can have those at lower altitude levels.

I played it safe and avoided meat completely. I thought I would be weak for the whole 12 days but I felt surprisingly healthy and strong. The Sherpas at the teahouses can really cook up a storm, and they serve really delicious veggie dishes like garlic cheese pasta and vegetable rice. And then there is the ubiquitous staple meal of the Nepalis which they can eat day in, day out and never get tired of--dal bhat. It is a dish that is composed of rice (bhat) and cooked lentil soup (dal) that is most often supplemented by vegetables, potato curry, pickled chili, and sometimes with roti or papadum.

I would sometimes find myself looking forward to a steaming hot plate of dal bhat at the end of a cold, wet day of trekking. The best part is, the Nepalis always serve you more than one round of dal bhat if you're in the mood for seconds or thirds.

dal bhat on the Everest Base Camp trek
I think dal bhat is the reason why Nepalis are so strong and can carry truckloads of stuff on their backs. As my
porter Dhan Kumar would say, "Dal bhat power, 24 hours!"

5. Bring cash. I kind of learned this the hard way.  Before the trek, I made sure to withdraw enough money from an ATM in Thamel, Kathmandu, because I read somewhere that there would not be any ATMs to be found up on the trail (for very obvious reasons). No credit card machines either past Namche, of course.  So make sure you have Nepalese Rupees with you before you fly to Lukla. This is so important. When I got back from the trek, I was kind of running low on cash and I wanted to withdraw money, especially when I was stuck for an extra day in Lukla.  No ATM machines there, but you could ask your guide to bring you to a few banks in Lukla that can swipe your credit card for you, and then they will provide you with the cash equivalent.  Thankfully, I didn't have to do that, as I was able to fly to Kathmandu the next day.

Dhan Kumar and the yak stove
Dhan Kumar places dried yak dung into the stove. Yak dung
is used as fuel everywhere in the Khumbu region to keep
people warm by the stove at night. 
6. Expect basic accommodations. This is a trek to Everest Base Camp, after all, so best to lower your expectations.  Frankly speaking, roughing it during the trek is really part of the charm, and I was glad to go through such an experience. Teahouses (which are like small, more basic-looking Swiss chalets) along the trail normally offer rooms that contain two single beds each, common toilets (some have common shower facilities), a big common dining area where everyone gathers--and zero central heating system. Well, there's the stove in the middle of the dining hall that's basically the warmest place in the entire teahouse--but it's only lit for a few hours every evening.

Toilets are usually the squat kind, but many teahouses have at least one Western toilet. As for showers, you can encounter either a 'bucket shower' or a 'gas shower' in some teahouses. Read about my bucket shower experience if you're the type who needs to have at least one or two showers during the entire trek.

Rooms get smaller the higher you go up, but are decent enough, if you're not the fussy type. All rooms have pillows and blankets, and you could always request for extra, when it's low season. Come peak season, you will need to depend on your sleeping bag and just one blanket to keep you warm--as teahouses can really fill up fast with trekkers.  Trekkers who aren't able to get a room end up sleeping in the dining hall.

Most teahouses at higher elevations are powered by solar electricity; there are times when you are unable to charge your phone or camera at all because there is no electricity.  So when you are in a teahouse that does have electricity, do grab the opportunity to charge your gadgets. You wouldn't want to run out of batt when you get to Base Camp.

a typical teahouse dining hall found on the Everest Base Camp trek
A typical teahouse dining hall (with a stove in the middle) found throughout the Everest trail.

A Sherpa man and his heavy load on the Everest Base Camp trail
A Sherpa carries his heavy load up the trail. It's just a
typical day's work for them, but it's so mind-boggling
to see so many of them do this all the time. Super humans!
7. Give way to Sherpas and yaks. Try and compete for space on the narrow trail path with a yak--and chances are, you'll be injured by its sharp horns, or worse, you may get nudged off the cliff. When a train of yaks is arriving, you need to stop trekking, step aside, and practically press yourself against the mountain wall to avoid being a yak victim.

As for Sherpas, you can't help but respect them and give them the right of way-especially when they're carrying thick stacks of plywood on their backs or heavy drums filled with goods.  The people of the Khumbu region are impressively strong, but they're human, too. When you encounter them on the trail carrying heavy loads, give them a break by not blocking their path. The reason you have a roof over your head and a decent bed to sleep in on the remote trails of the Himalayas is because Sherpas carried all those construction materials on their backs up to the top.

