Alternate Routes for the Everest Base Camp trek

by Alan Stock

The stunning Himalayas lure thousands of visitors every year to make the epic Everest Base camp trek, a demanding trek taking you to the top of the world. It passes through quaint Sherpa mountain villages and has spectacular views of the Himalayan range, and of course, Mount Everest itself. But whilst many trekkers know they want to make the trip to Base Camp, they may not realize that there are a lot of different ways to get there.

Most trekkers follow the “classic” Everest Base Camp  trek route - the most direct and fastest path up the mountains. They usually fly from Kathmandu to the town of Lukla and head roughly north in a beeline to the highest mountain in the world. Check out our article for a detailed look at the classic Everest Base Camp route . But there are a number of side-trips available off the classic route which some trekkers may want to consider. On top of that, there are epic trails such as the Gokyo Lakes circuit which connect to the classic Base Camp route, allowing you to have a longer or more challenging trek offering different experiences and scenery. In this article we’re going to look at the main additions and alternative routes to reach Everest Base Camp so you know all the options!

Classic Route Addition - Chukhung Valley

From the village of Dingboche on the classic route, an eastern path ascends to Chukhung valley which sports impressive views of huge glaciers, ice formations and lots of yaks! Most visit this as a side trip to acclimatize and then return to Dingboche after a day or two. The village of Chukhung has accommodation and from here you can climb Chukhung Ri, a small peak with incredible views of Lhotse and other Himalaya, or its higher sibling Chukhung Hill. There are a number of other hills in this area that are suitable for day hikes and used by various tour operators for acclimatization.

A quiet and challenging route as you ascend to Everest Base Camp is to take a shortcut from Chukhung though the Kongma La Pass which takes you to Lobuche further up the classic trail, instead of returning to Dingboche. The pass is even higher than Everest Base Camp (over 5500m!) and is even more physically demanding than the standard EBC trek, so really don’t consider this option unless you are suitably fit and properly acclimatized for it. On the plus side, the views from this route are amazing!

Classic Route Addition - Kala Patthar

Three trekkers climbing Kala Patthar in the Solokhumbu region of Nepal. Snow covered field surrounded by the icy Himalayas

Trekkers climbing Kala Patthar in the Solokhumbu region of Nepal. Photo by Stephen Wolfe

From the Gorak Shep village - close to Everest Base Camp - many trekkers like to ascend the western peak of Kala Patthar. The reason? It has one of the best views of the entirety of Mount Everest, from Base Camp to summit, and amazing panoramic views of the whole mountain range. Many ascend in the dark to catch the sunrise over Everest, an unforgettable experience. This optional climb is one of the hardest in the Everest Base Camp trek but is very rewarding and only takes a few hours. Many tours include a Kala Patthar sunrise summit on the day after visiting EBC, to get a final look at Everest up close before descending the EBC trail for the rest of the day.

Everest Base Camp via Gokyo Lakes

Duration 18-25 Days

A view from Gokyo Ri down to pristine blue waters in the valley between the Himalayan mountains

Stunning views greet those choosing to reach the Everest base camp via Gokyo Lakes Photo by Sebastian

This is a popular alternative route to the classic Everest Base Camp trek. Gokyo Lakes is a longer but very beautiful circuit which takes you to the west of Everest, around the beautiful mountain lakes of Gokyo. It links back to the classic Base Camp trek in a few places, so it’s possible to add it on, but is so popular some trekkers just do this circuit, or variants of it without even visiting EBC.

The views of Everest and the Himalayas from the Gokyo Lakes region are unparalleled. It's also a much quieter and peaceful path than the classic route. As a circuit, it has the bonus that by adding this onto your EBC trek, you will be doing a minimum of backtracking. It requires extra fitness due to its length and steep paths.

Assuming that you do the Gokyo leg on the way to EBC (some tours do it on the return instead), once reaching and acclimatization at Namche Bazarre along the classic route, you will strike west. The trail is as long and varied as the classic route, passing through small villages down canyons, over steep passes and through valleys before eventually reaching the blue lakes and meadows of Gokyo village. A common side trip here is to climb the peak of Gokyo Ri for great views. Many treks include extra days in this area for resting, acclimatizing and visiting nearby lakes, mountains and villages.

After traversing one of Nepal’s largest glaciers is a steep climb over the impressive, very high (5500m) and often icy Chola Pass , before descending quickly to Leboche where you rejoin the classic EBC trek route.

