Sagarmatha/Mt. Everest: The Highest Mountain in the World

Sagarmatha/Mt. Everest: The Highest Mountain in the World
Photo by Andreas Gäbler / Unsplash

Introduction

Situated between Nepal and Tibet, Sagarmatha, also known as Mount Everest, holds the distinction of being the tallest peak on Earth, towering at 8,849 meters. The historic ascent of Everest took place in 1953 when Edmund Hillary, a renowned mountaineer from New Zealand, along with his guide Tenzing Norgay, reached its summit, marking a milestone in human achievement. The Everest region in Nepal transcends mere climbing and trekking; it offers a transformative journey often likened to the pursuit of Nirvana. Nestled in the northeastern province of Nepal, this area boasts awe-inspiring glaciers, treacherous ice falls, towering peaks, profound valleys, resilient settlements, and inhabitants who confront the harshness of nature's challenges at high altitudes. Traversing through legendary Sherpa villages, the trek encompasses profound cultural and spiritual encounters intertwined with physical trials that test one's fortitude and resilience. Guided by Buddhist monks under the leadership of Rinpoches, the predominantly Sherpa communities find solace and guidance in their Gumbhas (monasteries).

How to reach Everest Base Camp (5364m)?

  1. By Helicopter 

Embarking from Kathmandu, the helicopter tour commences with a scenic journey over the hills of Nagarkot and Jiri before making its first stop at Lukla for a brief refueling session. The flight then continues over Namche Bazaar and Syangboche, ultimately reaching the iconic Everest Base Camp. Subsequent highlights include soaring over the Khumbu Glacier of Everest and a mesmerizing overflight to Kalapatther (5545m), renowned as the premier viewpoint of the Everest Region.The optimal time to experience this tour is typically from January to June and September to December. With a duration of approximately 4 to 5 hours in the morning, it offers a swift and exhilarating route to Everest Base Camp. However, this convenience and adventure come at a cost, with the helicopter tour priced around $1500 per person.

white and yellow plane on gray asphalt road during daytime
Photo by Siddharth Jadhav / Unsplash
  1. By Plane

Every day, there's a direct flight from Kathmandu to Lukla Airport, operating from 6 am to 10:30 am. Lukla Airport, also recognized as Tenzing Hillary Airport, is renowned as one of the most perilous airports due to its precarious location amidst the towering Himalayan peaks, making both landing and takeoff exceptionally challenging. The flight typically spans around 35 minutes to reach Lukla and from there, the Everest Base Camp Trek commences at Namche Bazaar, situated approximately 13.5 km away from the airport. This trek typically takes 10 to 12 days from Namche Bazaar to complete.

  1. By Bus or Jeep

Traveling by private jeep or bus will only get you as far as Jiri or Phaplu. From Jiri, it's about a 5-hour journey to Phaplu. The trip from Kathmandu to Jiri takes approximately 7 to 8 hours, with fares ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 800. It takes around 12 hours from Kathmandu to Phaplu and costs between Rs. 1600 to Rs. 2000. In contrast, the journey from Pokhara to Jiri takes 12 to 14 hours and costs between $30 to $50. Therefore, it's more efficient to travel directly from Kathmandu to Jiri or Phaplu instead of making a round trip from Pokhara.

From Phaplu, trekkers embark on a journey spanning 23.7 kilometers, taking three to five days to reach Lukla. Phaplu, situated at an altitude of 2,400 meters, offers a picturesque starting point characterized by lush hillsides and a more vibrant village atmosphere with fewer trekkers. The area provides warmer weather and serves as an ideal acclimatization opportunity before ascending to higher altitudes.

Despite the similar altitudes of Phaplu and Lukla, trekkers benefit from gradual acclimatization due to the Khumbu region's terrain, which involves trekking both uphill and downhill before reaching Phakding. While altitude may not pose a significant issue, the trek itself presents challenges, particularly in the form of steep ascents and descents that can strain the thighs and knees. The section between Kharikhola and Lukla, in particular, demands endurance, offering minimal scenic or cultural distractions. However, preceding Kharikhola, trekkers are treated to picturesque landscapes featuring rice terraces, farmland, and charming villages adorned with stupas and monasteries. Because it is a trekking route, there are many hotels and tea houses available at an affordable rate. It helps the trekkers to get an amazing experience with the locals.

The trek from Jiri to Lukla spans five to seven days, covering a distance of 49.8 kilometers and reaching an altitude of 1,905 meters. This route showcases the rural charm of Nepal, meandering through welcoming villages surrounded by farmlands and rice terraces, with limited encounters with other trekkers. Villages such as Bhandar, Kenja, Junbesi, and Khari Khola offer a glimpse into the daily life of rural Nepalese communities, where locals are often seen engaged in activities like tending to their livestock, cultivating small plots of land, sun-drying food, and working in the fields.

