Hiking the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp was without a doubt the busiest and most crowded trail we’ve ever set foot on. Having that said, the entire trek is a stunner with iconic Himalayan peaks every direction. The wide grins glued to the faces of ascending trekkers is a testament to the grandeur of the Himalayas.
We scoured internet forums and countless travel blogs to plan the trek and get an idea of what hiking to EBC would cost. When we read trekking reports of the phenomenal blue-green alpine lakes of adjacent Gokyo Valley, we decided to add this to our itinerary. We tacked on four days to the classic 12-day EBC trek traversing Cho La Pass to Gokyo Valley.
The following narrative covers our day-to-day itinerary, including hiking times, costs, and tea house recommendations.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” ~Hellen Keller
Really, there is no right or wrong way to trek to Everest Base Camp. EBC trekkers can be divided into three general categories: those who have signed up for a group tour; groups or individuals who have hired a personal guide and/or porter; and finally those who hike the route independently.
What is best depends on experience, conditioning, and comfort zone. If you’ve never trekked or backpacked in the wilderness then having a porter to carry your gear will be very helpful to say the least. If you have no clue about what backcountry and wilderness camping are, then consider a guide/group tour with porters.
We chose the third option, to hike unguided without porters. This decision was more than just trying to save a few bucks. We wanted to experience the trek, all its agonies and all its celebrations organically. This meant carrying our own kit and relying on no one but ourselves to make decisions on routes and accommodation.
And that’s exactly what we did.
When you add the magnificent scenery of the Himalayas with thousands and thousands of international trekkers, the result is an expensive trekking experience. Although accommodation is cheap or free along the EBC trek, food at the tea houses is 5 to 10 times the price you’d pay in Kathmandu.
Total expenditures for 16 days of trekking came to $1452 USD. Prices listed are for two persons. For an in-depth look at how much we spent on the EBC trek click here.
Our journey in the Khumbu began in early April 2017. The domestic airport in Kathmandu was a hive of activity as flights to Lukla had been canceled for four days due to low visibility. Fortunately for us, we had booked our flights on the first clear day and were only delayed about two hours.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ~T.S. Elliot
Our initial plan was to hike to all the way to Monjo and that would have been 5 hours easy. This would drastically shorten the next day to Namche (long, long ascent day). With the flight delays and some other setbacks, we didn’t actually begin until after 2pm; therefore, we decided to overnight it in Pakding. From Lukla the wide path descends downhill all the way to Pakding. This is a very easy and short day.
Guesthouse: Kala Patthar Lodge
Recommended: Yes. This was our first tea house and we were a bit surprised at the staggering high cost of the food. Be prepared for this, the tea houses make their money on the food, charging 5-10 times the price you’d expect to pay in Kathmandu. This is the reason you can ask for a free room if you eat all your meals here. Compared to most of the guesthouses higher up we can look back and say this place was among the more luxurious guesthouses with western-style bathrooms and clean and spacious dining room. The Sherpa stew is the best item we tried on the menu.
Today is the polar opposite of Day 1, and we would consider it to be one of the three toughest days of the entire trek. The trail from Pakding to Jorsale is all up and down, a synonym for that we soon learn is called Nepali flat. We are in the Dudh Kosi River Valley that drains much of the Everest region. We cross multiple suspension bridges adorned with colorful prayer flags as we pass one farming village after another. We stop to wait for the long trains of donkeys ferrying gear up and down the mountain.
At this point, we are not fed up with these minor interruptions. Cherry blossom and rhododendron flowers are blooming and we frequently stop to enjoy the scenery. After lunch, the climbing begins… in fact it’s all uphill to Namche from here. Groups are flying by us now and we begin to envy those who have porters as we struggle with our loads.
Guesthouse: Khumbu Lodge
Cost: 300 NPR per double room
Recommended: Yes. One of the best guesthouses on the entire trek. Rooms are cozy, western style bathrooms and hot water showers (for 400 NPR). Dining room always warm and delicious food is served fast. Several expeditions staying here and we meet and speak with several interesting folks. Downstairs is the Himalayan Café with to die for chocolate walnut brownies. Wifi at the cafe is free (but slow) and there is a huge electronic charging station, also free.
