A View from the Trail: The Everest Base Camp Trek Experience

by Mike on April 22, 2011

The Everest Base Camp (EBC) is a strenuous trek that doesn’t require any technical skills or equipment.  Any reasonably fit person with the right attitude can reach EBC with little or no trouble at all, assuming the person acclimatizes on the accent.   Along the trek, I’ve met some people that were going about the trails without any guides or porters.  However, I went with a guide and porter service, which can be read about here.   I don’t have any regrets using a guide company because they were extremely knowledgeable about the history of the villages in the Everest Region and the names of the mountain peaks we saw from the trail.

Now, I wasn’t the only person signed up with this guide company during  on the departure dates I selected.  There were a total of five people signed up – three Canadians, one Irish, and one American (me).

Here’s a picture of the five of us on the first day of our trek in the airport village of Lukla.

From Left to the Right: Sarah, Steve, Me, Rej, Marguerite

The following map is the trail we took to EBC.

The Trail we took to Everest Base Camp

The Blue line is the path we took to Everest Base Camp

We started our trek from the village of Lukla, which we arrived via a mountain flight from the capital city of Kathmandu.  This flight was wild!!  Based on my past experiences with airports, I’ve grown accustomed level run ways, but the airstrip in Lukla is banked to assist incoming planes decelerate.  Conversely, it also helps planes accelerate on take off.

The inbound flight to Lukla was smooth and uneventful, the outbound flight, however, was considerably rough making me feel very uneasy.  Now, I fly a lot and turbulence generally doesn’t bother me, but stomach turning turbulence like I experienced on this small plane ride is enough to make the most frequent flyer feel uncomfortable.

The run way at Lukla Airport

The run way at Lukla Airport, the runway is sloped more than it looks in the picture

Agni airline, Lukla airport

Twin Otter plane operated by AGNI Air

Once we landed in the village of Lukla, we had the opportunity to change cloths from our duffle bags.  After changing and sorting out our ear, we walked through the main path in Lukla, which for any of us was our first exposure to life in the Everest region.  On the main path, there are several small tea-house type houses, shops, and bars all catering to tourists and trekkers.

On this walk through the main “path” in Lukla, one of the group members jokingly said they could really go for some coffee.  Almost immediately after that comment, we saw this:

Recognize the green circle?  It’s a Starbucks.  WTF is Starbucks doing in Lukla? We all thought we were far from the reaches of western franchises, but apparently Starbucks wants to setup shop to cash in on some trekkers jonesing for some Latte after weeks of withdrawal.

THE FOOD

I consisted on vegetable fried rice or vegetable fried noodles for lunch and dinner.  Breakfast was usually eggs and toast and in some cases, I was able to get some French toast with cinnamon.

Veg fried rice, I lived off this stuff on the trek

To minimize our exposure to food poisoning, our guide recommended not to eat any menu items containing meat unless he recommended.  The reason being is almost all supplies are carried by porters from the low lands to villages in the higher elevations, which will not be refrigerated while it’s carried up.  In short, to avoid any kind of food related illness, I didn’t eat any food items with meat.  I did however have the grilled chicken steak on the way up at Camp de Base in Namche.  I’ve raved about this as my go to meal in Namche that my other group members tried this plate.

On another note, since we only had five people in our group, we were able to choose our own food items from the tea house menu.  Each tea house has a menu for selecting your choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  However, if the trekking group was much larger, choosing individuals meals were not possible and we would have to settle on fixed menu’s.

On the descent, we tried different food items from the menu.  In Pheriche, Steve and Rej went for the Yak Burger, which is really buff burger because they don’t kill yaks in Nepal.  I opted for the Yak steak, which again is buff.  Our guide didn’t have too much experience with his past clients eating meat at this tea house so it was all new to him and he was curious to see how we would turn out.  Here’s us devouring meat.

Steve smiling with his "Yak" Burger

Rej and his "Yak" burger

My "Yak" Steak, a nice change from the veg fried rice or noodle

I really enjoyed the change from veg fried rice to a nice meat portion,  I think Rej and Steve felt the same way.  Sarah and Marguerite went with the standby items and didn’t try anything meat related.  Although Sarah is a vegetarian so meat wasn’t her preference anyway.

The next day in Namche on our descent, it was a bit of a celebration mode because from that point the trail was all down hill form there and there was that feeling of “we’re done” in the air.  Steve, Rej and Sarah rocked some beers.  We had chocolate cake after dinner.  If you’re ever in the village of Namche, head over the Everest Bakery.  They have a wide selection of baked goods and probably the tastiest of all at pretty reasonable rates.

Chocolate Cake from the Everest Bakery in Namche

LOADS(insert Sunil’s Voice) of TEA

I wasn’t a big tea drink prior to the trip and never really developed a preference for different flavors of tea.

