Posted 24 September 2019

Alex Bergin is a highly experienced expedition leader, holder of the International Mountain Leader qualification and a member of the Wilderness Guides Association. Below he gives us his Top Ten Tips for a successful and enjoyable trek to Everest Base Camp.

Nepal’s Everest Base Camp trek is truly one of the world’s great treks. Usually completed over 11 days from Lukla (a short flight from Kathmandu), the scenery is breath-taking from the very start and gets better every day. Passing the utterly gorgeous Ama Dablam before getting up close and personal with Nuptse, Pumori and the big hill herself, the EBC trek is something all keen walkers should try at least once. I hope the below not only offers some inspiration, but also helps keep you safe and happy should you make the journey.

Get fit

Unfortunately, your genetic predisposition to coping at extreme altitude is set long before you’re born, however, research has shown that exertion, as in extreme cardiovascular effort, is another key factor in getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the good news is that it is controllable. Very simply, get as fit as you can and then move slowly, especially above 3,000m. Young males whose egos demand that they show-off their athletic prowess by blasting up the steeper sections account for a disproportionately large percentage of medical evacuations. The scenery on the EBC trek is awesome, so relax and enjoy it.

Very simply, get as fit as you can and then move slowly, especially above 3,000m.
Very simply, get as fit as you can and then move slowly, especially above 3,000m.

Mind the yak

Yaks are the cute, furry cow-like creatures that account for a lot of the traffic on the EBC trail. Most of them also have two dirty great horns that, with an innocent flick of the head, could end more than just your trek. Don’t be one of the idiots trying to barge past them. Give them at least a metre of wiggle room, tuck in out of the way on the uphill side of the trail (so they can’t knock you over a drop), have a breather and let them pass.

Take your warm kit

For the first 4 or 5 days, you might be trekking in shorts, even in November. Despite air temperatures being well down in single figures, the sun is strong and warm. Beyond Dingboche, however, things usually take a turn for the Baltic. Ski mitts, at least a mid-weight down jacket (not an ultra-lightweight one) and a pair of synthetic insulated trousers (‘North Fake’ ones available in Nepal for around £12) will make the frigid evenings in lodges more bearable.

Ski mitts, at least a mid-weight down jacket and a pair of synthetic insulated trousers will make the frigid evenings in lodges more bearable.
Ski mitts, at least a mid-weight down jacket and a pair of synthetic insulated trousers will make the frigid evenings in lodges more bearable.

Buff it up

The rasping Khumbu Cough, from which so many people suffer, is caused by the extremely cold and dry air irritating the lungs. Dust kicked-up by fellow walkers, mules and yaks only adds to the problem. Breathing through a Buff or face mask is about as much as you can do to avoid a cough that is basically untreatable and can last for weeks.

Wipe that frown off your face

The prospect of showering above Dingboche is enough to make a grown man cry. Additionally, due to almost everything arriving on the backs of porters, prices keep increasing all the way from Lukla to Gorak Shep, where a single toilet roll will cost £6. A supply of wet wipes and toilet rolls should see you back to the civilisation of Namche Bazaar without you smelling like the wrong end of a yak.

Box smart

EBC is often pitched as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but, as a relatively cheap two-week holiday, this places an unnecessary pressure on trekkers. You will spend very little on accommodation and food and, if you’re sensible, nothing on alcohol outside of Kathmandu. Quite simply, if your body tells you to stop, it is not the end of the world, whereas continuing to ascend with a screaming headache, nausea and/or dizziness could prove to be. If in doubt, descend and live to fight another day. It is usual to take active rest days at Namche and Dingboche, so be sure to make the effort to do the acclimatisation climbs on those days. Move slowly, take some lunch and warm kit and spend some time as high as comfortably possible.

Get insured

Helicopter rescue insurance is absolutely vital, but don’t let that make you blasé. Cloud rolls in to the high valleys most afternoons, meaning evacuation will be by porter or mule and it’s a long carry from Gorak Shep before you lose the sort of height that could alleviate the symptoms of serious altitude sickness.

Don’t forget Kala Patthar

Everest Base Camp might be the marketing headline, but the summit of Kala Patthar is the undoubted highlight of the trip, with its stunning views of Everest, Nuptse and Pumori. Sunrise on Kala Patthar is becoming more popular, but be aware of the potentially dangerously low temperatures you might encounter. On my last trip (in late October) while leading a school expedition, the summit temperature was a static -22C and we had to be very active in avoiding cold injuries. If you are not equipped to deal with such extremes, just head up when the sun is higher in the sky.

If you are not equipped to deal with such extremes, just head up when the sun is higher in the sky.
If you are not equipped to deal with such extremes, just head up when the sun is higher in the sky.

Go nuts

Meat, like everything else, is carried in porters’ baskets and generally not considered safe for delicate Western constitutions above Namche. Eggs soon become the one reliable source of protein in an otherwise carb-tastic diet. A few bags of nuts or a selection of protein supplements will go a long way to balancing out your diet and preventing the loss of muscle mass.

Get cosy

In Lobuche and Gorak Shep, the bedroom temperatures fall well below freezing at night. Your body will be suffering enough physiological stresses without the addition of sleep deprivation, so spend some money on a very warm sleeping bag. A couple of years ago I used a bag with 550g of 93% down from a major UK manufacturer (model no longer available), which left me unsuccessfully attempting to sleep in all my warm clothing. Last month I used a Tundra Pure -20 with 800g of 96% down in their 180cm length shell. I spend my own money on these bags for the simple reason that Tundra’s quality of down (and the loft it gives for any given weight) is unbeatable. I was as warm as toast throughout, despite sleeping in an unheated external room at -19C (the water bottle by my pillow froze solid).

Photos credit Alex Bergin
Photos credit Alex Bergin

Advice provided by

Alex Bergin
Director
Banana Cloud Expedition Travel
https://twitter.com/BananaCloudUK