Bucket Lists and Difficult Journeys

Trekking to Everest Base Camp – Are You Ready?

You don’t need to be an athlete nor a mountain climber.

You don’t have to be seasoned hiker either. For many people who trek to Base Camp it is their first experience of anything like this. I know because I was one of these people.

With Training Everest Base Camp is achievable for the average person

Training before you go is highly recommended. Your training is part of the bigger journey. It certainly was part of mine. The Trainer kept reminding me, you know the quote, the journey is not just about the destination. Oh and the question of age. I’m in my fifties and there were plenty of people older than me on the trail.

Above the yak pastures on the trail to Dingboche.
One of favourite days walking into Dingboche past yak pastures.

If you are healthy, have trained and mentally prepared Everest Base Camp is possible.

Main Everest Base Camp Trail

Great things are done when men and mountains meet. William Blake

Levels of Difficulty and Lessons Learnt on the EBC Trek

How difficult something is, is relative. Trekking to EBC might be a piece of cake for an extreme sportsmen or mountain climber heading for Base Camp to acclimatise there and climb Everest, but I’m not that person. I had never done anything like this trek previously. Never trekked, or hiked with a pack. However I did train for both treks (2013 and 2015) under the watchful eye of the Trainer (aka my husband) who had experienced the Annapurna area in the 80s and had a sense of what tracks and conditions would be like.

So my HARD DAY is from the perspective of someone who trained for six months prior to setting out for Everest Base Camp. The first 3 months was general fitness, lots of walking in hills and bike rides and then more targeted EBC training the 3 months before the trek with lots of hills and step training always in our gear with increasing weight in our day packs and me with my trekking poles. I would never leave home without my poles.

Most importantly our trek was designed using the altitude gain golden rule and we never ascended more than 300 metres per day. It is the altitude that makes the trek hard. We managed the altitude well with the help of Diamox had no problems.(Link to our experience with altitude and Diamox).

Every Day on the Everest Base Camp Trek is Different

Each day is a big day even if some days are a bit easier. There are big climbs and big views.

First up, a few general points :

  1. DOWNHILL means generally downhill, you go uphill to go downhill.
  2. Ditto for UPHILL.
  3. Downhill is harder than going uphill. Downhill impacts more on your knees. Trekking poles reduce the impact on your knees going down hill.
  4. It is much easier to slip going downhill, even without mud or ice involved, just pesky pebbles that you can slip on and then others to trip on as you gain momentum slipping down. Trekking poles are good for when this happens.
  5. My level of difficulty assumes six months steadily training building muscle strength and the last three months stepping up the training frequency and intensity. That’s what we did anyway. And I trained with my trekking poles gradually over the six months. Your muscles will let know it on the trek if you don’t. (Link to our EBC training program here).
  6. If you haven’t trained it will be very, very difficult increasing the probability of pain and blisters being involved. And it doesn’t matter how young you are. Young people need to train too.
  7. Just in case you haven’t got a main point. Get some trekking poles. Early. And train with them.

    It’s Not a Race

  8. It’s not a race – for those really competitive people out there. The photograph below is shows me, in the red jacket on Day 3 of our 2013 trek. We had left Monjo and entered through the gate of the Sagarmatha National Park.The afternoon before we had explored Monjo and I had seen an old woman in her eighties sitting on the door step of a house. The next day I saw the same woman at the top of the hill only she was carrying a basket of at least twenty large cabbages, probably weighing about 40 kilos. She passed me and this is her steaming ahead down the hill. Don’t try to pass or keep up. Learn the lesson and watch where and how the person overtaking you is  walking.
Old lady carrying cabbages

Still ahead of me with those cabbages

The More Difficult Days

Day 1 Lukla to Phakding

DIFFICULTY : Relatively EASY and DOWNHILL but read on

TIP 1 : Take it slowly – it isn’t a race. Take lots of rests

Retrospectively this day is an easy day. First days are big whether it is your first time or not. Day 1 – you are getting to used the walk and conditions. It might be a longer day because flights to Lukla can be delayed due to haze or fog. This happened to us for our 2013 Trek.

