What To Expect
The Everest Region, more accurately referred to as Sagarmatha National Park, is staggering. You will move from villages surrounded by forests, up through the sub-alpine zone, until you eventually hit the tree line. From there, the distant mountains will be blanketed in snow, while you access the well-trodden dirt path. Nonetheless, be aware that snowstorms are not specifically rare, and having your path obscured in snow is a strong possibility. Make sure you pack all essential items whilst backpacking through this region. Additionally, you will be hiking at extremely high elevations and therefore should be aware of altitude sickness.
In this article we will cover when to travel to the Everest Region, the scary but real Human Factor that you need to contend with, and finally, the plentiful trail options you have within the park.
When To Travel
There are two primary seasons to trek the region: September to late November and March to May. The fall provides mild temperatures, while spring is slightly more unpredictable with the snow levels but offers spring blossoms throughout the sub-alpine. During the winter months the mountains tend to be extremely cold for trekking, while summer is warm but rainy.
The Human Factor
When I was traveling in the Everest Region, the trails were well trodden, and therefore people assume that every route is always safe. Please do not fall into this pitfall of thinking. Depending on your route, you will be facing plenty of danger between the routes themselves, environment and weather – which changes rapidly up here, altitude, and your own possible lack of gear or necessary skills. Your stubbornness and single-minded focus can cause you to make haphazard decisions. We refer to it as “The Human Factor” because the reaction we are talking about takes place in the brain. It is the ability to think clearly (which is also made harder at altitude), process information, and continue to make safe and sound decisions only after understanding the risks and gains. Please do not get “destination fever,” where you are so focused on getting where you want to go that nothing will stop you. The recent snowstorm, the fact that the winter was prolonged and the pass hasn’t quite opened yet, or the fact that you do not have crampons and ropes to safely cross the ice field – all of these are reasons to stop. Your brain is your safety net. Do not forget to use it!
Drinking plenty of water (and garlic soup – according to the Nepalese) will help keep your body acclimating. Additionally, it is strongly recommended to not gain more than 500 meters of elevation per a day; calculated by your sleeping elevation, not trail elevation. It is extremely important to learn the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness, including HAPE and HACE, which are life-threatening conditions. Keep an eye out on your friends while you hike, and if anyone does not feel good, has a continued headache the stay at altitude till resolved, and if they don’t improve descend until they do. If someone has worse symptoms like vomiting, euphoria, or loss of consciousness start descending immediately until symptoms resolve and seek medical attention as needed (there are clinics throughout the region). Having a medical kit, as you can tell by now is vitally important.
Trekking Route Options
Quickest Option: “There and Back Again”
11 to 14 days
If you are craving to see the dramatic mountains of the Everest Region, but pressed for time your best option is to fly into Lukla from Kathmandu. Beware that the airplanes are extremely small, serving around 8-12 people and are landing/taking off on the shortest runway in the world – a mere 1,729 feet long (527 meters). This manoeuvring requires either a dive for landing or a strong throttle upwards for take off; thus, the faint of heart be warned. From the sky you will get your fist glimpse of the mountains, as they now pass you in height.
From Lukla you will continue on to Namche Bazaar (usually done over 2 days), the gateway to the Everest Region. I say that since nearly all hikes will meet here before diverging again. Most trekkers will spend 1 to 2 days acclimating here. From Namche, you can continue to either Photse or Tengbouche for the night. The next day the trails merge again at Pangboche, and you will continue on to Periche – where you will sleep for the evening. Then to Lobuche for another night of sleep, as the peaks of Everest, Lobuche, and Lhotse become constant views.
And finally to Gorak Shep, which will be your base camp for hiking to Everest Base Camp (5,320m / 17,450ft) or Kala Pattar, before returning a similar same way. Since hiking back to Lukla takes significantly less time then your trek upwards, if you find yourself still plentiful with day consider adding in the “Loop It” option stated bellow.
Arriving via Jiri: “Jungle to Snow”
+ 4 days (on way)
It is easy to imagine that Nepal is only made up of ice peaks tucked away in the highest portions of the sky, but starting your trek from Jiri or Salleri will show expose you to the jungle side of Nepal, before bringing you to the alpine environment. To begin, take private or public transportation from Kathmandu to Jiri or Salleri.
