The Everest Region was one of the key destinations on our overland trip to Australia. Home of some seriously tall mountains, we aimed to be here for November, to catch the tail end of the second hiking season. Finally, the hiking boots we’d been carrying for the last 6 months would come into their own.
With tourism numbers severely down due to the April 2015 earthquake, and the economy brought to its knees by the fuel crisis, there seems to always be a media frenzy when it comes to Nepal. On the plus side, the trails would be far quieter than normal, the local economy would benefit more from our visit, and we wouldn’t have to fight over buffalo momo’s.
We took a leaf out of the book of our friends over at routinelynomadic.com and decided to go for a bit of Q&A.
So click read more to find out how much it all cost us, what we packed, and ….
Some statistics on our trek!
First up: Annapurna or Everest?
Emma trekked the Annapurna Circuit back in 2011, so luckily she could weigh in on the differences. Here’s a handy table:
All in all, about 60% of people visit Annapurna, 30% go to the Everest Region and 10% go to Langtang.
We were itching to see 8850m Sagamartha herself, and we heard the Gokyo valley was stunning, so we were settled on Everest pretty easily.
Sagarmatha is the Nepalese name for Mt Everest. ‘Khumbu’ is a smaller area of the Sagarmatha National Park, and Chomolungma is the Tibetan name. People use all the terms interchangeably, because confusing foreigners is a national pastime here.
And how high is Everest?
Officially 8848m (29,029 feet). That’s printed on all the maps, but there are variances of 2m’s or so. We’ll save the discrepancies for boring dinner parties.
The main thing is - it’s nearly 9km straight up from (probably) where you’re sitting right now.
And to give you an idea of how high that is, we reached a balmy 5,644m’s at Kala Patthar and sucked on 50% less oxygen than there is at sea level.
What the hell is Kala Patthar?
We’re not crazy enough to actually summit Mt Everest - the success rate is around 26%, let alone the months of preparation and sheer cost involved. What most people do is trek up a nearby peak called Kala Patthar, and soak up the incredible view from there.
Some people trek an extra few hours to visit Everest Base Camp itself, but we didn’t bother as there’s nothing there this time of year.
How much does it all cost?
The pre-costs are a TIMS permit (USD20 for independent trekkers, USD10 for those with a guide/porter) and the Park Entry fee (USD30).
After that, minimum budget is around USD20 per person, per day. USD25 will add a hot shower or a beer, and as you rise in altitude your budget will also rise to around USD25.
If you’re game enough to trek any peak over 6000m, the permits begin at USD2000.
There are no ATM's past Namche (and no guarentee that the one there will even be working), so you'll need to figure out your budget before leaving Kathmandu and take everything in cash. Just be thankful this isn't as hard as the early days of expeditions in Nepal, where all money was in coin, and porters were needed just to carry the cash!
Here is a handy chart showing our expenses:
Prices go up dramatically the higher in elevation you go. Theoretically this is due to everything having to be carried in (there aren’t any roads), but with the average Sherpa-porter earning USD3 per load, we’re convinced its more about covering the cost for the helicopter-delivered chicken then anything else. Seriously.
We actually came in under budget pretty much every day. We brought our own tea leaves, so only paid for boiled water along with our meals, which were usually fried rice or noodles.
Theoretically we should have seen a spike in food and accommodation costs around days 9-14, but dreaming of beers, hot showers and fried buffalo momos meant we seemed to be spending more of our left over cash towards the end.
Here's a handy tip: Don't bargain for your room and food when you arrive at lodges, the Nepalese don't like it. Instead, eat all your food there, be friendly, tell them what an awesome place they have, and more often than not they'll throw in the room for free.
When is the trekking season?
Either March to June, or September to November. Outside of that it’s very rainy or very cold. The Everest summit attempts happen around April, meaning if you visit Everest Base Camp (or EBC as the cool kids say), you can see Tent City!
Japanese groups, the crazy bastards, often visit December to January.
Independent or guided?
We love the outdoors, but we’re not like those people who eat grubs off the ground and sleep in the dirt. We’re just prepared, have maps and pack for all kinds of weather.
The trails are well formed, and if you can read the basic lay of the land, it’s pretty hard to get lost. An typical walk follows a ridge line or goes around a mountain. Cairns are stacked along more difficult areas (such as glaciers, rock falls or steep descents over scree), but it pays to be able to read a map.
So, we don’t really think you need a guide.
Just be prepared.
We met a lot of people who were woefully underprepared. Take for example two Hungarians who booked ‘the quickest route to EBC-and-back’. One of them made it (with severe headaches and huge disorientation), while the other couldn’t move and had to stay at a lower altitude with their guide.