As a novice trekker starting out in 2013 Day 1 wasn’t what I would call EASY at the time. It didn’t seem like it was downhill and didn’t feel easy. And that was the Trainer’s Morning Trail Report prior to setting out from Lukla – a nice easy walk down hill. I spent some time muttering to myself about the unreliability of the Trainer’s Report.

Seasoned Trekker’s Tip :

A guy we met on his eighth or ninth trip to Nepal always had an agreement with his porter/guide to stay the night in the first available lodge. A town can be quite spread out. From the bottom of the town to the top can be quite an elevation. If you are trekking without a tour company but with a porter or porter guide and haven’t booked accommodation, walking backwards and forwards to checking out different lodges before deciding on where to stay at the end of the day can be tiring.

You will welcome your bed. I almost fell asleep at dinner and was in bed asleep by 6:30.

EBC Trek trail

Independent Trekking with a Porter/Guide Tip:

For our 2015 trek we took advice from the company in Kathmandu who organised our porter guide and took their suggestions for some lodges with the exception of our choice of lodges. On our trek to Gokyo in 2018 we stayed at the lodges where our porter guide had contacts the majority of the time. This worked well.

Day 2 Phakding to Namche Bazaar

DIFFICULTY : HARD day – it took us about seven hours plus an hour stop for lunch

TIP 2 : Packing your pack takes time, so get up early so you can start out early.

The 600 metres climb to Namche is hard. But you know ahead that it is, you can do it. Steel yourself. Mental preparation is everything. You will have done lots of incline training, outdoors hill training, step training and or lots of squats for this day. Plus you get some practice climbing up to the bridge first. And crossing the Sir Edmund Hilary bridge across the Dudh Kosi will give you an adrenalin kick to get you up the hill.

Actually getting into Namche Bazaar seems to take forever. The TIMS card check point where you sign in is still quite a way from Namche.

We learnt the Nepalese word bistari  on this day on 2015 Trek. Bistari bistari – slowly slowly

TIP : Leave space in your day pack for layers you take on and off during the day.

Fruit sellers climbing to Namche Bazaar EBC

Women selling fruit at the rest stop on the ascent to Namche Bazaar.

Day 3 Altitude Acclimatisation in Namche Bazaar

DIFFICULTY : EASIER day – especially after a hot shower

TIP 3 :  This is not a rest day it is an acclimatisation day – do the work

For our 2013 trek  I referred to this day as a Rest Day, from memory so did the Trainer. Possibly he didn’t want to scare me as I was tired. Mistake. We did walk to the top of the town around the helipad and monastery areas. Retrospectively we should have walked the Khunde and Khumjung circuit and climbed an additional 340 metres and come back down, which is the idea for an acclimatisation day, not resting. My advice if you are going on to Tengboche or Phortse for Day 4 is do the circuit. Khumjung is great and worth the walk. I still haven’t seen Khunde. It is a steep climb up and steep coming back down. Taking a guide will save you getting lost finding your way back to your lodge, Namche’s dead end paths can be a bit frustrating.

Track out of Namche Bazaar to Khumjung

One track out of Namche Bazaar to Khumjung taken from the Sherpa Museum September 2018

Day 5 Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (2013 Trek)

DIFFICULTY : HARD day – From  Namche Bazaar  you can take a short hard climb out of Namche or you can take the trail through Khumjung. We took the option straight out of Namche along the trail to Tengboche. After the ascent the path flattens out and there is a slow ascent to a stupa in memorial to Tenzing Norgay. A steep descent (600 Metres) down to the river follows then the relentless 800 m HARD climb to Tengboche. HARDER than the climb to Namche.

