[RD] The Everest Basecamp Trek


In pork I trust
Aug 28, 2005
Stamford Bridge
The Everest Basecamp Trek

This particular adventure begins at Hotel Shanker, in Kathmandu, Nepal... although a lot lead up to that moment, including a 30 hour layover in Hong Kong and months of planning, preparation, and training.

The plan was to hire a guide and porter and hike to Everest Basecamp, returning via an alternate route that includes an alpine pass and a glacier crossing. I managed to convince two friends to join me on the hike and hang out in Nepal together. One friend lives nearby and was able to fly with me to Kathmandu via Hong Kong.. Our third friend would fly into Kathmandu and meet up with us the next day.

This thread will be a summary of the Nepal part of this trip. Most of that will focus on the hike, but about a week was also spent in Kathmandu and the surrounding area.

I thought it would be fitting to post the first thing I saw as I stepped off the plane as the first photo posted in the thread

The Index

Oct 24, 2017 -
Arrival at Hotel Shanker | 2
Oct 25-26 - First Impressions of Kathmandu | Dining & Wining in Nepal | Odds & Ends

Day 1 - The Flight | 2 | The Hike Begins | 2 | First Stupa | Caravan | Dudh Koshi River | Power of the Sherpa | Sacred Mani Stones | 2 | Could be Cabbage | Feeling welcome in unfamiliar lands | Arrival in Phakding
Day 2 - Into the High Mountains | Sherpa Porters | On the Trail | Sagarmatha National Park | A Yak | A Bridge | 2 | Video | Dudh Koshi Valley | Arrival in Namche Bazaar
Day 3 - Rest day begins | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Acclimatizing at 3841m | Mt. Everest | Everest Sherpa Resort | Videos | Tea Time at 3841m
Day 4 - Leaving Civilization Behind | First Views of Tengboche | Ginger Tea Pit Stop | Ama Dablam | A star! | Tengboche Monastery | 2
Day 5 - Day 5 Begins | Views from the Trail | Lunch with a View | 2 | Boiling Water | Views from the Trail | Arrival in Dingboche
Day 6 - Second Rest Day | Step by Step | Taboche & Cholatse | Views from 5,000m | 2 | Acclimatizing at 5,050m | Ama Dablam | 2 | Dingboche Down Below | The Three Amgios
Day 7 - The Emergen-C Emergency | Views from the Trail | Leaving Ama Dablam Behind | The Everest Memorial | Chumbu & Pumori | Khumbu Glacier | Arrival in Lobuche | Lookout Point | 2 | Lobuche | World's Highest Bakery
Day 8 - Base Camp Day | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Gorak Shep to Base Camp | 2 | 3 | Base Camp | Arrival at Base Camp Video | Views From EBC | Victory Dinner
Day 9 - Climbing Kala Patthar | Changri Nup Glacier | GoPro Failure | The summit | Kala Patthar Aftermath | The day's hike begins | Resting opportunities | Diverging from the classic route | Cholatse | 2 | 3 | Approaching Dzonghla | 2
Day 10 - Conquest of the Cho La Pass | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | Arrival at Dragnag
Day 11 - Ngozumpa Glacier Crossing | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Cho Oyu | Glacier Crossing Complete | Gokyo Lakes | 2 | 3 | 4 | Gokyo Ri Ascent | 2 | 3 | 4 | Summit | 2 | 3 | Video | Descent
Day 12 - Downhill we go | 2 | 3 | Dudh Koshi River Begins | 2 | Postlunch | 2 | 3 | Dole
Day 13 - Rise and shine | Trees! | Power of the Sherpa | Phortse | Lunch with a View | Views from the Trail | Back on the main trail | Return to Namche Bazaar
Day 14 - The Last Day Begins | Arrival in Lukla | Victory Dinner
Day 15? - The Flight back to Kathmandu | Victory Dinner | 2

