Mount Everest is not only the tallest but also probably the most famous mountain in the World. Halfway between Nepal and Tibet, this titan attracts every year thousands of people, from professional climbers who want to go to the summit to travellers looking for a challenge. The ascent to Everest Base Camp is one of Nepal’s most popular trekking routes, with 40,000 people doing it every year, and I wanted to be part of that number.
There are many reasons to hike to Everest Base Camp. In my case, I wasn’t just looking for natural beauty, an amazing experience or the chance to go to the top of the World. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I was going to be able to do it.
When I did my research, the numbers were definitely scary. 65 km (40 miles) each way and 2,700 m (8,800 ft) of height difference between Lukla, the starting point, and Base Camp. The highest point of the classic route, Mount Kala Patthar, is at 5,545 m (16,942 ft). Hiking will be hard. Walking will be hard. Even breathing will be hard. If I was looking for a challenge, I was certainly going to find it.
I love travelling with people, and this was no exception. For this adventure, I had a friend with me. We arrived at Kathmandu and quickly arranged everything with a local trekking agency after a little bit of haggling. We decided to get one of the packages that included everything: one Sherpa guide, a porter, food, accommodation, flights, and permits. While you can do the whole trek on your own and probably spend way less money, I wanted a guide to get to know more about the region and the people’s way of life.
DAY 1: LUKLA AND PHAKDING
Distance: 8 km (5 mi)
Elevation: 2,610 m (8,500 ft)
The first day was pretty relaxed. After a short flight to Lukla, landing in “the most dangerous airport in the World”, we met the Sherpa guide, Lakpa, and started straight away. I was very excited and nervous at the same time and very distracted by all the natural beauty around me.
The landscape was stunning. No matter where I looked at there were blue skies, beautiful mountains, and valleys covered in trees, small villages and houses here and there… and cows, so many cows!
Apparently, all the goods needed along the way are transported mainly by cows, since vehicles can’t really travel through that difficult terrain. The cows can also be quite dangerous, so there are a few rules regarding cows, including always walking close to the mountainside of the trail, to avoid being pushed off and falling down a cliff!
We finally arrived at our first stop, Phakding, pretty early in the day. It was an easy first day, maybe around 4 or 5 hours of walking. I remember thinking naively: if that’s how hard the trek was going to be, I would definitely be ok!
DAYS 2 AND 3: NAMCHE BAZAAR
Distance: 11,5 km (7,1 mi), Elevation: 3,440 m (11,286 ft)
If the last day was short and easy, this was the opposite. I slept for 12 hours, woke up early in the morning and started walking. Since Phakding was actually at a lower elevation than Lukla, I knew getting to Namche meant going up, but I was definitely not prepared for that. The distance was not much longer than the first day, but the elevation difference was brutal, 830 meters or 2,700 feet. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was, and the altitude didn’t help at all, breathing was getting harder and harder.
This day was also my first encounter with the suspension bridges. If you have seen the movie Everest, you probably remember the terrifying bridges. Well, they are actually quite terrifying. I’m not too fond of heights, and while I was ok most of the time, some of the highest ones moved a lot with the wind, and I got pretty nervous at times. I still remember when tens of cows decided to get on the bridge right behind me, not one of my happiest memories.
As usual, the landscape was breathtaking. We were lucky with the weather and had blue skies again. Not long before Namche, we reached the Everest Viewpoint, where we actually had the chance to look at the mountain for the first time. It was so inspiring! Suddenly I wasn’t tired anymore, trying to get a glimpse of the tiny bit of it you could see between the trees. However, reality struck back when we had to keep going. Lakpa, our Sherpa guide, was, of course, not tired at all.
We made the final push to get to Namche and celebrated that the second day was finally over! And we had another reason to celebrate: tomorrow we weren’t going to hike at all. When you cross the 3,000 meters barrier, you have to rest for a day to acclimatize your body, so we spent the next day exploring the city, including the market and museum.
DAY 4: PANGBOCHE
Distance: 15 km (9,3 mi)
Elevation: 3,985 m (13,074 ft)
One day of rest in Namche Bazaar did wonders for me, and I was ready for the long day of trekking. And I mean long in a very literal way. This time we were going to walk even more distance and climb almost as much as the last day, with lots of ups and downs. Or as Lakpa liked to put it “it’s Nepalese flat, a little bit up, a little bit down”.
So far I haven’t talked about all the religious items and buildings along the way, but there were many, mainly flags and Sanskrit inscriptions carved in rocks. You are supposed to walk leaving them always on your right, meaning you have to walk taking the left side. Of course, you don’t have to do it if you are not a Buddhist, but according to Lakpa, it’s a sign of respect, so we decided to do it.