Ignore the signage which says Two Hours to Tengboche every two hours. It really should say Two Hours to the Next Two Hours to Tengboche Sign. The trek took as eight hours on this day. I really was not mentally prepared. The Trainer’s Morning Trail Report was wrong again. Not sure why.

TIP 4 :  Mental preparation is everything.

When you return  from Base Camp this same steep 800m ascent makes for a slippery descent so guess the next tip?

TIP 5 : Don’t leave home without your trekking poles. My advice is to purchase them at home and train with them.

On the trek to Tengboche also learnt another valuable lesson  – Two Hour to Tengboche post and you tube

Day Eight Altitude Acclimatisation Day in  Dingboche (2015 Trek)

DIFFICULTY : HARD morning then a restful afternoon

TIP 6 : Do this walk and climb as far as you can. It will help with the altitude.

EBC Trek Dingboche Ridgetop

As high as we went on the Dingboche Ridgetop

The acclimatisation day in Dingboche, just above the town to the Dingboche ridge-top is the standard acclimatisation day activity . It is a steep climb with such rewarding amazing views. Do it in the morning, take your time – bistari bistari – and you will be back in your lodge for lunch with the afternoon to rest and catch up with your social media posts to show your beautiful photos to all friends and followers over the best pastries ever. Yes Dingboche is a great place for internet access and has at least one great bakery – a great EASY activity for the afternoon.

Some trekking companies trek to Chukkung (4,360 m/14,290 feet) – 3 hours. This trekking company does a side trip to Chukkung.

Day Eleven Lobuche to Gorak Shep and Kala Pattar

DIFFICULTY : HARD DAY – for me the second hardest day

TIP 7 : Be mentally  prepared and enjoy it. Climbing that brown hill is HARD work.

Gorak Shep the end of the Everest Base Camp trek

Walking into Gorak Shep the end of the Everest Base Camp Trek

You need to start out early from Lobuche for a very full day. The trek to Gorak Shep is mostly flat with a few hills where you will have to rest, take a few photos when you do. We climbed Kala Patthar after a light lunch. For me it was the hardest climb, I guess because of the altitude. My legs were burning. The Trainer made it to the top before me and yelled out encouragement when I suggested I was happy not coming all the way to the top (the flag pole). He yelled out that it was what I had trained for. He was right I could and should come to the top. So I called on my reserves and joined him for the best view of the trek.

Day Twelve Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp to Lobuche

DIFFICULTY : HARD DAY – without a doubt the hardest. The day before is a big day too. Sleeping at the highest altitude and not getting a great night’s sleep. The side trips to Kala Patthar and then the walk into Base Camp is quite tricky.Then you pick up your day packs and walk back to Lobuche. Two big days back to back.

TIP 8: Get to bed early

The Itinerary is Key to Success

Most importantly our Everest Base Camp trek itinerary was designed using the altitude gain golden rule and we never ascended more than 300 metres per day. It is the altitude that makes the trek hard. We were fortunate and handled the altitude well with the help of Diamox.

For our 2015 trek we deviated from this route instead what we did was: –

Day 4 Namche Bazaar to Khumjung (2015) – this allowed us to see Khumjung. The weather stopped us from seeing Khunde. A night in Khumjung was in a sense another acclimatisation day at just a bit higher altitude. We were able to do this as we had originally planned to only trek as far as Monjo from Phakding but then we decided to trek all the way to Namche Bazaar. This meant we had another day up our sleeve.

Path to Khumjung Everest Base Camp Trek

The days following to Pangboche and Shomare depending on the number of days of your trek won’t standout as being particularly hard. If you are doing a shorter 10 or 12 day trek as opposed to 14, 15 or 16 days obviously your days will be longer and more tiring.

On our 2013 Trek the day’s walk to Tengboche was an undoing day for us. We did continue on to Pangboche and stayed the night there. The following day we walked to Shomare and decided to turn back. See the story here. On our second trek two years later when we made it to Everest Base Camp.

