Completing the Everest Base Camp trek was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had. I posted daily updates about the trek to Instagram, but I also kept a pen-and-paper journal during the trek. I wanted to remember the Everest Base Camp trek in the most authentic way – and for me that’s through writing. So I brought along a notebook and every evening I spent a few minutes recording my thoughts on the day.
Everest Base Camp Trek Diary
Taking a leaf from my childhood friend Fiona’s blog, I’ve decided to publish my journal from the trek. It’s raw, honest, and really is word for word from my notebook. I have lots of practical Everest Base Camp trek blog posts planned, like packing guides and training plans, but if you really want to know what it’s like to do this trek, then this is the best way I can represent it to you. So if you’re curious about EBC, my experience, or wonder what it might be like… settle down with a cup of tea or coffee, and welcome to my innermost thoughts from the trail!
Day 1: Kathmandu
9pm, Kathmandu Guest House – 35 hours of travel yesterday led me to the steps of Kathmandu airport. I looked out at the crowd and wondered if the guide who was supposed to meet me gave up after my three hours of waiting in the visa line. But there they were with the Travel Her Way shirts and huge grins. When we met, Nirmal placed a necklace of orange flowers around my neck. So simple, but after so many sleepless and foodless hours of travel it was – somehow – just what I needed. At the hotel I met the other girls in my tour group. Never having done a group tour before, particularly solo, I am a bit apprehensive. We had a traditional Nepalese thali dinner complete with music, folk dance, and at one point a dancing Yak collecting money – maybe that was my post-travel hallucinatory state though? Today was our full day in Kathmandu. Freshly showered and eight hours of sleep later I felt ready to see this city. What a city it is. Motorbikes weave between cars. Babies are strapped to mothers’ backs. Plastic bags clog the low brown rivers. Matted sleepy dogs lie on doorsteps. Dust turns quickly to mud. Incense. Rice grains. Crumpled flowers. The city is clearly beautiful and ancient, but it’s also filthy. The air burns and catches in my throat with pollution. I blow my nose and it’s black like soot. I’ll end this now as I’ve got to be up for a 7:30am helicopter ride tomorrow!
Overview: Kathmandu sightseeing, Swayambhunath Stupa, Boudhanath Stupa, Living Goddess Temple, Pashupatinath Temple
Day 2: Kathmandu – Lukla – Phakding
2:55pm, Lukla cafe – Today we left the Kathmandu hotel at 7:30am to fly to Lukla – the start of the trek. We waited hours in the airport. I’ve come to realize that a lot of these next two weeks will be getting shuttled around, abiding by last minute decisions I have no say in (as they happen in Nepali). Going with the flow and the river is rather crooked. We had to separate into two groups as helicopters only seat four to five people (there are nine of us in the tour group). So one group left and I stayed at the airport. Then, they needed an extra person – I thought to go with our first group, but as I was led through the airport by Nirmal I discovered that no… I would be traveling by helicopter with a family of four from Myanmar. Surprise, Sarah! I do actually think a favorite aspect of travel is fleeting connections made with people on the road, deeper maybe for the fact you’ll likely never meet again. We loaded into the helicopter and took off. How do I describe it? Nauseating, exhilarating, whirring over mountain passes and blue roofed buildings. Have I mentioned Lukla is the most deadly airport in the world? And three people tragically died yesterday in a helicopter accident. In the headphones I could hear every communication between the pilots. I don’t speak “pilot” but I got the gist: mountain passes were closing, clouds lowering, would we make it to Lukla? After some rain spatters, black clouds, and wind, we landed. Our pilot turned back and said we were lucky – we were likely the last flight of the day. So I hugged the family farewell, and met up with the first four girls in a tea house. Now we are just waiting – sipping on garlic soup, watching the mist lower and fill the mountains. We don’t know if the other girls will make it out of Kathmandu today, if we will trek on today, if we’ll wait… who knows? Like I said, going with the flow.