8. Respect the local culture. Be mindful of local customs, and when your guide tells you to always walk on the left side of a prayer wheel or a Buddhist Mani stone wall, or turn the prayer wheel in a certain direction, just do so.  And it doesn't hurt to learn the local language either. Basic phrases like 'namaste' (hello/goodbye-which is also said a lot in my yoga classes) and 'dhanyabad' (thank you) are commonly exchanged between the locals and trekkers alike. I have an affinity for learning new languages so I asked Madan and Dhan Kumar to teach me as much Nepali as they could. I had them laughing in stitches every time I'd say something funny (or naughty) in Nepali, which is a nice language to learn.
Buddhist mani stone and prayer wheel along the Everest Base Camp trail
Always turn the prayer wheel in a clockwise direction.
And always walk on the left side of a Buddhist Mani

When you see Sherpas carrying their heavy load or are at rest on the trail, just say, 'Namaste. Ke cha?' Then watch them break into smiles. 

To be honest though, I think the one local thing I had difficulty accepting was that guests are served their food first, and guides/porters have to wait at least 30 minutes or an hour after for them to receive their food. It is understandable that Nepalese would want to consider their guests as first priority, but as a trekker traveling with both her guide and porter, I felt uncomfortable being served food while my two companions, who were equally tired and hungry as I was, had to wait some more. In my country, regardless of social or economic status, food is served to everyone at the same time and people normally eat together. 

But the Nepalese teahouse owners were pretty nice about my requests to have Madan's, Dhan Kumar's and my food served together. They were a little surprised about such requests, but very obliging. 

9. Buy all you need in Thamel, Lukla or in Namche. If you've forgotten to get some trekking gear in your own country, you can do last-minute shopping in the bustling backpacker district of Thamel, Kathmandu, the best place to be in for all your trekking needs. Lukla has a lot of shops too, but with lesser choices compared to Kathmandu. 

As for Namche Bazaar, think of it as the Rivendell of your trek.  It is the last point of civilization as you know it. Goods become scarcer and way too pricier as you ascend past Namche.  So if you need to buy trekking gear, hand sanitizer, energy bars, multivitamins or even a deck of playing cards, Namche Bazaar is your last chance to do so.   

10. Counter Altitude Sickness. Last, but certainly not the least! Acute mountain sickness (AMS), or commonly referred to as altitude sickness, is, I think, the great equalizer when it comes to trekking. Regardless of fitness level, age and even mountaineering experience, everyone is bound to feel AMS at some point past the 3,000 meter mark.  It just depends on the degree of altitude sickness that you've contracted. Altitude sickness is no joke, and can even lead to death. On the day I was to reach Base Camp, I learned about the deaths of two trekkers who never made it due to altitude sickness.

Mild AMS is normal and is experienced by many.  But severe AMS is debilitating, and any person with moderate to severe AMS should already be given the medical attention needed.  Under such cases, the trekker experiencing bad altitude sickness is already made to descend as rapidly as possible before it becomes fatal.

Mild symptoms include headache, fatigue, breathlessness, and loss of appetite--all of which I experienced at some stages and which were addressed immediately.  You know you already have severe AMS if you're experiencing severe headache, disorientation, vomiting, breathlessness (even at a standstill) or if you're exhibiting irrational behavior. If these symptoms are happening at the same time or one after the other, you need to descend immediately or have your guide arrange for a helicopter evacuation, weather permitting.

Here's how to avoid severe altitude sickness:

a. Proper Acclimatization - I talked about acclimatization in this post, as explained to me by Naba and Madan of Himalayan Planet Adventures. The general rule is to 'climb high, sleep low.'  And for about every 1,000 meters of ascent, you will be asked to stay an extra day at that current level in order for your body to adjust and acclimatize.  Your guide should be able to advise you on this. And please do not trek completely alone. Who's going to guide you down the path when you have a massive headache, and you're retching and feeling dizzy and disoriented? When I was experiencing minor AMS on the way to Pangboche on Day 4, Madan and Dhan Kumar were there to help me and monitor my condition.