Back in Kathmandu

Nov 11 - The Garden of Dreams | 2 | 3 | Jana Bahal Temple | Streets of Kathmandu | 2 | 3 | Buddha Bar
Nov 12 - Another Day, another Stupa | Durbar Square | 2 | The river boardwalk that wasn't
Nov 13 - Home Sweet Home | Boudhanath Stupa | 2 | Bells | Ghyoilisanga Peace Garden | Kailash Danda | 2 | Pashupatinath Temple
Nov 14 - Patan | Patan Museum | 2 | 3 | Manimandapam! | Patan Durbar Square from above | Walking around Patan | Golden Temple | 2

Odds & Ends | Kama Sutra Shenanigans


Map of the route | Acclimatization on the trail | Benefits of hiking poles | EverestLink Wifi | Staying Charged 2
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Hotel Shanker

I got lucky and found a great deal on a hotel in Kathmandu that used to be a palace. It was built in a neoclassical style in 1894, although it did not open as a hotel until 1964.

This is a photo I took of it the next day, as it was dark when we arrived

A giant room with two large beds.. more than enough room for two of us and our gear! We were impressed by everything at the hotel, including the food at the restaurant. Everything felt luxurious and the breakfast offerings were top notch, especially the eggs benedict and the incredible coffee
Hotel Shanker

The hotel has a well maintained park on the premises, as well as an outdoor pool. And this large tree

The decorations on the inside were interesting enough to photograph as well

If you look closely you will see another set of eyes below. They were found all over the place, usually on doors or by doorways.

You are looking at one of the entrances to the dining area. There are several such interconnected rooms and a larger chamber in the back.

I usually wouldn't book a place like this, but when the deal came up it worked out to about $40 USD a night per person after everything.. Given all the added comforts and amenities, the central location, the included airport shuttle, and just the thought of staying in a former palace.. eventually it seemed kind of perfect. I texted my friend and he was in.
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First Impressions of Kathmandu

Our hotel was nothing like the rest of the city at all, which we very well knew when we booked it.. but nothing could have really prepared us for the craziness that is Kathmandu traffic. There are no traffic lights anywhere in the city, at least as far as we were told.. If you think you could handle crazy traffic because you've been to cities like Bangkok or Saigon? Think again. Kathmandu is on another level.

The pictures don't really do it justice, but the traffic wasn't that bad at this time of day

This is when we ventured out to our other friend's hotel to meet up for the first time. Google maps told us that the walk should take about 15 minutes. It took us about 45.

The main problem is that crossing the street is not easy. Like I said there are no traffic lights anywhere, so you just sort of have to play frogger.. To get to our friend's part of town we had to cross 3 somewhat busy streets, which was a bit of an adventure for us. The best bet is to stand behind a local who wants to cross and follow them when they do.. but often there is just nobody crossing..

Kathmandu is also a very dusty city. It's been ranked as the world's 3rd most polluted city. There are way too many old vehicles on the roads and the surrounding terrain just has a lot of sand and dust that gets kicked up. Due to the still somewhat recent 2015 earthquake a lot of buildings were still destroyed and many parts of the city had not been rebuilt. Some people blame some of the dust on all the construction going on, but it appears to exist due to a number of factors. It doesn't look that bad in the photos I posted, but walking around in Kathmandu your camera will quickly get dusty.

Finally we entered Thamel, where our friend's hotel was located.

Thamel is a central commercial neighbourhood that's popular with backpackers. It's essentially the centre of Kathmandu's tourist industry and a popular nightlife spot. This is where you buy your last minute hiking gear or meet other backpackers in a cafe or bar.

There are so many OSHA violations in Kathmandu I wouldn't know where to begin.

I wish I had a better shot of that tree.. It just seems like it shouldn't be there.. It's surrounded by a dense urban jungle.. and yet there it is. I suppose in the west it would have been cut down a long time ago since it's probably too close to the buildings.. But in Nepal.. anything goes.
Dining & wining in Nepal

After meeting up the three of us walked around town and walked into a local restaurant for lunch. I think we paid about $3 for this whole meal, which included two types of bread and a sort of half soup half curry mixture of flavours and vegetables.