EASIER DAYS

Day Seven Shomare to Dingboche (2015 Trek)

One of my favourite days. The hill up out Shomare is steep but only a short distance not anything like the steep hills to Namche or Tengboche. The walk to Dingboche has lots of flat areas and wide paths. What I would call an EASY day.

Day Nine Dingboche to Dughla ( 2015 Trek )

EASY DAY  -Dingboche to Dughla is a short distance and an easy walk. Most organised treks don’t stay at Dughla and there are only two lodges there. We were sticking to the altitude ascending rule so there we stayed.

OTHERS THINGS CAN AFFECT THE LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY

Everest Base Camp Weather

The season you trek makes a difference to the difficulty. Trekking in November December can be cold. For our first trek everyone coming back down from Base Camp I had a cold. At night in the lodges everyone seemed to be coughing.

Getting Sick

Avoid meat and stick to a vegetarian diet on the trek. I also took Travelan on the trek. Starting tablets one per day before flying to Kathmandu. It can make you constipated by the end of the trek though.

Whether your destination is Everest Base Camp, Machu Pichu, Santiago de Compestela or Owner’s Corner (the destination of the Kokoda Trail), whatever your challenge, make it happen and make it soon. A journey like this is one of life’s highlights. It probably will leave you wanting more and reconsidering your usual travel plans to journeys which are not only about the place but also about the effort and amazing experience in getting there. Making the views and the experiences so much richer because of your effort.

If you have a bucket list, put an adventure with a challenging destination like Everest Base Camp on it. I don’t really have a bucket list. But if I did, Trekking to Everest Base Camp would be on it. But I could never cross it off the list because I am addicted.

If you are fit and reading this six months before the beginning of the one of the EBC trekking seasons it is not too late decide to go on the trip of a lifetime and trek to Everest Base Camp. Book your flight and start training. Buy your boots. Now. Just make the decision and do it.
Tara Air flight at Lukla airport

Unloading Tara Air flight at Lukla

Everest Base Camp Trek

Almost there! The infamous climb to Namche Bazaar almost finished.

Ready to go?

Follow the 2015 Trek   2015 Everest Base Camp Trek Independent Itinerary

If you need more convincing read 25 Reasons to Trek to Everest Base Camp

Visit www.thegreathimalayatrail.org

The Travel Doctor and Altitude Sickness

57 thoughts on “Bucket Lists and Difficult Journeys

  1. Pingback: Simple Not Basic | The Year I Touched My Toes

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  3. Wow. I used to hike a lot and I agree with your points about being prepared. The altitude was always a challenge for me for the first few days, but that’s how you get to those beautiful high places. Those mountains are intensely gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this blog. I’ve been looking for inspiration & training tips from a regular person & not someone who was already an athlete. I’m doing EBC via Gokyo Pass this coming October. When it’s all said & done I’ll have trained about 11 months but I still have terrible doubting thoughts that I may not be doing enough. Would love to chat more to hear your perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “I don’t really have a bucket list. But if I did, Trekking to Everest Base Camp would be on it. But I could never cross it off the list because I am addicted.” This made me laugh. I don’t have a bucket list, either, but there are things I’d like to do in this life. I’ve been lucky enough to do most of them before the age of 50. Haven’t done any major treks, however. No particular long-distance trail has called out to me. Yet. This one looks very challenging and awe-inspiring, so if I ever get the chance to do it, I will consult your posts rather than guidebooks. I know all to well about the unreliability of some guidebooks and signs along the path. Funny/maddening about the “2 Hours to…” signs. Like someone’s idea of a joke. Why put time instead of distance? Everyone walks at a different pace.

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  6. Yes I think the two hours must be a Sherpa two hours. This trek isn’t the most challenging of the treks. Lonely Plant rates it as medium not hard. A woman who has found me via my blog has just gone to base camp a few days ago. She printed my daily account of my treks and took it with her. She read it every day while she was away and said it was great.And has thanked me for it. That has been my best feedback ever. EVER.

    Like

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