We recently completed a three week trek through the Everest region in Nepal. For us, this was an experience in unmatched beauty and we can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who revels in the mountains, foreign cultures, meeting new and interesting people, or pushing themselves to the bounds of their physical limitations. Our very long trip report can be found here. We’ve also assembled some useful information for anyone seeking an experience similar to our own, which can be found below.
Quick and Dirty
Fly into Kathmandu. A taxi to the tourist center of Thamel is 400-500 rupees ($4-5 USD as of 10/16). Finding a hotel in Thamel is easy, they’re everywhere. Alternatively, you could use Agoda.com. Beware that restaurants in Kathmandu and Pokhara (the other tourist hub in Nepal and the jumping off point for treks in the Annapurna region) charge a 24% tax on your meal, so food is not necessarily inexpensive. Thamel is host to myriad counterfeit gear shops, selling fake North Face type gear on the cheap. If you choose to bring all your gear from home, you should still plan on buying a trekking map from a bookstore in town for 300 or so rupees. You will not need a guidebook. You can buy your TIMS (Trekking Info Management Systems) card (2000 rupees) and Sagarmatha National Park pass (3400 rupees) at the Nepal Tourism Board offices (a 200 rupee taxi ride away or walkable in <30 mins). From Thamel, take a taxi to the Cabahil bus station (again 400-500 rupees) and be there well before 5:00 am. Ask for a jeep to Phaplu or Salleri (about 2,000 rupees per person) and try not to get stuck in the backseat; both towns are right next to each other in the province of “Solu” (short for Solukhumbu). From Kathmandu, it’s at least 12 hours by Jeep to Salleri, and I would request that the driver take you to Phaplu, which is just a bit (a mile or so) further on. Most people (19 of 20) fly into the Lukla airport, which costs $160 per person, but saves you three additional days of hiking.
From there, hike at your own pace through villages spread out about 3 miles apart from one another. Check into any guest house (there are many in every town) and expect to pay no more than a few hundred rupees a night for a double room; some may even turn out to be free, if you bargain. You will be given a two-bed room with a reasonably comfortable but questionably clean bed, pillow, and blanket, use of a shared bathroom (usually a squat toilet), and a warm communal dining area in which you can relax and mingle. Warm showers are typically 300-400 rupees. In exchange for the cheap room, you will be expected to buy at least your dinner and the next morning’s breakfast from the lodge, which run from 400 to 700+ rupees. Lunches are generally eaten in villages along the way at the same prices. Beware that the water is not potable, so bring iodine tablets or a steripen. Water sometimes tastes bad and has particulates floating in it, so consider bringing flavor powder packets and an extra handkerchief for filtering. The higher one goes, the more expensive food, etc. becomes.
You should be fine without a sleeping bag until Namche Bazaar and possibly even after, depending on the time of year. It’s said that you can ask for extra blankets higher up, but to be safe, I’d recommend you rent (aka hire) a sleeping bag in Namche. (The ones we rented in Kathmandu were 80 and 100 rupees per day respectively for a three season and four season bag, along with a 6,000 rupee per bag deposit. I can’t say what the prices or amounts would be in Namche, but probably slightly more expensive. The benefit of renting them in Namche is to avoid having to lug them up five days from Salleri, carrying and paying for them without even using them.) If you’ve flown into Lukla, make sure to sleep two nights in Namche for acclimatization before moving on; if you’ve hiked in, you’re probably fine with just one night there, as long as you follow the rule of sleeping no more than 300 meters (1000 feet) higher than the night before after you pass Namche. Finally, if you hiked in, and don’t have your flight out of Lukla already booked (I certainly wouldn’t want to hike out after hiking in), do so here in Namche through your lodge. The flight date is flexible, but if you need to change the date, make sure to call two days ahead of time.
From Namche, you can go in one of three directions – from least busy to most: up the Thame Valley to Renjo La Pass, up the Gokyo Valley to the lakes, or up the standard route to Everest Base Camp (“EBC”)/Kala Patthar. Whichever way you go, you can link them together. Trekkers doing the three passes route typically go up the Thame Valley, pass east over Renjo La, through the Gokyo area, over Cho La, up to EBC area, and over the final pass, Kongma La, before heading back to Namche, or, of course, doing that route in reverse (which would make for easier acclimatization but a significantly more crowded hike). If that sounds like a bit much, one can also ascend the Gokyo Valley, day hike to Renjo La, cross over Cho La and up to Kala Patthar, and then quickly descend down the busiest of the three routes, which is the route we chose to take. Generally, the packaged tour groups go up to EBC and back down, occasionally tacting west over the Cho La Pass and then descending through the Gokyo Valley. Your options are basically to do a big loop (Three Passes 22+ days), a small loop (Gokyo-Cho La 18+ days), or an up and back (EBC/Kala 13+ days). If your head is spinning, just take a look at a map of the region, orient yourself spatially, and you’ll be fine.