The bread is made right on site

It was an interesting contrast with the sort of food we were eating back at the hotel. Whoever they have in the kitchen there knows how to cook everything perfectly

And the beer we stuck to at the hotel

Odds & Ends

We had two days in Kathmandu to finalize everything so that we could begin the hike on October 27th. This involved dropping by the office of the company I had been in touch with even before booking the flight.

Himalayan Magic Adventures is a company that specializes in helping you customize a hike through the Himalayas. They provide various services depending on your need. In our case we were looking to hire a guide and a porter for the hike, as well as arrange transportation to the trailhead, figure out where to acquire additional gear such as hiking poles and sleeping bags, and get all the needed permits. We spent about an hour in their office in Thamel going through everything, doublechecking dates, and finalizing everything.

I picked this company out of a list of locally owned companies that had all the right permits and top reviews. It ended up being a good decision, as we had a great time for a very competitive price. We actually could not figure out how they were making money at first. We paid about $30 too much for the permits each ($65 pp), so there was that.. but the flights were cheaper than we saw online.. They were probably making money there too, but it couldn't have been much. Turns out that they do take out a decent chunk out of the money designated for the guide and porter. We confirmed this with the porter later.

The Sherpa guide cost us $30 USD per day of hiking, so about $450 total or $150 each. Two of us opted for a porter who cost $18/day or about $135 each. The way it goes down is we paid Himalayan Magic Adventures the $720 for the guide and porter. On the morning of the 27th they handed me an envelope to give to the guide. Inside was money for the guide and porter and other assorted documents. Initially we were going to meet the guide in Kathmandu and pay for his flight to/from the trailhead as well (at a much discounted local rate).. but we ended up going with a guide and porter already waiting for us at the trailhead.

The porter comes off the worst. As payment for his services he receives $50 USD and the company keeps the rest. For the 2 weeks of the hike he has to feed himself using the $50, essentially getting to keep whatever is left at the end.

Out of the $450 the guide gets about half. He eats for free at the teahouses with other Sherpa guides who might be there at the time. From what I understand they always eat the same dish - Dal Bhat. The guides all sleep in the common room of the teahouse around the stove, on the floor or on the benches. The porters might sleep there as well, but I am not really sure. It is worth mentioning that all the porters seemed younger and

The return flight to/from the trailhead cost $345 USD per person.

A company rep took us shopping so we could rent sleeping bags and buy hiking poles. I think the hiking poles cost $10 per pair

The only other costs for the hike were the costs we would incur on the trail, such as accommodations and food. We would have to pay for that with cash as we went. At the time the recommended spending money amount was about $25 USD a day per person. I brought a bit more just in case, I think more like $35 a day. This pays for all accommodations and food on the trail, but also snacks, souvenirs, the hot water I was using every night, and other odds and ends such as tp and the crampons we had to buy for the alpine crossing. And don't forget the tips for the guide and the porter.

Nepali currency can be a bit confusing to westeners at first. The Nepali 1 looks an awful lot like the Arabic 9

Another thing this company helped us out with was acquiring SIM cards so we could get local Nepali phone numbers and use their cheap data. We did not expect to get much signal on the trail, but this also made it easier to stay in touch in Kathmandu during those 2 initial days and after the hike.

After everything was in place it was time to head back to our respective hotels and repack. Everything I would need for the first day of hiking would have to be in my daypack. The rest I would have to stuff into the bag the porter would carry.

From left to right you can see the hiking poles I bought, my camera, a small portable battery pack, sunglasses, a map of the trails in the area, two pouches with various cables and assorted electronic oddities, gloves, a winter hat, a windbreaker, a goPro, a first aid kit, a polar fleece midlayer, and waterproof pants.

