There's already an excellent trip report of this trek on here (viewtopic.php?f=43&t=11416
), but given I took notes along the way I thought I might as well add mine for another perspective. It's turned out to be a bit of an epic post, but hopefully it will be useful (or even interesting!) for some of you. Let me know if you have any questions.
My partner and I did the walk over 20 days in October. We did it independently without guides or porters. We ended up walking the whole trek with another couple from Belgium, who we met in the airport on the way to Lukla. There were no problems doing it all ourselves. It would be pretty hard for anyone with some hiking experience to get lost on the route, unless you were attempting a pass in very poor conditions.
In terms of difficulty, we didn't find the walking very hard. Altitude is another matter, and it will affect everyone differently. We saw a lot of people who didn't look very fit at all doing the Base Camp trek, although they all had porters. My estimate was that only about 5% of trekkers were carrying their own gear and/or walking without guides.
We did the circuit anti-clockwise, as it seemed that this way was better for acclimatisation (there are more villages on the way up, meaning you don't have to ascend too much in any one day). I think that this was definitely a good decision. The Renjo La in particular would be much, much harder going clockwise.
We had some pretty heavy snowfalls (the same weather event that caused the tragedy on the Annapurna trek) which meant we were walking on snow for the best part of 2 weeks. This meant that we had to (or chose to) skip one of the passes, but didn't cause any problems otherwise. In fact, it probably made the scenery extra beautiful.
Below is a day by day description. Below that are some notes on gear and a few other things. And then some photos, if I can manage to narrow it down to a reasonable number...
Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla flight, walk Lukla to Phakding. About 3 leisurely hours. We had to wait a long time for our flight to leave. If we'd left Kathmandu earlier then we would have walked further than Phakding.
Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazar. This was almost an 8 hour day, including a leisurely lunch and plenty of breaks. I was suffering from a sore stomach (don't eat the fried rice in Kathmandu airport!) which made the climbing a bit tough. About 800m altitude gained, almost entirely on the climb into Namche. Combination of a crook tummy, altitude and maybe lingering effects of pre-trip glandular fever had me going straight to bed feeling awful on arrival.
Day 3: Acclimatisation day in Namche. We'd planned to do a daywalk to Khumjung but I was feeling pretty awful. No appetite, short of breath on the slightest activity, lethargy. I was surprised to be experiencing altitude sickness symptoms at only 3400m or so. Spent the day doing some short, slow walks around town, going to a museum etc.
Day 4: Namche Bazar - Tengboche. I didn't think there was any chance of me climbing another 800m but I woke up feeling much better. Still a struggle to eat much food, but I smashed it up the climb easily. Nice monastery to visit and and amazing sunset over Everest.
Day 5: Tengboche - Dingboche. An easy day despite my stomach still being upset, about 5 hours. Pretty forest on the first part, descending from Tengboche to a river before climbing again and eventually leaving the treeline at around 4000m, at which point it started to snow. Snow continued for a few hours after arriving in Dingboche (freezing in the lodge until the fire was lit). No problems altitude-wise at 4400m.
Day 6: Dingboche - Chukhung. Only a short walk up the valley to Chukhung (4km or so) but was quite hard work due to altitude (light headed and tired for second half of the walk). Snowed on and off all day before getting much heavier in evening. Luckily the lodge had a fire going during the day. Now at 4730m.
Day 7: Acclimatisation day in Chukhung. We decided that with all the snow we would spend two days in Chukhung, hoping that the sun would shine and melt lots of snow so that we'd be able to cross the Kongma La Pass. Woke at 6am and after scraping ice from our window we could see the sun shining on Ama Dablam, and lots of snow around. Gorgeous and incredibly bright sunny day. We walked part way to Island Peak Base Camp. Nice walk along a very sharp ridge with lots of snow. Stunning views of Lhotse, Ama Dablam and lots of others. Got sunburnt in silly places from snow reflection, despite being covered up and wearing sunscreen (underside of my nose, underneath my earlobes and on my lips).
Day 8: Acclimatisation day in Chukhung. Climbed Chukhung Ri, 5550m. A great climb, especially the last part which involved a bit of rock scrambling up a narrow spur. Amazing views of the valley below, Lhotse wall, Lhotse and Nuptse glaciers, Makalu, Ama Dablam, Cho Oyu and Pumori. A bit tricky with all the snow, took almost 7 hours (althought we did climb both the false summit and the real one and hung out at each for a while). The word when we got back to the lodge was that a group with a guide had tried to cross the Kongma La coming the other way. They set out from Lobuche and as they started to climb found that the route was frozen. They turned back and took the low route instead. The descent to Lobuche is apparently very steep and on the north face of the mountain, so will remain frozen and treacherous for some time. We decided, reluctantly, to skip the pass and go for the low and safe route.