The mountains after Namche begin rise from the ground quickly and you’ll bear witness to some of the most dramatic natural beauty to be seen on the entirety of planet earth. Soak it in, take a lot of pictures, appreciate your time here, but also plan on getting sick, sleeping poorly, feeling tired, and taking an extra rest day here or there. You’ll be high on the views, but also be prepared for whatever emotional toll results from the physical pounding put on your body. Personally, I really like to plan the hell out of something before I embark on it, but understand that you need to know very little to do this…it’s a lot less complicated than you might think. Read on below for some additional lessons learned, do’s and don’ts, estimated costs, a gear list, and some FAQs.
- Day 1: KTM – Phaplu (Jeep)
- Day 2: Nunthala
- Day 3: Bupsa
- Day 4: Charikharka
- Day 5: Monjo
- Day 6-7: Namche (2 nights, sick and acclimatizing)
- Day 8: Khumjung
- Day 9: Dhole
- Day 10: Machhermo
- Day 11-13: Gokyo (3 nights, 2 day hikes – Renjo La and Gokyo Ri)
- Day 14-16: Tagnak (3 nights, got sick)
- Day 17: Dzongla
- Day 18: Gorak Shep
- Day 19: Pangboche
- Day 20: Namche
- Day 21: Lukla
- Day 22: Lukla – KTM (flight)
We did KTM-KTM in 22 days, but this loop could be done in as little as 18 days, if one were to stay only one day in Namche, do Gokyo Ri early before going to Tagnak the same day, and not get sick in Tagnak. Regardless, one should plan for at least 20 days out here in case of the inevitable. Reference this map for a visual of our route.
Timing is everything.
We started our trek in early October (3rd) and finished in late October (26th), so we saw things during the peak of high season. The Gokyo-Cho La route was a bit crowded between Lukla and Namche and then again coming back down from Gorak Shep. Otherwise, the crowds were minimal. Lukla to EBC and back would be another story altogether, crowded the entire way. Unless you only want to do EBC/Kala Patthar, the crowds during high season shouldn’t deter you. Until you’re on the EBC path, the crowds should be bearable and no matter where you are, you should be able to find a bed for the night. Trekking in the springtime may be very different, but I doubt it. Although October and November is high season for trekking, April and May is high season for climbing, with virtually all Everest ascents happening during May. It’s a “good” time for trekking too because of the good weather, but just be prepared for a deluge of porters, crowds, and haul-donkeys and yaks during this time.
If I had to change anything about the timing, I’d have started our trek a bit later. Monsoon season typically runs through September, and when we were there it lagged into early October. By mid October, the skies were much clearer and risk of rain much lower. Starting in mid-October would have helped avoid the lagging monsoon. Because, after all, what’s the point of coming all the way here if you can’t see above the clouds?!
To that point, even after the rain broke and the skies cleared, clouds systems vary in their regularity but are always very fast moving and can come up on you out of nowhere. Generally speaking, once the monsoons end, the early mornings are crystal clear, with clouds beginning in the late morning and blanketing the sky completely by late afternoon. This is the norm but there are just as many exceptions, with cloudy mornings and clear sunsets to be had depending purely on luck and fate. I’d recommend starting out on the trail as early in the morning as is comfortable so you can have your best shot at the best views.
Speaking of the exceptions to the norm, if you have an evening that is looking particularly clear, jump on it and get as high as possible as you can to enjoy the sunset. Most sunsets are obscured by clouds, but if the mountain gods are holding them at bay, this may be your only chance to see an alpen glow sunset. Don’t let it slip through your fingers.
Plan, but realize it WILL change.
This is coming from someone who attempts to orchestrate nearly everything on his travels, so know that if I can change from my original plans, so can you. First, let me say that one does not need to plan very much at all for this. One needs only allow themselves as much time as they think they could possibly want to stay in the region, and then add on a few days for emergency sake: flight delays, health issues, changes in route, etc.
I was afraid that, without knowing the area, I may miss something if I didn’t research the hell out of it. But let me assure you, they’ve got it covered. The region is very easy to navigate, the towns are so close together, the lodges are so plentiful (no need to prebook), and everyone on the trail can guide you in whatever way your map tells you to go. So worry not, you’ll be fine, even if you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping when you get there – you’ll sleep where you are, it’s that simple.