Exhausted as we are, we muster the strength to hike a little higher and breathe in the thin air. This is part of the acclimatization process, climb high and sleep low.
The plan is to hike up to the Everest Hotel lookout at 3800 meters. The hiking is easy and we sit in the outdoor dining area staring at the peaks of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse obscured in a swirling vortex of clouds though overhead the sky is clear. We don’t keep track of hiking times, most of it is taking pictures and gazing awestruck at the massive mountains surrounding us.
Back in Namche, we indulge on expensive baked goods and gourmet coffees. We meet climbers on their way to one summit expedition or another and many trekkers who are on a similar itinerary to our own. This social aspect of trekking in the Himalayas is unlike any other backcountry hiking we’ve experienced.
Guesthouse: Khumbu Lodge – same as day 2
We leave before 7:30 am and begin climbing the steep steps out of Namche. What a way to start. Our hearts race, our legs scream for oxygen and yet this is only the first 10 minutes! The trail soon veers left and levels off as we pass several stupas with an imposing Ama Dablam Peak as a backdrop.
This is the scenery we’ve been waiting for and the thrill of the Himalayas is exhilarating. The trail climbs up and down and we arrive in Phunke Tenga (3250m, yes we’ve dropped 200 meters!) for a lunch of dal bhat. Nearby a water-driven prayer wheel spins continuously lending a meditative quality to our dining experience.
The serene moment is soon shattered as we continue to Tenboche. The zigzagging switchbacks haunt us as the trail climbs through a steep forest. We delve into the trudge mode, robotically placing one foot in front of the other, slow and steady, slow and steady. After what seems like hours, the outline of rooftops signals our arrival to Tengboche.
The long uphill to Tengboche took a toll on us as we are still adjusting to our heavy packs. After settling in, we climb the hill behind the Himalayan Hotel for some amazing views of Ama Dablam, the south face of Lhotse and Tenboche’s quaint monastery. A cold wind begins to blow and it feels like a layer of frost on our exposed skin. We quickly descend to the shelter of the warm tea house.
Guesthouse: Tengboche Guesthouse
Recommended: Yes. This is a basic, no frills tea house. The proprietors are very friendly and had the stove going at dinnertime. The food is tasty and the portions are generous. Rooms are simple, Asian style toilets.
We begin hiking at 7:30 am. We walk above the treeline and the landscape is barren and exposed. Ama Dablam rises menacingly in front of us. We are getting closer to the big peaks and this adds a new dimension to the trek. At Somare (4010m) we sit for a quick lunch of garlic soup and greasy chowmein. From here the trail climbs to Dingboche where we will stay for two nights.
Guesthouse: Snow Lion Lodge
Recommended: Yes. Food is good. Rooms are simple, western and Asian style toilets. Outside there is a basin for washing clothes and a line for drying. The attached French Bakery has perhaps the best desserts we will eat the entire trek: moist chocolate cake, a tasty blueberry cheesecake, and delicious apple pie.
We climb the ridgeline behind the guesthouse passing stupas and several sets of prayer flags. We estimate we ascend to 4700 meters or so and are content with our progress. We have excellent views of Ama Dablam and beyond into Chukhung Valley.
Guesthouse: Snow Lion Lodge – same as day 5
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~Mark Twain
Leaving Dingboche, we encounter a herd of yaks stampeding towards us like wild buffaloes. The scene is surreal, scary, and beautiful. Before we have the urge to drop our packs and run, the herd makes an abrupt turn up the slope and stops. They’re just playing with us, or so it seems.
The trail from Dingboche (4410m) to Dughla (4620m) ascends gradually. After lunch in Dughla, there is the steep climb up to the Thokla Pass (4830m). Memorials to fallen climbers lie scattered across the pass, and the prayer flag strewn monuments make for a good photo opportunity. Continuing to Lobuche is straightforward and mostly flat.
Luckily we snag one of the last rooms left in Lobuche. Dropping our packs we walk up to the Khumbu Glacier for an acclimatization hike.
Guesthouse: EBC Lodge
Cost: 500 NPR
Recommended: Yes. All Lobuche tea houses cost 500 rupees. We are told that part of this money is being used to build a porter shelter. Lobuche filled up quickly and some trekkers were left sleeping in the dining rooms of their lodge. This is one of the places you may want to call ahead and make a reservation (Gorak Shep is the other).