If you love tea, you’re in luck, there is no shortage of tea during the trek.  I’m pretty confident I surpassed my lifetime tea consumption in the several weeks on the trail than I drank in my entire life and I’m not exaggerating.  We were served tea in the morning, at lunch, and in the afternoon for every day of the trek.  As far as flavor of tea, we were limited to mint, jasmine, and black.   As a group, we decided on mint tea because then we were able to get an entire pot of tea and have several cups of tea per person.  At one lunch breaking during the trek, the option for hot chocolate was available and we didn’t let that opportunity go by.  If you look at the following video, you can see how welcome the change was.

THE TRAIL ITSELF

Everest is synonymous with extremely cold temperatures, snow/ice, and frostbitten fingers.  This may all be very true while summiting Everest, but on the trail leading to Everest, it’s anything but that.  The mornings and nights can get cold, but once the sun is up and we’ve been moving for a few hours, the layers come off.  I found myself trekking in a short sleeve T-shirt up until Namche.  Beyond that I didn’t wear more than a long sleeve polyester shirt during the day while the sun was out.

Once the sun sets, the air temp drops drastically and that’s when the layers go back on and sit around the wood stove.   The coldest morning without a doubt and not surprisingly was when we were at Gorak Shep(elevation 5288m).  The morning after the trek to Everest Base Camp, we set out early in the morning to Kala Patthar for the best view of Mt Everest and the surrounding peaks.  That morning by far was brutally cold.  Just to give an idea how much the temperature can change when the sun rises, some of my group members were wearing their down jackets on the start of the morning, by the time the set rose and was in full view, the down jackets were uncomfortably warm especially when we were moving.

View of the Kala Patthar Trail

The trails aren’t entirely covered in snow or ice; it’s mostly dirt and rock with the very occasional yak poop obstacle.  With that said, there are frequent yak trains carrying supplies, which can often time be heard from their “cow” bells hanging from their collar.  In addition to the yaks, there are a slew of people hiking to various destinations in the Everest region.  Some are going to Everest Base camp like us others were going to prominent villages in the region.

WHAT WE DID ON THE ACCLIMATIZATION DAYS

At the villages of Namche and Dingboche, the third and seventh day of the trek respectively, we spent an extra day at these villages resting and acclimatizing to the elevation.  The trek leading up to Namche wasn’t that strenuous, but the days after Namche, I think it was safe to say we were all looking forward to Dingboche because of the rest day on the ensuing day.

On our acclimatizing days, we hiked for about two hours to a scenic vantage point and our guide pointed out some of the peaks and other interesting fact.  That’s what  we did at Namche, however, at Dingboche, it snowed and hiking to vantage point would have been useless and not to mention miserable.  In Dingboche we sat around the wood stove,  Marguerite and Steve read copies of “Into Thin Air” the tea house had on its bookshelf.

We did venture out of the tea house during the afternoon to check our e-mail at the local internet cafe.  Although the cafe was more like a tent you would find used to store tools, the laptops at this “cafe” were fairly modern.

The "Internet Cafe"

Steve and I shared an interest for the NCAA tournament going on in the States, so I checked the brackets to see who was still in the running.  Since the internet was soo slow and I didn’t want Steve endure the pain of waiting for the brackets to load, I took a picture of the screen so that he could view the brackets back at the tea house.  One last note, the internet was something like $0.30/ per minute, which can get very expensive especially with the slow connection.

2011 NCAA Brackets

TEA HOUSES

We stayed at the numerous tea houses along the trail.  The tea houses aren’t luxurious by any stretch of the imagination, but it does get the job done in providing a place to eat, sleep, and perform system downloads.  The common area in the tea house almost always had a wood stove in the middle burning wood and petrified yak poop soaked in kerosene.  It may sound or smell gross, but the smell of kerosene trumps the other, which is probably a good thing.

The five of us were all getting alongretty well enough and we always asked what the bathroom situation was like when one person in the group went to use the facility at a new tea house.  By the end of the trek, we developed our own tea house scale to rate the bathrooms with 1 being the worth and 10 being the best.  Take a look at this video, what would you rate this facility?

The rooms in the tea houses were just big enough to fit two smaller than twin size beds and our duffle bags.  Sometimes it was smaller and our bags didn’t fit.  In either case, it didn’t matter to me.  There was no point being in the rooms if you weren’t sleeping in your nice and warm down sleeping bag because there was no heat in the rooms.  I often found myself lounging in the common area where the wood stove was burning.

