Everest, the tallest peak in the world at 8848m, is out of reach for most of us mere mortals, maybe due to the astronomical cost (over $70,000) or the overwhelming physical challenges (the “death zone“). But don’t despair, those of us willing to work for it can at least hike to Everest Base Camp at 5380m.
It can be done as quickly as 12 days (including proper acclimatisation) if you’re going from Lukla straight to Base Camp and back. You can add on side trips, detours and change the route until your trek is well over a month long, it all depends on your time scale and budget!
Listed here are the main villages, but there are numerous smaller villages and random tea houses where you’ll be able to find accommodation and food along the way, usually for less money, and with fewer people.
Most of the villages have a set price per room to avoid the “free room for food” thing you can do around the Annapurna hikes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anything cheaper, let alone free, although there are some exceptions. Prices listed are for double rooms, and you’ll pay the same price for the room whether you’re alone or in a pair, so it’ll save you money to share with someone.
To start the hike, you have a few options. You can buy a disgustingly overpriced flight to Lukla from Kathmandu (or Ramecchap while KTM is closed) for $180 one way, $360 return, or you can take a local bus or jeep to Phaplu or Jiri and walk an extra three to seven days, up and down quite a few peaks and valleys, so don’t expect this to be an easy option, or much cheaper.
We flew to Lukla to start the trek because the thought of walking up and down the foothills for an extra week was soul-destroying. Your flight will land early in the morning, so you can have breakfast and hit the road, or spend the night if you’d rather relax. Before our flight out of Lukla, we stayed at the very cute Nordling Guesthouse, 500 rupees per room with free charging, although the food in Lukla is unnecessarily expensive.
If this is your first day at altitude it’s not a bad idea to sleep here, slightly lower than Lukla (hike high, sleep low). It’s a big town spread out on both sides of the river, the second half is much nicer. We stayed at Buddha Lodge, rooms cost 500 rupees with free charging but the food was average.
A nice alternative to Phakding is Benkar (2600m), a tiny collection of teahouses with cheaper food and rooms for 300 rupees.
Namche Bazaar (3340m)
Around 3500m is usually where I start to notice symptoms of AMS, and Namche was no exception. It’s recommended to spend at least two nights here to help acclimatise. It’s not cheap, teahouses charge 500 rupees per person and food can be expensive in the nicer places. We stayed at the Yak Hotel, the fanciest place of the trek with a pricey menu to match. You’ll be able to buy almost anything you need in Namche, and you can spend some time relaxing in the many bars and cafes.
A great side trip to help you acclimatise is the Everest View Point above the museum. A tougher option is the climb to Khumjung, with incredible views and cheap food at the bakery.
Leaving Namche is easy if you follow the path east along the edge of the hill, but once you pass Phunki Thanga the climb to Tengboche is hell. The village itself is small and feels deserted, but there are incredible views when the sky is clear, and a great monastery to explore. We stayed at Rivendell Lodge, just 10 minutes past the village, rooms were 500 rupees and the food was good. In April it’s full of expedition teams about to summit Everest!
It’s sometimes recommended to spend two nights in Tengboche, but instead we used our rest day to hike an hour further to Pangboche so we could climb to Ama Dablam Base Camp the next morning. Our room at Om Kailasha Hotel was only 300 rupees and the dal bhat was incredible.
The side trip to Ama Dablam Base Camp (4570m) is well worth it on a clear day, the views are great and if you’re lucky you’ll see tents of an expedition. It’s a steep two-hour climb ascending 585m over 3.6km, and this will help you acclimatise faster.
It’s definitely recommended to spend two nights here, and in our favourite teahouse of the trek: Ama Dablam Lodge. Rooms were 500 with charging but the food was cheap and delicious. There’s a great, cosy bakery across the street if your rest day is too snowy to hike anywhere, ours was, otherwise there are several viewpoints to visit.
A possible side trip from Dingboche is a hike to Chukhung, where you can summit Chukhung Ri (5550m) and get yet another viewpoint of the beautiful Ama Dablam. It’s also the last village before Kongma La (5535m), the first of the Three Passes if you’re taking that route, which will take you straight to Lobuche.
This village splayed across the valley floor is another alternative to Dingboche, however, it’s not the recommended choice because the valley can be windy as hell which makes it even colder, and the sun doesn’t warm it for as long as its neighbour.
Depending on how your body is coping with the altitude, you might want to spend the night in this tiny cluster of teahouses to avoid ascending too high (no more than 500m) in one day. Yak Lodge offers free rooms and reasonably priced food with incredible views.
This was the highest I’d ever slept before and I really felt it, even with a short acclimatisation hike to the ridge above. Headaches, shortness of breath, and it was bloody freezing. We stayed at Sherpa Hotel, the only place to offer even an hour of free charging, rooms were 700 rupees. However, I’d actually recommend the more popular New EBC Guesthouse, their food was great and it was much cosier.
Gorak Shep (5164m)
It’s basically unavoidable to stay here if you want to see Everest Base Camp and climb Kala Patthar, but it’s expensive and cold, not to mention the extremely high altitude that’ll make sleeping near impossible. We stayed at Everest Inn but I wouldn’t recommend it, they only had a tiny electric fire to heat the freezing lounge. Try Himalaya Lodge, they had a proper stove and were recommended by other hikers. Rooms were 700 rupees, charging was extra and food was expensive, which is hardly surprising at this altitude.
It’s possible to do a very long day trip from Lobuche to EBC and back, OR from Lobuche to Kala Patthar and back, but it’s not possible to do both from there in a day. Instead, hike from Lobuche to Gorak Shep, dump your bags and pick one to visit. The next morning, do the other one before hiking back down. If the weather is nice that first day then climb Kala Patthar, good weather at Base Camp isn’t so important.