This all fit comfortably in my 34L backpack.. but the rest of my stuff just barely fit in the bag for the porter. It was bulging, but eventually I got it closed. It seemed crazy that the porter would carry my bag.. as well as my friend's.. We were told the maximum he can carry is 30kg (about 66 lbs).. From our experience hiking in Peru at high altitudes - that was insane

After all that it was time to go to sleep in the palace hotel.. for the very last time. In the morning we would be picked up and taken to the airport, on the way picking up our friend.

I was ready for the Everest Basecamp Trek.
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Hiking poles seem strange to me. I did quite a lot of hiking in my younger days and such things didn't exist. I would find having my hands filled all the time would be both strange and confining.
Hiking poles seem strange to me. I did quite a lot of hiking in my younger days and such things didn't exist. I would find having my hands filled all the time would be both strange and confining.

Hiking poles are recommended for this trail. They actually help you hike more efficiently!

Research published in scientific journals supports the use of two trekking poles, especially going up or down hill. One article, published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise in 2000, loaded volunteers with a backpack equal to 30 percent of their body weight and monitored their walking for 60 minutes on a treadmill with five degrees of incline. Those using two hiking poles had a longer stride, with a shorter frequency of strides. The muscles in their legs were less active, energy consumption while carrying the poles did not increase, and the subjects perceived their workout with poles to be less taxing than the same routine without poles.

For this somewhat extreme high-altitude hike you want to take every single efficiency you can.

Hiking poles also help reduce the pressure put on your knees, which I have had problems with in the past.

The authors concluded that an important force on the knee (ground reaction force) decreased as much as 20 percent when the volunteers used two hiking poles. Other forces on the knee also decreased. The greatest decrease occurred while the hikers had both poles on the ground when one foot was in the air between steps.

Hiking poles are also great for balance on rocky terrain, which there is a lot of on parts of the trail. Not only rocky terrain, but I've found them especially useful on rocks. Most of the time it's just nice to lean on the hiking poles and feel like you're exerting less energy as you're trying to keep a good stride. They are also handy for river crossings.

Another benefit is that they help work out more of your body.

For me it was mainly the knees and knowing what high altitude hiking is like from my experiences in Peru. The hiking poles make it possible for me. Without them it would be harder to do everything, and I can't imagine that. I felt like I was pushing myself to the limit every single day. That's how hiking that high up makes me feel. Somehow you always find that extra bit of energy for the next couple of steps, and.. that process repeats and eventually you get to your destination. But along the way the poles also act like a psychological boost. It does feel easier hiking with them, and after a couple days the poles feel like 2 new extensions of your body almost.. Being able to put some of the weight on them instead on your legs can feel amazing

Yet another benefit that I completely forgot about was their usefulness during the alpine crossing.

I got my citations from here
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Interesting, thanks.
Interesting, thanks.

Yw! It's now a great supplementary post , so I didn't mind writing it up. For long distance hikes or hikes in high altitudes I would always recommend hiking poles. If you're just doing a day hike then you probably don't need them.. If you're climbing and later descending a decent peak as part of a day hike.. maybe. If you have bad knees, I would bring them.

None of the Sherpa guides or porters on the trail had hiking poles. There's been scientific studies done on this ethnic group, and they have over generations adapted to the high altitudes, similar to what happened to the Quechua in Peru. According to the summary of one of these studies, they have adaptations such as unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, hearts that can utilize glucose, and lungs with an increased efficiency in low oxygen conditions. They are sort of built for that environment, so for them the hike is.. well.. like a walk in the park. The vast majority of the trail is not technical so most of the time they are just strolling along like I would on a walk to the store. Even the porters, who are at times carrying 30kg on their backs didn't seem fazed by the conditions.

I have been talking to our Sherpa guide recently actually, we've kept in touch. His family grew up very close to the trail; his village is a 3 day walk from the trailhead.