A few caveats to that overture: First, do look into the region. Google image EBC to see what it actually looks like before setting your sights on it. Google the Three Passes Trek to determine if have it in you to complete what is unanimously thought of as the premier route of the region. Consider the route options I mentioned above (in Quick and Dirty) but then look at a map and consider what else is possible, in terms of day hikes off your main route. All you really need to know is how you’re getting there and away, which is outlined above in (Q&D).
Dal Bhat (white rice, lentil soup, and vegetable curry) is the local fare here and it’s what all the porters and guides eat. The nice thing about it is that it’s refillable, so you get two plates for the price of one. Don’t think that two people can just get dal bhat though, as the lodges will obviously see that as cheating the system.
When ordering food, whether it’s lunch or dinner (not so much breakfast), expect it to take a painfully long time, sometimes in excess of an hour for your food to come. To get around this, preorder you dinner and breakfast at your lodge and order fast and easy things for lunch (since you can’t preorder it…you’ll get it in whatever town you’re passing through at lunch time), such as fried rice or fried noodles, noodle soup, or fried potatoes, to name some of our favorites. And go to a lunch spot that isn’t ridiculously crowded, with the understanding that even the empty places will probably take a long time too.
Since food is probably the biggest expense up there, it wouldn’t hurt to bring some things to supplement your meals. You’ll be burning a lot of calories so things like protein powder (not available in the region) and peanuts (not readily available after Khumjung) would be smart to bring along. Also, a candy bar that could be had for 50 rupees in Kathmandu can cost you 300 rupees in Gorak Shep, so bring a bit of candy/chocolate, and use it sparingly.
Guides and Porters
It’s completely up to you as to whether you hire a guide or not. We did not. But here are some things to think about before booking that prepackaged tour, hiring that guide in Kathmandu, or going it on your own.
Guides are not necessary, particularly if you are going in either of the primary trekking seasons – fall and spring. The trail is fairly straightforward (and your maps.me can guide you as all of these trails shows up on this offline, downloadable app) and even in the worst case scenario, snow at high elevations, there are so many other people that you can simply follow them or their footprints. Low low season (Jan-Feb) may be another story.
Prepackaged guided tour groups are typically the most expensive option and can actually increase your risk at high altitudes. Since everyone in the group has to maintain the same pace (sorry happy snapper photographers, you’ll be perpetually bringing up the rear), some people are forced to go faster than they actually should. Everyone’s body is different and some people require more time to acclimatize at higher elevations. If someone is forced, by the pace of their group, to go too high too fast, they can get sick, sometimes very sick, and have to abort the trek, sometimes at a very steep price. If it’s HACE or HAPE, rather than just severe AMS, you’ll be helicoptered out of there at a hefty $1500. We saw rescue helicopters buzzing the valley every day.
Just because the packaged tours kinda suck, doesn’t mean that getting a guide isn’t a good idea. The benefits of hiring a guide (say, in Kathmandu or Lukla) include more of your money being injected into the local economy and guides can also tell you a bit about Nepali culture. Guides typically run about $20-30 per day, depending on if you will be paying for their food and room or not. Porters can also be hired for about $15 per day and they are limited to carrying 35 kilograms (nearly 80 pounds) of gear, which means that a porter could be carrying most of the items of a party of four. Crazy, right!? Sometimes you can find someone to be a porter-guide, who will carry some of your things and walk with you, most of the time for about the same price as a normal guide would charge. But porter guides generally don’t have the same level of English and are less experienced. If I were to hire a guide, I’d probably buddy up with the coolest people at my hostel in Kathmandu or on my plane ride to Lukla, find a guide together when we get there, and share the cost. If you’re hiking in, I’m guessing you probably don’t want a guide anyway, but if you do, KTM is probably the place to find one.
Hiking individually doesn’t have any inherent drawbacks that I can tell, unless you don’t want to carry your own gear. Typically, you’ll meet up with people at your lodge and hike with them the next day, forming friendships as you soldier on together. This can be the case for packaged tour groups as well, but indy trekkers get to pick who they hike with. Indies can also can make their own route, go at their own pace, and have the peace of mind that they’re carrying all of their own gear. Lastly, everyone, locals and foreign trekkers alike, speaks enough English to get by on your own.
Do’s and Don’ts.
- Do rent sleeping bags in Namche instead of Kathmandu. This applies if you’re hiking in. If you’re flying in, it doesn’t matter so much since you won’t be hauling them that far.
