Eighty-nine percent of people have travel at the top of their bucket lists. And while traveling to Mt. Everest is not yet one of the top twenty destinations, it is climbing up the charts, falling shortly behind Machu Picchu. What most people don’t know is that there is more than one way to get there. Nor do they need to learn how to wield an ice ax to see Everest base camps.
Yes, that’s camps plural, because there are two of them, one in Tibet on the North Slope of Mt. Everest and one in Nepal (on the South Slope). Mt. Everest straddles both countries. Its summit is exactly on the border of both countries, and the opposite sides of the mountain are similar. (The Nepal side of the peak is only about 12 feet higher than that on the Tibet side, where 70 percent of the mountain sits.) The main difference between the two Everest Base Camps (EBC’s) is how you get there.
EVEREST BASE CAMP IN TIBET
If Tibet is on your bucket list as well as EBC, combine the two in one trip. For visitors adjusting to Lhasa’s nearly 12,000-foot altitude, there’s plenty to see, taste, and experience. In just a few days it’s possible to tour the Potala Palace, eat momos on Barkhor Street and visit several ancient monasteries and temples, such as the Jokhang. The holy city of Lhasa is the center of the Buddhist mandala and has a rich and colorful culture to explore.
Having secured the appropriate tourist permits in advance, visitors are driven about 400 miles in 4WD vehicles (a must on all roads in Tibet) to Dza Rongphu Monastery within two miles of EBC (17,598 feet). Just recently, the Chinese closed Base Camp to all but those with a climbing permit in order to clean the site. Dza Rongphu is the closest spot in Tibet where tourists are allowed. Hopefully, after the clean-up, the Chinese will once again allow tourists to travel on an official bus to see Base Camp.
The ride from Lhasa is across the striking landscape of the Tibetan Plateau. Along the way, one stops to view Yandruk-Tso, walk on the Karola Glacier, and visit iconic monasteries such as Gyantse or Shigatse. Mt. Everest makes its first appearance along with views of other famous peaks after going through Gyatso-Le Pass (17,218 feet).
From the start in Lhasa to the finish at the foot of Mt. Everest, the incredible drive takes you through a landscape that makes the journey every bit as memorable as the EBC destination. Of the many routes to Mt Everest, driving the paved highway on the Tibet side is the only one that delivers you by car almost to the base of Chomolungma, the Mother Goddess of the World, as Tibetans call the mountain.
Here are some of the pluses of choosing to go to Tibet’s EBC:
- You don’t have to trek unless you want to do so.
- It takes only 10 days or less to there and explore Lhasa.
- The trip is fun to do with children too young for trekking.
- After seeing EBC at 17,056 feet in Tibet, you can cross into Nepal, dropping down from the Tibetan plateau to Kathmandu at 4593 feet. WOW!
MT. EVEREST BASE CAMP IN NEPAL
Nepal offers both the longest and the shortest way to get to its EBC—i.e. on foot or in a helicopter.
As in Tibet, there are several ways to get to and from the Mother Goddess of the World. The route most often taken is the two-week trek through the Khumbu region, in northeastern Nepal.
Trekking to EBC Nepal. The typical journey starts with a flight to Lukla, once a farming town and now devoted mostly to trekkers. This is where some 30,000 people a year begin hiking to EBC, camping or staying in lodges and tea houses along the way and passing through towns that vary from the bustling hillside settlement of Namche Bazaar (11,286 feet), the so-called Gateway to Everest, to farm villages of no more than a half-dozen houses.
The landscape along the up-and-down trail to EBC (17,539 feet) is always changing. There are forests of pine, oak, juniper and, in spring, brilliantly colored rhododendrons; terraced farmland; teaming rivers and gentle streams and small clusters of Sherpa homes. There’s also wildlife such as mountain goats, deer, and birds. And, of course, once above about 13,000 feet, a lot of yaks.
Of course, it’s thrilling to see the expanse of climber’s tents across the large, open EBC, but the best view of Everest is about 1000 feet above base camp at Kalapatar (18.514). Here, perched on a small summit, you have a 360-degree view of other towering peaks, such as Cho Oyu (26,906 feet), Nuptse (25,791 feet) and Changtse (24,747 feet).
Trekkers can return to Lukla with minor trail variations or do other side explorations, should they wish. The journey down allows an opportunity to visit villages and tea houses and listen to monks chanting in Thyangboche Monastery.
Nepal EBC by Foot and Helicopter. No time or inclination for weeks of trekking? After just four days on the trail to Pangboche, the highest year-round inhabited village in the area, a private helicopter swoops you up and over these Himalayan landmarks:
- The infamous Khumbu Ice Fall
- Everest Base Camp
- Several major passes between Nepal and Tibet
- Other high peaks, such as Nuptse (25,791 feet) and Ama Dablam (22,249 feet)
If EBC is not too crowded and there is room for the helicopter to land, a brief walk around the camp is possible. Since helicopter passengers have not had the time to acclimate as trekkers do, the visit is limited to about 7 minutes to avoid altitude sickness then on to a lodge for tea and a light breakfast before returning to Kathmandu for another kind of site seeing.
Nepal EBC by Helicopter Alone. If you don’t want to trek at all, you can simply take a helicopter from Kathmandu early in the AM. It will refuel in Lukla, and then head up to base camp and Kalapatar, make a stop on the return for breakfast and then back to Kathmandu before noon.
Here you can choose whether you want a private charter helicopter or a group helicopter. If you have a private charter, the cost is much higher, about $6000 dollars, but departure, barring weather, is pretty much guaranteed. If you choose a group helicopter, the company usually wants 4-5 people before it will fly, and that can be a problem at times. On the other hand, the cost is less, about $1500/per person.
WHICH WAY WILL YOU GO?
When deciding between Tibet and Nepal Base Camps, begin with considering how much time you have, your physical condition and if you really want to trek. Then, answer these questions:
- Do you want to interact with local villagers and see how they live?
- Do you enjoy visiting sacred Buddhist sites and monasteries?
- Do you have a soft spot for beautiful and dramatic landscapes?
- What do you want to do after you’ve been almost to the top of the world?