How to Prepare for Everest
A complete do-it-yourself guide
to trekking to the world's tallest mountain
When I fist told my parents I was trekking to Mount Everest, they were understandably a little worried. When I told them Dain and I were forgoing guides and porters and tackling the trail alone, they were freaked.
I'm not here to make light of the Everest Base Camp trek; in fact, my attitude going into the hike was way too cavalier. I was ignorant of how many people get acute altitude sickness, how many get airlifted back to Kathmandu for medical treatment, and the toll the climb takes on your body. Many people like myself assume they're in great shape, careful enough to stay healthy, and frankly smarter than those who fall ill and can't make it. To those reading this guide, attack EBC with this mindset: you can totally do it, but respect the mountain and stay safe!
What to Expect
The Everest Base Camp hike by itself will take between 10 and 14 days of continuous hiking depending on personal skill level. It's best practice to give yourself at least 14 days just in case you fall ill and need extra time, decide to do some side hikes, or extend your trip to include another trail. If you're pressed for time, the hike is more than doable in 10 days, just chat with me beforehand for advice.
Hiking season is from March-May and October-December because these months have the clearest weather. I went in the middle of May when it was mostly warm and clear but it was starting to get more foggy and a little rainy/snowy as the season shifted to make way for June monsoons. May was a special month to go because due to a brief window where the high winds let up on the top of Everest, May is the only month to summit the mountain. This means when we reached EBC, it was a thriving and active camp site filled with Sherpas and hopeful climbers with whom we got to speak. If you visit during summit season, you'll be surprised at how large the camp is; Dain and I spent an hour and a half walking around and still didn't get to the other end of camp. Otherwise, the only permanent structure at EBC is a small memorial to those who have trekked there, which you can add to, and those ever-present Buddhist prayer flags.
The hike itself has objectively average terrain but you need to account for the high altitude and rapid change in elevation. You'll start in Lukla, which is at 9,383 feet, and end at EBC at 17,600 feet. The altitude and lack of oxygen can really wear on your body and it's important to familiarize yourself with symptoms of altitude sickness and dehydration, the two most common illnesses. If you're taking Diamox, the medication that helps you adjust to high altitude, keep in mind that it's a diuretic and you'll have to drink around 5 liters or more a day to stay hydrated. Another important thing to note is that at high altitudes, sometimes your body won't let you sleep because it's afraid it won't get enough oxygen. I didn't sleep for three days, which also wore on me, but I didn't want to take any medication to add even more stress on my body. Even the most experienced Sherpas can go to sleep and not wake up, so it's more important than ever to listen to your body.
Your days will range from six hours of hiking at the most and around two hours at the least. As you climb higher, it's harder to breathe and you'll wear out more easily and thus trek less. You should also avoid hiking more than 500 meters higher each day once you're past 13,000 feet; if you do so, you'll have to take a rest day. Rest days help your body adjust to drastic altitude changes and should not be skipped! We took a rest day in Namche, where everyone stops, and could have taken another along the trail but we decided to ascend at a slower pace instead. It's helpful to take acclimatization hikes, especially on rest days. Hike up a few hundred meters, stay there for around an hour, and hike back down to sleep. Do as many acclimatization hikes as possible. While Dain did the extra hikes, I slept instead and he was noticeably better off than I was.
Once you land in Lukla, you'll be in a gorgeous mountain environment without any roads or cars, which is amazingly peaceful but comes with its share of hardships. Everything is carried to these remote villages on the backs of yak, mules, or people which means everything gets progressively more expensive the further they have to be carried. It's especially impressive when you notice a pool table, a relatively normal site in a bar, which had to be carried by six people up an unpaved trail for fifteen miles! When you come across animals on the trail, move to the side of the path closest to the wall. Bulky yaks are sweet creatures but can knock you over as they walk past. When encountering porters, it's best to give them the right of way because they're usually faster than you and are carrying 5x the weight you are. I've seen porters in sandals carrying flat-screen TVs and piles of wood beams up the mountains- you have to respect these hard-working people!
Along the hike, you'll stay at guesthouses called teahouses in small rural towns along the trail. At first, there are many towns to choose from and your options become much more limited as you continue along the trail. Most teahouses will charge 200 rupees ($2) a night and in exchange for such inexpensive lodging, you're expected to eat your meals there. The meals are pretty much exactly the same along the trail and quite delicious, ranging from pastas to curries and the ever-popular dal baht, a hearty dish of rice, lentils, and veggies that keeps you full and healthy. Food and lodging gets more expensive the farther you go because everything needs to be carried there. Wifi, charging, and hot showers will be available at every lodge along the way but it's inadvisable to shower past Namche because the air is so thin you won't even fully dry. Ladies, this means you'll have wet hair for days- no bueno. Just lean into it and shower when you're done with the trek.... everyone else is in the same boat! The beds are basic but you won't care because you'll be so exhausted! There's no central heating so it can get cold in your room, which is little more than plywood and uninsulated windows. At night, the central furnace in the dining room will be turned on in time for dinner and that's the best place to hang out and chat or play cards. Fun fact: most of these furnaces run on yak dung, but oddly don't smell!
Logistics and Planning
- Book your flights. Fly into Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, and give yourself a few days to relax, see the city, and shop for last-minute supplies. From Kathmandu, you'll need to book a flight to Lukla, the only airport in the mountains and the jumping-off point for the trek. Flights will be about $145 each way per person and don't vary in price, meaning you can book them super last minute. I went with Tara Airlines but the other options are Goma, Yeti, and Simrik Air and they're all pretty much the same. It'll be a small, 20-person aircraft and you'll be flying into one of the worlds' most dangerous airports, but don't let that get to you! The flight is beautiful and an experience within itself; you'll barely notice the tarmac is dangling off a cliff as you fly right by the Himalayan mountains.