The Sherpa people have been living at high altitudes for centuries. They arrived in the area in the 13th century, after crossing the Himalayas from the east (most likely Tibet), and carved out a nice little niche for themselves high up in the mountains. Over time they evolved to be able to handle high altitudes with a lot more ease than somebody like me, who lives at pretty much sea level. Wait till you see some of the pictures of the porters carrying gear.. and other locals carrying even crazier loads.. I couldn't believe some of the things I was seeing. It would have been a feat even at sea level.. and these people were carrying insane loads over long distances, so high up in the mountains. Meanwhile there I was huffing and puffing in between every single step, carrying as little as possible.
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Yes, those high altitude adaptations are pretty astonishing. I've not seen them in action though. Threads like this help.
The Flight to Tenzing–Hillary Airport

On Friday October 27th we woke up super early and were picked up at our hotel by a minivan. It was still dark as we threw our bags into the back and got on board.

We were about to fly to what is known as the world's most dangerous airport. It has this reputation because the runway is really short, rather steep, and sits at the edge of a cliff. The weather is unpredictable and no navigation aids or night operations exist at the airport. Only small planes certified for short landings and takeoffs (STOL) are allowed to land here, and they can only be flown by a pilot who has specific training for this particular airport and has flown it before as a copilot a certain number of times. Once a pilot has started the final approach, there is also no way to pull out due to the terrain. You have to land and only get one chance.

Despite all this accidents are rare.. but they do happen, although usually during takeoff.

When you arrive at the airport in Kathmandu the place is a complete madhouse. One entire part of the airport is dedicated to flights to Lukla and it is packed with a mess of people everywhere. There's lines, bags being checked, and that sort of thing, but mainly people standing and sitting around waiting. Imagine all this happening and I've got an envelope in my hands which has hundreds of dollars in it and all the important documents our guide would need at the destination

The weather limits how many flights can happen that day. Usually in the morning the skies are clear, but eventually the clouds move in and the visibility is too poor to approach and land safely. This always happens at a different time of day, so what ends up happening is everyone wanting to fly shows up as early as possible and hopes for the best.. We had to factor in not being able to fly that day as part of our planning for the trip. It does happen that you just don't get your spot that day and have to come back in 24 hours.

We were basically standing there waiting for a half an hour holding our bags, until one second the company rep is rushing us to grab our bags and run. We couldn't imagine what sort of bartering system exists for spots on the planes, but I assume each company involved has a certain amount of clout and money at play and there are probably lists with planes and lists with people.. We were half asleep and had prepared ourselves for a crazy time at the airport.. but it was a bit crazier than I imagined

Eventually the craziness was over and it was time to board the plane

The landing was actually not so bad. The thing is that as you're coming closer to the ground and see mountains all around, especially up ahead, you don't see the airport anywhere. It seems crazy that there would be an airport anywhere.. and yet the plane continues to descend..

Unfortunately the contrast makes it impossible to see through the windows during the landing.. but as you can hear we were all very happy after the successful touchdown.

The Tenzing–Hillary Airport was built in 1964 under the supervision of Edmund Hillary. It is named after him and his porter, the first people to have reached the summit of Mt. Everest. Flying to this airport is pretty much the only reasonable option tourists have to get to the trailhead. You can take a bus and then hike to the trailhead, but it takes 4-6 days and the hike supposed to be pretty demanding. You can also charter a helicopter to fly you there instead, but that is a lot more expensive and there have been helicopter accidents at the airport as well..

The elevation here is 2,845m, high enough for you to feel high altitude effects on your body. All of us got a bit lightheaded here and there as we were walking away from the airport in order to begin the hike.
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Video of successful takeoff

Just outside of the airport fence I found a spot to record a plane taking off. It's hard to see how steep the runway is (11.7% gradient), but it is sloping down.

At this time of day planes are constantly landing and taking off, bringing hikers to the trailhead and taking hikers back to Kathmandu, until the clouds move in and landing is not possible. Every once in a while the plane that lands brings cargo instead of people. This is how things like toilet paper, beer, candy, propane, snacks, and everything else gets shipped to all the villages along the trail we were about to hike and beyond. Everything is flown in by plane and carried to its final destination by yak or porter. It's always the same type of plane for cargo or people, so that on the flight back the plane can take back more hikers if needed.