Despite its scenic beauty, the Jiri to Lukla trek is challenging, characterized by steep ascents and descents. Trekkers must climb the Lamjura La pass and Trakshindu pass, only to descend into the valleys before ascending once more. However, there are numerous tea houses and guesthouses along the route, providing trekkers with the opportunity to rest and replenish their energy at any point.

Trekking routes in Nepal offer varied experiences, each dependent on the traveler's time constraints. For those seeking a more immersive experience, trekking from Jiri or Phaplu provides a deeper insight into Nepal's villages and lifestyles, accompanied by breathtaking scenery. However, if time is limited and efficiency is key, flying directly to Lukla and commencing the trek from there might be a more suitable option, allowing trekkers to maximize their time on the trail without unnecessary additional walking.

Upon reaching Lukla, trekkers embark on a two-day journey to Namche Bazaar, which lies 13.5 kilometers away. This part of the trek includes the route from Lukla- Pakding- Namche, spanning an altitude gain from 2860 meters to 3500 meters. The trail presents a challenging terrain, with a steady uphill climb, steep inclines, and a path that largely parallels the Dudh Kosi River. Notable landmarks along the way include the iconic Hillary Suspension Bridge and the first glimpse of Mount Everest from a clearing in the forested trail.

Namche Bazaar serves as a pivotal resting point, allowing trekkers to acclimatize to the increasing altitude. The town, a vibrant Sherpa market hub, offers a range of attractions and activities. Known as the gateway to the Everest Region, Namche Bazaar provides breathtaking panoramic views of Everest and other Himalayan peaks. From Namche, the trek to Everest Base Camp spans approximately two weeks.

When to visit?

The optimal climbing season in Nepal typically falls between April and May, as well as before the onset of the monsoon season. The window for climbing extends from June to August. Venturing beyond this time frame exposes climbers to harsh summit weather conditions and heightened risks of avalanches. Additionally, the trails become slippery, and frequent rainfalls can impede the trek to the base camp. For those aiming to summit Everest Base Camp, the recommended period is late June to August. Nepal experiences two distinct trekking seasons: pre-monsoon, spanning from March to May, and post-monsoon, from September to December. The trail sees its highest influx of visitors during April, May, and October. However, travelers seeking a quieter experience may opt for March, September, November, or December to explore the region with fewer crowds.

How much does it cost?

To access Everest Base Camp, two permits are necessary: the Khumbu Rural Municipality Permit and the Sagarmatha National Park Entry Permit. Foreign nationals can obtain the Khumbu Rural Municipality Permit for NPR 2,000 per person for the initial four weeks, with the fee increasing to NPR 2,500 per person thereafter. Additionally, foreign nationals must pay NPR 3,000 per person to enter Sagarmatha National Park. On the contrary, citizens of SAARC nationals are charged NPR 1500 only. These permits require presentation of a passport for issuance.

Many travel agencies offer Everest Base Camp trek packages, which prove beneficial for novice trekkers. These packages typically cover accommodation for the 12 to 15-day trek, domestic flights, permit fees, seasoned guides, as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner provisions. Moreover, porters and a medical kit are included in the package. The cost of these packages vary from agencies to agencies.

What to pack?

When preparing for a trek, it's crucial to pack only essential items to avoid unnecessary weight. Light, quick-drying clothes are ideal for summer, spring, and autumn treks, while warm layers are necessary for winter. A waterproof jacket and trousers are essential. Quality gear like a down sleeping bag, trekking boots, and merino layers are crucial for comfort and safety. It's important to break in trekking boots before the trip and ensure they offer ankle support and are waterproof. Additional items like maps, toiletries, extra batteries, cameras, sunscreen, and a first aid kit are also necessary.

People residing in the Everest Region

Sherpas, known for their expertise in climbing, are the local people of the region, not just mountain guides as commonly thought. Their guidance is essential for Everest expeditions, as they are deeply knowledgeable about the terrain. Many Sherpa households have individuals who are either legendary climbers or actively involved in climbing, holding numerous records. Their livelihood relies heavily on mountaineering, tourism, and agriculture, with mountaineering being the primary source of income. Sherpas have a distinct language and culture, evident in the presence of monasteries, prayer flags, and prayer wheels in the region. Their resilience and adaptation to high-altitude living are remarkable, as they are accustomed to low oxygen levels due to their year-round residence at such altitudes.

