Ever since Everest was mapped as the world’s tallest mountain in the mid 1800s, reaching its summit has been the gold standard for physical human achievement. Even today fewer people have climbed to the top of Everest than have won Olympic gold medals.
The awe and mystery of the Holy Mountain remains but the methods and tools for climbing it have greatly improved in recent years. The days of hobbling up the side of Everest in a tweed coat with a clunky oxygen tank dragging behind are long gone.
Reaching either of Everest’s base camps is accessible to all those who are fit for the challenge and with the rise of holiday base-camp climbs in the 90s you can even get there in style.
Climbing Everest as a VIP
Several tour companies now offer what they are calling the VIP experience. Adventurers usually begin with a stay in a 5 star hotel in the ancient city of Katmandu where you meet up with the 10 to 20 hikers that will make up your team.
You then make your way by plane to the town of Lukla where you’ll get your first real taste of the Himalayas. Here you meet the porters and pack mules that will help you on the rest of your journey.
From Lukla it takes two days to trek to the foot of Everest giving you time to become acclimatized to the thinner atmosphere up at 9,000 feet and to explore the surrounding Sherpa settlements including Thami and Namche Bazaar. The ancestors of these mountainside villagers have lived on the roof of the world for hundreds of years.
After exploring the region’s glaciers and monasteries you carry on up to Gorak Shep – the last village before the Everest base camp. You are only able to camp on the mountain itself if you have the correct permit so many choose to stay here overnight before making the big push the next day.
Getting to Everest’s South Base Camp is only a 9 mile round trip from Gorak Shep but many of those miles are near vertical and you’ll be making your way up to 17,650 feet when you arrive.
For those aiming for the summit you are still a long way off from that at 29,020 feet. However, the luxurious options continue with the ability to be accompanied by seasoned summiteers, a trained doctor and a Sherpa guide all the way to the top.
So exactly where does the VIP treatment come in to all of this?
Throughout the trip you’ll stay in well-equipped lodges, hotels and campsites. Most including hot showers, comfy beds, and functioning flush toilets (a prize-worthy attraction this high up). When you get to the more rudimentary settlements nearer Everest your porters will provide you with quality bedding and snacks.
Wherever you stay – be it a spacious tent or deluxe teahouse – you’ll be catered to by chefs offering the best of local Nepalese and Sherpa cuisine. At the top of the Himalayas the usual supply lines are lacking so everything down to a can of cola needs to be hand delivered to you.
Treks are made more manageable with friendly porters that can carry the bulk of your gear or even set-up camp in advance for you. For the truly decadent you can even charter helicopter rides around the magnificent peaks, while letting you cut the walking section of your journey in half.
How to get on a luxury expedition
Typically guided treks take 15 to 17 days giving you plenty of time to make the hike without rushing and allowing you to become acclimatized to the atmosphere.
These treks are big business in Nepal and there is a lot of competition for your money especially in the peak seasons of spring and autumn. When choosing a tour provider make sure they are organizing the tour themselves and not merely passing you off to another company in Nepal that they cannot vouch for.
Nearly all of the treks will take you along similar paths so the itineraries do not vary much. What you want to make sure of is that you are happy with the mountaineer who will be leading you (it’s possible to meet them before setting off) and that you will be provided with the right equipment.
Katmandu is notorious for selling knock-off hiking gear and you want to be sure that the sleeping bag your porter hands you at the foot of Everest isn’t stuffed with only a handful of pigeon feathers.
For a standard base climb you will not need any climbing gear but it’s a good idea to buy your hiking kit before arriving in Nepal. You can hire an additional porter to further lighten your burden.
Can anyone make it to the base camp?
A hike to the Everest base camp can be done in luxury but it is nevertheless a relatively intense experience at times.
A well-planned tour will let you go at your own pace and will give you an extra day if you need it. They are usually designed so that no one day has more than a few hours hiking and you’ll get plenty of rest time. But this is not a holiday for couch potatoes.
It is not technically a climb and if you’ve comfortably hiked in mountain ranges around the world you should be fine here – if not there is a risk you will injure yourself or have a difficult time.
At least a year before your trip you should be doing regular weekly cardio workouts in the gym and taking weekend trips to conquer moderately difficult trails that are near you. Carrying a loaded pack while doing this will let you know what you can handle.
For most people of reasonable general good health the base climb should be well within their grasp. Many use a trip to Everest as a morale boost to getting fit and getting back in touch with nature. If this sounds like you then the base climb is an opportunity you should leap at.
Lots of travel destinations claim to be life changing – Everest is one of the few that truly delivers.