It’s little surprise that over 40,000 adventurers travel on the Everest Base Camp trek every year. With its spectacular scenery showcasing the mighty Himalayas and serene, peaceful surroundings dotted with quaint mountain villages and prayer flags, there’s a lot to love on this trip to the top of the world. It’s quite a challenge too, with high altitudes and even at the shortest will take around ten days in total. This winning combination leaves trekkers tired but exhilarated, feasting on the incredible views of snow capped mountains (and of course Everest itself), dwarfing everything around them.
In this article we’re going to look in-depth at the “classic” Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek and what to expect on a day-by-day basis. This is the route that most trips to EBC take, and all of the alternative routes to reach EBC at least use some part of the classic route as well. We’ll also be looking at some of the optional side-trips and activities to expect along the way.
A trekker on the "classic" Everest Base Camp trek. Photo by John Clear
Duration 10 -18 Days
The “classic” route is the most straightforward and fastest way to get up to Base Camp, hence it’s popularity. All treks should stop at least twice for acclimatization to the increasing altitude on the ascent. It’s always worth investing in extra days where possible to stop and give your body a chance to adapt and reduce your chances of altitude sickness. Note that acclimatization days don’t usually mean a rest day - instead you’ll hike around the surrounding area giving you brain and body experience dealing with the lower oxygen levels up in the Himalayas.
This trip begins with a short 25 minute flight in a small plane from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, to the little airstrip in the mountain town of Lukla in the region of Khumbu, where most Everest expeditions begin. As there are no roads to Lukla, this saves a lengthy additional trek (which some itineraries include). Lukla is a hub town full of trekking accommodation and has one of the only hospitals in the region. Already you’ll be at over 2800m above sea level after some amazing mountain scenery on the flight.
From Lukla you hike through woods for around half a day up the Dudh Koshi valley to the village of Phakding. Some treks stop here to spend a day or two walking or resting in the area to acclimatize to the high altitudes.
A view of Namche Bazar nestled in the Himalayas. An essential part of the Everest Base Camp trek. Photo by Petr Meissner
Next steel yourself for probably the toughest leg of the trip, an 800 meter climb up steep inclines through green woodland to the bustling Sherpa hub of Namche Bazar (sitting at around 3,400m). Passing through a few small villages, farming huts and crossing many high suspension bridges, this will take the best part of a day. If you haven’t already acclimatized at Phakding, you will likely spend a day or two in and around this thriving tourist village to do that before the next big ascent.
A popular destination on acclimatization days is the Hotel Everest View (the highest in the world!) perched atop a nearby hill where you can appreciate the scenery with lunch and a drink. Yes, in this part of the trek you can catch your first glimpses of Mount Everest if the weather is good! There are also nearby villages such as Thame and Khumjung which both have monasteries to check out. A Sherpa Cultural Museum is another nearby attraction (but you have to hike uphill to get there!).
Once acclimatized, you continue to Tengboche and the largest gompa in the region, after another 600m rolling ascent through rhododendron forest. Some treks reach here via Thame, if you didn’t already cross it. From here, after passing through the village of Pangboche the path forks and you have two choices.
The first is to go via Periche, a village housing a Himalayan Rescue Association hospital for climbers that you can visit. This route goes over a barren pass before continuing to Dughla. Some people spend another acclimatization day here as it stands at over 4200m, and enjoy a hike to some monuments offering great views of the mountains and the valley below. It’s also possible to visit Tshola Lake and see the perpendicular Tawache and Cholatse Walls further up the valley. From Periche it’s only a few hours trek to Dughla, so often, trekkers push on if they’ve already acclimatized at Periche.
The second choice is to take the eastern path to Dingboche, a fairly easy hike with varied terrain, like Periche the landscape becomes more barren and you should see plenty of grazing yaks! Dingboche is characterised through many stone walls separating its terraced farming. The weather here is milder than the cold winds of the Periche leg, making it a more popular option. Also lying at over 4000m, many treks stop here for a day or two of acclimatization. Continuing onwards, Dingboche to Dughla is an easy and fairly flat hike of around 4 hours, taking you through the barren plains of the Khumbu Kola valley.
From Dingboche, some trekkers take a side trip to the eastern Chukhung valley to explore and climb peaks such as Chukhung Ri. It’s even possible to take a challenging shortcut from Chukhung through the Kongma La Pass, rejoining the trail at Lobouche. We’ll cover side-trips like this in more detail in a later article.
Most heavy loads in Himalaya are carried on yaks and their close relatives dzo (hybrid of yak and domestic cattle). When you meet these animals on the trail it's better to step aside (on a higher part of the trail) and wait until they pass. Photo by Valcker
This leg of the classic Everest Base Camp trek assumes you don’t take the Kongma La pass, and reach Dughla via Periche or Dingboche. It’s only a few hours walk up to the small village of Leboche, consisting of just a small number of lodges, with Mount Everest towering above. You will ascend a steep rocky trail through a pass with cairn memorials to climbers who met their fate on Everest. Resting in open ground at almost 5000m above sea level, and only a short way from Everest Base Camp, the huge mountains create an epic sense of scale. On the way you’ll also get your first look at the massive Khumbu glacier which continues up to EBC. Some trekkers will stay at Dughla depending on their itinerary, others will press on to Leboche or the next village, Gorak Shep, during the same day.
Continuing up along the rocky path the terrain gets rougher, but it’s only a few hours hike to Gorak Shep - all the while flanked by the mighty Khumbu glacier. The village of Gorak Shep is small and like Leboche just a collection of lodges for trekkers. A lot of trekkers stay overnight here before the final trek to EBC, alternatively they start from Leboche, reach EBC and then descend to sleep in Gorak Shep on the same day.
A popular trip from Gorak Shep and included in some tour packages is to climb the nearby peak of Kala Patthar which offers amazing views of Mount Everest and is often done in the early morning hours to catch an Everest sunrise.
The final leg of the ascent! Its around a 2-3 hour trek up to Base Camp and the same to return to Gorak Shep. Traversing a giant rock field, with plenty of ups and downs over boulders you’ll catch glimpses of Everest and eventually the dots of the tents at Everest Base Camp scattered on the mighty glacier before you. Depending on the season you may even see Everest climbing expeditions.
Before long you’ll have arrived at the prayer flags marking Base Camp, you are right at the foot of the tallest mountain in the world! Staying overnight at Base Camp, or visiting the notorious climbing section of Khumbu Icefall is only available with special permission - although a few tours offer this as an option, in which case you’ll be camping out on the glacier.
After celebrations and photographs, you’ll head back to Gorak Shep, probably by a different path, as the valley is vast.
The descent back to Lukla is of course much faster than the climb to EBC. It only takes a number of days to skip past the places you toiled by earlier. Many tours take this opportunity to stop off briefly at any villages or sights that weren’t covered during the climb, and some trekkers explore side routes or just take their time. If you head straight down to Lukla, it will only take around three days before you’re back in a little aircraft winging your way to Kathmandu.
Also, as a final note, remember not to underestimate the importance of acclimatization and rest days in your itinerary. They are vital to your health and the more of them you incorporate into your trek, the less likely you are to suffer from any altitude problems. The great thing is that during acclimatization days you can still be exploring villages and climbing peaks for amazing Himalayan views. Now you can get planning your EBC trek!