garlic soup on the Everest Base Camp trail
A bowl of garlic soup a day keeps the altitude sickness away.
I had one every night while on the trail. 
b. Drink 3-4 liters of liquids a day - Because of the demands of the trek, you will easily consume at least 2-3 liters of water a day. Never allow yourself to be dehydrated, as this helps contribute to AMS. Liquids such as hot chocolate and garlic soup also helped me a lot; garlic soup is a natural preventive method against AMS and is pretty delicious.  Coffee and too much tea are actually not recommended during the trek, as these cause heart palpitations. As much as I am fond of coffee, I had to stop around Day 3.

c. Take Diamox - Diamox (generic name: Acetazolamide) is the medicine one takes to counter the effects of altitude sickness. On the Internet, there are differing opinions as to when to take it--whether to start taking it 24 hours before the trek or to take it when you start feeling symptoms, or to simply avoid it at all. My advice: consult a doctor prior to the trek. Diamox can affect people in different ways. In my case, I only took Diamox when I started contracting minor altitude sickness, which was in Day 4 of the trek. My daily dosage was 250mg--split into two, so I could take 125mg in the morning and 125mg in the evening. You can buy Acetazolamide in Kathmandu or in your own country. In the Philippines, it is known as Cetamid. Some typical side effects of Diamox include frequent peeing and a tingling sensation on your toes and fingertips.

d. Pace yourself - I honestly don't get why some trekkers feel pressured into going up to Everest Base Camp as fast as they can. This isn't a race. Nobody back home would really care about your pace per day or if you outpaced your trekmates; they just want you safe and alive. I hear and read sad stories about how there are ultra-fit, super competitive people who trekked to EBC only to descend because their bodies couldn't handle it, that they didn't acclimatize properly, that they overexerted themselves, etc.  In some cases, trekking with a group even presents dangers, as people have different stride lengths, endurance levels, and pacing--and all this makes some feel 'pressured' into keeping up with the overall pace of the group.

e. Avoid alcoholic beverages and cigarettes during the trek - You do not want a hangover to enhance your experience of altitude sickness. You really do not. And breathing the thin air through the nose or mouth is already a hard task; you won't be able to smoke properly anyway. Reserve the liquor and tobacco for your last day, when you're back in Lukla.      

Sorry for the long post, but that's pretty much it! All the important stuff to know before heading off for the Everest Base Camp trek. This is my last post on Everest Base Camp (whew!) and I hope you found something useful or at least mildly entertaining in all the 10 or so posts I've written.  The grandeur of the Himalayas has inspired me so much that I'm actually planning my next trekking trip to Nepal. I won't say yet where in Nepal exactly I'm going but I hope to update you on that one of these days. :)

acclimatizing in Dingboche on the Everest Base Camp trail
Hello, goodbye, and see you again soon, Nepal!



    Day 01: Arrival in Kathmandu
    Your arrival to Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA), you will be met by our Airport Representative, and transfer to hotel. Overnight at hotel, inclusive of breakfast.

    Day 02: Flight to Lukla and trek to Phakding
    Today early in the morning, we drive about 15 minutes to Tribhuwan International Airport. After 30 minutes scenic flight to Lukla (2804 mtrs.), we begin our trek to Phakding (2610 mtrs.) - 3 hours easy walking. Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 03: Trek to Namche Bazaar (3535 mtrs.).
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.
    Day 04: Acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar.
    This is a day for an acclimatization. We have a fine walk around the valley to adjust with thin air. Namche Bazaar is known as the gateway of the Everest. We will take you to a museum too on the same day. There you can see the traditional custom of Sherpa peoples. Besides, a fine view of the Everest and other mountains can be over-viewed from this place. Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 05: Trek to Tengboche (3850m).
    By reaching Tengboche, we visit a monastery known as Tengboche monastery. Then you will be taken to observe the prayer ceremony whether in the evening or morning. Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast.

    Day 06: Trek to Dingboche (4350 mtrs.).
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.
    Day 07: Acclimatisation day.
    Today you can enjoy another day for acclimatization. This day we will have trip to Chhukung valley, then we return to Dingboche in the evening. We will take you to Chukung Ri (5546 mtrs) from there, we can observe a fifth highest mountain Makalu. Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast.

    Day 08: Trek to Lobuche (4950 mtrs.).
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 09: Trek to Everest Base camp (5400 mtrs.) and return to Ghorakshep (5160m).
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 10: Hiking to Kalapathar (5545mtrs.), then trek to Pheriche
    The day starts with a hike up to Kalapathar (5545 mtrs.), an excellent viewpoint to observe the Mount. Everest and innumerable spectacular mountains views. Then trek back to Pheriche (4280m). Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 11: Trek back to Namche Bazar.
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 12: Trek to Lukla.
    Overnight at Guest House, inclusive of breakfast, lunch & dinner.