9pm, Phakding teahouse – The other girls made it! After they arrived, our guides were quickly ferrying us off – we had to get trekking before it got dark. Today we actually lost altitude – 9,383 feet to 8,563 feet. Two and a half hours of up and down over slick and rocky trail, the occasional white and black panted Buddhist rock, yows grazing (they’re a mix between cow and yak), donkeys jingling their bells up the hills. We hurried – it was a fast pace as we were trying to avoid darkness. I was happy I could easily keep pace – I spent most of today’s trek following our other guide Sudip’s footsteps and chatting to him about life in Nepal. As night descended it got tougher – my headlamp is too dim to be any use I’ve discovered – but we arrived to the teahouse. After filling up on Dal Baht we are now in our beds. I’m actually not that tired. I could’ve happily stayed up for hours but I wonder if I’m running on adrenaline. Tomorrow will be much, much more difficult. Lots of elevation gain (our biggest day in that regard). So for now, I will try to sleep.
Overview: Helicopter flight to Lukla, trek Lukla to Phakding, lost 820 ft, 2.5 hours
Day 3: Phakding – Namche Bazaar
9pm, Namche Bazaar teahouse – Today we trekked from Phakding to Namche Bazaar. Maybe it’s because I had such low expectations for my abilities, and such high expectations for the challenge of today’s near constant ascent… but it felt good! My lungs and legs felt reliable. Of course it helps that we are surrounded by such beauty. Mountain peaks that surface between clouds, distant but powerful waterfalls, and five suspension bridges. Have you lived if you haven’t walked across a Nepalese suspension bridge? Probably – and your life expectancy is much higher! They are made of slatted metal with chain link siding, slung across great deep canyons with clear glacial runoff rivers beneath. And they’re tied up with tattered prayer flags that whip in the wind. Oh, and they have a penchant for swinging side to side. Actually, they didn’t frighten me like I expected. I just soaked it in, as much as I could. I dropped my lens cap and watched it fall neatly between the slats to the canyon beneath. And honestly my first thought was disappointment at contributing to pollution of this land. Around 4:30pm we reached Namche Bazaar – a hub of teahouses, cafes, shops, and markets. We will stay here two nights to acclimate. As we climbed endless steps to our teahouse I was just grinning like a maniac. You know when happiness spills out of you? Like that. I think everyone was relieved to reach our teahouse (called Moonlight) – some struggled more than others today although we all pushed through so well. I’m just content to have had a hot shower (accompanied by my laundry – now dripping in our room), a big platter of (guess…) Dal Baht, and an hour of giggles with some of the girls. Like, tears streaming from my eyes giggles. Maybe the altitude? I feel a bit wine drunk, sans the wine. But I’ll take it. Now the rain is drumming on our roof (so pleased it was clear and sunny on the actual trek!) and I should probably turn the light off so Meghan, my roommate, can sleep.
Overview: Trek Phakding to Namche Bazaar, gained 2,723 feet, 6 hours
Day 4: Namche Bazaar acclimatization day
9:38pm, Namche Bazaar teahouse – Today was an acclimation day. Sounds like a rest day (we were given the luxury of sleeping in until 7:30am), but we did do a hike. It was a short two hour hike up, up, up. The idea is to hike up to a higher elevation, wait there (AKA snacks, photos, and forest peeing), then return back down to lower elevation. Apparently, this helps us acclimate! I think I’m starting the notice the altitude but only in very small ways – my breathing is fine but my pulse feels faster than usual. After our hike, we were set free for the afternoon. Meghan, Zoe, Laura and I had the plan to peruse the small shops and then get a coffee at a café with free charging. In the teahouses, you have to pay for such luxuries. As soon as we left the teahouse, though, it started raining. Not long after, rain turned to hail – big fat hail similar to the kind in Michigan that elicits “this will damage your car” warnings. But it’s Nepal, right? So we continued on, hopping awning to awning, buying a few necessities (toilet paper) and trinkets (matching EBC shirts – now that I have the shirt I really have to make it). Eventually we settled at a café for charging, which was screening the Mount Everest documentary. So we sleepily sat back and ended up watching its entirety – it was heartbreaking and eye opening to how the Sherpa people are treated, who are paid so little to risk their lives guiding rich Westerners to the summit. It made me rethink some interactions with Nepalese people and reconsider the consequences of tourism here – not that I ever would but I’m glad I’m not contributing to the Everest summit tourism culture. Over dinner (surprise! Dal Baht!) everyone seemed in happy, content spirits. I think the rest day was needed. Tomorrow we are off again and I just hope it isn’t still rain/hailing!
