Traveling to Everest Base Camp: How to Pick your Path
Fifty-three years ago, there were only two main ways to get to the south base camp of Mt. Everest in Nepal: Trek from Kathmandu, a four-to-five-week trek. Or, take a day-long bus ride over rough roads to Jiri and hike for five to eight days to Namche and then on toward Mt. Everest.
Then, in 1964, everything changed. That’s when the Himalayan Trust, created by Sir Edmund Hillary, built a mountainside airport and a dirt runway in Lukla to help the Sherpa people get their goods to market more easily. (The runway was paved in 1999, and in 2008 was renamed the Tenzing-Hillary Airport.)
The unintended result of Hillary’s effort was that the airport, considered by many experts to be the most dangerous in the world, also gave travelers a shorter route to Mt. Everest.
Today an estimated 25,000 people a year take the 35-minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla to begin their trek. But a few hardy, adventurous souls still do the trek the old fashioned way. They begin walking in Jiri. Their feet never leave the ground.
The Best Trekking Route to Everest Base Camp
From Here to There: The Classic Solu-Khumbu Trek to Everest Base Camp (13-14 days trekking)
The Classic Everest Base Camp trek is the most popular for good reasons. It’s the most direct route from Lukla to the 18,192-foot peak of Kalapatar and the best view of Mt. Everest.
As you trek up the valley from Lukla, sky-touching peaks, such as Cho Oyu, Nuptse, and Lhotse surround you. On the well-worn path, you’ll pass farms, villages and terraced fields. You climb the Namche wall to the town of the same name, where you’ll have another day or two to acclimatize, rest, and enjoy the shops, a museum, and a READ Global’s library. Then it’s on to the largest monastery in the Khumbu region at Tengboche (12,664 feet), the holiest mountain to the Khumbu Sherpas.
After a few more days on the trail, you’ll reach Kalapatar (18,592 feet). Here is where you’ll look down on the Khumbu Glacier and the community of tents at Everest Base Camp.
Next stop: a descent to Gorak Shep (16,942 feet), or as I call it, Gorak Shlep! From there you’ll retrace your steps back to Lukla and fly back to Kathmandu.
Alternative Routes to the Classic Everest Base Camp Trek
Eventually, all roads to Everest Base Camp converge at Lobuche (20,075 feet), but there are several ways to get there and elsewhere in the Khumbu. Here are our favorites.
- Jiri to Everest Base Camp (19-21 days trekking). Slow travel is something of a trend these days, and there is no slower way to go than trekking from Jiri. On this trip, you need to add 5-7 days to the basic Everest Trek. The bonus for doing the entire distance on foot? The trails, until you get to Lukla, are less crowded, have spectacular views, and wonderful insights into the Solu Sherpa culture.
- Tumlingtar to Everest Base Camp (21-23 days trekking). Here you catch a flight from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar in Eastern Nepal. As you head from here to Lukla, the trail passes through Brahman/Chhetri villages as well as others that are neither Hindu or Buddhist. Along the way, you have wonderful views and encounter fewer trekkers. Like all treks in Nepal, this is a rugged hike with few amenities like lodges and teahouses and many ups and downs. Since the trail begins at a low elevation, be prepared for hot weather.
- Gokyo Over Cho La Pass (17-18 days trekking). Whether you fly or walk to Lukla, there are more options awaiting you. For instance, an especially wonderful trek is the trail leading slightly west from Namche toward Gokyo Ri (15,583 feet). The village of Gokyo is one of the highest settlements in the world and offers extraordinary views of the turquoise Gokyo lakes, Cho Oyu and Makalu (27,838 feet). From Gokyo, you cross over Cho La and drop down into Lobuche. The route is weather sensitive and may require ice axes or even crampons on the pass.
- Lukla to Tengboche. If your time is short, fly to Lukla and trek as far as Tengboche Monastery. You’ll have a week-long trekking experience through lovely forest terrain, and you’ll see several highlights of the classic trek, including the town of Namche and Tengboche and Thame monasteries. If you’re lucky, you will even get a glimpse of a danphe, the Himalayan monal that is the national bird of Nepal. Of course, you will also see Everest as well, but from a bit of a distance.
Planning Your Trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp
Which Way Will You Go To Everest Base Camp?
Whether you go for 7 days or 24, a trek in the Himalayas will create once-in-a-lifetime memories. As you look at the classic and alternative routes and pour over maps and altitude charts, remember getting there is half the fun.
Here are five questions to consider as you choose your route.
1. How much time do you have?
Although some travel companies offer 12-day, round-trip treks from Lukla, I strongly advise clients to take at least 13-14 trekking days, plus time in Kathmandu on arrival and departure. In total, ideal is 17-18 days. This time frame accounts for flight delays, which are not unusual, as well as acclimatization and rest days as you go higher and higher.
2. How fit are you?
- Active people who can hike comfortably all day will have no problem on the Classic Everest Base Camp Trail. Another advantage of starting your trek in Lukla is that this route doesn’t require any climbing skills and you won’t need crampons and an ice axe.
- Some alternate routes and side trips are more strenuous than the direct Lukla-to-Everest trail, so be sure you are physically up to the challenges.
3. What are your interests?
- Most people’s reason for traveling so far is to see Nepal’s Everest Base Camp, and most do make it, earning a lifetime of bragging rights. But others really want to spend time with the people. What else do you want to experience on your journey there?
- Some routes just visit Kalapatar and skip the cluster of tents at Base Camp altogether. (BTW: There aren’t any good views of Mt Everest from Base Camp and it is lower than Kalapatar.) Other routes climb high above villages or settlements, or through towns and villages and by schools, libraries and monasteries.
4. Do you like freeways, blue highways, or dirt roads?
There is a trekking equivalent for each preference. The most direct route is also the shortest trek. I call the classic Everest Base Camp trail Hwy 1!
5. What is your travel budget?
The longer you’re on the trail, the more expensive your trip will be. Accommodations vary, too. Do you want to camp at night, sleep on a platform in a teahouse, or on a real bed in a luxury lodge?