    Day 13: After breakfast fly back to Kathmandu.
    Overnight at hotel, inclusive of breakfast.

    Day 14: Leisure day in Kathmandu (it's also a spare day incase of any flight delay in Lukla due to bad weather).
    Overnight at hotel, inclusive of breakfast.

    Day 15: Transfer to Airport for your home departure. End of the tour!
    Good to Know
    To begin this trek one has to take a flight to Lukla, which is dependable on weather. Thus, it would be ideal to have a 3 - 4 days spare time before flying back home to avoid such a hazardous situation.



  2. Everest Base Camp Trekking will reward you with the magnificence of the great Mount Everest which dominates all other vast peak. Go trekking in Nepal on an adventure that takes you to Mount Everest Base Camp Trekking. Everest Base Camp Trekking through the Everest region offers amazing mountain views.

  3. My guided trek trip to Everest” Sanjib Adhikari In March I traveled to Nepal to do a trek to Everest Base Camp. The scenery once you got away from Kathmandu was amazing (I was not a fan of Kathmandu). I hired the services of an absolutely fantastic guide named Sanjib Adhikari and would highly recommend him to anyone wanting to explore anywhere in Nepal. He is very friendly and very knowledgeable. He also has a great sense of humor. It is possible to do this trek without a guide but I can definitely tell you that I without our guide our group may have never even gotten out of the airport in Kathmandu to the starting point of Lukla because of weather and the large number of people wanting to get seats on the planes. As it was we were delayed for two days before we were able to secure seats on the planes which shortened out trek a bit. The domestic Kathmandu airport is a zoo and having Sanjib to deal with this instead of us was worth it for sure. I think having a guide made my experience a lot more interesting. I can now cross seeing Everest up close off of my bucket list!

  4. Anonymous5:28 PM

    Great blog! very useful information. Which airline did you take going Kathmandu? Did you take a direct flight? We're planning to be there at March 19 :)

    1. Thank you! Glad my blog articles were of use to you. Are you from Manila too? For EBC, I took Thai Airways (with layover in Bangkok). No direct flight to Kathmandu to my knowledge. Am currently in Nepal again by the way, for a short holiday. I took Malaysia Airlines :P Same day departure from Manila and arrival in Kathmandu.

  5. Anonymous4:51 AM

    thank you SO much for your blog entries about this trek, i'm planning on taking this trek later this year and as soon as i found your blog, i was all BOOKMARK! so detailed and descriptive! i'm gonna be referencing these posts a lot in the next few months =D

  6. Trekking in Nepal is still the most favorite adventure holiday activity in the country. The two classic trekking routes either to Everest base camp or the Annapurna circuit are not easy and the challenge you'll face on either route will have a lasting effect. The Manaslu route trek around the world's eighth largest mountain is more remote but no less beautiful passing through stunning bamboo forests, villages filled with prayer flags and culminating with spectacular views from Larkya La. Mustang is an easier cultural trek, suitable for those with good general fitness but not necessarily any previous trekking experience. The language, culture and tradition of the Mustang region are still mostly Tibetan making this one of the most culturally interesting treks. There are shorter treks up the Langtang Valley and Helambu which are still hard work but also deeply rewarding. They generally begin in Kathmandu, leading through large grazing areas covered in flowers, dotted with stone huts used for butter making, Sherpa, Tamang villages and the homes of yak herders, right up to the Tibetan border.

  7. Excellent Post. I have been trying to plan a trek to the Everest Base Camp, but was confused on how to go about it. Information here will definitely help me to plan it better. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome! Am very happy to help. Do have fun during the trek. :) :)

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    Appreciate it for sharing awesome post.


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  19. Annapurna base camp trekking is probably the best legendary and classical trekking in the world. It offers breathe stopping mountain view, give life time Opportunity to explore the typical Nepali village, Local people and their life traditional lifestyle. The route passing through the spectacular and tranquil landscapes, traditional Gurung and Magar Villages, blooming rhododendron forest, bamboo and alpine forests and finally arrive at base camp. You will visit Ghorepani and Poonhill where you will amaze the panoramic Himalayan views of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Nilgiri and Machhapurche. The hot spearing in Jhunu Danda is another highlights of Annapurna Base camp trekking.