9 Things No One Tells You About Hiking to Everest Base Camp
I had well over a year to prepare myself for the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal. I trained, I read about the customs and culture, I researched food options. But there were still many things that surprised me on the trail, tidbits of information I wish I had known before setting out on this 12-day adventure. Now that I’m back I’m happy to share the knowledge that I gained while in Nepal.
1. Cursing is Highly Offensive
F*ck. This was the first mistake I made when stepping on the trail. I cursed pretty much hourly, every time I’d round a bend and see another steep incline waiting for me. It wasn’t until the 9th day of our trip that I learned how offensive cursing is. Most Nepalese porters and guides are too polite to point this out and you may not think they understand what you’re saying but they do. Keep your swearing to a minimum and never ever EVER say the word mother f*****.
2. The Altitude is Brutal
When you compare Everest Base Camp to Kilimanjaro you’ll notice that EBC is roughly 1,700 feet (500 meters) lower in altitude and the trek takes almost twice as long. So altitude sickness should be less of a problem, right? WRONG.
Despite having those extra days to acclimatize you’re actually spending about half of your trip at altitudes that are as high as, or higher than, Kilimanjaro’s base camps. Lobuche and Gorak Shep are higher than any of the base camps on Kili and Dingboche is just slightly lower. So while you reach a higher altitude on Kilimanjaro it’s only for an 18-24 hour period of time before you’re heading back down. In Nepal you’re spending 5 days at that height and the lack of oxygen quickly takes its toll.
3. There’s Really No Bathrooms
On most hiking trails in the US there are bushes or boulders to duck behind for a leak. But on the trail to Everest Base Camp that doesn’t really exist. Most of the path is cut into the side of a mountain with a steep incline on one side and a steep drop on the other. That leaves little opportunity for bathroom breaks. I’ve seen evidence of male hikers leaving their mark right on the trail itself!
The one time I tried going to the bathroom I ducked behind a large boulder on the side of the trail, thinking I had plenty of privacy. It turns out that the boulder was situated at the beginning of a fork in the trail. So of course as soon as my pants are down a large group walks along the other trail and catches me in all my glory. From then on I held it until we got to lunch or our teahouse. Some of our group chose to go in farmers’ fields or in teahouses along the trail but I never felt comfortable with those options.
4. The Guides Give You A Lot of Independence
There’s a lot less hand holding in Nepal than on Kilimanjaro. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on your hiking experience and preference. In Nepal guides are often far ahead or behind a client, sometimes even out of sight. One of my guides had to shout to another hiker’s guide down the trail to get him to stop and wait for his client.
Other instances of independence is when it comes to observing potential medical issues. It’s not that the guides aren’t knowledgeable, they just expect you to speak up when you’re experiencing pain, whether it’s from altitude sickness or muscle aches. It’s your body, after all. I think there’s also less of a concern because evacuation is so readily accessible. A rescue helicopter can arrive in minutes to whisk you back to Kathmandu or a horse can carry an injured person back down to Lukla. Either way there’s the expectation that YOU will decide how much your body can take and how far you’re willing to push it.
5. You’ll Spend A Lot More Than You Think You Will
Think about how much money you’ll need for the hike to Everest Base Camp and then double it. When our group leader told us to bring at least $100 for the trek I scoffed. I didn’t bring any money with me on Kilimanjaro, what could I possibly spend $100 on?!
It turns out you can spend quite a bit of money on the trail. Namche Bazaar is a huge town with plenty of places to shop, cafes that make amazing coffees and even Irish pubs. And they have a freaking Walmart. A WALMART.
But the higher you go up the trail the more expensive things get. A cup of hot water cost me $1.20 in Dingboche, a roll of toilet paper is $2-3 anywhere along the trail. But despite the extremely high prices I didn’t haggle. Every single thing on that mountain is carried up on the back of a porter or donkey. There are no roads, no vehicles. Yaks and helicopters are mostly reserved for Everest trekkers, not cans of Pringles. You’ll find porters carrying everything from bottles of beer to toilet paper to wooden doors. So before you try and talk down the price of a few candy bars just to save 50 cents think about how difficult it was to get that candy bar up the mountain.
6. Some Teahouses Won’t Allow Battery Charging
If you plan on bringing a portable power bank to keep your electronics charged then take heed of this advice: charge your battery pack fully in Namche Bazaar. I didn’t use any charging facilities in the lower villages, instead relying on my large portable battery to recharge my electronics. My plan was to only charge the battery pack, not my individual electronics. Little did I know that the teahouses further up the trail won’t charge a battery pack. It simply uses too much electricity and can take up to 8 hours to fully charge.
In Dingboche I charged my phone for an hour for 350 rupees (about $3.50). This got me about a 70% charge but the cold drained it quickly. In a chilly teahouse I could easily lose 30% of my battery in half an hour. Always tuck your electronics in your sleeping bag at night to keep them warm!
7. Follow the Yak Poo
There are two kinds of animals you’re sure to meet on the trail: yaks and donkeys. And the occasional pony. Of those two animals the one you should worry about are the donkeys. Donkeys are pushy, impatient animals who are always trying to be the first in line. They take up the whole trail and will shove you off without a second thought.
Yak are slow and lazy. You can hear a yak bell far behind on the trail and it will take forever for them to show up and eventually pass you. Yaks also like to take the easiest way up a hill. They follow each other in single file, avoiding the loose rocks and slipper stones. That’s the kind of pace I like. So on the trail I would mindlessly follow the yak poop, knowing that wherever the yaks walked I would be able to walk too.
8. Ear Plugs Are a MUST
People who hike on the EBC trail are more likely to have experience staying in dorms or hostels, but for those who haven’t had the pleasure of sleeping with random strangers this advice is for you.
Bring the ear plugs. All the ear plugs.
Teahouses have small rooms with two beds so while you’re only dressing in front of another person you’ll still be able to hear your neighbors. Like, all of them. The walls are essentially thin plywood so you’ll hear snoring, sneezing, talking, shifting in the bed, getting dressed, brushing teeth, you get the hint. There were times I woke up in my bed and could hear everything the person on the other side of the wall was doing in their bed. It felt like we were in the same room! So if sleep is important to you then invest in the ear plugs.
9. Evacuations May Not Be Covered By Travel Insurance
There are two main ways to get yourself back down the mountain in the event of an emergency: by pony or by helicopter. Helicopters are expensive and can cost thousands of dollars depending on whether you’re sharing the vehicle with another person and how far you need to take it. Ponies are much more affordable but can still cost over $100 (cash only) for a short and uncomfortable ride.
If you find yourself injured and suffering from altitude sickness then evacuating the mountain is necessary. However in order to receive reimbursement from your travel insurance it will need to be “medically necessary” which means flying all the way to Kathmandu where you can be evaluated by a doctor and receive medical attention.
On the last day of our trek I was suffering from blisters and my pace was so slow I knew I’d never to make it to Lukla before dark. I decided to take a helicopter the rest of the way. It was a short, 2 minute flight that saved me about 6 hours of hiking but cost me a whopping $500. While the copter carried up to 5 people there was no one to share the cost so I brought along 4 of our porter girls so they could enjoy the flight as well.
But from the perspective of an insurance company these flights to Lukla are considered scenic flights. Pony rides are even more difficult to receive reimbursement since those are operated on a cash-only basis and will also only get you to Lukla. It’s always worth a shot to save receipts and documentation but be prepared to foot those bills yourself.
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