Everest Base Camp - 28.0023° N, 86.8529° E

The World's Greatest Hike: The Everest Base Camp Trek


, by Charlie Boscoe

Mount Everest en route to Everest Base Camp. Photography by: Daniel Prudek.

The trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is the best hike on Earth and undoubtedly the most famous. There are quieter hikes out there and treks that could claim to be more adventurous, but no trip can rival the EBC route for scenery. Everest itself (which, ironically, is hidden for much of the trip) is the star attraction, but the views of Ama Dablam (often referred to as "The most beautiful mountain in the world"), Lhotse, Nuptse, and Kangtega would all be worth the trip on their own. The Khumbu region is home to the highest and most spectacular peaks on Earth, and the EBC trek leads you right into the heart of them. 

The best times to make the trip are spring and autumn because winter is cold and snowy, and the summer is the monsoon. Spring is generally considered to be a little warmer, but the weather can be less stable than in the cold and dry autumn. Both options are popular, and going in spring does have the advantage that you'll arrive at Everest Base Camp in the middle of climbing season and will be able to watch teams as they attempt to summit the world's highest mountain.

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Before even reaching the mountains, the EBC trek provides some rich cultural interest because it starts in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu. This ancient city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world and one of the most interesting. Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, and Swayambhunath Monkey Temple are all fascinating, but the real joy of Kathmandu can be found in just strolling around and taking in the sights, sounds and smells. It is remarkable how Kathmandu can, in some places, feel like an assault on the senses, only to transform into a serene oasis when you turn a corner into a quieter street. Having a couple of days to explore Kathmandu is highly recommended and only adds to the overall EBC experience.

When it comes time to journey into the mountains, a flight into Lukla, the world's most dangerous airport, awaits. The flight is short, and the runway at Lukla is VERY short! At just 527 metres in length, only specially trained pilots are licensed to land on the runway, and when you experience arriving there for yourself, you'll understand why. The views from the flight are lovely, but there is an inescapable feeling of relief when you touch down safely and can begin to enjoy the mountains without the fear of the impending landing!

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From Lukla, there follows a couple of peaceful days strolling along a valley bottom alongside the Dhudh Khosi river. There are often high mountain views, but much of the interest in these early days lies in the forests and villages you hike through. Towards the end of day two, the trail crosses the high and somewhat intimidating Hillary Bridge and then begins climbing up to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, where you really feel as if you've entered the high Himalayas. On the way up to Namche is a viewpoint from where you can get your first glimpse of Everest, and once in that famous mountain village, the jaw-dropping views just keep coming. Taking a rest day in Namche to aid with acclimatization is a good idea, and it also allows you to visit the famous Everest View Hotel, which provides exactly what you imagine it will! The entire process of acclimatizing is a crucial element of the EBC trek, and we've got an article dedicated to the topic here.

Above Namche, you enter high mountain terrain, and the dense forests that line the Khumbu's lower valleys slowly give way to scrubby bushes and rocks. There are some famous landmarks on the trail, including Tangboche Monastery and the medical clinic at Pheriche (where a daily talk on altitude sickness is delivered, and well worth attending), but the main attractions are above, not around you. The snow-covered giants towering all around defy description, but they will meet and exceed your expectations ahead of the trek. The weather in the Khumbu is generally better in the mornings, so getting up early to watch the sun creep onto those famous peaks is an effort well worth making. You may get lucky and also enjoy some sunsets, but the clouds tend to build in mid-afternoon, so a pre-dawn start is usually the best guarantee of good views. It goes dark around 6 pm in trekking season, so even if you get up at 6 am, you still have plenty of time for a good night's sleep!

The scenery around you becomes increasingly desolate as you climb higher towards EBC itself. The air gets dryer, the flora reduces, and those prominent peaks just keep getting closer - the upper reaches of the Khumbu is a tough place, and the difficulty of reaching EBC becomes increasingly apparent. For those who make it, the satisfaction of reaching such a legendary landmark is fabulous, and the strange familiarity of scenery that you've studied on maps and photographs is jarring. Many people find the experience of reaching EBC emotional, but climbing the small, rocky peak of Kala Patthar at dawn is perhaps even more dramatic. Everest is actually hidden from view at EBC, but from Kala Patthar, you get a perfect look at the mountain's southwest face and summit ridge. Some would argue that Everest is one of the less attractive mountains in the Khumbu, but there's no doubt that it has an aura and an attraction all of its own. It might look like another huge peak amongst many others, but something about it draws you in. Give in to the temptation to sit and stare at it from Kala Patthar as the sun slowly illuminates it and the darkness fades away.

Having visited EBC and climbed Kala Patthar, all that's left is to descend into thicker and warmer air all the way back to Lukla. After being cold, short of breath, and likely nursing a mild headache for a week, the feeling of the discomfort easing is wonderful. Enjoy every step before toasting your success in one of Kathmandu's many fine eateries.

So, if your appetite has been whetted, here's the famous route!

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