And other advice; When to go, what to pack, solo or with porter or group, books to read.
Everybody is different and this may be a once in a lifetime trip so choosing wisely is important. Some trekkers have their hearts set on walking to Everest Base Camp in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary which is a fine choice. Others opt for the cheapest and most diverse walk, The Annapurna Circuit which is an equally good choice. In fact all the treks are wonderful so don’t fret too much over this decision. Also, while there are other treks requiring camping the ones listed below are all tea house treks.
Time, your physical state, your budget, your interests, or companions may all factor into your decision.
While many of these treks can be done without a guide, if you have limited time and or this is a once in a lifetime trip, hiring a guide/porter is highly recommended. In case something happens you have someone to watch your back. Also, it likely will make for a more memorable trip as they will likely introduce you to other Nepali people enriching your experience. They are not expensive at $20/day or more depending on whether you want someone who speaks good English or another language. Also, having a porter carrying your load will reduce likelihood of injury and allow you to enhance your overall experience.
EVEREST BASE CAMP:
Of course this trek to the highest mountain on the planet is a top bucket list item. Most people fly into Lukla today and can limit their time to 12-14 days. It includes magnificent mountain scenery, some interesting Buddhist Temples, and a 2 day stop in Namche Bazaar for acclimatization. Namche is an interesting town, and here you can also purchase cheaply or rent any high altitude clothing or equipment you may need. Many trekkers come on a once in a lifetime journey and have dreamed of reaching Everest Base Camp. Be aware that EBC is not a place of particularly special scenery and does not provide a particularly good view of Mt. Everest. It is a bunch of tents on a valley floor at 5,364 meters/17,594 feet. An alternative or perhaps an addition to your journey is to walk up and summit Kala Patthar, which at 5,644 meters/18,519 feet offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Everest. There are two downsides to the EBC trek. 1. It is the most popular, hence the crowds are bigger. 2. It is in and out the same way which means backtracking and even larger numbers of fellow trekkers. A longer, more rewarding trek starting in Jiri allows for warmer weather and more visits through villages and engaging with locals. You also will see few other trekkers on this part of the route. Another benefit is this option requires only the flight back from Lukla to Kathmandu. And most importantly you will allow more time for acclimatization to ensure an enjoyable, safe trip. EBC can also be combined with The Gokyo Lake or 3 Passes Trek getting you off the beaten path a bit and creating a bit of a loop trail. This option requires 17-20 days.
This is the trek opted for by most budget trekkers. No plane is required. Hence it is the most popular trek in Nepal, though I would say it doesn’t feel as crowded as EBC because most everyone walks it counterclockwise from the Besi Sahar side. You can take an all day bus from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar to begin this highly popular trek. It is one of the most diverse and beautiful walks, taking you through Alpine forests, Tibetan areas, high plains, high lakes, and the soaring white capped Annapurnas. There are also excellent side trips to enhance and extend your trek; Tilicho Tal, Jhong, and the Dhaulagiri Icefall. The Circuit requires one very strenuous day including a 1,040 meter ascent to Thorung La Pass at 5,416 meters and a 1,700 meter descent to Muktinath. Unfortunately crowds, development, and the continuing encroachment of roads detract a bit from what it once was. Though don’t get discouraged as it is still a great trek. Many people now take a shuttle from Muktinath or Jomson back to Pokhara which seems to appeal to many who are seeking to check this off their bucket list. But there are old alternate routes you can take to extend your trek and venture away from the crowds. 12-20 days.
ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP:
This trek takes you to the foot of Annapurna South inside the Annapurna Circuit. A bit less crowded than the Annapurna Circuit. Hikers are rewarded with magnificent views of the Annapurnas as well as Machapuchare. For those concerned about high altitudes, this only takes you to 4,130 meters/13,550 feet. A nice option for a shorter trek. 10-12 days. But it requires backtracking as it is in and out the same way so you will pass others fairly often heading in the other direction. Combining the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp makes for a magnificent 21-24 day trek.
