How I Solo’d Everest Base Camp — And Why You Should Too.
It’s easier than you’d think. Anyone can do it with enough time, determination and the ability to walk up a big fuckin’ hill.
Five thousand, three hundred and sixty four metres.
That’s how high you’ve got to climb to reach base camp from sea level.
That’s 187 Boeing 737’s.
2899 Liam Lawson’s stacked vertically.
17598 Subway footlong sandwiches.
It’s basically a shit-load of distance along possibly the most coveted hiking route on planet earth.
Thousands attempt it every year, and more than you’d think end up completing it.
Unlike most guides I’m not here to dive in to the rich cultural history of the Sherpa people. Instead, i’m here to tell you that all the online guides & blogs are bullshit.
Why are they bullshit?
First of all, you don’t need a guide. Blogs will tell you how you need an expensive guide in order to reach base camp. Don’t listen — it’s all nonsense.
Maps.me does a stellar job of keeping you en route. It’s a more detailed version of Google Maps that has every side path you can imagine. Furthermore, you can download regions so you always have a detailed map at your finger tips. No need for a big, soggy, ever-expanding, flopping in the wind, physical map anymore.
Secondly, the base camp trek is probably the most trail-blazed footpath in all of Nepal. This means there’s always someone — local or foreigner — to ask for directions and set you off on the right foot.
You’ll also be warned about the ‘really strenuous’ task of carrying your bags up this big fucking hill. They’ll tell you how absolutely necessary getting a porter to carry your larger bag is. Again… don’t listen.
You’re perfectly capable of carrying your own bag; and if you’re not you shouldn’t be doing the trek in the first place.
Maybe that’s a purists way of looking at the base camp trek but in my eyes, if someone else carries your payload, did you really do it?
If you want a no-frills honest list of what you need for the EBC trek, here it is:
- Shoes (and even these you don’t necessarily need — seen a Bulgarian dude who’d done the entire trek in his bare feet)
I mean, that’s literally it — you really don’t need much more.
An Honest List
If you read guides online they’ll tell you how you need expensive trekking poles, Steripens, polarising sunglasses and a whole host of other shit.
I’m convinced they’re being paid to shill you this.
Here’s an honest list of what you actually need:
- Clothes, including warmer gear for higher altitudes
- Water bottle with filter
- Basic toiletries
- Deck of cards
- Diamox for altitude sickness
- Flag to get a commemorative photo at the summit (entirely optional but if you want to be crassly patriotic then go for it)
Here’s 3 basic tips to keep you alive:
- Drink more than enough water. On average I consumed around 6 litres of water per day. The reason for such enormous consumption is that the excess water actually helps combat altitude sickness. You’ll end up taking around 10 bathroom trips a day but it’s definitely worth the incessant pissing.
- Don’t be a hero — take Diamox. On the EBC trek you summit at around 5364 metres. If you didn’t know already, that’s really high. Like really high. Anywhere above the 3000m mark you’ll start to feel the effects of altitude. Headaches, shortness of breath, confusion. Diamox directly combats AMS and helps you acclimatise quicker. The main side effects are pins and needles in your hands, and a slight need to piss more but bar that it’s a no brainer. There’s a movement of those who prefer to ‘do things naturally’ without the aid of drugs such as Diamox. These are usually the idiots being airlifted via helicopter from the mountain .
- Don’t make it more complicated than it is. Any idiot with enough sense can make it to Everest Base Camp . Essentially it’s a long, hard path that moves in an upwards direction. Don’t overcomplicate it.
All in it took me 8 days to get up and down. That’s markedly quicker than most people or what’s quoted online. Most guides will tell you it’s 12 days.
Now bear in mind, I am a fairly fit and healthy 22 year-old. Not everyone’s going to be able to complete it in this time . But it is possible.
Also worth mentioning is that everyone reacts differently to the altitude. I was lucky, and I think tactical enough, to have a good run with altitude. I think my liberal use of Diamox combined with my ‘Active Acclimatisation’ schedule is what afforded me such a good run.
< A note on acclimatisation:
In general, some acclimatisation is absolutely necessary. If you don’t give your body ample room to acclimatise then you can quickly run in to trouble. I’m talking migraines, confusion, loss of control & even death in some cases.
Because of this, most online guides & reputable companies will say you need 12 days to complete the EBC trek (& you may well need them — everyone reacts differently). But you also might not, and I believe my ‘Active Acclimatisation’ schedule had at least some part in this.
What is it?
It’s essentially acclimatising on the same day you’re trekking rather than taking an extra day to rest and acclimatise.
Usually, trekkers are told to spend an extra day at Namche Bazaar (3440m) to get used to the altitude before they ascend further. The same goes for Lobuche (4940m) as well.