Not a day went past without news of a helicopter evacuating someone, or us meeting trekkers who had to take days off due to AMS.
What is AMS?
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), or Altitude Sickness is what happens when us humans get above 2,400m’s. Pressure and lack of oxygen messes with our bodies at high altitude. And it’s serious.
And here’s how you cope with it:
Chances are you’ll still get a bit of a headache at night (we certainly did), but no cause for alarm. You’ll be peeing a litre of water at a time - and often - so the key is to drink lots. Our guidebook recommended 5 litres a day, but we got by with about 3.
This is where Diamox comes in handy - it acidifies your blood, but comes with a few side effects. We also heard that garlic (widens your veins) and iron (generates more blood cells) helps.
Or you could do what the Russian billionaires do - helicopter into the Everest View Hotel (altitude 3880m) above Namche with two blonde supermodels, suck on oxygen all night while drinking champagne, then fly back out the next day.
But we want to hike in a group!
We developed a theory over the trek: That being in a group meant that you had to keep up with other peoples speeds.
That’s a good recipe for pushing yourself too hard. At best you’ll get blisters and sore feet (great for the next days hike), and at worse you’ll get AMS.
By all means, grab your friends, but we saw more glum faces than happy ones in those big organised ‘expeditions’.
Nothing was more amazing than spending hours, just the two of us, rambling up a trail.
Do you really need a porter?
A whole industry of porters has evolved from expeditions of yore, and now it’s the normal thing for trekkers to carry a small day pack, while a porter (or yak train) carries their full-sized packs to the next destination.
We’d say around 80-90% of people use porters.
Ultimately you’ll know if you’re the kind of person who would find any enjoyment in carrying your own stuff.
We found the feeling of self-dependence and achievement to be worthwhile.
But doesn’t having a porter support the local industry?
Not necessarily. Many porters (and guides) are just regular Nepalese living in the cities, keen to make some cash. Many don’t have the right footwear or clothing, or any more experience than you in the mountains.
It’s hard to ensure you’ll get a local porter if your trek is pre-organised, and especially if you’ve going for a budget-conscious trek. As the saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you’ll get an elephant.
(Fun fact: Namche, one of the main towns in the Khumbu region is actually the wealthiest town in all of Nepal!)
If you’re truly concerned about ‘keeping things local’, it’s very easy to approach any guesthouse along the way and ask for the services of a local porter. Everyone knows everyone in the Khumbu.
By being an independent trekker, basically everything you spend is going directly do the local economy, and there is a massive trickle on effect from every lodge owner you pay. We were told that about 10% of what you spend stays with the owners of the lodge, while the rest is dispersed throughout the locals....the food you eat is carried up, the chefs that work in the kitchens have jobs and builders of the lodges all benefit from individual trekkers.
But having a guide means I’ll know a local
We would pass some groups and the leading guide would cheerily say ‘Namaste!’ to us. Those guys were cool and there were plenty of them.
But a little too often, around the warmth of the evening stove, we’d be talking to trekkers who bemoaned their guide. Distant, bored, unfriendly - you name it.
We also chatted to some lodge owners in the know. Many guides and porters don’t really want to trek - they just want the money. They’ve done this walk a dozen times. So if you develop AMS and need to descend, its not the end of the world for them.
Rather shockingly, we even met a guide who was annoyed he had to ‘wait’ for his ‘slow client’ on a descent to the village, who was about 5 minutes behind him.
If you want a guide, it really pays to do some research. Things are far less regulated than in other countries.
So what’s my first point of contact?
If you want to avoid the tour guides, it’s as easy as this:
Ok. How did we get there?
Lukla is generally considered to be the beginning of the trek. There are two main options for getting there:
Flights cost around USD160-170, and there are many airlines, however if you want the best chance of flying on the day you've booked, we'd definitely recommend paying $5 more and going with Tara Air. They have the most planes by a long shot, and every day they are the first to depart.
Also make sure you book an early morning flight in and out. By midday, the clouds have usually rolled in and if you haven't left by around 2pm, chances are you won't be going anywhere.
What did we carry?
Our packs were pretty much identical to each other:
Snacks: Prices for food rise as you ascend, so we made sure we had enough snacks for the entire 18 days. This included about 1kg of chocolate (no joke....it was the best thing ever), 10 Snickers (one each for every day over 5000m), muesli bars, nuts, tea, hot chocolate, biscuits, peanut butter and rice cakes. The best thing was, the more we ate, the lighter our packs got!
We also carried water purification tablets, a pack of cards, map, guidebook, camping mugs, sporks, rope, pocket knives, sunglasses, toilet paper (one roll...you can buy on the way), and a few wet wipes
.. and a partridge in a pear tree.
Total weight: 10kg each, excluding snacks and water.