- Do bring a pillow case. The pillows in the lodges are of questionable cleanliness. When you have people from all over the world coughing throughout the night into their pillows, just think of the health implications.
- Do carry as little as possible. You don’t need that extra pair of pants, that chromebook, or anything else at all that will weigh you down. Your bags should weigh about 10 kilos (22 lbs) sans water.
- Do bring Diamox (Rx from home country doctor or buy in Thamel grocery store). If nothing else, ½ tab in the am and pm will help you sleep at night. For that matter, 100-200 mg of ibuprofen also helps with sleep. And while we’re on the subject of sleep, propping your head up at night with something under your pillow aids in breathing, particularly at higher altitudes.
- Do consider bringing a Rx of ciprofloxacin, as bacterial illness is more common than viral.
- Do stay on the inside of the trail when passing or being passed by donkeys or yaks. Otherwise, you’re apt to get knocked down the hillside or off the cliff.
- Don’t do Gokyo Ri at sunrise or sunset. You’ll miss the detail on Everest in the early morning (sun angles) and the view of the lakes at sunset (clouds). Go mid-late morning. If you’re conditioned, it should take 90-120 minutes.
- Don’t buy the nasty rehydration packets from the grocery in Thamel, bring them from home instead. These will be helpful as food poisoning, etc. is not uncommon.
- Don’t bother bringing a compass. You can always just load a compass app on your smartphone. And if the weather is so bad that you can’t tell where you’re going, turn back and wait it out.
- Don’t bring a sleeping bag liner. You’ll be sleeping in your clothes (which will be grody) the whole time anyway.
- Don’t just go to EBC/Kala Patthar and back if you can possibly help it. That route is the most crowded and you miss what I think is the most beautiful area, Gokyo.
Base costs per person (Unavoidable)
- 4000 Nepal Visa on Arrival
- 2500* Airport transfers/taxis (500 each way x minimum 5 taxis required)
- 2000 TIMS card
- 3400 SNP Pass
- 300 Trekking map
- 2000 Jeep Transport to Phaplu
- 38,000** Lodging and meals/food for 21 days (20 trekking), route: Phaplu to Gokyo, Cho La, Gorek Shep, Lukla
- 2000 Misc costs (internet cards, power charging, etc)
- 18,000 Flight out of Lukla
Total base cost = 72,200 rupees = $687 per person / 21 days = $33 pp per day
- $100* Steripen (saved us at least $100 in water costs on trek alone)
- $170 Trekking gear purchase/rental (could bring all gear from home if you had it and if this was one-off trip for you)
- $60* 4 nights accommodation (2 before + 2 after) in Kathmandu
- $50 Food and snacks during 4 additional days in Nepal
Total additional costs = $380
Total full cost = $1067*** per person / 25 days = $43 pp per day
*This cost can be shared between two or possibly more people.
**represents half of what the two of us spent combined (75,000 rupees on food and $340 on gear for two people)
***Doesn’t include cost of round trip return flight to KTM from home country
(105 rupees = $1 USD as of 10/16)
Gear list (per person)
- 1 60L backpack (could have been smaller)
- 1 rain fly
- 1 pair hiking boots
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 pair dark tinted, UV filter sunglasses
- 1 Nalgene water bottle (1+ liters)
- 1 set trekking poles
- 1 head torch with extra batteries
- 1 sleeping bag (rating depends on preference and season)1 trekking map of the region (the free smartphone app, maps.me is a good supplement to your paper map)
- 1 ultra light day pack
- 2 quick dry t-shirts (alternatively one may elect smartwool / merino wool)
- 1 quick dry long-sleeve base layer
- 1 fleece pullover
- 1 pair hiking pants (with zip offs to shorts)
- 3 pairs hiking socks
- 3 pairs underwear
- 1 pair camp shoes (crocs)
- 1 sun cap
Cold Weather Clothing
- 1 down sweater/jacket (600+ down count)
- 1 pair thermal pants
- 1 pair wool socks
- 1 pair thin thermal gloves
- 1 pair water/windproof outer gloves
- 1 stocking cap
- 1 buff
- 1 bottle diamox (25 tablets)
- 1 bottle ibuprofen
- 1 sheet ciprofloxacin (Rx) tablets (for bacteria stomach infections)
- 1 small bottle sunblock
- 1 very small tube of petroleum jelly (To protect it from the cold, dry air, coat the inside of your nose at night.)
- 1 roll of lip balm, SPF 30+
- 1 small bag toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, 1 bar soap, floss, small deodorant)
- 2 sets ear plugs
- 1 eye mask
- 2 rolls extra toilet paper (It is not complementary in the shared bathrooms and gets quite expensive higher up.)