Instead of spending an extra day, when I reached these locations around midday, i’d drop my bags at a teahouse, hike up for another hour or 2, spend an hour acclimatising at this higher altitude and then descend back down to the original altitude to sleep for the night. This always put me in a better position for the next day as I was already acquainted with the air, or should i say the lack thereof >
Before deep-diving into each area of the trek, here’s a basic outline of my itinerary and how long it took me for each stage:
- Kathmandu — Lukla — Monjo (3.5hrs)
- Monjo — Namche (3.5hrs) + Active acclimatisation (2.5hrs)
- Namche — Pangboche (4.5hrs)
- Pangboche — Dingboche (2.5hrs) + Active acclimatisation (2hrs)
- Dingboche — Lobuche (4hrs)
- Lobuche — Gorak Shep — EBC — Gorak Shep — Kalla Patthar — Gorak Shep — Lobuche — Dingboche (12hrs)
- Dingboche — Namche (5hrs)
- Namche — Lukla (5hrs)
Kathmandu — Lukla — Monjo (3.5hrs)
Day 1 is a strange convergence of excitement, exuberance and nervousness.
Firstly you need to get from Kathmandu to Lukla, which is somewhat of an adventure in and of itself. This airport at Lukla is aptly named ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’ due to its extremely short runway & unpredictable weather conditions. Just watch some of the YouTube videos of the landing’s.
To be honest, although terrifying, it’s a fucking thrill landing on a chode of a runway in a tin can with wings.
I have to give props to the amazing pilots that do it, they make you feel like a certified stud just for joining them on the journey.
When you land (if you do) a genuine feeling of relief washes over the entire cabin and you can see the genuine appreciation in your fellow travellers eyes.
Once you’ve landed, you make your way to the starting point of the trek where a park official will stamp your permits.
< Side note: do not, under any circumstance, buy a fucking TIMS card. You don’t need one, the officials in the park will NEVER ask for it and it’s just a way for the officers in Kathmandu to make extra money>
So you’re stamped, and ready to go.
Your first day’s trek to Monjo is fairly easy hiking. In general it’s a pretty flat path with a few minor hills that you traverse both up and downwards. You’ll pass through Phakding on this day — where a lot of hikers stop to rest for the day — but if you’ve got energy in the bank i’d suggest trekking further along to Monjo.
The scenery on the first day is incredible. You’re essentially weaving your way along a beautiful valley filled with 40ft trees, blooming Rhododendrons & powerful waterfalls.
This isn’t even mentioning the awe-inspiring bridges that cross the rivers from 50/60ft up. They’re made from steel cables, and thus going nowhere but they still manage to make you feel like an empty wrapper in the wind. They’re a little like marmite — you’ll either love them or hate them.
Monjo — Namche (3.5hrs + 2.5hrs Active Acclimatisation)
Monjo to Namche has much of the same scenery as the previous day.
What changes is the gradient with which you climb. The hill before Namche is your first taste of what it’s like to climb near vertical with a less than optimum supply of oxygen.
It’s somewhat of a bastard of a hill, but by no means the worst you’ll experience on the trek.
My one piece of advice would be to trek slower than you think is necessary. I’m talking tiny little steps, a quarter of your normal pace.
Anyone rushing or trying to keep a fast pace is a fucking idiot. You’ll see them doubled over, panting for breath every 20 metres in a misguided attempt to salvage their ego.
Forget that for just now, move like your geriatric grandmother. Slow & steady really does win the race here.
Once you reach Namche, it’s actually a really cool place to chill out.
It’s the largest of the towns on the way up & it has most home comforts — barbershops, pubs, markets, airline offices .
This is where I had my first ‘Active Acclimatisation’ day. I dropped my bags when I reached Namche, took a 1.5hr hike up to the Everest view hotel, chilled for an hour, then came back down.
My best recommendation would be to go to the Irish pub in Namche — it’s where backpackers, both ascending and descending, meet to exchange travel stories, pool wagers and equipment.
Namche — Pangboche (4.5hrs)
Your first real cunt of a hill is on this section.
Although your day starts out with a gradual ascent, it soon descends in to altitude chaos with you losing and then gaining a few hundred metres either side of a steep valley.
Descending in to the valley is a breeze, it’s the other side that comes as a shock.
It’s one of those hills that’s just seemingly endless. Around every corner is another corner, then another, then another.
Not even to mention the steepness of the gradient which feels as if you’re climbing Everest itself.
This section is an absolute grind, and the best way to go about it is slow & steady with lots of water breaks.