Overview: Acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar
Day 5: Namche Bazaar – Tengboche
8:30pm, Tengboche teahouse – The hail/rain cleared for an 8am start this morning. We trekked from Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (~1,400 ft elevation gain). It was actually a gorgeous sunny day and we had our first view of Everest. The morning was long and mostly downhill, long because we keep stopping for people to pee or adjust layers. We joked that our guides should buy us diapers, lol, I don’t think they enjoy all the pee breaks. To be honest though I was a bit frustrated as well because it’s hard to get into a rhythm with such frequent stops. Our lunch break was low in a valley by a river. I had Dal Baht (shockingly), then we set off across a suspension bridge strung with faded prayer flags. Actually, we waited for a few Yaks to pass before we set off. Our afternoon trek was almost all up hill, snaking up the mountain side. We made a group decision to have more efficient/less stops and it went so much better. Our pace was slow and steady – I wanted to go faster but I’m glad I’m with the group because I think that’s exactly how I’d burn myself out. Over all I’m feeling okay – I’m maybe a little shorter of breath and have a slight headache. Honestly, though, I think it’s due to the water bladder I bought in Namche. It’s incredible for hydration but my pack is now two times heavier, and with no waist strap I’ve had to improvise by tying a scarf from the arm straps across my stomach to relieve some weight from my shoulders. Everyone is in really good spirits – poor Anna is really sick with a chest cold and stomach flu but she powered on and actually led us the whole afternoon. Tengboche is minimal but has a very famous monastery that we toured barefoot in the cold. It also has beautiful views of mountains like Ama Dablam – we waited maybe 45 minutes outside (in flip flops, solely laziness on my part) for a good sunset photo, but the clouds were rolling in and never fully parted. Clouds almost feel like mist here – so close and fast. With the crows, tin roofs, and three black dogs that howl and play in the field, it all feels a bit eerie. Tomorrow Meghan is getting up for sunrise photos. I may or may not go with her – I’ve been rising around 4-5am anyway so we’ll see. Her photos and dedication to lug her gear up these mountains are both inspiring. I can’t think of a better place to start relearning manual photography myself.
Overview: Trek Namche Bazaar to Tengboche, gained 1,377 feet, 4.5 hours
Day 6: Tengboche – Dingboche
8:33pm, Dingboche teahouse – This morning I witnessed my first mountain sunrise. Streaks of light shooting over Ama Dablam’s peak. Meghan called me up to a hill behind our tea house, higher than its tin roof. We waited maybe 45 minutes, shivering, before the sun crested its ridge and its rays spilled over the valley. The trek today was from Tengboche to Dingboche. Honestly the terrain was easy but for the first time I could feel the altitude in my lungs. On previous days I’ve just wondered if I’m short of breath from the strenuous walking or if it’s the altitude. But today was the first time I knew. I was feeling a little frustrated because so many of the other women hit their altitude challenge (“bonking”) earlier in the trek, have overcome it, and are feeling great now. I know we are entering the toughest altitudes but how sad would it be to get altitude sickness right before base camp! Anyway, this was just unnecessary worries. At lunch I took some deep breaths, trying to channel all my years of yoga teachers’ advice. When we measured oxygen saturation at lunch mine was 97 which didn’t seem possible. Maybe it was a fluke in the machine, or my deep breathing worked, but it gave me the spur I needed to go on in the afternoon. The second half of the trek was much easier on my lungs, and Nirmal fixed my backpack with the scarf over my head, the way Nepalese porters wear their packs. It eased so much tension from my back muscles and even though I felt like a total dick each time we passed the porters with their massive loads, it was so worth it. The terrain has definitely changed today. In the morning I counted the helicopters that flew overhead. At this point in the trek, we know they are rescue helicopters. We also passed the tree line. The lush forest and rhododendrons have given way to a rocky, dusty landscape, scattered with shrubs and sharp wind. It began to snow as we approached Dengboche – a far cry from yesterday’s short sleeves. It’s freezing in the massive teahouse but warm and cosy in the dining hall. It’s heated by a wood stove and the stinking body heat of a hundred trekkers. We played some cards tonight and Sudip taught us the “Nepalese Mountain game” – at least I think that’s the name. Tomorrow is a rest day so I’m grateful for that.
