I’ve just returned from three weeks in Nepal, most of the time on the Everest Base Camp Trek with my travel buddy. It is entirely possible to do this trek on your own, with no guide or porter, but it is definitely a little more difficult. We were unable to book flights to Lukla ourselves, so instead, the helpful staff at Yeti Mountain Home booked it for us (we also booked several nights’ stay at the end of our trip as a reward for ourselves). Each leg cost $160USD. PURCHASE TRIP INSURANCE! The weather at Lukla is very fickle and flights DO NOT land if it is rainy or cloudy! (It is the world’s most dangerous airport because of its crazy short runway!) Flights are cancelled and delayed all the time, even in what is supposed to be the “good” season. You’re forced to just sit and wait in the chaos of the domestic terminal for the day. Flights get officially cancelled at 3PM, at which point there is a mad rush of tourists to re-book, and locals trying to sell super expensive helicopter rides. You could try and reschedule your flight before the 3PM cut-off (so that you are actually able to get a new ticket, which we were too late for!) or you could just give in to the helicopter ride. The going rate is $500USD for one way, and they will always insist on having a full helicopter. They also won’t sell you a seat if they can’t ensure that they’ll have a full load of people coming back on that same helicopter. It is such a headache– it’s making my blood pressure rise even thinking about it again!
As reference, we were using the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalayas. The descriptions of the routes were very good, and the trails were well-marked anyways. Plus, porters and guides were typically very helpful anyways! The main gripe I have about this (as well as the Lonely Planet Nepal) is that the hike times were misleading. We’re both slow hikers, but I think even the most fit hikers would have a hard time matching up with the estimated book times! We spent about 5-7 hours hiking every day, not including breaks. We also made it a point to walk slow and steady, not getting too winded. Here is the itinerary we ended up with:
Day 1 – Lukla to Phakding
I think it’s best to give yourself 3-5 days on each end of your EBC trek and your international flights. We only gave ourselves one extra day, which meant that we had to start trekking as soon as we landed. Late afternoon flight + slow hikers + tight itinerary = potential for hiking in the dark! You are actually descending today, which was a little frustrating to me, especially since I knew we’d have to gain that and much more the next day.
Day 2 – Phakding to Namche
This was one of the hardest days of the trek. You are ascending about 1km in a matter of hours, and starting to feel the thin air!
Day 3 – acclimatization day at Namche
Whatever gear you need can be purchased here. There are shops that sell good quality knock-offs as well as legitimate brand-name stuff. I spent $40USD and bought a thick fleece, fleece gloves, a buff, poncho, rain cover for my pack, headlamp and batteries). You can also purchase Diamox without a prescription at the pharmacies here. If you have the space, stock up on snacks and toilet paper here. Prices get way more expensive as you get higher. Depending on how nice of a place you stay (ie, heated), you may or may not need to break out your sleeping bag.
Day 4 – Namche to Tengboche
Another rough day going uphill, almost as bad as going up to Namche! Didn’t help that we both had full-blown colds and it was raining the entire time either… we were too sick, cold and tired to visit the monastery. The monks chant every morning at 6AM and afternoon at 3PM.
Day 5 – Tengboche to Dingboche
The trail is quite pleasant compared to the previous two days. The trail gets steep at the end as it winds up the mountain. This is the day that you break the tree line.
Day 6 – acclimatization day at Dingboche
A lot of people use the day to make a day trip to the surrounding villages. Pheriche is a little lower and about 30-60 min’s hike away. A volunteer clinic gives talks on altitude sickness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here and in Pheriche. We paid 100 rupees (about $1USD) for a room with two beds and shared toilet. Hot showers are available for about $5USD, and meals cost about the same.
Day 7 – Dingboche to Lobuche
It is a few hrs’ hike to Dughla, which our book recommended we spend the night at. But we were feeling good, and anyway no one seems to stop in Dughla these days anymore. Definitely consider staying here if you are feeling the altitude, but keep in mind there’s only two lodges (just one of these caters to tourists). We stopped here for lunch instead (and by lunch, in our case was overpriced cookies). It is a very steep hike right as you leave Dughla, then just over the ridge there is a small flat area full of memorials of fallen hikers. The rest of the way is fairly level to Lobuche.
Day 8 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep to EBC
At our lodge in Lobuche, we encountered a lot of people on Diamox but still having some issues with altitude. Take it easy at this point. It’s a fairly challenging hike to Gorak Shep.
Day 9 – Lobuche to Pheriche
My travel buddy decided to wake up early this morning to climb Kala Pattar, which is the ugly giant mound of dirt you see across the sand bed from Gorak Shep. She said it was very steep and slippery, even on the “easy” trail. You can get great views of Everest from here (which you can’t from BC). She came back for breakfast, and we descended past Dughla to Pheriche, which is a pleasant walk along the stream after Dughla. We thought it’d be nice to have a change of scenery from Dingboche, plus Pheriche is lower too. It is also a lot more windy here, so don’t forget to cover your face.
Day 10 – Pheriche to Tengboche
This was one of the most pleasant hikes on the trip, not too hard, beautiful scenery, beautiful trail. It got a little hard at the end when we had to climb back up to Tengboche, but overall this was one of the easiest days on the trek. We also took a detour to one of the oldest temples in the region, in Pangboche.
(leaving Pheriche– you can see in this pic how much of a wind tunnel it is)
Day 11 – Tengboche to Namche
Day 12 – Namche to Lukla
This was by far, the longest day of this trek! We were originally planning on splitting this into two days, but it was right when the cyclone hit India which meant it was constant rain in the Himalayas. We hiked for 9 hrs non-stop, through the rain. Some people plan to do this in one day to begin with, but just keep in mind it is very long. There is a fairly steep ascent at the end when you get back into Lukla.
