Know Your EBC: 7 Tips for the Independent Trekker
If you’ve traveled in developing countries before, you know that the internet offers little reliable information for travelers. The best you can hope for is a recent forum post from someone who has just done what you are looking to do – but still, that can be hard to find. Having just completed a 12-day hike to Everest Base Camp without a guide (practically unheard of on the Internet), I’d like to offer the following tips for fellow travelers interested in trekking to EBC.
1. You do not need to hire a guide or porter to hike in Nepal.
Whether hiking to EBC or around Annapurna and beyond, it is easy to trek independently.
You will need to obtain the appropriate park passes and TIMS card from the Tourism Board in Kathmandu a few days before you leave, but that is it (have at least $60 cash, your passport and 2 photos with you). So as long as you have the strength and fitness to carry your own pack, you’ll be fine! The trails are blatantly obvious and are filled with people to help you find the way. You can buy detailed maps in Kathmandu ($3-$5).
If you would like a guide and/or porter to make your hike easier, check out: 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking to support previously disadvantaged women now trained as guides.
2. Bring loads of cash.
Everything in the mountains (food, drinks, toilet paper, batteries, etc) becomes exponentially more expensive the higher you go up, and every year the prices are increased even more.
In May 2013, we hiked from Lukla to Base Camp and back again and spent an average of $17 per person per day (including lodging). It’s definitely possible to survive on $15/day, but having extra allows you to indulge in some luxuries along the way, such as a hot shower, battery recharge, or a pot of much desired hot tea at the end of the day. There are no ATMs, so plan ahead and have extra just in case you get stuck in Lukla. I’d recommend having enough cash to spend $22-25/day.
3. Carry your own snacks and order dal baht.
As I said, food is ridiculously expensive on the trail, and unfortunately, the portions are not proportional to the price.
Unless you order dal bhat. Dal bhat (the traditional nepali meal of rice, lentil soup and curry) is the only item on the menu that can satisfy a big appetite because they will always give you seconds. Stock up on snacks in Kathmandu before you leave (where they are a quarter of the price) to save some money and supplement the skimpy meals.
4. Bring lots of water purification tablets and a couple of water bottles.
Water, while it is everywhere along the trail, is not cheap and not clean (at least not clean enough for weak Western stomachs like mine). Save money and plastic bottles by bringing enough water purification tablets to make 3-5 liters of water per day per person. Adding some powder flavoring (called Tang in Nepal) is a delicious way to mask the chemical taste of treated water while getting some extra vitamins as well.
5. It is cold up there!! Bring a winter sleeping bag and warm layers.
I don’t know precisely how cold it was above 4000m in May, but it was definitely COLD. While the lodges can be great, most only get the wood stove going at 5pm – and that’s only in the restaurant.
Rooms are not insulated or heated. Pack accordingly: warm sleeping bag, fleece/down layers, cozy socks, hat, gloves, scarves, windbreaker. Also, batteries do not last very long (if they work at all) in extreme cold. I often kept my camera batteries in my sleeping bag at night or on my body during the day to warm them up and keep them working.
6. How many days it takes depends on you.
Most trekking agencies online say the minimum time needed to hike the return trip from Lukla to Everest Base Camp is 12 days, which is the recommendation we took. For us, 12 days was plenty of time to trek to Base Camp and back. Since we had perfect weather and no issues with illness or injury, we could have completed the there-and-back trek in 9 days, including a day to acclimate at the beginning. However, having 12 days was nice because it gave us flexibility to do two extra day trips and have short, easy days on the way down (helpful if you have bad knees). Of course, you can always spend more time and extend your itinerary to include Gokyo Circuit, Cho La Pass or Island Peak.
7. Book flights in advance and CHECK IN at Lukla the day before you depart.
Most people start the EBC trek from Lukla, which you can fly into from Kathmandu. Flights on Tara or Yeti Airlines (recommended) cost $132-$140 one way. Another reason to have a few days leeway built into your trip is that the unpredictable weather could cancel your flight for days at either end.
When you leave Lukla, you must check in with your airline the DAY before your flight before 4pm, otherwise they give away your seat (which is what happened to us, even though it was a fully paid ticket). The earlier in the morning your flight, the better, in terms of having good weather, as the afternoon flights tend to get canceled. Another option is to take a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri and hike to Lukla (adding another eight days one way). I haven’t done it, but I hear it’s great for experiencing Nepal without all the foreigners.
There you have it: first hand tips from the trail. Overall, the hiking itself is not difficult. It’s just the altitude that can hurt you. So go slowly, take AMS pills, drink water, acclimate, and enjoy the really, really, really big mountains!