Overview: Trek Tengboche to Dingboche, gained 1,805 feet, 5 hours
Day 7: Dingboche acclimatization day
8:32pm, Dingboche teahouse – Today was our acclimatization day (second and last) in Dingboche. We had a steep 2.5 hour hike in the morning to acclimatize. Once we hit a rhythm it felt good. It’s hard not to with clear skies and the Himalayas’ frosted peaks surrounding us. After lunch (Dal Baht) we had the day to ourselves to explore. Some girls headed into town but honestly there’s not much “town” to see, and I didn’t need any necessities, so I stayed in the teahouse and read. Mainly, I sat in the semi-warm dining room (the only heated area of the teahouse – by one small stove), and tried not to fall asleep. The evening was much the same. We played cards (a new game called Spades), ate popcorn, drank thermoses of tea, and for dinner Dal Baht – of course. Tomorrow we’re off on our hike to Luboche. I’m excited to get on the trail again!
Overview: Dingboche acclimatization day
Day 8: Dingboche – Luboche
8:47pm, Luboche (Pyramid) teahouse – Today our trek was a sobering one. Maybe because I’m focusing more on my breathing than speaking, I am being more introspective. Early on in our trek we passed a porter who had fallen and hit his head. He had a crowd around him, trying to help. I could see the blood pooling out of his mouth and his glazed eyes. Our guides hurried us on – he had plenty of help – and later we heard the rescue heli land for him. It was sobering and I know it upset some of the girls a lot. After all, the path was simple. Anyone could have slipped and hit their head on a rock. Later we came to the memorial shrine for people who have died in the Himalayas trying to summit. It’s a big field with faded strips of prayer flags, and stone cairns scattered around. We took a break there and our guides started to lead us in a little dance party. Just letting out some joy felt necessary – like a testament to being alive and moving in this dangerous glorious landscape. Then, however, a Swiss man came up and yelled to us “You do know you’re in a cemetery, right?” This upset some girls, who felt if our guides, who are from Nepal, were encouraging dancing, then it was appropriate. I had a mixed reaction. At first, I felt guilty and disrespectful. But then I thought of the most meaningful funerals I’ve been to. All treated as a celebration of life. And isn’t that the Nepalese way? Death is so different here. In Kathmandu we sat with our feet dangling over a ledge in the cremation temple, shrouded in the smoke of burning bodies. A ceremony that seemed obscenely public at the time, but that’s Hindu culture – celebrate and honor death with a show. Joy and grief can exist alongside each other. Really, what a Western conception that death should be somber. These people died on the mountains doing what they loved. Maybe the utmost respect we can give is to take this love and joy and carry it with us? We arrived to Luboche in the afternoon to a cozy tea house – it’s called the “Italian Pyramid” and is quite literally a pyramid, lined in solar panels. I took a shower which felt life giving. Everyone’s tired but tomorrow’s the day – base camp. My stomach just turned thinking of it.