Miraculously, our flight back to Kathmandu actually made it out on time! We were apparently one of the few, before the rain came back in for the next few days! The Lukla airport is just as infuriating as Kathmandu’s domestic terminal. If you have a buddy and no guide to do this for you, have one person stand in line to check in and have another person go to the back of the room (near the entrance) to pay the departure fees. Don’t forget to get receipts, because they’ll need it at the check-in counter. The staff have a tendency to blow you off and just nod yes to whatever questions you have, so be adamant and direct about your questions (but not rude). There happened to be a large group of people who were also flying out from our hotel, so the hotel offered an agent to collect our tickets the night before to re-confirm and then get us on the boarding list. But unfortunately being lumped into this large group meant that we got bumped from our 7AM flight (luckily multiple planes came in at the same time and we were still able to leave on time). So the bottom line for Lukla’s airport is that, confirmations don’t mean anything! Be prepared to spend the day at the airport. It was such a headache that it was threatening to undo all the magic of the trek itself! Ugh.
What I used:
- one trekking outfit (underwear, hiking pants, base tank top, light pullover fleece, thick zip-up fleece which I usually ended up tying around my waist by mid-afternoon)
- waterproof shoes or boots (some people wore running shoes which would normally be ok without rain, but there are streams you have to cross, which turn into small rivers when it rains!), one pair of thin liner socks and one pair of thick wool mountaineering socks
- one sleeping/teahouse outfit (long underwear, long sleeve shirt, down jacket)
- down sleeping bag (mine was rated -6C/22F and I was very happy with it)
- fleece gloves, buff, poncho, trekking poles, goretex gaiters, trekking poles
- sunblock, chapstick with spf, vaseline, eye-drops, face and body wipes, towel
- energy gummies, NSAIDs (your knees WILL be angry!), blister prevention/care
- one 1L wide-mouth nalgene bottle
- camp soap for the occasional shower and hair washing, toothbrush/paste
- toilet paper (I bought as I went, the space wasn’t worth buying all at once in Namche)
Other miscellaneous tips:
- BOOK TRAVEL INSURANCE. I was told over and over again that the flight cancellation going out to Lukla counts as “trip interruption” and that I should be able to get the $500USD helicopter ride covered. I’ll be starting that process soon so I can’t vouch for it just yet, but it’s a good idea to purchase travel insurance anyways. Someone on our helicopter ride developed heart problems and had to get airlifted out! Other horror stories we heard along the way: someone slipped because they weren’t paying attention as they were looking up, and ended up breaking several ribs. Another girl developed bad altitude sickness at Gorak Shep but it was at night so a guide had to put her on a donkey and take her back down to the next village.
- Don’t do any sightseeing in Kathmandu until after you get back, if trekking is your main goal of the trip! Just make sure you have enough time to do the trek and fit in sightseeing you want to at the end of the trip so that if your trip gets delayed by a few days, you will still have that buffer.
- Make sure you have at least 6000 rupees when you go to the TIMS office in Kathmandu. We thought you could pay in USD but that’s not the case!! Rupees only! It is a frustratingly redundant process. You can’t get the TIMS card and permit at the same time. You have to get the card first, then your permit. It’s a lot of waiting around, and filling forms out in a cramped area with minimal table space. You’ll need a passport photo (don’t forget to get an extra one for the visa when you first arrive in Nepal as well– there is a photo booth but spare yourself the extra waiting time).
- Bring a Nalgene bottle and every night before bed, order hot water for it. Stick it in your sleeping bag at night! Boiled water costs way less than bottled water anyways.
- Bring multiple copies of flight tickets. I’m OCD so I always bring at least two but in our case, there are so many random airport officials that I found myself wishing I had at least 3-4 copies.
- Try to get the cell phone of whoever booked your Lukla flight. Some airport officials are helpful but are out of the loop, so having them be able to call an agent (if you don’t have a guide) cleared up a lot of confusion.
- Let porters and yaks pass. Step over and hug the mountain– don’t step towards the edge for obvious reasons!
- When we stopped for lunch, teahouses made everything from scratch. This means delicious food, but also meant that we usually ended up stopping for 1-2 hrs. We eventually gave up on stopping for lunch and just snacked on candy and energy gummies along the way. You can buy bars and candy there, but I didn’t see anything like energy shots or gummies or goo’s for sale anywhere, so bring those from home.
- A lot of lodges have a book area so you don’t have to burden yourself with bringing your own book, especially if you’re carrying your own stuff!
- All the lodges we stayed at had some form of bed and heavy blanket. This was never enough, so supplement with your sleeping bag. Also bring your own towel, though you’ll get to a point when it’s too cold to shower anyways! Many lodges have the option of a large bowl of hot water to wash yourself off with, if you want to just do a quick wipe-down.
- It gets VERY dry. Bloody noses are not uncommon. At one point I was so desperate I put Vaseline up my nose! Some parts get very windy too. We both got very bad wind and sun-burned lips!
- You’re going to get stinky and dirty and you’re going to get wet. Dirty and stinky is fine, and if you get wet, just dry it out by the stove in the common area at every lodge. Also, everything is either very dusty (especially when a group of yaks come by and kicks everything up) or very muddy.
- Don’t forget to plan for blisters and hot-spots! I taped all my hot spots up and never got any blisters, even with– I know this is horrible– hiking boots that I hadn’t had a chance to break in before the trek!