When you eventually do, sweating profusely in the midday sun, it’s an incredible rush of fulfilment and satisfaction.
At Tengboche you’re greeted by an ancient monastery that you can roam around for a fee and a small cafe that actually overlooks the Everest range.
It’s a nice place to chill out for some lunch before heading on to Pangboche.
It’s not a particularly hard walk to Pangboche so take it easy on this section.
Pangboche — Dingboche (2.5hrs) + Active acclimatisation (2hrs)
This is an easy day if you simply decide to stop at Dingboche.
Me being me, I decided to make it harder than it needed to be.
The actual trek only takes around 2.5 hours with a very slight gradient .
But if you’re like me — an overly competitive, egotistical fuck — then you’ll want to drop your bags and head up the massive hill -or should we say mountain? — that directly surrounds Dingboche.
You’ve already gained around 450m but if you want to adhere to my ‘Active Acclimatisation’ schedule then it’s best to head up, spend an hour and come back down.
Luckily, regardless of wether you’re actively acclimatised or not, you’re greeted by a delightful French bakery as you enter Dingboche.
I’m talking fresh hot chocolate, fresh chocolate cake, fresh danishes, cupcakes, muffins, THE LOT.
It’s the last real sweet taste of normal food.
After this it’s dal baht, rice, rice, dal baht, dal baht, rice, rice, rice, rice, rice, rice, dal baht & more dal baht.
Additionally, they play movies in the coffee shop every day at 2pm.
Watching a movie with friends is always a pleasant experience, but crowded in a small coffee shop with a bunch of smelly hikers just hits different.
Dingboche — Lobuche (4hrs)
Slightly harder than yesterday but still not max effort.
The problem with this day isn’t so much the distance you’re covering — it’s more about the altitude you’re gaining and the total altitude you’ll now reach by the end of the day.
By the time you’re finished you’ll be at just below 5000m which makes for remarkably thin air.
At 5000m you have just above half the effective oxygen at sea level.
Because of the altitude, when you face another cunt of a hill (which you will on this stretch) it’s notably harder than the last. It seems to wind on forever, and ever, and ever.
If you’re careful and listen to your body you’ll more than likely make it.
Contrarily, if you ignore the warning signs, it’s beyond easy to fuck it and end up like one of those kooks getting airlifted out via helicopter.
Take your time today. Not only because of the altitude, but also because Lobuche is a certified shithole.
There’s really not much to it other than cold, inhospitable living arrangements surrounded by livestock, in a bubble of sweaty, tired, altitude sick hikers.
The only rest-bite comes in the form of a game of cards with strangers or the mutual appreciation of simple things, such as a Snickers bar.
If you’re like me, or most people, it’s unlikely you’ll sleep well at these higher altitudes.
Even with Diamox I found myself in a fitful sleep, awoken in flurry’s of panic and anxiety due to the lack of oxygen.
It’s best to forego the idea of being well-rested, at least for now.
Anyways, tomorrow’s going to be a cunt of a day. I mean a real cunt. A big ole cunty cunt.
A beautiful cunt.
But a cunt nonetheless.
Lobuche — Gorak Shep — EBC — Gorak Shep — Kala Patthar — Gorak Shep — Lobuche — Dingboche (12 hrs)
This day took me around 12/13 hours all in but it was well worth the toil.
I started by waking up at 4am to begin my hike in the dark.
It’s not something I imagined as being a positive experience but upon my brother’s recommendation (who’d done the trek years earlier) I decided to start my hike at 4am with little more than a headlamp, multiple layers and curiosity.
There’s no sugar coating it — it was cold as balls.
I’m talking -10 CELSIUS.
But holy shit was it worth it.
Your journey starts in complete darkness, illuminated only by the glow of your headlamp.
As you follow the path, half blind and half stupid from the lack of sleep, you regularly check your map to ensure your course is straight.
Around 5am I shut off my headlamp.
At that time the wind was minimal but the air froze tight at around negative 5. My surrounding environment was hostile and unforgiving — consisting primarily of jagged rock and slate.
As the minutes pass by, and the hours count on, you bear witness to something so undeniably beautiful and serene.
Amongst the malignancy you start to see the full Everest range in a blue ethereal haze. You can’t see them definitively, it’s more so like a blueish, nondescript outline of the giants that surround you.
Here, at this moment, I’ve never felt smaller or more insignificant in my entire life.
Here I was, in the freezing cold, all alone, in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world, amongst literally the largest mountains in the world in an apprehensive light that gave them a spiritual, god-like glow.
At that moment I felt like a sole explorer on Pluto, or Mars, or something equally as alien.
And I fucking loved it.
It made me feel truly at the mercy of my surroundings.
