21 August 2020
To admire Mount Everest up close, you don't have to climb it. Because there, where professional mountaineers begin their tours to the summit, is the destination of a spectacular, often challenging hike along the Himalayan massif: the Mount Everest Base Camp trek.
One of the most popular starting points for this hike is Lukla's small village (2'800m). The flight with small propeller planes from the Nepalese capital Kathmandu takes less than one hour - with a spectacular landing in Lukla. This airfield is also nicknamed "the most dangerous airport in the world".
An alternative would be a bus ride to the end of the road network in the lowlands, followed by a hike (approx. 3 days) to Lukla's starting point.
Many travel agencies schedule one or two days of stay in Kathmandu before the trek. Whenever possible, my tip is to change planes directly at the airport and fly immediately to Lukla. The propeller planes are strongly dependent on the weather, and flight operations are rather "informal". It is better to have some buffer at the end of the hike if you have to wait a day for the return flight from Lukla to Kathmandu due to the weather. With its numerous temples and restaurants, the capital is better to enjoy anyway after a strenuous mountain hike.
If you have traveled to Lukla by international flight and a local connecting flight, a short hike to the village of Phakding (2'640m) is quite possible. This first section is easy to master and already shows numerous sights of the valley along the route. We spent the first night in Phakding, from where we started early in the morning on the second day.
While the first day was a relatively leisurely hike, the ascent from Phakding to Namche Bazaar on the second day holds the most challenging part of the entire Everest Base Camp hike. The whole route is steeply uphill but is well secured and manageable for hikers with average to good fitness.
The route includes spectacularly high suspension bridges. So it helps if you do not suffer from fear of heights. The trail between Lukla and Namche Bazaar is busy. Numerous Sherpas carry goods from the valley into the mountains (or vice versa).
Since all goods in this area are transported on foot or with yaks, they become more expensive, the higher you buy them. Everything imaginable for Western tourists is carried to the top: potato chips, chocolate bars, coffee, and much more. "Snickers" served me as "power food", and I was able to create a "Snickers index" during the route. Their price doubled until I reached my destination. However, there was nothing better than eating a chocolate bar after a strenuous day's hike with full enjoyment. Price didn't matter.
Namche Bazaar (3'440m) is the capital of the Khumbu Valley. The place is a central junction for traders from different valleys, who offer their goods on the local market. As the air is already thinner at this altitude, a first stop here is recommended for acclimatization. Namche Bazaar offers numerous possibilities to spend a relaxing day with small excursions in and around the city. It is also the last refuge of western prosperity, such as pizzerias and coffee lounges.
The impatient among the hikers can see just outside Namche Bazaar the Mount Everest, located within a phenomenal mountain panorama. This view was our day's goal during the acclimatization phase on day 3 of the hike. And of course a last pizza for the coming days.
On the fourth day, we went on to Tengboche (3'860m), where there is a big monastery which is open for visits. You will also find excellent sleeping facilities, good shared showers - and a rustic café with its bakery. Here we could fill the late afternoon with activities and enjoy the mountain panorama.
The hostel walls were very thin, and during the night, we could hear all the noises from the adjoining rooms. But that was no problem: All the tourists are here to go hiking early in the morning. Means that everybody wanted to sleep at the same time anyway. On the fifth day, we continued to Dingboche (4'410m). By distance, this was the longest walk, with numerous possibilities for food and drink along the way. I personally found this part of the hike to be the most enjoyable of the trip.
Numerous temples line the path of the Everest Base Camp trek. In this section, we also leave the tree line, and the landscape changes, the mountain peaks come closer and closer. The route finally branches off towards Dingboche (an alternative hike goes through the settlement of Pheriche). Dingboche is a more significant village - the last one before Base Camp - and so we hiked there. Due to the altitude and the infrastructure, a day of acclimatization here is also recommended.
Walking up here was becoming more and more difficult due to the thin air. So the distances of the daily hikes were getting shorter and shorter. The next stage for us was Dughla (4'620m), which we reached through the thick morning fog. The mountain hostel here has a fantastic terrace where you can watch the mountain panorama and the ascending and descending hikers and porters. The overnight stay here was quite comfortable.
The ascent from Dughla to Gorak Shep (5'140m) is lined with numerous monuments and prayer places in memory of failed Everest expeditions and their dead. Upon arrival at Gorak Shep, it is best to leave your backpack at your accommodation and start the hike (about 3 hours) to the base camp and back. At this height, hardly anything grows. And so the whole surrounding area looks like a desert of boulders. But the potential to see the world famous Everest Base Camp is a motivator for hiking through this inhospitable area.
However, the Everest Base Camp itself is not that much of a scenic place. Any further ascent from here to the top of Mount Everest is reserved for professional mountaineers with an appropriate license (read: payment). Normal hikers get only to see a distant view of a few tents scattered among a stone desert. That's about it.
Getting a deep sleep is quite impossible in the Gorak Shep hostel, because of the thin air (and thin walls). Therefore, it is no problem to get up in the middle of the night for a round-trip hike to Kala Patthar mountain and back. Upon arrival during early morning sunrise, Kala Patthar offers the real highlight of the Everest Base Camp trek: A fantastic view of Mount Everest and numerous other massive peaks, all of which seem to be within easy walking distance.
From here, the return to the starting point in the lower valley was quick. Despite a leisurely pace, we managed the walk from the Base Camp to Lukla in two days - with an overnight stay and pizza in Namche Bazaar and the last night in Lukla. Here it became clear what I wrote as a tip initially: Due to the weather conditions, some flights during our hike had been canceled, and all hikers were rebooked, which created a backlog of passengers. Luckily, we could grab some of the last seats on the next day's flight, and soon we were off to enjoy the big city life of Kathmandu.