The EBC Lodge was clean, the dining room was warm and the food was good. The stove was kept going during dinner and breakfast, though most people tend to leave the doors open, go figure. Food prices at the lodge were decent.
The original plan for Day 8 is hiking to Gorak Shep, drop our packs at the guesthouse and continue to Everest Base Camp. We had called and reserved one of the last rooms in Gorak Shep, and this was the day we had been looking forward to.
And then shit happened.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) also known as altitude sickness, is a condition caused when the body is starved of oxygen when breathing thin mountain air. Teo has previously suffered this twice in the Peruvian Andes, so when she awoke early this morning with shortness of breath, a racing heart, and generally feeling like she was on the verge of a panic attack, we knew we wouldn’t be hiking any higher, not today anyway.
Lobuche was filled with miserable looking trekkers and helicopters landed frequently, transporting the serious cases to lower elevations.
One of the unwritten rules of the EBC trek is if you don’t sleep well in Lobuche, don’t go any farther. Altitude affects everyone differently, and advanced cases of AMS are life threatening. Severe AMS can cause swelling in the lungs (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or brain (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and trekkers perish here every year with these conditions.
Recognizing the early signs and symptoms of AMS, we made the choice to descend. Even though Teo was feeling much better after breakfast, it would have been foolish to continue going up.
A fellow trekker in the guesthouse had a pulse oximeter, a medical instrument that detects oxygen saturation levels in the blood. A normal reading is greater than 92% for healthy people. At altitude we would expect this to be less, Teo was at 78%.
We descended to Dughla (4610m) feeling a bit defeated, but deep inside we knew this was the right move.
Guesthouse: Kala Patthar Lodge
Cost: 300 NPR
Recommended: Yes. There are only two guesthouses in Dughla and this one is by far more hygienic looking. It is more expensive (we actually asked for a discount, normal rate is 500 NPR), but what we needed at this moment was comfort rather than budget. The food is good. The staff started a fire in the stove at dinner even though there were only four guests and passed around baskets of popcorn. Rooms are bright and clean and bathrooms are western style.
The original itinerary this day would have been to rise early in Gorak Shep, climb Kala Patthar for the amazing Everest view, return to Lobuche and continue on to Dzongla. It was an ambitious plan that could have been broken up into two days if necessary.
Teo was feeling much better sleeping at the lower altitude and we were excited to continue with our plan to cross the Cho La Pass to Gokyo Valley. The trail from Dughla to Dzongla is not well-marked and dozens of confusing yak trails criss-cross the hillside. After a short and steep uphill section we join the main Lobuche to Dzongla trail. Towering to our left the peaks of Taboche and Cholatse rise like two slumbering giants, in the distance we see the rooftops of Dzongla.
Guesthouse: Hotel Zongla Inn
Recommended: Yes. There are only five guesthouses in Dzongla, we chose this one because it had a warm dining room. We choose a room with attached bathroom (western toilet) shared only with one other room.
“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” ~Anatole France
Crossing the Cho La Pass was the most difficult trekking day of our journey. Under clear skies we struck out on the trail out from Dzongla. There are around 60 trekkers heading in our direction. We cannot see the pass from the early part of the ascent, in fact you actually never see Cho La Pass until you’re right on top of the glacier. Taking this route without a guide in low-visability conditions or after a snowstorm would be foolishly dangerous.
But today is clear and following the stone cairns and the narrow path is easy. After a couple of hours, we reach a shear rock face with a pile of large boulders to the right. Veering right we climb up through the boulders. The only indication of the trail is a faded arrow spray painted on one of the big rocks signalling the way to go. At the top of the boulders, the trail winds to the left. The Cho La Pass and glacier is right in front of us.
We begin walking on the glacier field, keeping left. The ice here is not too thick and lots of rocks poke through for foot traction. When the rocks disappear we sit down and put on microspikes. They work perfectly and we traverse the rest of the glacier with ease. We wear them for only 20-minutes or so and they are useful. Most trekkers do not have any.