Day 9: Chukhung - Lobuche via low route. After the big climb the day before I was pretty tired, so quite glad not to be tackling an epic, snowy pass! It turned out to be a stunning day's walking anyway, and still a reasonably long day. Stunning views of Ama Dablam, Cho Lotse, Tabuche, Arakam Tse and the valley below to our west. Tough climb up to Thoklo Pass at 4830, with tombstones for lots of climbers. Arriving just before sunset Lobuche seemed a miserable, cold, icy place. We only just managed to find rooms in what must have been the worst lodge in town. Now at 4910m.
Day 10: Lobuche - Gorak Shep. Beautiful short walk up to Gorak Shep with views of lots of mountains and of Khumbu glacier. The track was like a highway however, which was a bit unpleasant and made for frustrating going at times. Despite having arrived in Gorak Shep before 10:30am (having overtaken hundreds of people) we got the last 2 rooms in town! The It was sunny in the morning and we'd planned to climb to Kala Patter for late arvo and sunset but clouds rolled in around midday. We started climbing but it started snowing and less than halfway up we turned around. The wind was bitterly cold and we wouldn't have seen anything from the top. It continued to snow for the whole afternoon. Gorak Shep is in an amazing location, 5140m, just over the moraine from the Khumbu glacier. *&%$#! cold! Ice on the floor around the squat toilet - dangerous!
Day 11: Kala Pattar and Everest Base Camp. A clear morning with an icy wind. We rugged up and climbed Kala Pattar. A tough climb, about 2 hours to the summit at about 5600m. Incredible views of Everest (certainly not the prettiest mountain in the area), Nuptse, and Changri. Came down for lunch and then set off for EBC. Had fairly low expectations but it was a beautiful walk with stunning Nuptse looming overhead and the Khumbu glacier below. Hardly any people on the trail for some reason. Nobody camped at base camp. A beautiful but desolate place. Gorgeous light as the sun set on the way back. We stopped and watched the last rays of the sun on Nuptse, and then the alpenglow afterwards.
Day 12: Gorak Shep - Dzongla. Coldest night yet last night. Frozen sunscreen and water and absolutely miserably cold while trying to get ready to leave. We were snug overnight in bed though. Another gorgeous day though once the sun was properly up. Easy walk down to Lobuche (apart from some pretty slippery sections of ice), then a lovely walk to Dzongla, leaving the Everest Base Camp route and the crazy crowds behind us. Chola Tsho lake was below us, an amazing blue colour. Great views of Ama Dablam behind us. Arrived at 2ish and had a heavenly wash with a bucket of really hot water. With sunshine streaming in it was actually warm inside our room. Divine to be able to sit comfortably in a t-shirt after my wash and relax in the warmth. Now at 4830m.
Day 13: Dzongla - Dragnag over Cho La Pass. Clear morning, left about 7. I felt rubbish on the early, gentle climb but once the real climb started I felt really strong. Spectacular views behind us on the climb. A bit scrambly in sections. It was one of those climbs where you really can't figure out where the route will go until you follow it - the mountain looked impenetrable. After the steepest section we reached the glacier, which we then crossed. Stunning! A bit more gentle climb to reach the pass at 5420m. Great views but clouds started to roll in not that long after we got there. I took 3 hours from Dzongla to the pass. The descent was very steep and snowy (not too icy though). Quite treacherous. When we looked back at the pass it seemed crazy that we had descended where we had. Took longer than we expected to reach Dragnag and we were pretty stuffed by the time we did. 6.5 hours total (including about an hour atop the pass). A few snowflakes falling in the afternoon.
Day 14: Dzongla - Gokyo. Only a short walk today, across the Ngozumba glacier. We took our time to get going and then went nice and slowly across the glacier, taking lots of photos. Pretty amazing walk. A very rocky glacier but very beautiful. After 2.5 hours we arrived at Gokyo. A spectacular setting on a very blue lake at about 4800m. We washed some clothes and sat in the sun for lunch and my first beer in 2 weeks, wandered up to the moraine ridge for glacier views, then ate a piece of ridiculous, creamy cake at the bakery.