- Book your hotel. You'll find plenty of hotels in the popular Thamel district at a variety of prices, but make sure they offer free luggage storage before you book. Most hotels will hold all or some of your stuff while you're gone so this shouldn't be an issue. It's a busy and loud area (like most of the city) so choosing a hotel a little off the main strip might appeal to you.
- Get your TIMS card. The TIMS card is your permit to enter Sagarmatha National Park, where your entire trek will take place. Think of it as your passport to Everest- along the way, you'll hit various checkpoints so the rangers can track your progress in the park for your safety. You can get this easily from the tourism office about a mile outside of Thamel. Bring your passport and about $40 in rupees. This must be done before you leave Kathmandu. You'll also need a national park permit which is best done from the town of Monjo along your trekking route that you'll hit on either the first or second day.
- Know the basics about Nepal. Nepal is a wonderful country filled with peaceful, kind, trustworthy people. People often get sick from the food and water so it may pay off to stay cautious when eating out so you stay healthy for your trek. Always buy bottled water and make sure to sterilize it if you can- even the bottled water in Kathmandu has high levels of chemicals and metals. Never, ever drink the tap water even if you sterilize it. As far as clothes, it's polite to wear long pants and long sleeves even if it's warm. Shorts and tank tops are permissible in tourist areas but still considered inappropriate even for men. It's also acceptable to haggle for prices for souvenirs and taxis, and the word "mahango" (expensive) will be your best asset.
- Plan your route. You don't have to stick to it completely because it'll likely change depending on how you feel, but it's good to have a plan in mind.
- Take out enough cash. There's only one ATM on the trail and it's near the beginning in Namche. I'd suggest to bring around $400 USD per person to be safe. When in a bind, most places will accept USD.
- Buy most of your gear in Nepal. Unless you own a lot of hiking gear, buying in Kathmandu will be the best option. Dain and I were traveling to a lot of varied terrains and frankly had no use for bulky winter clothing and heavy-duty gear. There are so many shops around Thamel but the one I saw consistently recommended (and will no recommend to you) is Shona's. They have everything you need at a dirt cheap price point and are honest about what you'll need and don't. You can also rent a sleeping bag here for eighty cents a day. In total, I paid $60 for everything I needed- that's less than one Patagonia sweater!
- Break your hiking shoes in before you go. Your body will thank you!
What to Pack
2 thermal shirts, one for hiking and one for sleeping
1 pair loose-fitting trekking pants
1 pair leggings/ warm pajama pants for lounging around the tea houses
1 fleece jacket
1 light-weight down jacket, or heavier if traveling in winter
1 lightweight rain coat
2 pairs hiking socks
1 pair SmartWool socks, or any thick winter socks
1 pair hiking boots with ankle support. I suggest buying these at home to ensure they're quality shoes and so you can wear them in beforehand.
1 pair sandals or slippers for lounging around the tea houses
1 all-purpose neck kerchief- can be used to keep your neck warm/protected from the sun, a headband, or to cover your mouth and face when the weather gets cold or too dusty.
Sunglasses or baseball cap
1 warm hat or beanie
Trekking pole. Dain and I split a pack and each carried one, which is perfectly fine and a good way to save money.
Sleeping bag. You can bring one from home or rent it at Shona's. Most lodges have a blanket but it won't be warm enough to sleep with especially as you climb higher. I brought a 3-season bag to cut down on weight and it was perfectly fine for cold-blooded me, but if traveling in winter it might make sense to bring something warmer.
Shampoo and soap packets- you'll really only shower once or twice so mind the extra weight.
Toiletries: deodorant, sunscreen, vaseline for chapped lips and dry noses, tampons, nail clipper, hand sanitizer. Keep it simple!
Water purifiers like a Steripen and Aquatabs. As you get higher water becomes more expensive, plus every piece of trash has to be carried down the mountain on someone's back. It won't happen often, but you may find yourself out of water on a trail and it's nice to have the option to purify spring water if need be. A Steripen will pay for itself in saved money and convenience!
Camelbak- mine is 3 liters
Nalgene or water bottle of choice
Comfortable backpack and waterproof cover. I used my 50-liter Osprey backpack, which has a Camelbak compartment, and packed it light. I carried about 17 pounds when it was full.
First aid kit. You can bring one from home or make one yourself from the pharmacies in Thamel. Include moleskine (blister protector), bandaids in variety of sizes, antiseptic gel, tweezers, and alcohol wipes.
Medicines: one pack of antibiotics, Imodium, diamox, and Ibuprofen per person. You can buy all this for $10 at any pharmacy in Kathmandu.
2 rolls of tissue paper per person. The guesthouses do not provide TP!
Portable charging block and spare battery. It's nice to unplug and most guesthouses charge for Wifi and charging your electronics, so it's helpful to have a spare battery just to be able to use your phone for photos and off-line podcasts and games.
Camera or GoPro
A book or two and playing cards. Some days you'll only do a few hours of trekking and you'll have a lot of down time at the lodge.
Snacks. I brought a big chocolate bar, a pack of granola bars, and some peanuts mainly to consume on longer days when I didn't feel like stopping the hike or getting too weighed down by a heavy lunch. Powdered peanut butter and Gatorade powder are lightweight and sustaining snacks I definitely would have brought had I left from the States.