Picture of a typical room in a tea house, The bag on the right is mine while the bag on the left is Rej's

  • Showers - Beyond the village of Namche, there were little or no shower facilities available.  A lot of places advertised hot showers, but the hot water depended upon solar heat.  I didn’t want to chance taking a luke warm shower in the cold night and the mere thought of taking off cloths in the cold is enough to say “ah screw it.”  I went nearly two weeks without a shower and that first shower made me feel like a million bucks.
  • Buying Snacks - Nearly all the tea houses along the trek sold candy bars, Pringles, bottled water, and beer.  The tea houses in the higher elevations commanded a higher prices for these snack items because of the transport cost.  For instance, a tea house in Namche may sell a 1 liter bottle of water for a 100 rupees while a tea house in Lebouche may charge 300 rupees for the same bottle of water.

Snacks on sale at tea houses

The food items may also be long past their expiration date.  Some of my group members bought some Fantas(orange soda), it turned out to be flat.  In addition, I bought some water along the trek and noticed the expiration date on the label was scratched off.  I didn’t end up buying any snacks along the trail for this reason.


FINALLY REACHING EVEREST BASE CAMP

The afternoon of Wednesday March 30th is when we were finally on our way to Everest Base Camp.  It was then one of my group members, Steve, realized that you couldn’t see Mt Everest from Base camp.  I don’t know if he was joking or if he didn’t know that from the onset of the trek.  Anway we departed for the 2.5 one way trek after we ate lunch in Gorak Shep and returned there for the night.   That tea house in Gorak was the the worst one because of the constant kerosene odor from the kitchen area(they use kerosene for cooking fuel).  I had a pounding headache the next morning from the combination of the odor and the elevation, which was about(5288m or 17300 ft).

When we reached EBC, we took pictures; the guide brought along tea and  popcorn.  Our guide mentioned that we could go to the expedition tents if we wanted to, but at that point in day, I think the group consensus was that reaching the rock that says Everest Base Camp was good enough for the memory banks.  The expedition tents were a little further off in the distance.

View of the tents setup for the expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest at Base camp

There’s a big rock with the words written Everest Base Camp marking the notable camp.

Rock Marking Base Camp of Mt. Everest

We spent a total of 30-45 minutes as base camp.  Sine there is cellular service available at Everest Base Camp, I made a facebook update announcing that I made it at a cost of $20/MB.  With that said, I just kept it to a text update.

Making a Facebook update

Early next morning before the sun was even up, we departed for Kala Patthar, a vantage point at 5550 m or 18,200 ft high.  Now, this is where we can see the best view of Mt Everest and its surrounding peaks.  To me, two things stood out from this trek to Kala Patthar – it was cold and steep. Given the fact we left before sun rise, it was friggin cold.  My water bottle frosted over around the edges, my fingers were cold, and my nose was running like a leaky water pipe.  However all this cold feeling didn’t last too long, once the sun rose, the temperature became tolerable.  The last part of the trail leading up to the peak of Kala Patthar was steep.  Combine this with the thin air in the elevation, your moving slow.

Kala Patthar trail from the top

At the top of Kala Patthar, we took pictures, celebrated because EVERYTHING from this point was down hill!  Maguerite shared some of her candy sweets she brought along with her.  What Does the world’s tallest peak look like.  From the following picture, it doesn’t seem like the darker peak(the one with the least amount of snow) is the world’s tallest peak, but that’s Mt Everest.  That’s what brought the five members of the group and the countless number of other tourists to this region.

View of Mt Everest(The darker peak with the least amount of snow on it)

FINAL WORDS

I’m glad I got trip out of my system and off my bucket list while I’m young.  Although there are older people trekking to base camp, I can’t imagine doing it at their age.  Lastly, I was traveled to Nepal alone and joined a trekking group with people that I didn’t know.  With groups, there’s always some uncertainty on whether there would be group harmony especially if we’re going to be spending weeks at a time together.  I’m glad that I met each and everyone one of them and that there no no disharmony between anyone of us or with the guides.  During various parts of the trip, we were sharing snack items we packed on the trip, medication, and joking around.  I’m also glad there were two Western trained doctors along the trip giving advice and without them I never would of been turned on to the “combo” drug, which by the way does wonders for a headache.

When we were back in Kathmandu, we all decided on Pizza, Soda(that’s actually carbonated),Ice Cream, and beear as our meal to indulge in.  I can’t remember exactly what we  ordered, but it never tasted soo good.

Pizza in Kathmandu after the trek, That's Sarah and Marguerite enjoying some pizza

For more about the equipment and gear I brought a long and the logistics, I dedicated another post to that here.

Related posts:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sarah and Steve April 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for rockin’ an awesome blog Mike! Good job! It was nice to meet you and learn of all your loopholes and obsession with travel. Planning for Kili in December…wanna join?

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: