Trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC) was no joke. I thought it would be. Over the two weeks four people died, many were evacuated via helicopters, 1 in 4 got food poisoning, and even more felt the painful first stage of altitude sickness.
Fortunately I only added to two of those figures. By the time I reached Base Camp I was well into the first stages of altitude sickness due to dehydration from five days of food poisoning that hit me four days into the trek (meat sanitation is extremely poor past the the town of “Namche” as it’s all carried un-refrigerated on the backs of porters. While I avoided meat, I most likely got food poising from cross contamination from the kitchen staff. Thank you Hotel Hilayan.).
Altitude Sickness: At 18,200 ft, Everest Base Camp has 2/3rds the oxygen of sea level which is why it’s a good place to acclimatize your body before heading further up the worlds tallest peak. The lack of oxygen causes a myriad of issues. The most common is a bad headache. From there your body can further deteriorate leading to Pulmonary Edema (your lungs filling with fluid) and death.
*(Make shift helicopter pads, and the constant buzz of helicopters overhead serve as a bleak reminder of the stream of people being evacuated off the mountain.)
The scariest thing about Altitude sickness is its vague symptoms and how it randomly selects its victims. An Olympic athlete could be hit with altitude sickness while your grandmother carelessly snaps photos of the pretty high altitude scenery.
So, If you decide to go… take it seriously.
Aside from the dangers, it is unbelievably beautiful and far more rewarding then I could have imagined.
I went with a guide from Advanced Adventures (Laxman, aka “the Locks-A-Nator”) and couldn’t have been happier that I did. You can go on your own and you’d probably be fine and save a little money, but make sure you do your research and can handle carrying your bag the equivalent distance of halfway across the country of Nepal. In the end, I’d pay extra for the safety and convenience.
With a guide and two porters to carrier our heavy bags it cost $1,150 a person. This includes accommodation and food for the whole trek (About 14 days). (Not including water. You can buy water for 150-300 Rupees [$2-4 liter, at minimum of 3 liters a day], or buy purification tabs).
It takes about 10 days from Lukla (Airport) to ascend to base camp (8,800 vertical feet). Two of those days are acclimatization days where you hang out with other travelers and go on small hikes to keep your body adjusting to the lack of oxygen. The hiking it self is pretty easy and straight forward with a well worn path and short hiking days to help acclimatize. The challenge is your fighting your body. With less oxygen your heart pumps faster and your breathing spikes. You also must force water and food into you body which gets old quick. If you find your self lucky enough to avoid food poisoning and altitude sickness, it’s a pretty easy hike.
The decent from base camp can be done in 3 days or less.
I unfortunately suffered from a catch 22; I couldn’t retain water because of the food poisoning and I was getting increasingly hit by the effects of altitude sickness because I wasn’t retaining enough water. By the time we ascended from base camp I was barely able to get myself out of bed where I’d repeat the phrase,”One foot in front of the other”.
I was complaining to an english guy about 2 days away from base camp about our similar symptoms. We got word while accending from base camp that he was evacuated by Helicopter from Chola Pass with the symptoms of Pulmonary Edema and was held in the hospital for 3 days.
One important note; Have travel insurance! Helicopter evacuation, which can be life or death, runs $6,000-$10,000 US.
Other than the obvious dangers, it’s an amazing trip!