Many people still call this Lukla airport.. That was the name until 2008, when the airport was renamed to Tenzing-Hillary Airport.
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No acclimatization to the altitude? Sea level, 2 days in Kathmandu, 1400m and then 2845m? Seems like a big jump, quickly.
No acclimatization to the altitude? Sea level, 2 days in Kathmandu, 1400m and then 2845m? Seems like a big jump, quickly.

That's right! You acclimatize along the way using an acclimatization schedule (which depends on how the hikers are dealing with the conditions and other factors). 2,845m is just about where you start feeling the effects of the high altitudes and lower oxygen levels, although online sources will put that number at 2,500m or even lower. This will be different for different hikers. From my own personal experience I occasionally start feeling a bit woozy at just about 3,000m or a bit lower. When we were acclimatizing in Cuzco, Peru in 2012, which sits at 3,400m, I don't remember feeling woozy or lightheaded at all and didn't really notice anything during the first 2 days. It was only on the third day, when we ventured out onto town, when I realized that it feels like it takes a lot more energy than usual to do anything remotely strenuous, such as walking up a set of stairs. Staying at that altitude for 3 days wasn't the perfect way to acclimatize either. You want to climb high and then sleep low(er). We were staying at the same altitude the whole time. Not so on the Everest Basecamp Trek. Our guide had us set up for a solid acclimatization schedule I will explain throughout the thread and a bit here.

The best acclimatization schedule on the trail sees you sleep in Namche Bazaar (3,440m) for 3 nights. It takes 2 days to hike there from the trailhead, although the distances during the first couple days are shorter since all the hikers are just being exposed to high altitudes. It's possible to hike to Namche Bazaar from the trailhead in 1 day and many people do this.. but most take it easy and do that walk in 2 days. Most people do not do the "3 nights in Namche" option since it's not necessary and adds extra time and cost to your trip.. but certain operators will make this option available for people who want to be extra safe.

Namche Bazaar is a good place to acclimatize because it's the biggest town in the whole area and the trading hub of the Khumbu region. If it were possible to acclimatize at the trailhead no doubt that's what the go-to strategy would be, but the village at the trailhead is rather small. Namche Bazaar is a genuine little town with 1,600 inhabitants, and many teahouses, shops, pool halls, bakeries, and much more. If you're going to spend 3 days anywhere in the region, it might as well be there. The town is also situated in a rather interesting spot. At one point on the hike you see the town from above and it's a beautiful sight. There's also historical buildings, a cool Saturday market, an Irish pub, and other things to keep you busy during your stay.

Namche Bazaar also has a hill right outside of town with a summit of 3,880m. This is what a lot of people use for acclimatization. It's a very tough climb to the top.. not technically, but every single step feels like your last. Your body screams for oxygen and energy and wants you to stop.. but the best thing you can do is take the next step and continue until you are at the top. During acclimatization climbs like this one, you leave most of your gear back at the teahouse and only bring some essentials, in order to cut down on the weight you're carrying.

From the summit you get your first views of Mt. Everest, which is very rewarding. There is also a hotel up there, which used to be the world's highest hotel. Everyone stops there for tea and/or a snack. You spend about a half an hour sitting around taking pictures, sipping on tea, etc. and after that you descend and sleep in Namche Bazaar again, about 450m lower.

Over the next couple days of the hike you slowly make your way back up to the altitude you were at during that climb.. but it's a very gradual increase. The acclimatization climb helps that experience go a lot smoother. You climbing that high up triggers your body to produce more red blood cells, even if you're only up there for a half an hour. This allows your body to process oxygen a bit more efficiently, making the next couple days of the hike easier on you.

This process is repeated one or two more times on the trail. Each time you climb a mountain that's about 500m higher than where you're sleeping that night and quite a bit higher than you have been on the trail up until that point. Then over the next several days you gradually reach that altitude again by making your way up the trail towards your destination.

