TREKKING IN EVEREST REGION
Located in the half of Nepal, the Everest region offers a wide range of trekking experiences. From the well- developed trail to Everest Base Camp to treks in remote semi-wilderness areas, there is a choice to suit all-comers.
The most frequented part of the region is located in Solukhumbu district, the home of the legendary Sherpas. The northern part of the district (Khumbu) is encompassed in the Everest Natioal Parks, which was established to protect the fragile environment of this alpine region. To the eastof everest National Park is the Makalu BARUN National Park, a remote and wild stretch of mountain peaks and deep densely forested valleys. To the west is the Rolwaling valley, a well protected mocrcosm of cultures and ecology. The southern part of the district, Solu is much less frequented by tourists and can be a very rewarding destination in its own right.
Besides Mount Everest there are three other 8000 meter peaks in the region, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, and Makalu and in addition numerous other peaks of lesser altitute but no less stunning. Add to this glacial lakes,rohododendron forests, native flora and fauna, traditional villages and ancient Buddhist monasteries, all go to makes this region a spectacular destination.
PERMITS AND FEES
No special trekking permits are required to visit this areas provided that the trekkers do not climb any of the peaks. An entry fee is charged for access to Everest National Park. This is payable at the National Park desk in Thamel. For treks to the east of the main Everest trail an additional permits is required to enter Makalu Barun National Park obtainable from the same location.
Access into the Everest region can only be made by air or on foot. By road, the only practical road head at this time is JIRI, a seven to ten hour( depending on roa condition) bus ride from Kathmandu. A new road is under construction to Salleri, the district headquarters, but this will probably not be complete for another five years at least. It is also possible to trek to the Everest region via the Arun valley where the road head is at Hille, a twenty hour bus ride from the capital. These times are all by local bus as there is no tourist bus service available at this time. Private cars and taxis could be used and would reduce the travelling time considerably but obviously at extra cost. Buses to Jiri currently leave from the old bus park in central Kathmandu.
By air there are three options. The most convenient for Everest treks is Lukla, which is serviced by many daily flights from Kathmandu. Three days walk to the south, near the district headquarters, is Phaplu airstrip, which is serviced by daily flights. This is useful to treks in the southern part of the region or for Everest trekkers who want to gain extra acclimatisation and see some of the less eveloped parts of the district.
The last choice is the small airstrip at Syangboche, which is located above Namche Bazer. While this is an option, its altitude (3769 meters) makes it an impractical and unwise choice as an arrival destination for acclimatization reasons.
PEOPLA AND CULTURE
The main ethnic group that visitors will encounter in the Everest region is the Sherpas. This is their heartland and their influences is to be seen everywhere from their traditional drss to their distinctive houses and village monasteries. There are also minorities of various other groups, notably Rai and Tamang in the lower hills and the ubiquitous Brahmin aand Chhetri farmers of the valleys.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The flora and fauna to be seen are quite diverse since the region ranges in altitude from less than 2000 meters above the sea level at Jiri to the high peaks of the Himalaya at over 8000 meters. Up to 4000 meters you will find a dense stands of forest including pine, Oak, and the spectacular flowering rhododendrons. The latter are one reason to make a trip to Nepal in the spring when the hills between 2000 and 3500 meters are a riot of colours.
The crops under cultivation will depend on the season that you visit but expect to see wheat, barley, corn, and potatoes at some stage. Domesticated animals will range from cattle, buffalo, goats, and pigs to the all purpose beast of the mountains- the yak.
There is a good chance of seeing wildlife, mostly birds including the national bird of Nepal- the Impeyan Pheasant, or Danfe, which is quite common around Namche Bazer. Other notable birds will include the ravens and crows of the middle hills and the choughs which soar to seemingly impossible heights in the mountains. Also in the mountains look for flocks of snow pigeons wheeling around the hillsides.
Land animals can be more elusive but look out for mountain goats ( most commonly the Himalayan Tahr) and, if you are lucky , musk deer or barking deer in the forests.