I felt like a baby being cradled in a basket of extra-terrestrial, benevolent giants.
After basking in this euphoria for a while I decided to trek on to Gorak Shep which is the base point for which you do the EBC & Kala Patthar Treks.
I stayed for a little while then decided to head to base camp.
Now this final stretch to base camp really isn’t anything spectacular.
The views are pretty shit, you catch brief glimpses of Everest in the background and when you reach base camp it’s actually just a big muddle of rock and slate with a commemorative boulder to mark the end of the trek.
The only thing combatting the anti climactic reality is the palpable spiritual and historical significance of your location.
Thousands of hikers have pilgrimaged through this point in an attempt to climb literally the highest point in the world.
It’s a tangible feeling you get simply from being here.
After finishing base camp I headed back to Gorak Shep to refuel before heading to Kala Patthar.
This stretch is where I was most out of breath. You’re now going to reach the highest point on the entire trek at 5644m.
It’s really high and every single step up to this point is a struggle.
Even me, who is pretty fucking fit, struggled and toiled my way up this.
I’d have to stop every 20 metres or so to catch my breath and reconfigure my lungs.
But it’s all worth it, it’s really all fucking worth it.
When you eventually reach the top, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the Everest range.
It’s simply sublime.
It’s also the best view you’ll get of Everest in the entire trek.
To be honest it’s sort of terrifying looking from here — it’s a giant piece of unforgiving black slate jutting out from it’s surroundings looking entirely malignant.
It’s the first part of the trek where I thought “Holy shit, that’s the highest mountain on earth”
It really starts to settle in, the magnitude of your achievement and your surroundings.
But you can’t bask in this for too long because your oxygen is severely depleted at this elevation.
I stayed 5 minutes before descending quickly down to Kala Patthar.
From there, I grabbed a quick breakfast and began the long slog back down to Dingboche.
This part was no fun whatsoever, it was currently like 1pm and i’d been on the go since 4am that morning but I wanted to get back down to that french bakery.
It was purely the thought of a brownie and a hot chocolate as a reward that helped me down that last stretch. That, and sheer willpower.
Dingboche — Pangboche — Tengboche — Namche Bazaar (5 hrs)
There’s not really too much that I can say about this section other than you’re just excited to get off this fucking mountain at this point.
It’s the part of the hike where you descend elevation rather quickly and are pleasantly greeted with warmer climates and greenery for the first time in a few days.
Although the environment is more pleasant, you’re simply retracing your steps.
What motivated me was the promise of a warm shower when I made it back to Namche — and more importantly a pint of Guinness.
When I eventually made it back down I was greeted by a supposedly warm shower that was fucking freezing cold, but luckily the pint of Guinness warmed me from the inside.
It’s a lovely place to be having just completed the trek.
You meet at the Irish bar and exchange stories with similarly weary travellers and warn ascending hikers of the troubles they face.
You feel like some sort of wisdomous elf, bestowing your hard earned knowledge on amateur hikers — even though your depth of knowledge is only increased by the measure of 5 days hiking and 15 snickers bars eaten.
Chill here, enjoy it, bask in your glory.
Namche Bazaar — Lukla (5 hrs)
Ah, the final stretch.
I can’t stress how happy I was to be done with this.
Don’t get me wrong the views are amazing.
Ever-expanding mountain vistas, epic waterfalls, incredible 100m bridges. But at this point, I actually couldn’t give a fuck.
I just wanted to be back in civilisation by this point and thus I descended this section rapidly.
Once I made it back down to Lukla I gorged myself in burgers, beer and the company of other successful hikers.
It was a night of celebration and rejoice — although it was cut short by the strict curfews your hotels place on you of 9pm.
It didn’t matter anyways because I had to be up early for my 6:30am flight the next morning.
Lukla — Kathmandu (30 mins)
The flight back was similarly terrifying to the flight there but I was indifferent.
I was just happy to be heading back to Kathmandu — which is something I never thought i’d say considering how dirty, busy and unclean the place is.
Upon arrival I dumped my bags, went straight for a shower, then a haircut, then a massage, then for a beer with friends.
It was glorious.
The Everest Base Camp is absolutely incredible. Never in my entire life have I felt so amazed, dumbfounded, helpless, tired, exhausted, excited. It’s a real adventure if you make it so, and the rewards are found in the raw beauty of your surroundings.
I’d recommend everyone do it, regardless of your affinity for hiking.
It’s one of those experiences that you’ll carry with you for years, both in memory of the hardship and the awe you experience.
That being said, don’t listen to any of the advice online. You don’t need a guide, a porter, expensive trekking poles or a helicopter to porter you off.
You need some sheer willpower and some shoes.