Like I said this acclimatization schedule will be modified by the guide, depending on what is going with the group he is leading. One of the Sherpa guide's jobs is to observe how the group members are faring and not only make sure that nobody's having problems, but also push people to complete the acclimatization days so that the hike will go a lot smoother later. You can't push somebody too far either, so it's a bit of a balancing act. The Sherpas are good at gauging what sort of acclimatization schedule will work for the group they have. They are also good at spotting high altitude sickness symptoms and gauging their severity. It's probably a lot easier with a smaller group like we had. Our guide was always checking up on us making sure we're doing well.. but are also acclimatizing properly along the way. This means pushing us, and possibly altering our itinerary if needed. He also taught us how to walk properly at those altitudes. That might sound funny, but it makes a difference. The guide leads and you follow his rhythm. He will adjust his rhythm and the way he's walking depending on the terrain and altitude. If you walk the way he is walking, you will have a better time.

In some cases hikers will even bypass certain acclimatization stops. We hit all the usual ones I believe, but if you're well acclimatized and aren't struggling, you don't need to do all of them. Different bodies adapt differently to high altitudes, and it does not depend on your fitness level. It's just different for every person and probably relies on a plethora of different factors.

So yeah, essentially the main reason why you don't acclimatize before the hike begins is because there is no good place to do that. The best place to acclimatize is Namche Bazaar, not only because it's a larger town, but also because of the 3,800m hill right there outside of town with the Everest view. This is also a great place to buy any last gear you still need for the rest of the hike. Namche has the most shops out of any village along the way by far.. and each subsequent village you reach will charge just a bit more for everything.. so you might as well buy everything you need early.
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Thanks. That was very thorough. I live at a mile high and see what happens when visitors get here and feel the change or go higher to Santa Fe and feel even more change at 7200'.
Yeah, and it's so unpredictable as well. You could be the fittest person on the planet and have huge problems doing this hike, but a couch potato might find it easy. That's why it's important for the Sherpas to be well trained in spotting high altitude sickness symptoms. A lot of people will get those regardless (i.e. headaches, loss of appetite, dizziness, etc.) at some point or other, but they usually start mild. It's up for the guide to know how well the person is doing and if the itinerary needs to be altered to accommodate somebody acclimatizing too slowly.

When I was on the trail somebody from back home sent me a message saying that there was a 70+ year old from Montreal on the trail. Given how many people are on the trail it's highly unlikely I would have seen him.. but I did see people of all ages, shapes, and sizes hiking. Descriptions of the mental and physical demands might make people think that you need to be really fit to attempt this. That's not true at all. In my opinion it takes more psychological and mental strength and resolve to finish this hike than physical fitness. Of course being fit will probably help.. But it helps you with things like your leg muscles being stronger and less prone to cramps and will not really help your body process oxygen any more efficiently. For that you need to acclimatize, working out like a maniac for months before hike won't really do much to help in that regard. Some people train with special low oxygen masks, but I've read that those don't really help you prepare either.

Before I went on this trip I read several trip reports from people who did the hike without a guide.. and even though they got headaches they forged ahead, a bit blindly. These people had a horrible time on the trail, and one of them said it was the worst time of his life. You can also die this way - as soon as you start getting painful headaches (and you'd get other symptoms by then as well) you are supposed to descend right away. That's why we had about a week of "whatever" time in our schedule for this trip. You never know when your hike can get extended by a day or two, and like I've

About 5-15 people die on this trail every year, out of 30,000 people who attempt the hike annually. This is due to high altitude sickness and at times unrelated medical issues. Everyone on the trail is required have a certain level of travel insurance that will cover helicopter evacuation.. and from what I've read about a handful of people get helicoptered out a week, usually due to high altitude sickness issues, but sometimes like I said due to other medical problems that develop. There are no hospitals on the trail, only makeshift medical stations in some villages, so a lot of medical issues require an evacuation to a proper hospital. This also means that most hikers will bring fairly elaborate first aid kits, containing all sort of meds for all sorts of potential situations.