HOW AND WHEN
How to trek in the Everest region depends entirely on the route that you choose. On the main trail to Everest Base Camp or the route up the Gokyo Valley then teahouse trekking is perfectly possible. The trail in from Jiri is also endowed with many conveniently located teahouse although generally not of such high standard as those to the north . other trekking routes will almost certainly require the use of camping and organization of trekking staff and equipment. See the following individual route descriptions for details.
WHEN TO VISIT?
THE PEAK SEASONS OF October/November and March/May are obviously the most popular. At these times the weather is mild and generally dry, making the walking conditions good. The season is good for wildflowers, particularly the rhododendrons, while the autumn season generally gives the best mountain views, as the air at this time is crystal clear.
Winter is possible but the chances of snow are higher and passes may be closed. Particularly during late winter. Also during this time many of the teahouses will close. The summer/ monsoon period is generally unsuitable for trekking, as the trails are slippery, leeches abundant and the mountain views are unpredictable. It can be a rewarding time, however, if you are prepared to tolerate these drawbacks, as the wild flowers are at their best at this time and there are fewer tourists on the trails making interaction with the locals easier.
It is possible to hore guides, porters or yaks at Lukla but for safety a guide from Kathmandu is preferable.The extras cost of this airfare will enough the possibility of not finding a suitable guide a Lukla, especially during the peak seasons. Porters are always available at Lukla. Pure yaks will not be found at Lukla, as it is too low for them to operate, but yak crossbreeds will e found there. For a small group only carrying personal gear, porters are preferable. The cost will depend on the seasonal demand for their services.
If your trek starts at Jiri then you will only find porters available there. Guides should definitely be bought from Kathmandu.
LOOKING AFTER THE ENVIRONMENT
Much has been said about the deteriorating environment of the Himalaya. Over that past few years, however, due to efforts by many overseas expedition and organizations such as Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee and the Nepal Mountaineering Association, education programmes and clean-up campaigns have, to a large extent, solved many of the problems.
Having said that, the environment of the high Himalaya is a very fragile eco-system that is easily put out of balance. The locals lived for generations in relative harmony with their surroundings but the recent flux of tourists has put pressure on the indigenous population to supply more and more services in the name of tourism development. While the Everest National Park is somewhat protected from the worst of the ravages the same cannot be said about the area immediately to the south. Here, uncontrolled timber collection for fuel and building has led to a marked loss of timber cover. Certain initiatives within the National Park area, such as the banning of glass bear and soft drink bottles, had resulted in the reduction of the amount of non-biodegradable rubbish being left behind. Much more can be done, however, particularly by the trekkers themselves. The KEEP code of trekking conduct is a perfect example ( see conservation codes and environmental guidelines).
EVEREST BASE CAMP
One of the classic treks in Nepal, Everest Base Camp is most commonly visited as a two week treks starting and finishing at Lukla, the airport just to the south of Everest National Park.
During the trekking seasons there are numerous daily flights into and out of Lukla, weather permitting. The flight from Kathmandu, which takes around forty-five minutes, passes over the fertile middle hills, with their scattered villages and terraced fields, with an amazing panorama of the high Himalaya as a backdrop. Before long the Mountains close in and you are sweeping down to land at the gateway to Everest, Lukla provides a range of services, including accommodation but most trekkers will choose to start trekking as soon as they arrive and use Lukla as a final destination on their return.
From Lukla trekkers must take a gentle two days trek up the Dudh Koshi valley to reach Namche Bazer in order to avoid altitude problems. There are plenty of teahouses along the way for the first night stop, Phakding (three hours from Lukla) and Monzo (five hours from Lukla) are the most popular. Just beyond Monzo, trekkers eenter the Everest National Park at the Jorsale check post. Here entry permits will be checkd and the isitors passport details recorded. The trail, which has been following the Dudh Koshi since Lukla, starts the ascent to Namche Bazer about one hour past Jorsale.
Namche Bazer, once a small village but since grown in size to accommodate the influx of trekkers, is the unofficial capita of the Sherpas. It was once an important trading centre on the route from Tibet to Nepal but has now been largely given over to catering for the needs of trekkers. There is a multitude of teahouses, equipment shops, curio seller, restaurants and even cyber cafes that makes just about anything the trekker could need, available, albeit at a higher price than in Kathmandu. For acclimatization reasons, trekkers must spend two nights in or around Namche. Which gives the opportunity to explore some of the less developed and more traditional villages in the area.