After visiting Base Camp and/or Kala Patthar you can head straight back down, stopping whenever you’d like until you reach Lukla (try sleeping in different villages to those you stopped at on the way up, unless you found a place you really loved). It should take you three days to reach Lukla, descending 2325m over 48km. It might be possible to walk down in two days if you’re suuuuper fit and fast, sleeping somewhere between Tengboche and Namche.
However, we added on a few extra days to our itinerary to visit the beautiful Gokyo Lakes, and I highly recommend you do the same.
It’s a long walk from Gorak Shep to Dzonglha, especially after visiting EBC or climbing Kala Patthar in the morning, but it’s worth it to avoid another night in Lobuche. It’s a small place with a great view of Cholatse (6440m) when the weather is clear. We stayed at Dzonglha Inn, rooms were 500 with charging, the food was good, and the fire was warm. Make sure you get an early night!
You’ll want to leave by 6am at the latest to get across Cho La pass (5420m) before the weather turns, which it probably will. It’s a steep, rocky climb up to a false summit, then you have to tackle the snow-filled pass (crampons and poles are very useful, although I didn’t have either and I managed it in trainers), before
climbing sliding down the icy rocks on the other side. Don’t attempt the crossing if the weather is terrible, it’s safer to turn back and wait it out.
Also called Thagnag or Thaknak for some reason, this small village is either the perfect lunch stop after crossing Cho La and before crossing Ngozumpa glacier, or to spend the night after the daunting descent from the pass. We chose to sleep in Tashi Friendship Lodge, only paid 100 rupees per bed, and the food was good.
The next challenge is to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier, the longest in the Himalayas at 36km. It’s much easier than it sounds, especially if you’ve spent the night in Dragnag to recover from crossing Cho La. Just stick to the path, and watch out for rockfalls as you make the final climb out of the valley.
This village is perched on the shores of Gokyo Lake, one of six which make up the world’s highest freshwater lake system. Unfortunately, it was almost completely frozen except for a tiny patch, teasing us with its vivid turquoise colour. We finally got our first free night of accommodation with free charging at the wonderful Namaste Lodge. They kept the stoves lit day and night, and the food was incredible, especially the aglio olio pasta and the Sherpa dishes.
There are a few side trips available from Gokyo. You can visit the other lakes, the furthest of three is 9.6km to the north, the largest is only 2.4km away, while two smaller lakes are to the south. The highlight is summiting Gokyo Ri (5360m), a brutal climb that rewards you with panoramic views of the lakes, the glacier, the surrounding mountains, even Everest on a clear day. Although the real highlight was meeting Andy Serkis here. My precious!
Gokyo is also the last village before you cross Renjo La (5418m), the third of the Three Passes, which will eventually lead you back to Namche, via the beautiful village of Thame. If you’re tackling this hike in reverse, it’s recommended to spend three nights in Namche to help acclimatise.
After visiting the lakes, it’s time to head down. You can make your way down to this small village tucked away from the windy valley. A little further down is the very similar village of Dhole (4050m), it didn’t get much sun in the afternoon but it was still a nice place. Both are good options as they are cheaper than Namche and help break up the trip on the way down.
Phortse Tenga (4200m)
We should have stayed in Dhole, but we continued on to the Phortse Tenga Guesthouse (the “village” of Phortse Tenga was too far downhill to bother with) and had an awkward night because of the rude owner, although the view was nice and the rooms were free.
After Phortse Tenga, it’s a steep climb up to Sanasa, where you join the main trail again. You can either follow the easy side trail to Namche or climb up to Khumjung if you didn’t do that on your rest day. From Namche, it’s possible to get to Lukla in a day (we did this, in the rain, gross), but it’s nicer to split it up into two days, stopping in one of the smaller villages.
Recommended itinerary for healthy acclimatisation:
Day 1: Lukla to Phakding
Day 2: Phakding to Namche
Day 3: Rest Day in Namche
(acclimatisation hike to viewpoint)
Day 4: Namche to Pangboche
Day 5: Rest Day in Pangboche
(acclimatisation hike to Ama Dablam BC)
Day 6: Pangboche to Dingboche
Day 7: Rest Day in Dingboche
(acclimatisation hike to viewpoint)
Day 8: Dingboche to Dukla
Day 9: Dukla to Lobuche
(acclimatisation hike to viewpoint)
Day 10: Lobuche to Gorak Shep
(summit Kala Patthar or visit EBC, do the other the next morning)
Day 11: Gorak Shep to Dzongla
Day 12: Dzongla to Dragnag
(crossing Cho La Pass)
Day 13: Dragnag to Gokyo
(crossing Ngozumpa Glacier)
Day 14: Rest Day in Gokyo
(summit Gokyo Ri)
Day 15: Gokyo to Dhole
Day 16: Dhole to Benkar
Day 17: Benkar to Lukla
Day 18: Fly back to Kathmandu
If you have less time you can cut out the rest days in Pangboche and Gokyo, skip the night in Dukla, push to cross the Ngozumpa glacier the same day you cross Cho La pass, and descend from Gokyo to Lukla in two very long days. This will save you 5 days but won’t put you at high risk for AMS.
Just remember while ascending, Acute Mountain Sickness is a real thing that can cause serious problems. Listen to your body, if you are suffering from any of the symptoms (headache, nausea, etc) then think about spending another night where you are, instead of trying to push on. Visit this page to learn more about AMS.
You can view the full album here.