Mt. Everest–or Chamolungma, “Mother Goddess of the World” as the Tibetan and Sherpa people call the highest mountain in the world–may be the destination, but this is one trek where the journey is just as spectacular.
Although there are several routes to Nepal’s South Base Camp (17,598 feet). The most popular is the nearly 40-mile journey through the northeast Khumbu region of Nepal. Most trekkers who take this route also climb to Kalapatar (18,514 feet) for the best view of the south side of Mt. Everest. (On the North Side of Everest in Tibet is another base camp.)
Each day on the trail takes trekkers past something new–villages large and small, terraced farm land, the market town of Namche Bazaar, Tengboche Monastery, and the peaks of Cho Oyu, Nuptse, and Lhotse, all reaching more than 25,000 feet.
Weather in the Kumbu Region
Nepal is the same latitude as Florida, but because of the extreme differences in topography and altitude, the climate is infinitely more variable, especially at the high altitudes you’ll be trekking to reach Everest Base Camp.
The country literally rises from 100 feet above sea level to Mt. Everest’s 29,029 feet in less than 100 miles! There are also microclimates, small areas in which the climate ranges from tropical to arctic. And finally, at high altitude, anything can happen, including surprise snowfalls, any time of year.
The Nepalese have names for six seasons, but generally and from a Western point of view there are four:
- Clear and cold winter: January to March
- Dry and warm spring: April to June
- Wet and hot summer: July to September
- Clear and cool autumn: October to December
You can probably guess that spring and autumn are our favorite times for completing the 18-19-day, round-trip trek in Nepal to South Everest Base Camp and Kalapatar. That’s also the best time for flying from Kathmandu to Lukla (9,383 feet) where our trek begins.
Spring Trekking in the Khumbu Region
What we like best about spring treks are the flowers. In early April and May, as the snow melts, small irises and other blooms poke their heads up. By May and into June, larger blossoms appear in the higher altitudes. Until you get above the treeline, you will be walking through forests of blossoming rhododendrons (the national flower of Nepal), azaleas and blue pine, fir and juniper trees. Look closely into the forest and you may catch a glimpse of Nepal’s iridescent national bird, the Himalayan monal, better known as Danphe. Because this is pre-monsoon, mountain visibility may not be as clear as in autumn, and the trail may be drier and dustier.
Autumn Trekking in the Khumbu Region
Autumn (October and November) is the peak trekking season in the Khumbu for good reasons. The trail is dry. The haze has cleared, and most days are pleasantly warm. Remember, though, that days are getting shorter, so you might not have as long to hike as in other seasons.
The temperature at night is starting to drop, and it’s not unusual to wake up to a frosty morning and maybe even a light dusting of snow. The chill is just invigorating enough, though, to get you up and on the trail. Gradually, as the sun warms you, you will shed some of the layers you put on that morning. You always need to be prepared, however, for a freak snowfall that hides the trail and turns hiking into a slog through deep snowdrifts.
Another plus for those who trek in October is the opportunity to enjoy the colorful rituals and dances of the 3-day Mani Rimdu Festival at Tengboche Monastery.
Winter Trekking in the Khumbu Region
Intrepid trekkers go to Everest Base Camp in all seasons. Yes, even in winter! But if crossing icy passes, pushing through heavy snowfalls and hunkering down in your tent or in an unheated lodge on freezing nights are not your idea of a good time, there are better seasons for trekking than January, February or March
Summer Trekking in the Khumbu Region
In summer, the forests at lower elevations are lush, green and dotted with multi-colored wildflowers. However, summer is also monsoon season, which presents some formidable challenges.
In Nepal, from the end of June through September, trails are often muddy and slippery. Tiny leeches drop from the trees in lower elevations. Downpours saturate your gear. The mist may hide the views you came so far to see. And you may be uncomfortably hot trekking up the trail, especially in August.
The clouds and rain of the monsoon season not only slow trekkers, they cause more flight cancelations to Lukla than occur in spring or autumn.
PREPARE FOR THE UNPREDICTABLE
Regardless of when you go, be prepared for dramatic weather changes. Also nights are cold but days can be hot, especially when you’re trekking in full sun above the treeline. Pack clothing that you can layer, putting things on or taking them off as temperatures rise and fall. And don’t forget a hooded, waterproof jacket, waterproof pants and gaiters to keep your feet dry. No matter what the season, you can be caught by rain or a snowstorm!
For more on Nepal, watch A Conversation with Brent Boynton