The first half of the day after leaving Namche was pretty good, the trek was almost flat (real flat this time, not Nepalese flat). However, after having lunch by the river, we started going up, up and up. Usually, there are a few times when the path takes you down, and your poor legs get some rest, but this time that wasn’t the case. I was absolutely knackered, but after one or two hours going up, we arrived at a beautiful Buddhist monastery and had the change to recover.
We rested for a bit and had a look inside the monastery, where some monks were working on a mandala. The building was incredible. I love Himalayan temples, and this was no exception. I wish I could show you the beauty of the interior, but it’s forbidden to take pictures inside monasteries, so I only have exterior shots. As much as I wanted to do it, respecting the wishes and norms always takes priority.
DAY 5: DINGBOCHE
Distance: 7 km (4,3 mi), Elevation:4,410 m (14,470 ft)
I woke up the next day to a welcoming sun. The day was clear, with no clouds at all, and I was more than ready to start hiking. It was a short and easy day again since Dingboche, the next stop, wasn’t very far away. Interestingly the landscape lost all the green trees and became mainly grass and bushes. Nevertheless, it was stunning!
After roughly three hours, we arrived at Dingboche, where we explored the city with Lakpa. While we walked together, he explained different aspects of the life of a Sherpa, something I was eager to learn about. He told us a variety of interesting bits, from the working conditions they have to the time it takes him to reach Base Camp at full speed when he doesn’t have to guide slow tourists like me.
We went to a beautiful stupa and stayed there for a while, but at this altitude every evening the clouds come in, and everything gets really cold. At that point, we headed back to the tea house to have dinner and sleep. The next day wasn’t going to be that easy.
DAY 6: LOBUCHE
Distance: 11 km (6,8 mi), Elevation: 4,940 m (16,200 ft)
At this elevation, breathing was way harder and walking even more. The distance from Dingboche to Lobuche might not be as much as the first days, but it was certainly taking a toll on me. At some point, where the trek suddenly changed from flat to very steep, I had to rest every couple of minutes. I couldn’t believe how the porters, carrying way, way more weight than me, were walking faster than me and resting less. Sherpa people are incredible, no doubt.
I was so tired that Lakpa asked if we wanted to stay in Dukla, which is a small village in between, but we had to keep going! After a lot of stops and a lot of suffering, we finally made it to Lobuche. The grass was losing its green and yellow colour and turning brown, and the rocks were becoming more and more abundant. We were even starting to see some ice!
After arriving at Lobuche and resting again for a few minutes, Lakpa showed us a nearby hill. The hill was really nice. It had a lot of stacked rocks. I remember seeing similar piled pebbles before, so I asked Lakpa if it was a religious thing. It turns out it’s actually some kind of sign between the Sherpa people. They made them along the trek, so you know you are on the right track. If you get lost, you can just follow them, and eventually, you will arrive at a village.
After the short Sherpa class, Lakpa guided us further up and gave us a huge surprise: we could see Everest Base Camp from the top. It was such an exciting moment, knowing that we were so close that the next day we were finally going to be there! It was still very far away, but it meant a lot.
DAY 7: GORAK SHEP AND BASE CAMP
Distance: 8 km (5 mi)
Elevation: 5,364 m (17,600 ft)
Gorak Shep was the final stop before Base Camp. It didn’t take us long to get there, but it was very hard. We had to cross a sea of rocks, the trek disappeared between boulders, and there were no more bridges, which meant a lot of ups and downs -mostly ups-.
When we made it to this tiny village, I was exhausted. Gorak Shep, it’s at 5,164 meters or almost 17,000 feet. At this elevation, even walking was challenging. I tried running for a few meters, just to see how it feels. Do not try it. I think I almost died. My lungs were about to explode.
At this elevation, altitude can hit you hard. Here we saw many people that we met during the trek get altitude sickness. Apparently, 5,000 meters is where it gets dangerous. We witnessed the effects firsthand while having lunch at a tea house. One of the new friends we made along the way got altitude sickness and had to be rescued by helicopter. It wasn’t pretty.
After finishing lunch, Lakpa told us the news: we were heading to base camp! After the exhausting hike, I felt somehow both excited and tired. However, I had to do it. I was there to challenge myself, and I couldn’t quit so close to the end!
Well, it turns out the final trek to Base Camp wasn’t hard at all. It might be because of the anticipation, but we spent the whole time talking and joking! Before I even realized it, we were already there! I couldn’t believe it. After so many days of trekking, sweating and barely breathing, I was finally there.
