Everest Base Camp: a guide to trekking independently

Standing at 8,848 meters, Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. A mountain that has fulfilled dreams and stolen lives, yet continues to fascinate adventurers worldwide. To reach its peak is a challenge beyond most of us, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t get pretty darn close! The fearless travellers, Along Dusty Roads, guide you to Everest’s South Base Camp.

Pick your base camp

The North Base Camp, a great place to catch an exceptional view of Mount Everest

The North Base Camp, a great place to catch an exceptional view of Mount Everest © scjody

Google anything to do with the famous hike to Everest Base Camp, and you’ll be inundated with articles about the spectacular climb in Nepal. But, did you realize that there are actually two base camps: the North and the South? Both camps are rudimentary sites for trekkers to rest and adjust to the altitude before conquering higher grounds, but at over 5,000 meters each, the base camp treks are already quite an accomplishment.

Whilst certainly not nearly as popular, the North Base Camp in Tibet might be the perfect choice for those intimidated by a multi-day hike – in fact, you can drive nearly all the way up from Lhasa! It’s a little further from Everest, but this only means that the views of the mountain itself are all the more spectacular.

To head into Tibet, this experience must be booked as a tour (no independent explorers allowed, unfortunately) and lasts around seven days (with only your final day spent hiking).

For the South Base Camp, the mother of all Base Camp experiences, you’ll have to head to Nepal – and get ready for the hike of your life. The information below will solely focus on the South Base Camp trek.

All South Base Camp treks go through Lukla, Nepal

The tiny Lukla airport for such a big mountain

The tiny Lukla airport for such a big mountain

There’s a small town in the Himalayas called Lukla, through which everyone hiking to the South Base Camp (or Everest’s summit) must pass. Getting here, however, is part of the adventure itself. Here are our three best options.

Fly from Kathmandu to Lukla

This may sound like the easy option, and, in a number of ways, it probably is. There’s just one teeny-tiny bit of information you need to be aware of – this is not a flight for scaredy-cats! Lukla is home to the world’s smallest runway, which means that trying to land that plane can be a little tricky. Accidents are rare but have occurred in the past, so nervous fliers might want to give it a miss.

You can book your flight online or visit a travel agency in Kathmandu (outbound flights can be booked in Lukla, as well). Please note that given the propensity for bad weather in the area, flights are often delayed – if you’re on a tight schedule, you need to bear this in mind.

Find a flight to Lukla

Last minute shopping in Lukla?

Last minute shopping in Lukla?

From Kathmandu to Phaplu and hike south to Lukla

This route has become increasingly popular among travellers with more time who are keen to experience a little more of rural Nepalese culture and visit villages that the vast majority of trekkers to Base Camp miss. This hike should add an additional three or four days onto your Base Camp trek but is a great way to gradually acclimatize to the high altitude.

Find a flight to Phaplu

From Kathmandu to Jiri, then hike to Lukla

Before the dawn of widespread international travel and low-cost flights, the only way into or out of Lukla was on your own two feet, or via a bus from Kathmandu and a long hike from Jiri. If you’re a huge lover of the outdoors this might be perfect for you. Note that this will add on an extra week to your trip.

Find a flight to Jiri

Once you’re in Lukla – the hike to Everest Base Camp

Depending on your level of fitness, and how many small hikes you’d like to do on your way up, the trek through Sagarmatha National Park and onwards to Base Camp should take you between 12 and 14 days from Lukla (including rest days for acclimatization) and follows a standard route. There are, however, a few highlights on the way up that shouldn’t be missed!

The Namche Bazaar sitting on the edge of the Earth

The Namche Bazaar sitting on the edge of the Earth © Maggie Lui

Day 1: Starting from Lukla, trek three hours to Phakding

Day 2: Trek about five hours to Namche Bazaar

Day 3: Acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar

The small village of Namche is normally reached at the end of day two and is a perfect spot to spend a while getting your body used to a higher altitude. On your rest day, why not take the short hike to the village of Thame (along the traditional route to Tibet) and visit the Thame Monastery, one of the oldest monasteries in the region – and said to be the birthplace of sherpas! By night, if you’re already missing modern comforts, rest your head in the comfortable Panorama Lodge and Restaurant in Namche Bazaar. Simply order a cup of tea and enjoy the views of Everest through the window.

Sunrise at the Tengboche Monastery

Sunrise at the Tengboche Monastery © borisov

Day 4: Trek about five hours to Tengboche Monastery

After leaving Namche Bazaar, your next port of call will be Tengboche, home to an impressive monastery, and one of the holiest places in the Khumbu Valley (if you’re planning your Base Camp trek in October – November, be sure to attend the ceremonies and meditations of the Mani Rimdu Festival). You’re even welcome to join for morning or evening prayers.