This four day addition to the trail is steep, but a great alternative for those of you that did not warm up on the Annapurna Circuit and want to see more of Nepal. Once you hit Namche, you can continue on any trail option you like. For departure, you can also fly out via Lukla or continue back down the way you came.
Slightly More Time: “Loop It”
+ 3 days
If you are pressed for time, but can add a few more days to your itinerary then I strongly advise adding in the Kongma La (la meaning pass in Nepali) following your decent from Everest Base Camp. After descending back to Lobuche, you will split from your previous trodden trails to go over the pass – a mere 18136 feet (5528 meters). From there you will travel across the nearly 2000 foot wide Khumbu glacier (600 meters), while taking in the views of Pumori, Lingtren, and Khumbutse peaks. As you walk towards Chhukhung you will be greeted with staggering views of Ama Dablam and Imja Tse, continue downward to Dingbouche, and then onwards to Tsuro Wog were you will meet back up with the main trail.
“Gokyo Lakes Trek”
This trek is for those who want to avoid the worse of the crowds, while taking in the staggering alpine views of glacier fed lakes and white-capped mountains that reach the heavens. This trek will take you to six turquoise lakes, you will also cross the longest Glacier in the Himalayas: the Ngozumpa Glacier, summit Gokyo Ri at 17716 ft (5400 m), and return through the Renjo La.
Starting at Lukla you would continue to Namche Bazaar over the course of two days, spend a day here acclimating; similar to all routes in the region. Then continue on towards the split at Phortse to spend the night in Dole. This is where your trek will become surreal, as the crowds fall away and you head onto the path less traveled. Continue on to Machherma the following day and be sure to look out for views of Taboche’s peak to your right and Gokyo Ri’s directly in front of you. If needed, take another rest- acclimation day here in Macherma as needed. Now that you are feeling comfortable at altitude, you will spend the next two days using Gokyo Village as a base camp for hiking to the fifth lake, before continuing on to Pangha and summiting Gokyo Ri (as a day hike). If you choose to take your gear with you, beware that there is no village between Pangha and Lughthe and will have a very long day both summiting and hiking through the Renjo La; it is easier and safer to do them as two separate days, unless you have previous alpine experience. Once crossing Renjo La, continue down and back to Lukla.
“The Three Passes Trek”
18 to 26 days
This is perfect for the true explorer that wants to get off the beaten path. This route is strenuously extreme, but intensely rewarding as it takes you across all three major passes in the region, including: Kongma La (5,535m), Cho La (5,380m), and Renjo La (5,388m). This is the ultimate combination of everything the Everest Region has to offer!
So, after acclimating in Namche, you will continue on to Tengboche for the evening. The following day will be slightly easier with a gradual incline to Dingboche or Chukung. Another option is to hike the two hours from Dingboche to Chukung the following day, and then continue on for a side trip to Chukung Ri for incredible views of Everest and surrounding peaks. Now, it is time for the first pass: Kongma La which will be strenuous but beautiful, as you pass by a beautiful lake and then crossing the Khumbu Glacier, before finally coming to Lobuche for the night.
From Lobuche you will continue to Gorak Shep where you will drop your bags and continue on to Everest Base Camp or Kala Pattar. The following day hike back down to Dughla, were you should get a good night sleep before crossing the Cho La pass. Start early the next morning, as you will have an extremely long day ahead of you. From Thangnak you will cross the Ngozumpa Glacier towards Gokyo – keep your eyes open for the alpine lakes. You can also take a day trip here to summit Goyko Ri if you like.
Get ready for you final pass, Renjo La. From here you will continue down to Lugdhe, towards Namche Baazarr; the same route as ending the Goyka Lake Trek.
No matter your timeline you will find the perfect hike for yourself in the Everest Region. The white peaks of the Himalayan mountain range are captivating in both their beauty and shear size. Their white peaks reach past the clouds and seem to touch heaven, and being surrounded by them is the closest you will ever come to heavenly bliss (and who knew that in heaven you would have such bad blisters!). The Nepali people are beautiful and warming in their manors, and no matter what you choose to do, your trek will be one to remember!