My friend's friend and his wife had to be both evacuated from this trail a couple weeks before we were hiking on it actually. They developed severe enough high altitude sickness problems and had to be flown to a hospital. They recovered fully and have no problems now, but they were not able to complete the hike.
The Route

The traditional hike from Lukla to Everest Basecamp and back usually takes 12 days - 8 days there and 4 days back. It is about 130km total for the whole return trip.

The classic route takes you back the exact same way you got there, via Tengboche and Pheriche, on the right-hand side of the map.

While doing research I figured out a more interesting way to do the hike. It takes you a partially different way back and allows you to essentially hike around some of the mountains in the area. It adds 3 days to the classic trek and turns the hike into a 15 day / 150km affair. You can follow the arrows on the red route on the map to see which way we would have been walking, starting in Lukla at the bottom.

Turns out the more efficient way to do this is by walking counter-clockwise around that loop instead, and walking to Basecamp the traditional way, while returning via Gokyo. Gokyo by the way is what first made me wonder whether we should take this detour.. It is an absolutely beautiful set of lakes and the whole area is just incredible. The summit of Gokyo Ri provides the most breathtaking views from the whole trail, IMO.

The company I hired told us that if we walked this route counter-clockwise we would save 1 day. There is the Cho La pass, which is an alpine crossing that takes you over snow and ice. We were told that it's easier to make the approach from the east as opposed to the west as well..

The main benefit though is the acclimatization schedule. Walking this counter-clockwise would be better for acclimatization because it would be more balanced. Doing the Cho La pass from the other direction gives you one monster day. Having done the hike in the other direction I can see why they recommended that we do it this way.

Compared to the classic trek this variant adds those 2-3 extra days, the alpine crossing @ Cho La, but also a glacier you have to hike over and one extra summit to climb (Gokyo Ri). We were up for it, and one of my friends was even pushing for us to extend the hike by attempting the Renjo alpine crossing after finishing with Gokyo. It is supposed to be less challenging than Cho La from what I remember, and the return way would then take you down that other valley. This would add up to 2 extra days to the itinerary from what we were told. These were basically the discussions we were having in their office back in Kathmandu. In the end we decided to only do one of the alpine crossings and stick to the route I selected (albeit in the counter-clockwise direction).. and at Gokyo we would see how we feel and if we decided to attempt the other alpine crossing our guide would phone the airport and change our flight . We would then have to figure out extra payments and so on. There is actually a three alpine crossing version of this hike. It is the most ambitious of the variants from what I remember, and at the time we were definitely not up for it.

Not all of the places where we slept are marked on this map. Other than that it basically shows you the whole plan, minus the acclimatization climbs, which are not marked either.

I am also including a map of the various ways to get to the trailhead from Kathmandu. It will show you where Mt. Everest is located with respect to the rest of the country.

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The Hike Begins

This happens to be the first photograph I took with my camera on the trail, making it a great way to introduce this new format.

I bought a new camera for this trip, a mirrorless one that allows me to shoot photos in the .RAW format, so that I can later use software to process the data in a virtual darkroom. I found an open source software package that allows me to do this, but you will have to bear with me as I get acquainted with it and slowly figure out all the ins and outs. This particular photo was a bit of a tough one due to all the interesting lighting going on in the shot..

For the next month or so I will be posting a photo of the day every 3-5 days, depending on my schedule and other workload. After that I should have more time on my hands and will probably be able to ramp up my posts a bit.

The first day's hike is arguably the easiest out of all the days we'd spend on the trail. It takes you from Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m), a distance of 7.4km, which takes about 3 hours. It is the only time on the way to basecamp that you will be for the most part hiking downhill.

Ascent: 139 m
Descent: -358 m
High: 2,840 m
Low: 2,555 m
Avg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 21% (12°)

You begin in the small town of Lukla and spend several minutes walking through its streets. If you would like to see a cool interactive 3D map of this part of the route, click here.
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Is that a helicopter at the right edge of the photo?

That link is very cool!
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