The trek to Everest Base Camp

I was worried about the altitude. What I wasn’t ready for – at least mentally – was the cold.

The trek to Everest Base Camp, the official starting point for climbers of the world’s tallest mountain, is a roughly 130 kilometer journey reaching a height of 5,364 meters. It’s actually longer and has more elevation gain when you include the many acclimatization hikes taken on “rest days” and an additional hop up to Kala Patthar at 5,545 meters altitude, which offers a stunning vista of Mt. Everest and its neighboring peaks that’s far superior to the view from base camp.

As a frequent trail runner, the idea of a long trek up hills didn’t put me off – rather, I’ll happily spend stupid amounts of my money on trips that my friends think I’m crazy for, where I can satisfy my craving for what I like to call “Type 2 fun”.

Crossing a very high suspension bridge on day 3 of the trek
Approaching Base Camp on day 8

I’d only had two experiences trekking at an altitude of above 5,000 meters, though, and each time was positively miserable and made me feel like my brain was going to explode. So this time, I was pleasantly surprised at my body’s ability to acclimatize. What’s good about EBC is that you take 8 days to ascend, which gives most people ample time to adjust to the altitude. We’d stay for two nights at some spots, spending the days doing acclimatization hikes a few hundred meters up and then back down to sleep.

Nepalese prayer flags against the backdrop of the Himalayas
An acclimatization hike on day 5 with the stunning Ama Dablam (6,812m) in the background

The first few days of the trek were glorious weather-wise. Dramatic suspension bridge crossings, roaring rivers, towering cliffs and lush forested valleys made my jaw drop every time I looked around me. Sherpa, shepherds and the occasional Buddhist monk often passed us on the trail, sometimes with queues of yaks and mules transporting goods, their bells ringing out a sound that soon became like a comforting and familiar greeting.  

The day of hiking from Phakding to the legendary town of Namche Bazaar (at 3,400 meters altitude) flew by, and I was so hot at some points I hiked in my sports bra, my trusty Secret Training buff from wrapped around my wrist, ready to be broken out at the first hint of cold. (That buff was kindly thrown in as a freebie by David Hunt as I panic-shopped for last minute extra snacks and gear literally one day before my flight to Nepal. I ended up wearing it nearly every day of the trek).  

The weather changed very quickly as soon as we got up to Namche, a sort of mecca for climbers and trekkers where you can buy everything from top-of-the-line mountain gear and Yak wool to bottles of vodka and fake Ray Bans.

Yaks making their daily commute in Namche Bazaar

It started snowing – I was thrilled. Until it was time for bed, when I remembered none of the tea houses we stay in along the trails have heating. As long as you’re moving uphill, the cold doesn’t feel so bad. But sleeping was mostly a futile pursuit, harder every day as we gained altitude.

The altitude really started to hit me above 4,500 meters, where the body feels heavy and tired with each step and you get less oxygen out of each breath. Your heart is working overtime and at that point your immune system is down, you’re sleep deprived, you have a grating chesty cough and you can’t stop sniffling and hocking phlegm out of your throat. (Well, if you’re me, anyway. Sexy, I know).

Oh, and you haven’t changed your clothes or showered in days. (Makes me utterly in awe of the people I know who’ve summited Mt. Everest proper and other very high peaks; that ordeal is about four times as long and infinitely colder and more difficult. And even more in awe of the Sherpa who carry FAR more weight than we do, often in more rudimentary gear, every day for much of the year – and without whom our trips to the Himalayas would be impossible).

Some of the Sherpa along the trail; their strength and endurance is mind-boggling

One of the few simple joys we had as the days got harder were the snacks. I relied on three staples: Kendal mint cakes, Snickers, and Secret Training’s Stealth Juice Bars, the latter of which provided 27 grams of carbs per bar for sustaining my energy levels and fending off hunger. The pineapple/tropical flavor was my favorite, with the apple and blackcurrant one a close second – and because luckily they also tasted good, they served as little morale boosters as well.

My trusty snack bag of absolutely vital sustenance

This was my first time using the juice bars, which were super easy and convenient to eat while on the move. But it wasn’t my first time using this company’s products; I’ve long been a fan of the Stealth Energy Gels, having used them on long trail runs, marathons and ultras for the past few years. They say don’t try anything new on big treks, but with Stealth/Secret Training I felt I was in pretty good hands.

Finally reaching Base Camp after eight days was something magical. Frozen glacial ponds and massive ice formations were all around, and a vista of stunning 7,000 and 8,000 meter peaks – the peaks so many men and women have died trying to reach – surrounded us. It’s hard to describe the level of gravity one feels looking at those very mountains that have claimed so many lives, but also inspired so many dreams and delivered so many life-changing achievements.

See that black peak behind me? That’s Mt. Everest. The closer proximity of Nuptse to its right makes it look smaller, but trust me, IT AIN’T

The return journey was… less fun. My problem is that as soon as I’ve reached the top point of a trek, my brain and body decide “ok we’re done now”, all my adrenaline leaves, and, well… I just kind of hate everything. The 3 day slogfest back to cover 65km of muddy uphill and downhill did a number on my toes and knees, made even better by the rain and hail that decided to set in for us.

Clearly not thrilled after 9 hours of hiking in the rain and several purple toenails

Cold and altitude (and my fallen off toenails, RIP) aside… the trip was epic. I love living in Dubai, but sometimes I miss lush greenery and mountains so much it hurts. Nepal offered that in spades. Not to mention our fantastic guides and Sherpa who taught us so much about these incredible mountains and the people who live among them.

From the slightly terrifying plane ride in a tiny Twin Otter into Lukla airport where we started the trek – which is famed for being the world’s most dangerous airport to land in – to the first glimpse of Everest peak from Base Camp which actually brought me to tears, I will cherish these memories always. There are few things I would have changed.

Well, maybe bring more toilet paper. But that’s a matter for another blog post altogether.  

Approaching Everest Base Camp, a frozen glacial pond to the right.
A Sherpa woman leading a herd of yaks carrying supplies up to Base Camp
The tiny Twin Otter plane that flies us to Lukla, where the trek to Everest begins
This photo of me is from Day 1; I looked a lot less clean on the flight back.
The terrifying runway – just 500 meters long, and at a gradient so it’s an uphill landing – that makes Lukla airport the most dangerous to land in in the world. Luckily, the pilots are extremely skilled and our flights went smoothly.

By Natasha Turak

Posted on 25th Jun 2023