We took a lot of photos, saw many people celebrate like us and even a marriage proposal! It was a magical experience. Maybe not for Lakpa though, who had been dozens of time there! After some time we returned to Gorak Shep to have dinner. Again, the hike felt really short, and we even enjoyed a beautiful sunset with the sun tinting the top of the mountains with yellow.
DAY 8: KALA PATTHAR AND DESCENT
Distance: 21,5 km (13,3 mi), Elevation:5,545 m (18,192 ft)
After one week of trekking, exhaustion and reaching Base Camp of the highest mountain in the World I thought the worst part was over. Turns out I was completely wrong.
On the morning of the eighth day, we woke up at 4 am to climb the peak near Gorak Shep, Kala Patthar. Apparently, there is an amazing view of Base Camp from there, especially for sunrise or sunset. I had a small debate with my travel companion to figure out if getting up to see the sunrise is really worth it. We decide that yeah, I guess we had to. After all, we were there.
We geared up, I took the camera and went outside, where the freezing morning wind blasted my face. Surrounded by darkness, we followed Lakpa up the mountain, step by step. I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t really breathe either, at least not with my mouth covered, but the alternative was a frostbitten face.
We walked for an hour, and by then, the sun was almost out. Suddenly, my companion was so cold and tired that she couldn’t keep going. At that point, I took a decision, and I left Lakpa with her while I rushed up, since the sun was about to rise. I tried to go as fast as possible, but I had to stop every fifteen seconds to take a deep breath. I didn’t want to miss the sunrise, so I kept going, passing all the probably smarter people, who were slowly making their way up. I started to get hot. I opened the jacket, took off the mouth cover and kept running. I couldn’t feel my face, but at least I was able to breathe.
After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it. I felt like I was about to collapse at any moment, but I kept going. I climbed the big boulders that mark the summit, completely covered in prayer flags, and I sat down. I couldn’t believe it, but I made it. The euphoria finally kicked in, and the urge to sleep, faint or collapse faded away. This was a very different experience than Base Camp. This was hard, really hard. So hard, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. But I made it.
Suddenly I felt freezing cold, it was very windy there, and staying still didn’t help at all. I closed my jacket and decided that it was time to take some pictures. I turned on my camera, I took a quick photo and a panorama and… The battery died. It was fully charged when I left, but the cold killed it. So much for capturing the moment. But in a way, this forced me to relax and enjoy the view. Not for long though, it was getting colder, and it was a long time since I had left my friend and Lakpa, so I decided to head down.
Kala Patthar was quite an adventure, but we still had almost 19 km (11,8 mi) to go. Luckily we had to go downhill, so not only it’s not as exhausting, but it also gets easier as we lose altitude. At least that’s the theory, but after walking for hours, I had my doubts.
It was really nice to revisit the same landscapes we saw on the way up in a different time of the day and from a different perspective. Many hours later we decided to stay at Pheriche, a small village really close to Dingboche, where we had also stayed on our way up. I was cold, exhausted and sleepy, but ready to have a good dinner, sleep and rest to keep walking the next day!
DAYS 9 AND 10: BACK TO LUKLA
Distance: 25,5 km (15,8 mi)
Elevation: 2,860 m (9,380 ft)
The last two days were very similar. Long days because we had to cover a lot of distance. Going downhill for most of the time, but we still had to go up a few times! More “Nepalese flat” paths. After arriving at Namche, we had to celebrate! So all of us had a well-deserved beer. Which one? Everest, of course! Lakpa’s choice. It was a perfect evening, and we were all thrilled to finally be almost back to Lukla.
The next day we finally arrived at Lukla. It was our final destination before going back to Kathmandu and saying goodbye to Lakpa. He showed us the town, his hometown, from the religious buildings to the school or the hospital. He even invited us to his house to have some tea with him and his wife! A wonderful guide and a wonderful friend.
The 10 days that I spent doing the Base Camp Trek were what I would call an adventure. One of the best ones I’ve had. I discovered beautiful landscapes and the incredible Sherpa culture and people, I made a good friend, and I challenged myself. When I started, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish it. Now I know. Anyone looking for an amazing experience should definitely have the Base Camp Trek on their bucket list.
I hope you enjoyed this photo story. Nepal is one of my favourite places on the planet, and it has a special place in my heart. If you liked it an want to support us, please share it on your favourite social media.
Until your next adventure!
Note: if you want to travel to Everest Base Camp and have your own an amazing adventure, please keep in mind the impact your presence has on the area. There are tragic stories about all the garbage that tourists dump in the National Park. Sustainable travel, respect for the local people, and culture are a must whenever you go, especially when travelling to delicate areas like the Sagarmatha National Park. Take the garbage with you, don’t leave a trace, respect the locals and do your research to ensure that the people you hire have proper insurance and are well paid.