Notable variants of this route incorporate a couple of parallel branches from the classic EBC route which head north from the villages of Phortse and Phortse Tanga directly up to Gokyo, through the Dudh Koshi valley. These therefore cut the larger Gokyo lakes circuit roughly in half and so can create shorter loops and also allow skipping of some of the high passes. Many tours mix and match these side branches, the classic EBC trek and the Gokyo Lakes circuit in different ways.

Gokyo Lakes variants in any form receive a lot of praise and is definitely worth considering if you have the time and fitness to tackle that as well as EBC.

Everest Base Camp 3 Passes Trek

Duration 18-25 Days

Ice covered Imja Khola valley on the left under shade with the sun shining on Kangtega on the right with no snow

Kongma La in the early morning, looking at the Imja Khola valley still under shade with the sun already shining on Kangtega. Photo by Davide

This route combines the Gokyo lakes circuit, the classic Base Camp route and the Chukhung valley side-trip. It’s named due to the three high passes you climb over during the trek. Assuming it’s done clockwise, it starts by looping around from Namche Bazarre, eventually crossing over the Renjo La pass (5300m) before descending to Gokyo. Then you continue the Gokyo lakes circuit heading west over the Cho La pass (5300m) and join the classic Base Camp trail to reach EBC.

On the way back, you diverge from the classic route at Lobouche to cross the Kongma La pass (5,500m), pass through Chukhung valley and rejoin the classic route at Dingboche for your descent to Lukla. Obviously, this is a demanding trek requiring a lot of stamina and fitness, but your rewards will be fantastic views, almost no backtracking, and the fact that you will cover all the main highlights of the Everest trails. The Everest Three Passes trek is definitely recommended if you are up to the task and have the time and money to do so.

Jiri to Everest Base Camp Trek

Duration 17-26 Days

For those who want to extend their EBC trek in a different way, you may want to consider the popular variant starting from the villages of Jiri, Shivalaya or Bhandar, about an 8 hour drive from Kathmandu. This is the traditional route which early Everest expeditions followed, adding a significant extra leg (around 6-8 days) to the classic Base Camp trek, which you join at Lukla or Namache Bazzare depending on the exact route.

This trek starts much lower down the mountains, giving you 5-10 days extra trekking through foothills and farmland as you ascend to the base of the Himalayas. There’s lots of great mountain views as well. This is a very quiet and secluded route, with only a few lodges and tea houses dotted amongst the villages. This gives you a chance to see local life and Sherpa culture in these regions, with very few tourists here, as well as a different landscape before you join the busy classic Base Camp trail.

The Jiri route is a bit of a rollercoaster, with a lot of up and downhills over ridges, descending steeply to rivers. It’s quite challenging in the leadup to the classic trek - as hard in places as anything you’ll experience on that route. On the plus side though, this trek gives your body lots of extra time to acclimatize and you will be nice and fit for the rest of the Base Camp trek.

Of course if you have serious amounts of time available, you could even add the Jiri leg to a longer trek like Gokyo Lakes or 3 Passes - now that will seriously tire you out!

Tumlingtar to Everest Base Camp Trek

Duration 17-26 Days

This addition is similar to the Jiri trek in that it starts in the lowlands, ends up at Lukla and adds around 5-8 days to the classic Base Camp trek. It begins with a short flight from Kathmandu to the small settlement of Tumlingtar. This is a very quiet route with few and basic lodges, although there are the occasional trekkers and tour groups that use this trail (mostly as part of the Malaku Base Camp trek - Malaku being the 5th highest mountain in the world). Like the Jiri route, it’s a great chance to take in the scenery and farming culture of the Sherpa and Rai people in the lower regions as you pass through the Arun valley and climb onto the Salpa trail, before entering the Everest Khumbu region around Lukla. Be aware that temperatures can get hot on this route, but also very cold at the tops of the passes you will cross!

Some trekkers like to ascend to EBC via the Jiri route, but finish their trek using this route to end at Tumlingtar. If you are going for a truly epic adventure, you can even use this route to combine Everest Base Camp with the Malaku Base Camp trek or Meru Peak climb!

So Many Choices!

Did you imagine there was so much choice in how to tailor your Everest Base Camp trek? There are many more side expeditions you can bolt onto an EBC trek than mentioned here, but we’ve covered the most popular. Hopefully this has given you some inspiration about what might be best for you. Do some research , check out some accounts, read some books , look at photos from these treks. Simply put, the more time you have, the greater your choices and options. Do remember that whichever route you choose, you must be well prepared for it, not only in terms of your equipment, like your boots, but also in terms of mental and physical fitness. If you are prepared, this will be the best trip of your life!

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