Overview: Trek Dingboche to Luboche, gained 1,738 feet, 5 hours
Day 9: Luboche – Gorakshep – Everest Base Camp – Gorakshep
7:30pm, Gorakshep tea house – Base camp day. I was too excited to sleep much. We started trekking early from the Italian Pyramid tea house. The muddy ground was frozen solid. When we finally reached Gorakshep, where our teahouse is, we settled in for lunch. Then, came the trek to base camp. As we started off after lunch I just wanted to run, or skip. So thrilled to be here and feeling good. But the path was rocky. Lots of clambering over boulders for 1.5 hours, probably the most technically difficult section of trail we’ve had. And of course it started snowing – the mountains covered in thick clouds. At one point, a man came up behind Tandy and in trying to pass her almost knocked her off a rock. It was so awful. We were all yelling at him to stop and be patient but he ignored us. Base camp isn’t moving, it’s not a race to get there. When we reached base camp at last it was snowing hard. There’s not much to it – some signs and prayer flags, and a fair few yellow tents. We took our photos and I was just beaming the whole time – not because base camp is beautiful or a terribly climactic destination – but because of the steps it took to get there. The physical steps on the trail, and other steps like quitting my job, buying the ticket, booking this experience even though I didn’t really know why the hell I was doing it at the time. And why did I? I think I’m still figuring that out. But in a lot of ways it comes down to my body. I’ve grown so distrustful and betrayed by my body after these past few years of health problems. But this trek to base camp has made me nothing but grateful for my body – it’s not perfect and it won’t ever be 100% healthy again, but it’s doing its best.
Overview: Trek Luboche to Gorakshep to Everest Base Camp and back to Gorakshep, gained 1,393 feet, 7 hours
Day 10: Gorakshep – Kala Patthar – Pheriche
8:48pm, Pheriche (Edelweiss) teahouse – Today was our first day of descent, Gorakshep to Pheriche. It was honestly brutal, for everyone in a lot of ways. We started off with a short steep hike up Kala Patthar to view Everest (in Nepali, called Sagamartha, or mother of earth) and Pumori (unmarried daughter of Everest in Nepalese). It was tough but stunning. On the around six hour trek down to Pheriche, though, things got worse. After struggling for days with my back on the verge of spasm, it finally happened. The pain is intense and comes in waves. It’s difficult to think of anything else but the pain. What’s more frustrating is my body feels great – legs, lungs, everything is strong apart from this one muscle in my back. 800mg Ibuprofen was minimal help, as are heating patches and pain cream. Carrying my backpack slung over the crown of my head like a porter does help ease some pressure even though I still feel ridiculous doing that. I think everyone was low in their own ways today – most people are coming down with a cold (luckily I’ve avoided that so far). With base camp to motivate us no longer and days tripling in distance, it’s difficult. A lot of the girls were also suffering from altitude and their headaches haven’t been relieved by descent as much as expected. On top of all this we’ve found out it will be impossible to get a flight out of Lukla directly to Kathmandu. This means we will have to charter a helicopter again, which could be up to $500 per person. We are all so frustrated – I mean we have to get off this mountain somehow but this really does feel like being backed into a corner with limited choices. Well this has been a downer. I hope my back feels better in the morning and that everyone’s spirits are higher. With only a few days left in this place I want to appreciate it the way it deserves.
Overview: Trek Gorakshep to Kala Patthar and then down to Pheriche, lost 4,173 feet, 7 hours
Day 11: Pheriche – Namche Bazaar
9pm, Namche Bazaar teahouse – I woke up this morning and made the conscious decision to be happy. To appreciate where I am – the most wild and stunning land I’ve ever been in and who knows when I’ll have the opportunity to return. Sure the flights/helicopter situation is a bummer and up in the air. Sure my body is filthy and growing blisters. But I’m finding you can overcome most things with a simple mental shift. That, and it helps my back felt much less spasmy this morning. We had a long descent, 20km from Pheriche to Namche Bazaar. I got into a rhythm and just kept moving. Meghan and Laura were keeping pace with me and it was this lovely little bubble of positivity. I do feel awful that everyone else is so sick, though. After such a rough and negative day yesterday, though, I just want to enjoy my time here while I can. That, and the faster I walk the sooner I can get this pack off my back. It was a gorgeous sunny day. We passed the tree line and witnessed rhododendrons blooming that were just dark buds last week. It was fun. God, I really fucking love being outside. I want so much more of this in my life. I feel strong and capable and determined and like there is some force in me I was never aware of before. When we got to Namche we showered (glorious) and waited about an hour for the other girls. Meghan and Laura also came down with the cold tonight, too, leaving me as the sole person in the whole group who isn’t sick. No clue how or why that’s happened, as I’m pretty much the most sickly person I know. Dal Baht power? Maybe. Jokes aside, this genuinely feels like an identity shift. After years, and in this high altitude intense mountain environment, I’m not the sick girl. And if I’m not the sick girl, who am I?
