There it is. The highest mountain on the planet. At its peak: eight thousand eight hundred forty-eight meters high; twenty-nine thousand twenty-nine feet. If you’re like me, climbing all the way up there is a wild idea (not to mention wildly expensive!), BUT it doesn’t take much cash nor preparation to trek to this storied mountain’s base. I know because I did it with very little cash and even less preparation. Here is everything you need to know to trek to Everest Base Camp without a guide or porter.
The Short List
How long is the trek?
7-21 days (depends on your speed and where you start). We started from Jiri, averaged 7.5 walking hours per day and finished the trek in 13 days.
How much does it cost?
Permits cost $90-$120 (depends where you start), plus food and accommodation: $10-$15 per day.
Do I need a guide?
No. Paying a guide (directly) is great in that it gives someone a much needed job, but if you’re on a tight budget, that may not be your priority. I went with a friend, and it is possible to go solo if you are so inclined (we saw a couple of people who were totally alone, but I was greatly grateful to have my partner along).
Is it difficult?
Yes. The actual trek can be pretty grueling, with many gradients throughout.
Where do I sleep? Eat?
No worries. There are guesthouses all along the trek where you will eat and sleep.
Do I need any special equipment or training?
No special equipment necessary. Even if you’re in good shape, it is a challenging road, but certainly no special training is needed. There were a few kiddos and plenty of older folks on the trail.
How high is base camp?
5,380 meters; 17,600 feet
What do I bring?
Thermals, windbreaker, hat, gloves, etc. (be prepared for freezing cold nights), sleeping bag, decent walking shoes, flashlight, camera (for potential Yeti sightings), Vaseline (or other moisturizer)
You can begin the trek from one of two places: Jiri or Lukla.
Lukla: The flight from Kathmandu takes 30 minutes and costs about $150. Two flights are scheduled every morning, but keep in mind they are canceled often due to bad weather (which could mean as little as fog).
Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, with a runway just 500 meters long between a big wall and a steep cliff is one of the most difficult airports in the world to land in. But don’t let that scare you 😉 Lukla is where 95 percent of folks begin the trek to base camp.
Jiri: The road less traveled. To get to Jiri, you can take a local bus from a lot just outside Thamel. Our bus left Kathmandu at 6am and took about 11 hours to get to Jiri.
The local bus is ancient and overcrowded (i.e. people sitting three-deep in seats built for two and standing in the aisles) with giant tractor wheels, and exhaust spewing along the windy mountain roads. While luxurious by no means, the views we got along the way were stunning: the sun rising, spilling golden rays over rolling green hills. Plus you get a chance to hang out with the locals.
If you go this route, you will be walking to Lukla, and tacking on another five to eight days to your trek. And bear in mind that there is a reason only five percent of people start from Jiri. While the road starting from Lukla is no cake walk, the trail from Jiri is especially grueling; there are daily climbs and descents that can last for hours.
The Nepal Tourism Board is located in Bhrikuti Mandap in Kathmandu, not far outside Thamel. We each bought three documents there: two TIMS (Trekker’s Information Management System) Registration cards—one for the Everest trekking area and another for Gaurishnakar–and one entry permit for the Gaurishnakar Conservation Area. Each cost $30.
We came to a checkpoint before entering Sagarmatha National Park, where we had to buy another $30 permit.
From Jiri, we you will need four items in total. From Lukla, only three are necessary. (We were told we needed an extra TIMS card to walk through Gaurishnakar, which you will not need if you start from Lukla).
You will need to carry these permits with you for the duration of the trek to show at checkpoints along the way.
Be prepared to wear the same clothes everyday and go without showering for days or weeks at a time. We took one lukewarm shower over the course of two weeks, and it almost wasn’t worth it. It was so cold in the room, it took me fifteen minutes to stop shivering afterward.
In some of the guesthouses you will have an opportunity to pay for hot water if you really need a shower, others don’t have hot water at all, still others don’t have showers. But don’t feel badly if you get a little smelly. You’re not the only one.
Be prepared as you get to higher altitudes to buy food at triple and quadruple what you would pay in Kathmandu to cover the cost of the porters who must carry it all up.
To get home to Kathmandu, our first option was to go back the way we came, back to Jiri. This had been our plan up until about day four of the trek, when we decided we never wanted to see the trail between Jiri and Lukla again.
We were more than tempted to fly to Kathmandu from Lukla, but the cost of the flight was beyond our budget.
That left us with option three: we walked to a village called Salleri, which took us another five days from basecamp. In Salleri, you can take a bus or a jeep to Kathmandu. The jeep is a little more expensive, but neither will total more than $15.
Pro tip: take the jeep. We had no choice but to take a bus, as we were heading back during a festival that occupied all the jeeps (no matter that we had run out of cash and were not in a position to be picky).
But there is no bus in this world agile enough to traverse the road from Salleri to Kathmandu. It looked a lot like a Jeep commercial: a lot of the time there were just a bunch of rocks where the road should have been. We got two flat tires, rode over small rivers, and bounced along, rocking back and forth over bumpy spots at the edge of cliffs. The terrifying ride (which was arguably more arduous than the previous thirteen days of trekking), took 18 hours, and we kissed the pavement when we made it alive to Kathmandu.
The whole trip took us 14 days. It was a test of wills, a first-hand look into Nepal’s Himalayan mountain culture; an epic hike full of otherworldly views of snow capped mountain ranges. I will reemphasize that this is a very difficult trail to traverse; as dramatic as it sounds, it was truly the most grueling experience of my life. You should be mentally and to an extent, physically prepared before you go. But when you do decide to brave the road to Mt. Everest, whether you chose to go with a group, a guide, a friend or solo, it will be one experience you will not soon forget.
The Pro Tips
- On packing: Pack as light a bag as possible. My backpack was pretty light, but in my harder times, I still had urges to throw it off the sides of mountains. If you have extra stuff you discover you don’t need, ask the owner of your guesthouse if you can leave it and pick it up later. They’ll probably be happy to have your business again on your way back down.
- On spending: To offset your food costs, you can often ask your guesthouse for free accommodation in return for eating dinner and breakfast in its restaurant.
- On plastic: Cash is King in the mountains. Lukla and Namche are the only villages you will enter that have ATMs; the two villages along with Laboche are the only ones that have businesses that accept credit cards (though with the spotty mountain wifi, processing transactions is not always possible), so make sure to bring enough cash!
- On AMS: It is recommended that trekkers stay two nights in Namche, a common stopping point after Lukla, to properly acclimatize. We unwisely ignored that advice and both showed symptoms of acute mountain sickness after reaching 4,000 meters. I got a migraine at 4,000 and woke with a headache each day after until we headed down, while my partner got too sick to make it all the way to base camp. Take it slow and take your acclimation seriously.