Day 5: Trek about five hours to Dingboche

Day 6: Acclimatization day in Dingboche with a day trek to nearby Nagarjuna Hill for a great viewpoint

Day 7: Trek five hours to Lobuche

Making new friends between Tengboche and Dingboche

Making new friends between Tengboche and Dingboche © Maggie Lui

Day 8: Trek to Gorak Shep, where you’ll drop your backpack off, and trek two hours there and back to Base Camp

You’ve made it! At the dizzy height of 5,365 meters sits the South Base Camp, a spot reached by only 40,000 Western trekkers a year*. What most people don’t realize, however, is that this is not actually where you’ll spend the night. Instead, you will bed down in Gorak Shep (a small village about two hours away) and hike within the day up to this famous spot. You have to push just that little bit harder for those spectacular views over Sagarmatha National Park!

From Kala Patthar, you're so close to the peaks!

From Kala Patthar, you’re so close to the peaks!

Day 9: An optional hike three hours up to Kala Patthar (5,643 meters) before sunrise

Although the true aim of this hike is to reach South Base Camp, surprisingly, there’s something even better waiting for you at the end of this massive adventure – Kala Patthar. If you can handle the -20°C temperatures, make the three-hour trek before the sun comes up and you’ll be treated to one of the best sunrises you’ll ever see, with spectacular views of Everest.

Pick-up your backpack and begin your descent back to Lukla. Trek five hours to Pheriche

Day 10: Trek five hours to Tengboche

Day 11: Trek six hours to Namche Bazaar

Day 12: Trek to Lukla and congratulate yourself! You did it!

Pros and cons of taking a tour vs. an independent trek

Sherpas that know the mountain by heart will help you carry the heaviest of your equipment

Sherpas that know the mountain by heart will help you carry the heaviest of your equipment © Maggie Lui

So, now you know the route – how do you decide whether this is something you want to tackle yourself?

Almost certainly, a lot of this will come down to money – after all, organised tours of this nature are rarely cheap, with an average outfitter charging around $4,130 CAD per person (flights not included). For some, however, there are clear advantages. Not everyone is a natural-born Bear Grylls, and knowing you have ‘teammates’ to encourage you when the going gets tough might be the only thing that gets you to Base Camp.

For those that prefer a little more adventure, trekking independently is a fantastic alternative. It’s much cheaper and it means you can go at your own pace.

You can even hire a guide if you are a little wary of navigating the route by yourselves. They cost between $20 CAD and $66 CAD per day depending on their experience, but it’s worth knowing that you’ll also have to pay for their flight into Lukla (although the flight fare is much cheaper for Nepalis).

Important things to know when planning your trek

Staying Safe

At the high altitude at Base Camp, set up a tent and rest to adjust

At the high altitude at Base Camp, set up a tent and rest to adjust © Maggie Lui

Travelling without travel insurance is never a wise move, but hiking to Base Camp without it is just plain irresponsible. Given the altitude and conditions you’ll be hiking in, you’ll need to get the fanciest insurance on the market – the sort that can helicopter you out if anything could go wrong.

Additionally, you need to be aware of, and prepared for, altitude sickness. The highest point of this hike is 5,643 meters, and even with acclimatization days, you’ll feel the effects of the thinning air. Drink plenty of water, get lots of rest and consider taking a course of Diamox (a prescription medication to help prevent altitude sickness) 24 hours before starting your trek, to be picked up from home or alternatively found in Kathmandu.

Visas, Permits and Money

Every hiker wishing to trek to Base Camp will need to purchase two permits; the TIMS card and an entry permit for the national park. The TIMS card can be collected from the tourist office in Kathmandu ($25 CAD [NRs. 2,000] for individuals, $12 CAD [NRs. 1,000] if you’re joining a tour – bring your passport and two passport photos), and the entry permit can be bought at the Sagarmatha National Park entrance in Monjo ($36 CAD [NRs. 3,000]).

As you can imagine, most businesses along the route only accept cash in local Nepalese Rupee, and whilst there are a few ATMs in Namche and Lukla, it’s advisable to ensure you have enough money to cover all aspects of your trip (and a little more for emergencies) with you in advance.

Food and accommodation

Missing snacks from home? Grab a pick-me-up in little shops in Tengboche

Missing snacks from home? Grab a pick-me-up in little shops in Tengboche

Even in high season, finding a spot for the night shouldn’t be too difficult – there are many small guesthouses along the route ($3 CAD-$8 CAD per person in a dorm – no advance booking necessary), with many doubling up as restaurants. Expect to pay around $5 CAD-$17 CAD per meal, and consider sticking to a vegetarian diet – the meat in the region is unrefrigerated and transported by sherpas on foot. The last thing you need is a bout of food poisoning in the Himalayas!

Snacks and water can be bought along the way, but the closer to Base Camp that you get, the more expensive things are going to be. Why not save a bit of cash by bringing your own water gourd and filling it up where you can as you go (adding sterilization tablets or a LifeStraw to ensure it’s potable).

Best time of year to visit

Spring (April-May) and Autumn (October-November) are by far the most popular times to visit Base Camp. And whilst you’ll have to contend with plenty of other trekkers on the route, the weather in these months provides clear skies, hardly any rainfall and spectacular views of the peak and the stars that make all the effort worthwhile.

*Data from 2015
Andrew and Emily write about beautiful, independent travel and adventure on the travel blog Along Dusty Roads. Looking for more inspiration? Check out their beginner’s guide to hiking, or if you’re looking for something a big closer to home check out Our Guide to Banff