Day 15: Gokyo Ri. After changing lodges (first one was a dive) we set off to climb Gokyo Ri, the peak looming above Gokyo. In the dining room at the lodge there is a kind of honour roll for people who climb Gokyo Ri in under 60 minutes (and another one for under 70 minutes). My Belgian buddy and I made an impromptu decision at the bottom of the climb to have a crack at it. We started off at a great pace but half an hour in we were struggling. We pushed on and made it up in 61 minutes 35 seconds! It was *&%$#! hard work! The peak is about 5430, so it's a climb of 600 vertical metres, unrelentingly steep. My legs were good but my lungs still struggle with the altitude even after 2 weeks. The view on top was the best so far. Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Nuptse and loads of other mountains, lakes Ngozumpa glacier. Amazing! I spent about 90 minutes on top and then came down to enter my name (with some frustration) on the "under 70 minutes" list. I was stuffed knackered
Day 16: Gokyo. We went for a walk up along the glacier towards Cho Oyu base camp. We didn't want to go the whole way (wanted to conserve some energy for Cho La Pass the next day) but we went as far as Fifth Lake. A magical spot. We lounged in the sun by the lake for a while and then climbed the moraine for views over the glacier towards Everest. Clouds rolled in and it got really cold very quickly so the walk back was flat out, cold and tiring.
Day 17: Gokyo - Lumden over Renjo La Pass. Left at about 7:15, contouring around the lake before beginning the first section of the climb. It was pretty steep but not too long and we reached a flat, snowy area without any problems. After a flat section the climb kicks again and it's another half hour or so to the pass. We did it in 2 hours 45 minutes. Another great view from the pass, similar to the view from Gokyo Ri but with the lake centre stage. Met a couple from Ballarat atop the pass, on their umpteenth trip to Nepal and on their way to attempt to climb some mountain that had only been climbed once before. First part of the descent was steep and snowy but easy enough. It then flattened out for an hour or so before a thigh burning descent into Lumden. Arrived at 1:30. Tempting to push on to Thame but we're all pretty tired. Cloudy with an icy wind blowing. Now at 4360m and on the way down!
Day 18: Lumden to Namche. We'd planned to only walk to Thame but that was only meant to take 3 hours and we didn't want another afternoon sitting around in a cold guesthouse, so decided to go all the way to Namche. A mostly grey day but a nice walk down the valley. Went to a monastery in Thame and had a slow lunch sitting in the sun while snowflakes fell from a distant cloud. Crossed an amazing gorge after Thame. It ended up being a bit of a long day by the time we reached Namche. I thought it would be a breeze as we lost altitude but my body is tired. We saw a gorgeous bird in the forest near Namche (a danphe, the national bird of Nepal). Hot shower in Namche was heaven.
Day 19: Namche to Phakding. Spent the morning lazing in Namche, enjoying espresso, cake, fancy lunch etc before farewelling our Belgian friends (who wanted a whole day to laze around) and beginning the descent at around 1pm. A beautiful, easy walk downhill. Lovely to be amongst the trees again and by the river. 4 hours to Phakding. Nice to be somewhere that's not freezing!
Day 20: Phakding to Lukla. We'd planned on a relaxed, easy stroll to Lukla as we had all day (with our flights booked for the next day). However once we started walking at 9 we couldn't help racing to overtake all the big groups. Then we thought that we might be able to get on a flight today, so we charged on. A pretty walk but the crowds are pretty annoying - I look forward to walking in the Australian bush where you mightn't see anyone for days! A guy at the airport got our hopes up about a flight but in the end no luck, so we ate hamburgers, drank espresso and lazed around.
Day 21: Lukla to Kathmandu. Our flight took off more or less on time. Amazing! Arrived safely in Kathmandu and indulged in all manner of foods.
Some notes on gear:
- Water filter. In order to cut down on waste from plastic bottles (big problem in the mountains) it's best to treat your water rather than buying it. We took a Sawyer Squeeze Mini water filter. This is a great filter - cheap, light, effective - but it's not designed for high altitude! On the trip I learnt that the higher you go, the slower the flow rate becomes. Above 4200m or so it becomes painfully slow to use. It's also a bit of a pain having to put it in your sleeping bag every night (if it freezes it may stop working). It's not much fun either when the water in the bag is icy cold and you have to sit in the cold air squeezing it. We ended up using purification tablets for a week or so as the filter was too slow. Probably the best option would be a Steripen, although make sure you have extra batteries - our Belgian friends had a Steripen with new batteries that should last ages and they died prematurely due to the cold. An advantage that the Sawyer Squeeze has over the Steripen is that it filters out fine grit and actually seems to filter out bad tastes - the Belgians often complained of the water tasting bad but when they tried our filtered water it tasted fine!
