The Grand Compromise
Anybody who loves mountains would like to climb to the top of Mt. Everest, the world’s highest summit. Realistically it’s beyond most mortals because it’s too costly ($60,000), time consuming (several months) and dangerous (nearly 300 deaths). There is a safe, affordable alternative and it’s quite compelling in its own right – trekking to Everest Base Camp.
The 38 mile trek from Lukla to EBC through the Solukhumbu region is among the world’s great hikes and can be achieved by the average hiker. It’s not about ego-driven peak bagging, but about a cultural and spiritual journey into Nepal’s high country with some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery thrown in. The trek originally evolved as a way for Everest climbers to get moral support from their non-climbing friends, who would accompany them to base camp prior to the final slog up to Everest’s peak.
The trek to Everest Base Camp is a chance to walk in the footsteps of Hilary along Sherpa trade routes that brush up against an ancient Buddhist civilization in mountain hamlets. The well-worn trail is often level and you will meet photogenic village children who will ask you to share your chocolate. Sun and wind chiseled Sherpa and burly yaks are part of this passing parade, and you will see countless prayer flags flapping in the breeze. You will eat a lot of dal bhat (lentil soup with rice) and drink plenty of tea. It’s a religious experience as the welcoming monasteries and mani stones lining the trail give you insight into Tibetan Buddhism pray rituals. The natural setting is breathtaking as you meander through glacial valleys over swinging bridges above glacial melt rivers.
From Kathmandu to Gorak Shep: Step by Step
- Over 37,000 hikers trek in the Everest region annually and everyone’s trip starts in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. It’s a big city by Nepalese standards but tiny by Asia’s. The old town area is worth exploring before boarding a flight for Lukla.
- Namche Bazaar is Tusker’s Day 4 destination and requires a 7 hour hike from Phak Ding. This is the steepest stretch in the journey and one of the most beautiful, as the trek ascends river gorges with good views of the high peaks in the Everest massif. Suspension bridges dangle high above the river. Namche at just over 11,000 feet is the last town before EBC, so enjoy the restaurants and bars to celebrate your arrival in the high country.
- Khum Jung is just a three hour hike but yields insight into Hilary’s love for the region. Visit the school he established in 1961 that has grown from two classrooms to over 100. See also Kunde Hospital outside of Namche that he established in 1966.
- Tengboche sits at 12,700 feet and allows a clear view of Everest through the Dudh Kosi gorge. Some consider the four hour trek to Tengboche among the world’s best valley walks in the world culminating at the Tengboche monastery perched atop the hill.
- Pheriche at 14,200 feet is a place for acclimatization. Enjoy side treks into the higher mountains, but save energy for the final push.
- It’s six hours to Lobuche through a broad valley that features giant rocks that are part of the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier.
- The final push goes through Gorak Shep where lunch is served, then on to EBC. Don’t feel shunned if you meet Everest climbers around the camp who are a tad anti-social. They don’t want your germs to ruin their chance at glory.
Head back to camp at Gorak Shep satisfied with getting to Everest Base Camp and all the people you met and incredible sights you saw. Bag Everest Summit in your next life, but be happy with the good karma shared in this life with new Buddhist friends you made on the way to Everest Base Camp.