- 1 small bottle of hand sanitizer
- 1 smartphone and charging cable
- 1 small ipod with earbuds (loaded your favorite pump up/rhythmic music and podcasts)
- 1 digital camera (I brought Sony a5000 and kit lens only) and spare battery
- 1 solar charging battery pack (From Lukla on up, charging costs $.)
- Apps: kindle, maps.me, compass, some podcast downloader/player
Other Misc. Items
- 1 bag of flavor packets (1 packet per day)
- 1 bag of rehydration packets (1 packet per day)
- 1 double bagged baggie of protein powder
- 1 pillow case (the pillows in the lodges are questionably clean)
- 1 small-medium sized quick-dry towel
- 2 handkerchiefs (one for nose blowing – constantly, and another for filtering the particulates out of your water)
- 2 bags peanuts (because, sometimes lunch isn’t as close as you’d like. Note, after Khumjung, peanuts are hard to find and expensive.)
- 3 bars of chocolate
- 6 large ziplock bags
- TIMS Card & National Park Pass
- Passport and copy of passport
- Credit card and ATM card
- Cash: at least 80,000 rupees for two people (see Estimated Costs above)
- What if the lodges are full, will there be beds for us?
- There will be beds. We were there in the peak of high season and it was never a problem. The only caveat being in low season, some of these towns may shut down completely. If that’s the case, you’ll need to push on to the next town that has lodges available (or turn back), but make sure to stay an extra night if you exceed 1000 feet in elevation gain for the day.
- If we trek on our own, how will we know where to go?
- It’s pretty dang obvious. Refer to your trekking map and maps.me. Ask locals and other trekkers on the trail.
- How do we get the Jeep to Salleri?
- As stated above, go to the Cabahil bus station (30 minutes east of Thamel) well before 5:00 am and pay 2000 rupees.
- How do we get the plane tickets from Lukla?
- Buy them in advance online, at your hotel in Kathmandu, or if you elect to hike in from Jiri or Salleri, at your lodge in Namche. They will be about the same price all three places. No matter where you buy them, make sure you have a Nepali contact number to phone if you need to change the date of your outbound flight. Call at least 2 days in advance to change.
- How fast can the various circuits be done?
- Three Passes from Salleri to Lukla: 22+ days. Salleri to Gokyo with two day hikes, over Cho La to Kala Patthar (no EBC) and fly out of Lukla (our route): 18+ days. Lukla to EBC/Kala Patthar to Lukla: 13+ days. Plan for at least two additional days though…weather and illness can manifest themselves at the most inconvenient of times.
- Where are the most off the beaten path areas of the Khumbu-Everest Region?
- Of the area in which we trekked, the least visited areas are the Thame Valley, the Chukung spur, and upper Gokyo lakes (4th – 6th) spur. There are many more areas, such as the Tumlingtar walk in (far to the east of Salleri, which has tea houses) and others further afield (that don’t) that are even less frequented. Check out this map for an idea. The red lines are the major routes and the dashed lines are the minor routes. Note: This map is not entirely accurate as some villages are not accurately placed and others are missing entirely.
- What books should I load on my smartphone kindle app before I go?
- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Icebound by Dean Koontz, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and if you’re a fast reader, read them in that order.
- How much cash will I need to bring with me?
- See the cost breakdown above. The cash required as your feet hit the trail, assuming you took our route, would be a minimum of 80,000 rupees for two people. This assumes that you’ve bought your flight home already or have a credit card that you can use to buy it in Namche (like we did at a 4% markup). It wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring a little extra dough though.
- How cold is it?
- That depends on when and where you go. Wikipedia Namche Bazaar to get the climate data (temps and rainfall) for the time of year you plan to trek. When we went in high season (October), it was warm enough up to Namche that we didn’t need sleeping bags. Jenna is small, so she was able to fold the blankets in the lodges in half and basically have a double blanket, so she got away with using a three season bag, even up in Gorak Shep, where it got down to about freezing in the room at night. During the day, if the sun is out, it’s hot, even up at 17,000 feet in Gokyo. Plan for temps that vary considerably.
- What are the must sees?
- That’s purely subjective but some of my favorite parts of the trek were the countryside near Karikola (before Bupsa on the “lowland” portion before Lukla), the high village of Khumjung is an actual authentic village (rather than one made just for trekkers) and is just above Namche, and Renjo La Pass, Gokyo Ri, and Kala Patthar offer the most stunning views.