- Sleeping bag. I took my One Planet Bushlite -11 and a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Compact liner. I slept in long johns and long sleeved thermal and was snug as a bug. I think I only once had the sleeping bag all zipped up and tightened. I would have been fine with just a silk bag liner or a less warm bag. Most lodges give you a blanket. As our sleeping bags were warm enough, we used the blankets to add some extra padding to the mattresses.
- I considered wearing trail runners but decided to wear my normal boots (Asolo Fugitives) and was very glad I did. With all the snow we had I would have had very wet, cold, miserable feet for the best part of 2 weeks. As it was my feet stayed dry (if not always warm). Also, the trails, while very well trodden, did have plenty of loose rocks etc, so the ankle support was good to have.
- We took Yaktrax for some extra traction in case of icy conditions over the passes. I was pretty happy to have these. They gave me extra grip and confidence descending on snow and ice from Kala Pattar and Cho La especially. However we probably would have been fine without them.
- I took fleece hut booties. My partner bought down booties in Kathmandu ($10 or so I think). Definitely worth having one of these for sitting around in cold lodges. It was also nice to have fleece pants to change into.
- I expected to be carrying a pretty small and light pack, but my load ended up being almost as big as when I'm on a bushwalk at home carrying tent, stove, mat, food etc. A lot of this was due to a big bag of camera batteries, chargers, memory cards, lenses etc. I also took quite a lot of clothes, which I don't regret! I probably could have done with 1 less layer however.
- I lost a few kilos on the walk and by the last few days my pack was very uncomfortable because I couldn't do the hip belt up tight enough! I've had to pull the hip belt as tight as it goes on every pack I've owned, and once there was a little less girth there I couldn't get any weight to sit on my hips. I ended up tying a jumper around my waist for extra padding, which helped a bit.
We expected to be eating little more than dal bhat and porridge for 3 weeks, but there is actually a pretty good variety of food at the lodges. It's mostly based around the same few veggies (cabbage, carrot, potatoes, bok choy) with different carbs (rice, noodles, pasta, bread). For brekky there's a good mix of things including porridge, muesli, omelettes, eggs, pancakes, chapati.
Basic rooms, usually with 2 beds. Sometimes they're very cramped for 2 people and gear. If it's not too busy you could get a room with 3 beds for the same price. The beds just have thin foam mattresses but they're comfy enough (much more comfy than the rock hard mattresses in Nepali hotels!). The rooms are cold! Every lodge has a similarly designed dining room/communal space, with lots of tables around a pot belly fireplace. Above the treeline the fires are fuelled by dried yak dung, and usually are only lit at around 5pm and kept going until around 8pm. Generally they provide enough heat for it to be comfortable, although the smoke is a bit nasty. The fires are rarely lit in the morning, so breakfast is not much fun!
Apart from the days of snow we mostly had sunny days until cloud rolled in mid-afternoon. When the sun was shining the temperature was generally comfortable. Once it was gone it was cold. I don't really know what the temperatures were, but I'd estimate that above 4000m it was around -5 to -10 degrees overnight, and not much warmer than 5 degrees in the daytime.
We only saw one or two people with tents. I think there are very few restrictions on where you can pitch a tent, so it might seem like a good option. There are some amazing locations that it would be great to camp at and have to yourself. However, I reckon it was way too cold to camp. I'm sure sleeping would have been fine, but sitting around in the afternoon once the clouds had rolled in would have been miserable. You might arrive at camp at 2 or 3pm and have to be in your sleeping bag until 7am the next day!
We budgeted about US$650 each for 3 weeks and this worked out about right I think (this doesn't include the cost of flights to Lukla, which are US$330 return). Some costs listed below:
- Room in guesthouse: US$2-3 for room ( for 2 people) as long as you also buy your meals at the lodge.
- Meals: Around US$2.50 at low altitudes up to around US$6 at high altitudes.
- Chocolate bars: Around US$0.70 up to Namche, more and more as you go higher. I think about US$5 at Lobuche or Gorak Shep! Snickers, Mars and sometimes Twix or Bounty are the options.