We remove the microspikes and clamber past a small glacial pool up to the pass. Joining other trekkers we stand and admire the views in both directions. At 5420 meters, this is the highest either of us has ever been and after missing out on Everest Base Camp and the Kala Patthar hike, we relish the moment. An icy wind funnels through the pass, a signal that it is time to continue.
The trail down to Thagnak is steep and loose shale boulders make the footing very unstable. Compared to our slow pace coming up we are flying down. We pass several large groups coming up. These are mostly guided groups carrying very little gear and they look miserable. Ascending to Cho La Pass from Thagnak/Gokyo is not something we would recommend.
We briefly climb up two or three small hills before the final decent into Thagnak. It’s early afternoon and a light snow begins to fall.
Guesthouse: Khumbula Hotel
Recommended: It’s just OK. Thagnak is a small place with only a handful of guesthouses. The Khumbula Hotel is very basic. On the upside, they did start a fire in the dining room stove at dinner. We are used to the basic conditions we find in the tea houses. The real enjoyment comes from meeting other trekkers and swapping trail stories.
We could have combined today’s hike with yesterday, but we didn’t want to hike 9 hours. With the afternoon snowfall and being completely hammered after the Cho La Pass, we are glad we didn’t. Leaving Thagnak, the trail winds over to the Ngozumba Glacier, a scar of ice and rock gouged into the landscape. We descend onto the glacier, hiking on rocks and meandering around the miniature glacial lakes. The glacier is full of sublime blue-green lakes and stopping here to soak up the scenery is a requisite for today’s hike.
Getting off the ice field proves dangerous. We pass under a steep, landslide prone slope as several large rocks hurtle down behind us. Timing is everything here. Leaving the glacier, we climb to a lookout point getting our first glimpse of Gokyo Lake. Little did we know how drastically different the surrounding landscape would change in the next 24 hours.
Guesthouse: Gokyo Resort
Cost: 200 NPR
Recommended: Yes. This is the nicest guesthouse we’ve stayed in since Namche. The food is pricey, but delicious. The dining room is spacious and warm. We eat a walnut Danish at the bakery next door, something different from the usual cakes and pies.
The light snow that began yesterday afternoon has increased to six inches overnight and is still falling. Our plans to hike to the other lakes today are dashed. Many trekkers descend. We decide to stay put and hope for clear skies and an attempt at Gokyo Ri the following morning.
By afternoon the snowing has stopped. We crunch through fresh powder to the lake, now shrouded by a blanket of mist. We didn’t expect this winter wonderland scenery, it’s absolutely spellbinding.
Guesthouse: Gokyo Resort
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” ~Sir Rannulph Fiennes
We wake up at 4:45am to starry skies. The clouds have lifted and we start to ascend Gokyo Ri. The mountain is completely covered in snow and we walk on frozen ice dusted with powder.
We do not make the summit for sunrise but that doesn’t matter because in every direction the views are mind-blowing. The prayer flag strewn summit is freezing and we wear every layer of clothing we’ve got. The gusts of wind stab us like icicles. To the west we see Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse. We are surrounded by legendary Himalayan peaks, and below the triangular-shaped Gokyo Lake looks like a gemstone against the icy landscape.
Descending Gokyo Ri was not pretty. We slip on our asses regularly despite having a trekking pole each. Our microspikes would have been perfect here but we haven’t got them. Further down the melting ice turns to slush and under the slush is mud. Needless to say it’s a very slow trip down. In better conditions, the round trip could take around 3 hours.
We planned on descending to Dhole, but by the time we reach Machermo we were exhausted so we decided to stay the night. The trail is a mess, all slush and mud, forcing us to focus on our footing. Now and then we glimpse back at the snow-covered mountains we have left behind. Dropping below the snow-line is like waking from a dream and all the details start to fade. It’s hard to believe we’ve accomplished all that we have.
Guesthouse: Peaceful Lodge
Recommended: It just OK. Very basic guesthouse, food is fair, nothing special.
We think today’s hike will be an easy downhill stroll to Namche, instead we encounter an unexpected surprise . Passing Dhole we climb out of a small creek bed as a herd of yaks (30-40) comes down upon us. We both cling to the uphill side of the trail (as we are supposed to) but we are separated by a curve of the trail and cannot see each other. Three women are herding the yaks, mostly yelling and throwing sticks and rocks.