MANASLU AND TSUM VALLEY:
I have to say this is a fabulous trek. Primarily because it lacks the crowds of EBC or Annapurna making it quieter and there are less roads. And the views are every bit as spectacular. This trek reaches an elevation of 5,106 meters/16,752 feet. There are wonderful temples and villages along the way. The optional, highly recommended, Tsum Valley segment makes this special. Many of us would like to trek in Tibet. But Tibet is not what it once was and the Temples have been desecrated there and the people are not free. When you enter Tsum Valley, you experience a Tibetan Region, though in Nepal, it feels like Tibet. The food, the people, the customs, are all more Tibetan than Nepali here. The downside is that there are special fees for this trek, Manaslu Trekking Permit($70 and up depending on number of days) and Tsum Valley($30-40) in addition to the normal fees. Also, a Guide is required on this trek. 12-14 days. Add 5 days with the Tsum Valley Option. For more information Manaslu and Tsum Valley Trek.
EVEREST AND 3 PASSES TREK:
If you have the time, the strength and energy, this is a magnificent and challenging trek. Not only can you optionally add to your bucket list with a visit to EBC, but you will experience 3 high passes away from the crowds of the EBC. This is the ultimate high altitude trek crossing the EBC Trek taking you over 3 5,000 meter plus passes; Renjo Lo, Cho La, and Kongma La. While being the most challenging of the listed treks, it probably offers the most epic views; Makalu from Kongma La as well as the glaciers of Gokyo Valley from Gokyo Ri. If extended time at high elevation is appealing this is an ideal trek for you. This trek can be started in Lukla or Jiri the same as EBC. 18-25 Days
If you don’t have time for the full 3 Passes and want to avoid the crowds of EBC but want to see Mt. Everest, then Gokyo Lake is a great option. From Namche you veer into a valley west of Everest. The Gokyo Lakes are beautiful and you can climb Gokyo Ri at 5,357 meters to enjoy a view of Mt. Everest. 12-13 days. This also can be combined with EBC to make a bit of a loop.
A wonderful 7 day trek in the narrow Langtang Valley, north of Kathmandu, reaching a maximum elevation of 3,800 meters. This region was hard hit by the 2015 earthquake but tea houses have been rebuilt and offers some spectacular scenery. A nice mix of alpine forests and high plains with a peak hike up to Kyangjin Ri possible. A linear path requiring back tracking. A quieter option to EBC or Annapurna. 7 days.
Instead of a mountain peak, the goal here is the sacred lake of Gosaikunda at 4,300 meters. Another nice shorter option with smaller crowds. And the views when you reach the lake are stunning. This is a good option for those with limited time as it can be done in 5-6 days. Also, Gosaikunda, is a bit more accessible just south of Langtang Trek. It can be combined with Langtang or Helambu.
A beautiful shorter trek with views of the Langtang mountains. This may be the best option for someone with a short one week to 10 day trip to Nepal as Helambu is a short distance north of Kathmandu. Also, you only go as high as 3,600 meters so altitude sickness is less likely to be an issue. Despite the proximity to Kathmandu, this path is relatively quiet compared to the more popular treks. The long bus trips to Annapurna or Everest can be grueling. Helambu can be started after a 45 minute cab ride from Kathmandu. Also if you don’t mind backtracking you can go in and back eliminating the long bus ride back to Kathmandu. 4-5 days. 7-8 days to go in and return.
Yes, the three short treks can be combined into one longer trek. This is one of my favorites and can be very inexpensive as it is doable without a guide. By starting at Langtang and finishing via Helambu, it allows for walkers to catch a cab and be back in your hotel in Thamel within an hour. 12-13 Days.
This trek is a bit different from the others as it takes you into Upper Mustang Valley and a more arid, brown sandstone landscape to the renowned walled city of Lo Manthang. The views are spectacular; white capped peaks, brown and yellow cliffs, with intensely blue skies. It requires a separate permit of $100. 10 days. It can also be combined with all or parts of the Annapurna Circuit for a longer trek.
This is a short 3-5 Day Trek highlighted by the spectacular sunrise views at Poon Hill at 3,210 meters/10,530 feet. Though be aware it can be a bit crowded. It’s a perfect trek for people with limited time or unsure how they will like a longer trek. You can do this trek and then decide to continue on to Annapurna Sanctuary. And can be combined with a visit to the wonderful city of Pokhara.