Hangon, what about photo storage?
Returning from our trek with 10,000 photos of the same mountains sounded tedious, so we only brought along 32GB memory cards for each camera, making sure to edit photos down every few days. And it worked a treat:
Grand total of 1,560 photos, excluding GoPro and iPhone photos.
What did we bring that we didn’t need?
We had ideas of getting hot water and making hot chocolate during the day, but the days were too hot to bother.
We brought boxers and a singlet to sleep in, but only used them the first couple of nights. After that it was thermal tops and bottoms permanently.
What did we wish we brought?
This would just have been nice to change into in the evenings - our hiking pants were pretty disgusting by the end. Emma had an extra pair of leggings which suited this purpose well
Bottle of whisky
The air is bitterly cold when the sun goes down, so having a little something for the evenings would’ve taken the edge off quite nicely.
A way of heating water
Either a tiny kettle or a camping stove would have been amazing, as buying hot water every night gets quite expensive (5USD for a medium pot of water). If you can heat your own, you can also have the luxury of sleeping with a hot water bottle.
What about a Solar Power Pack?
We saw a lot of people with these. We figured that USD150 for Solar Power outweighed the price we paid for charging on the trek - usually USD3-5 for a full charge, every few days.
That gave us money left-over for a beer in a guesthouse which did have free electricity (about a quarter of them).
Yay alcohol! So where can I get a drink?
Every guesthouse in its right mind has beer and spirits, ready for celebrating trekkers. Prices are usually USD5-7 for a 500ml can of beer.
Most people stay sober on the way ‘up’ (i.e. toward EBC) and drink heavily on their way ‘down’ (back toward Namche).
Once you’re acclimatised, or Irish, of course, all bets are off.
*hic* ... any practical advice for some … *hic* … sexy time with that cute Norwegian trekker over there?
Good luck. After the sun goes down around 5pm, it gets freezing cold everywhere except the dining area of your guesthouse - and the dried yak-dung keeping that stove going usually runs out around 8pm.
You’ll probably then crawl into your sleeping bag through the sheer need to not turn into an ice block.
What’s an average morning, then?
Wake up at 6am. Discover that you’re completely cocooned and your breath has created icicles around the entrance to your sleeping bag.
Scrape the frozen condensation from the window and peer at the golden sunrise over the snow-covered peaks outside. Wiggle around to find camera and realise it’s on the floor, too far out of reach. Vow to be up at sunrise the next day.
Stay in sleeping bag for 30 minutes more as brain continually loops over and over about just how inhumanely cold it is in the room.
Realise speed is your only defence. Dig deep for courage to jump out of sleeping bag and wrap self in every item of clothing in backpack to lock in as much heat as possible. Record is 5 seconds flat.
Parade around triumphantly, as though having found a $100 note.
Head out to dining room and casually greet everyone with a cheery ‘Namaste!’, as though it’s normal to be awake at this time. Hide surprise that everyone else is finishing their breakfast and has their backpacks ready to go.
Act in awe at sheer size of gigantic breakfast pancake as its plonked down, steaming, in front of us. Devour in record time - 20 seconds, easy. Breathe.
Sip boiled water with sprigs of masala tea as we ponder the days trek. This usually involved counting contour lines to determine the steepness of the upcoming route, watching out the window as teams of hikers confidently stroll around in the sun.
Pack bags, check-out and hit the trail. Look around and soak up the views and fresh air and realise this is one of the best places on Earth.
How fit do i need to be to trek?
Since acclimatising is the main problem up here, you can’t actually trek very far for the first week and a half. It’s normal to do only 3-5 hours each day, which usually gets you in somewhere by midday. Most people have a nice lunch and read a book. Some silly ones decide to ‘explore’ and go on side trips. The main thing is that you don’t sleep any higher than 300m.
Ok, just give us your itinerary already!
Here was our sleeping schedule:
After night 11, we were pretty much acclimatised. Later we still reached 3 points over 5300m during the day, and only had very mild headache in the evenings, probably due to dehydration more than anything
So what’s it all like there, post-earthquake?
The western media has had a field day with the earthquake, and there is no denying the impact on the economy and the lives affected.
However, for your average trekker, if you didn’t know it happened, you’d, well, have no idea it happened.
It’s business as usual, in the Everest region at least. Other areas of Nepal have had a harder time.
Every now and then you’ll pass a crumbled building, but it’s hard to gauge whether it fell down 7 years ago or 7 months ago. Occasionally, a trail looks more freshly land-slid, but the main giveaway is extra reinforcement.
We’d be more worried about being run over by a scooter in Thamel.
Shoot us a message below if you want to know anything else and we'll do our best to get back to you as soon as we can.
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.