There is one baby yak in the herd and when it passes by Teo, the mother grunts and charges. Teo scrambles for a handhold on the steep hillside and before she can climb to safety she receives a headbutt on her outer thigh. The angry momma yak squares off for another charge, grunting with menacing eyes. Terrified, Teo has clawed up the steep slope finding refuge among small trees.
Johnny joins the shepherd women who by this time are all throwing stones at the angry yak. She attempts charging at all of us, sending us running into the trees. It’s all very scary, especially for Teo who now has to hike with a bruised leg . If there’s any lesson here, it’s to give the yak herds a wide berth, especially if babies are present.
We stop in Phortse Thanga for lunch at one of only two restaurants. The food is unimpressive, and the thoughts dinner in Namche motivates us to push on. From Phortse Thanga the trail climbs nearly 300 meters to Mong. The incline is brutal and we stop often to rest. Eventually we drop down, joining the main trail we had walked on Day 4 and before long we arrive in Namche.
Guesthouse: Khangri Hotel
Cost: 500 NPR
Recommended: Yes, if Khumbu Lodge is full this is a good alternative and just down two buildings. The rooms are bright and spacious. Wifi and wall sockets for charging electronics are free (wifi slow). The food is good (a bit pricey) and takes a long time to come, best to order early.
Today is Day 1 and 2 in reverse. Exhausted, we take our time descending and are amazed at the number of trekkers going up. We try to smile, remembering the shell-shocked looks of the returning trekkers we saw on our first days. Some people notice and are very stoked.
It’s hard to enjoy the Dudh Kosi scenery. The busy trail and long waits for the mule trains tests our patience. As beautiful as this lower section of the trek is, we just want to get our packs off and relax.
We give a little fist pump as we arrive into Lukla celebrating the moment. Walking over to the TIMS counter to check out the official waves us off. How would they ever know if someone went missing is beyond us. We find friends in a nearby guesthouse and celebrate with a cappuccino and slice of chocolate cake.
Guesthouse: Namaste Guesthouse
Cost: 300 NPR
Recommended: Yes. Good food, reasonable prices. Food is served fast. Close to airport.
We have a 7 am flight and depart from Lukla at 9 am. By Nepali standards, this is on time.
**Below is our original itinerary which is very doable. We had to change a couple of things due to altitude sickness, etc. We strongly recommend getting the earliest flights into and out of Lukla for 2 reasons, better weather to see the Himilayans (sit on the left side of plane to Lukla) and delayed flights are inevitable. You can book flights online with Tara Airlines.
Day 1: Fly into Lukla; Lukla to Monjo; Trekking Time: 5 hours
Day 2: Monjo to Namche Bazaar; Trekking Time: 5 hours
Day 3: Acclimatization Day in Namche Bazaar (Hike to Everest Hotel)
Day 4: Namche Bazaar to Tengboche; Trekking Time: 6 hours
Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche; Trekking Time: 6 hours
Day 6: Acclimatization Day in Dingboche (A day hike to Chukhung to acclimate)
Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche; Trekking Time: 5-6 hours
Day 8: Lobuche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp; Trekking Time: 3 hours to Gorak Shep, eat lunch, 4 hours to EBC and back to Gorak Shep
Day 9: Gorak Shep to Kala Pattar to Dzongla; Trekking Time: 7-8 hours
Day 10: Dzongla over Chola Pass to Thagnak; Trekking Time: 6.5-7 hours
Day 11: Thagnak to Gokyo; Trekking 2.5-3 hours
Day 12: Gokyo Sacred Lakes and Rest Day (2 nights); Trekking Time: 4 hours to go see the 5 lakes
Day 13: Climb Gokyo Ri then back to Gokyo to Dole; Trekking Time: 8.50 hours
Day 14: Dole to Namche Bazaar; Trekking Time: 5.50 hours
Day 15: Namche Bazaar to Lukla; Trekking Time: 6.50 hours
Day 16 Last Day: Fly Lukla to Kathmandu
For more information on our Himalayan trekking experiences please read our 4 part series, Nepal Trekking Tips:
Click here to read part 3: Everest Base Camp Trekking: Altitude Sickness and Other Annoyances
A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” ~John Steinbeck