Places to visit in Everest Region

houses under cloudy sky during daytime
Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri / Unsplash
  1. Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar, at 3,500m, serves as a vital stop for Everest expeditions and offers stunning views. It's a vibrant market town selling Tibetan artifacts and trekking gear. The visitor center provides information on climbs and Sherpa culture. Known for yak cheese, Namche retains its ancient charm despite development. It's wise to acclimatize here for a few days, exploring nearby villages like Thame and Khumjung. The weekly market fair is a highlight, showcasing goods from Tibet and neighboring areas. Namche has become a bustling tourist hub, offering last-minute essentials for climbers and trekkers.

photography of house in front of mountain
Photo by Martin Jernberg / Unsplash
  1. Tengboche

Tengboche, nestled beneath sacred Khumbila with the stunning backdrop of Ama Dablam, is home to the renowned Tengboche Monastery. This monastery, a significant Buddhist center in the Khumbu region, features a resident Rinpoche who blesses pilgrims, mountaineers, and travelers. The Mani Rimdu festival in October is a major event here, showcasing Buddhist traditions with religious ceremonies, dances, and enactments. Visitors can join in the festivities and tour the monastery in the afternoons. Surrounded by pine trees, azaleas, and colorful rhododendrons, the monastery offers panoramic views of Everest, Lhotse, and Ama Dablam. Tengboche provides lodging options and camping sites, serving as a gateway to Pheriche, Kala Pattar, Gorakshep, and Everest Base Camp. It's important to acclimatize properly to avoid altitude sickness when trekking in this area.

man in yellow shirt sitting on rock near body of water during daytime
Photo by Yana Druzhinina / Unsplash
  1. Gokyo Valley

The Gokyo Valley, nestled in the western part of the Khumbu region, is a serene destination known for its pristine glacial lakes. Part of Sagarmatha National Park, the valley offers stunning views and extensive pastures for yaks. It can be reached by trekking from Everest Base Camp or directly to Gokyo, or by chartering a helicopter. The valley is dotted with small villages and tea houses catering to trekkers. From Gokyo, trekkers can enjoy panoramic views of Cho Oyu and other eight-thousanders like Everest and Lhotse. Climbing Gokyo Ri (5,357m) offers a spectacular view of the peaks and lakes. The Gokyo lakes are of religious significance to Hindus and Buddhists and serve as a refuge for migratory birds. Gokyo is also home to the world's highest altitude ice skating range and is a Ramsar site.

a group of tents set up in the mountains
Photo by Dylan Shaw / Unsplash
  1. Khunde and Khumjung

During a day or two of acclimatization in Namche, consider hiking to nearby Sherpa villages like Khunde and Khumjung. These hikes offer a chance to immerse yourself in Sherpa culture, enjoy local cuisine, and witness breathtaking mountain views. Khunde and Khumjung are traditional villages with stunning surroundings. Khunde is home to the Kunde Hospital, established by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1966, providing medical care to locals and trekkers. Khumjung, nestled at the base of the sacred peak Khumbila, is the largest village in the Khumbu region. A visit to Khumjung School, also established by Hillary's Himalayan Trust in 1960, is also recommended.

gray temple scenery
Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri / Unsplash
  1. Sagarmatha National Park

Sagarmatha National Park is a remarkable area known for its breathtaking mountains, glaciers, deep valleys, and seven peaks exceeding 7,000 meters. The park is a haven for rare wildlife such as the Snow Leopard, Red Panda, Himalayan Tahr, Himalayan Serow, Indian Leopard, and Musk Deer. Recognized for its outstanding natural beauty and preservation efforts, UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site in 1979. The park is home to over 20 villages and approximately 6,000 Sherpas, who have lived in the region for centuries. It boasts more than 1,000 floral species and 208 bird species, including the Impeyan Pheasant, Bearded Vulture, Snowcock and Alpine Chough.

Conclusion

In summary, the journey to Everest Base Camp offers an unforgettable adventure, showcasing not only breathtaking natural beauty but also the rich culture of the Sherpa people. Travelers can immerse themselves in this experience, interacting with locals and witnessing diverse flora and fauna along the trail. The trek's gradual ascents and descents provide natural acclimatization, while Sagarmatha National Park, home to Everest, boasts some of the world's highest mountains and rare biodiversity. Despite its challenges, Everest Base Camp remains a premier destination for mountaineers and adventurers, drawing visitors from around the world. Whether you're a seasoned trekker or new to adventure, reaching Everest Base Camp is a remarkable achievement that leaves a lasting impact.