Overview: Trek Pheriche to Namche Bazaar, lost 3,054 feet, 6 hours
Day 12: Namche Bazaar – Lukla
8:39pm, Lukla teahouse – Our last day of trekking today – what a day. We descended another 20km from Namche to Lukla, bringing our total for the trek to 130km. My feet are covered in blisters, my toenails feel ready to fall off, and you can hardly see my skin between blister patches, K-tape, and bandages. Oh, and dirt too. Descent is rough on my feet thanks to a too-large fitting when I had to last minute buy my hiking boots in England. I just had to keep moving today, which I did. It’s like the faster I move the less time there is pressure on my feet and back. The trek was long but gorgeous – rocky, dusty (until a patch of warm rain), blue-misted mountains, and a fair few donkeys. Several times I paused just to breathe it in. Fresh air mingling with dust, manure, rhododendron. I can’t believe I’m in Nepal, I climbed to base camp, and my body feels good. Like, there’s pain on the outside, but inside everything feels right. Not only did I avoid the “Khumbu Cough” but the descent in altitude has me feeling super human. I could power myself up these hills all day (and I did). I don’t know why me – why I feel this good and others are suffering – but I’m grateful. Yes I’m in pain, but as Nirmal says that’s all “proof of mountain.” In Lukla we all reunited and walked to our teahouse together. From there we took our guides and porters out to dinner. I had a bun-less burger and fries and holy shit that was life altering. Pretty sure there’s nothing better than greasy food after being outside for days on end. I wish we could’ve stayed out with our guides and porters (personally I really want to see the Nepalese dancing style lol) but everyone else is so sick so we headed back to the teahouse. Honestly I don’t know what’s come over me these past weeks. When I should feel most exhausted I actually feel the most energized, rejuvenated, and content that I have in years.
Overview: Trek Namche Bazaar to Lukla, lost 1,903 feet, 6 hours
Day 13: Lukla – Kathmandu
5:30am, Lukla teahouse – Woke up next to fogged-over window for my last morning in the Himalayas. Past the frosting pink curtains I can see the yellow light on the mountain peaks. Not much color but they’re lit up like a stage. My last Himalayan mountain sunrise. Some roosters are crowing. It’s dawn but already the clop of donkey hooves on the stone street below me. A distant sing song chant – monks? And after all that, the overpowering sound of an airplane engine. Lukla. I’m filthy and my foot is swollen, my fingernails are cut close but still black dirt finds its way underneath. I don’t know when or if the helicopters will get us back to Kathmandu today, or to my flight tomorrow, but I’m just trying to be here now.
10:12pm, Kathmandu Guest House – Well, it’s almost over. In the helicopter this morning, I sat by the window and gripped Tandy’s hand. We rose up from Lukla and took off between mountain passes – the pine trees so green and near it’s like I could reach out my had and brush them. I just stared out the helicopter window thinking thank you thank you thank you. To the mountains, and the people on them. Back in Kathmandu, I showered, had two massages (a mix up but I’m not complaining), our last group dinner, and another shower. I’m alone in the room now (poor Meghan is in the hospital with pneumonia). My stuff is spilled everywhere – I’ll leave it to pack in the morning. I feel clean and I don’t feel like myself at all and I feel so much more like myself than I have in ages. I’m not sure how I’ll feel on the plane tomorrow, or once I arrive in London. But I’m going to take whatever feeling comes up and live in it. That’s what I’ve learned from Everest.
Overview: Helicopter flight Lukla to Kathmandu, spa day in Kathmandu
Everest Base Camp trek – what a wild experience that is going to shape me and my travels for years to come. I’m still reflecting and learning from these past few weeks. If you have specific questions about the Everest Base Camp trek, my experience, and more, please leave a comment below. I’ll be sharing more Everest Base Camp trek blog posts in the coming weeks.
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*I completed the Everest Base Camp trek as a brand ambassador for Travel Her Way, meaning I received a media rate for the trip. I was not required to write about my experience, and all opinions are (as always) my own. You can read more about the treks that Travel Her Way offers here.