One of the nicest destinations for the acclimatization day is to walk to Thame, home of many famous mountaineering Sherpas, including Tenzing Norgay of Everest fame. Often Danfe ( impeyan pheasant) and Himalayan Tahr can be seen along this trail. The round trip is quite a hard day’s walk taking a minimum of eight hours. An option would be to stay the night at one of the teahouses at Thame and retrace your steps the next day. While at thame, be sure to visit the Buddhist monastery, which is located on the hillside about a thirty –minute walk above the village. The valley to the north of Thame leads to Tibet via the Nangpa La, the pas traditionally used by Sherpa and Tibetan traders. The valley to the west of Thame leads to the Trashi Labtsa pas and the Rowaling valley.
Easier options for the acclimatization day can be found by visiting the twin Sherpa villages of Khumjung and Kunde, which are about a two-hour walk above Namche. While in Kunde, visit the hospital, which was established and funded by Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust. Khumjung monastery is interesting as being the store place of one of the alleged yeti scalps that are to be found in the region.
Moving on from Namche Bazer the trail follows the valley of the Imja Khola with some spectacular views of the mountains including Thamserku, Kangtega and Ama Dablam and, dominating the skyline ahead, Everest and Lhotse. The most common night stop ater Namche is at the top of a steep climb from the Imja Khola, at Thyangboche. This is the site of one of the most significant Buddhist monasteries in Solukhumbu and a visit is well recommended. Tours of the monastery are conducted each afternoon. If the teahouses and the camp sites at Thyangboche are full, a common occurance in the main season, then more lodging can be found a further thirty minutes along the trail at Deboche makes an interesting side trip.
Following the Imja Khola from Thyangboche the trekking route climbs gradually through Pangboche and emerges above the tree line. Eventually, after a long day’s trek, you reach the next night’s stop at either Pheriche or Dingboche. Here another rest/acclimatization day should be taken with an attractive day trip being to Chhukung, around three hours walk above Dingboche. The mountain panorama around Chhukung is nothing short of amazing with the massive south face of Lhotse rearing above it to the north and a ring of lesser peaks surrounding it.
From Dingboche or Pheriche it takes another six hours of trekking to reach the cluster of tea houses at Lobuche sited on the lateral moraine of the Khumbu glacier. Above Lobuche it is another three hours walk to the last settlement on the trail at Gorak Shep. Here a few basic teahouses provided shelter for the night before undertaking the final leg of the trek up the glacier to Eveest Base Camp. Above Goraak Shep rises the well- known landmark of Kala Patter. A climb of two to three hours will reward the trekker with a marvelous vista. Barely eight kilometers to the east is the summit of Everest and just to the north is Pumori, arguably one of the most beautiful mountains to be found anywhere.
The trek along the glacier to base camp can take up to five hours depending on the trail conditions. Care should be taken while traveling here, as route finding can be a problem and there is always the risk of falls on the ice. There are no facilities at base camp (expeditions are generally reluctant to entertain visiting trekkers) so it is important to make sure that you have food and drinks for the return trip. Descending from base camp, most trekkers will reach at least Lobuche, if not further, by nightfall.
The return rek to Lukla basically follows the upward route but rest days are obviously not necessary. The route can be varied, to make the return more interestingly, by diverting through upper Pongboche and returning to Namche via Phortse (look for herds of Tahr on the hillsides), Mong La and Khumjung. Pangboche, which has a few teahouses and campsites, is an interesting place to spend a night. The monastery here is one of the oldest in Solukhumbu and aalso has Yeti relics.
Khumjung would make an interesting alternative stopping place to Namche Bazer if trekkers wished to avoid the hustle and bustle of the bazaar.
If you haven’t arranged for somebody to reconfirm your flight out of Lukla for you, be sure to reach there as early as possible on the day before departure in order to make sure that your seat doesn’t disappear. Arriving in Lukla on the day of departure is inviting a lost seat.