WHEN TO GO:
There are two main trekking seasons. October November is the ideal time with mild, dry weather and clear skies. However, it is the most crowded. Start mid to late September or finish mid-December if you seek to avoid the herd. Mid-March to mid-May is also a good time but it may be a bit cloudier. This is also the season for gorgeous rhododendron blooms. Be aware, the farmers burn their fields at this time and there is sometimes more of a haze in the air. Trekking in the off season is good for avoiding crowds but can be very cold in the winter, and very wet and humid at lower altitudes in the summer during monsoon season. It is also possible to experience leeches during the hot, rainy season.
WHAT TO BRING:
Actually you don’t need much. Though the first thing to do is buy a guidebook to help you with planning and choosing Which Trek To Walk. I recommend The Lonely Planet Trekking In The Nepal Himalaya. Be aware this is not a wilderness trek. You don’t need a tent or other camping equipment or food. There are tea houses every couple of hours selling delicious hot meals, snacks, Snickers Bars, tea, coffee, coke, beer, etc.. all along the way. I have a young friend that walked Annapurna Circuit without even a sleeping bag as the inns have blankets. Though I do recommend carrying a sleeping bag.
The one item that is essential; a good pair of walking boots or trail runners. Everything else you need can be acquired in Kathmandu for extremely low prices relative to your home country. Also, up in the mountains it can be hot one minute in the sun and very cool the next when the clouds roll in so dress in layers. Also, avoid cotton and use synthetic materials that dry quickly and reduce chilling. That said:
- 2 T shirts
- 2 pants preferably convertible for shorts in the lower elevations
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Down jacket which can also double as a pillow.
- 2-3 pairs of wool socks
- Wide brimmed sun hat
- Skicap, gloves and scarf. I use the cheap gloves from Walmart $1. They are light. You can also get some great Nepali gloves and hats all along the trek
- Fleece jacket for nights around the stove in teahouse
- Head lamp
- Quick drying camping towel
- Water bottle and purification pills or filter
- Sleeping bag and silk liner
- Toiletries and a roll of toilet paper just in case
- Good sunglasses
- Sunscreen and lip balm. The sun can be powerful at these heights
- Trekking poles which can be purchased cheaply in Kathmandu. $5 per pole
Ultimately, you can add some items but focus on traveling light. If you are using a porter they will be very appreciative. If you are using a porter, then add a day pack to your List.
SHOULD I GO ALONE, WITH A FRIEND, OR WITH A GROUP:
This is a personal decision and up to you. There is no right or wrong. I have mostly traveled solo to Nepal over my 9 trips and there is something special about traveling in this exotic locale on your own. Only once coming with my Partner which was fine as well. If you have a concern you can always hire a guide/porter to accompany you and to carry your pack to ease your burden and watch your back. If you are the type of person that prefers traveling in a group, there are plenty of organized tours on all the different treks. Organizing from home will be more expensive than organizing upon your arrival in Kathmandu. There are trekking agencies all over Thamel. You can visit 2-3 upon your arrival. Select one in the evening and be ready to depart by day 3 giving you time to explore Kathmandu. If you are on a very tight schedule, that is probably the best reason to join a tour group from home. After using many agencies and guides, I have come to find one that is reputable and offers great service. The owner is kind, low key, and trustworthy. Durga owns and runs Mount Trails Trekking Agency in Thamel. The Agency is next to his Hotel Yala Peak and Cafe Yala Peak which are both highly rated on Trip Advisor. Please know that I get no compensation from Durga or his company.
–How A Nepal Trek Is Different From The Camino de Santiago for more background information.
High Adventure by Edmund Hillary: The story of the first ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953 by Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer: A chronicle of the disastrous 1996 climbing season claiming the lives of 8 climbers.
The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev: An alternative viewpoint of the 1996 disaster by a Russian that perhaps is a more objective alternative to Into Thin Air.
Touching My Father’s Soul: In the Footsteps of Tenzing Norgay by Jamling Norgay: My personal favorite as it gets into the minds and souls of the local Sherpas who scale Mt. Everest for different reasons than Westerners.
Annapurna by Maurice Isserman and Stewart Weaver: The story of the first ascent of an 8,000 meter peak in 1950.