Day 1: Kathmandu–Lukla– Phakding/Benkar ALL DAY
The 200km flight to Lukla (2840m) has great views of the eastern Himalaya; sit on the left-hand side of the plane for the best views. Many guides like to meet your crew and purchase supplies in Lukla, so do not be surprised if you are delayed before heading out of town. From the airport head north along the main paved trail crowded with shops to a kani, where you then head downhill. After 45 minutes you should reach Chheplung (2660m), the first of many collections of teahouses and the carved mani stones, prayer wheels and chortens built by all Buddhist communities throughout the Himalaya.
The trail now undulates through Nurning and Ghat, punctuated by short sections of scrubby pine forest and painted mani stones, until you reach Phakding (2610m, 2hrs). Many trekking groups stay in this extensive village so you might want to continue for another 20 minutes to Zam Fute (2730m), or about an hour to Benkar (see Day 2).
Day 2: Phakding/Benkar–Namche 5hrs
From Phakding the trail crosses a long suspension bridge to the true right bank before again following an undulating route, which many Nepalese would call ‘flat’. A pretty waterfall attracts photographs just before Benkar (2630m, 1½hrs), after which you re-cross the Dudh Kosi to the true left bank and climb a little to the village of Monjo (2835m, 40 mins). Ahead, you can see the trail climbing to a cleft between by a huge finger of rock and the hillside, which is the site for the Sagarmatha National Park entry post where you register.
Stone steps descend to another suspension bridge, which you cross to Jorsale (2740m, 45 mins) on the true right bank. Continue on a broad trail to another bridge, which you cross to the true left bank and follow an easy riverside track before a slight climb to Larja bridge (40 mins) festooned with prayer flags. Cross the bridge and begin a long climb during which you can look forward to finally sitting down and resting in Namche (3440m, 2½hrs). Early on the first section of switchbacks the trail turns a sharp left on the edge of the ridge and you can catch your first glimpse of Mt Everest. The trail climbs switchbacks, which gradually ease as the trail follows a route that winds north-west through pine forest. There is a police checkpost 15 minutes before entering Namche where you must register.
Day 3: Namche all day
As you have now passed the 3000m mark, it is a good idea to take an acclimatisation day and rest from the previous day’s climb. Namche is an extensive market town, where there is always something to see and places to explore. If you are here on a market day (Saturday) make sure you get up early to see Tibetan and Sherpa traders bargaining before the tourists arrive.
If you have the time it is worth completing a looped day walk to Sagarmatha National Park Museum (on the ridge above the town), and the combined villages of Khunde (3840m) and Khumjung (3780m), which is the site of the first Himalayan Trust school, as well as many chorten and mani walls.
Day 4: Namche–Deboche 5½hrs
It is a good idea to get an early start today, as the trail up to Tengboche can be hot and dusty in the afternoon. First climb to the ridge above Namche and Sagarmatha National Park Museum and then continue along a slightly rising trail to Khyangjuma (3550m, 45 mins), where a couple of teahouses and a wonderful view of Ama Dablam on the far side of the valley. A stone paved trail descends to Phunke Tenga (3250m, 1½hrs), before climbing switchbacks through pine forest and traversing across Tengboche hill to a final switchback only 5 minutes from the gompa (see Day 5), campsite and some teahouses (3860m, 2¼hrs). Accommodation has been problematic in Tengboche for many years as the local teahouse owners sometimes take a very ‘commercial approach’ to trekking groups. A way to avoid this is to visit the gompa and then continue to Deboche (3820m, 20 mins) or Milingga (3750m, 40 mins) through a delightful pine, rhododendron and birch forest.
Day 5: Deboche–Dingboche 3½hrs
Wake up early and head back up to Tengboche for the morning puja (prayers), which you should try to get to by 7-7:30am. Please enter the gompa as quietly as possible and remember to make a donation before you leave. Bring a khadag (silk blessing scarf) to offer as thanks if you want to receive a blessing from the abbot or senior monk. This Nyingmapa-sect gompa is a World Heritage site, originally built in 1916 but destroyed by an earthquake in 1934. The rebuilt gompa was again destroyed in 1989 by fire, but the grand new buildings are true to the original designs and form an idyllic setting for the thirty or so young monks who live here.
Once you have finished exploring the gompa it is worth the effort to climb the ridge that rises from Tengboche. Views of the surrounding peaks including Mt Everest and Ama Dablam improve with height once you reach a chorten after climbing for 30 minutes.
Leaving Deboche you first descend an easy trail before crossing a bridge and climbing to Pangboche (3930m, 1hr), which boasts the oldest gompa in the region.
Note: Many people stay at lower Pangboche as part of a slower acclimatisation programme.
The trail from Pangboche follows the Imja Khola and leads to a major trail junction (4175m, 1½hrs) and the site of a teashop. The left fork leads to Pheriche (site of the Trekker’s Aid Post), but take the right trail and descend to and then cross a bridge. The trail continues up above the Imja Khola on a broad trail to Dingboche (4410m, 1hr).
Day 6: Dingboche all day
The ascent to Dingboche (or Pheriche) frequently produces mild altitude sickness symptoms so an acclimatisation day is an excellent idea. There are three options for a day walk from Dingboche of varying difficulty. Perhaps the most impressive, and exerting, is a trail that crosses the Imja Khola by a small wooden bridge at the southern end of the village. From there, climb about 400m (2hrs) to a valley with a series of small lakes at the base of the north face of Ama Dablam. Continue up a slight ridge on your left, where you can see the pyramid summit of Makalu in the distance.
For a walk of a similar duration but on easier trails it is a good idea to follow the main trail to Chukhung (4730m, 3hrs) but stop short and return. As you climb through the Chukhung valley the popular Island Peak becomes increasingly dominant ahead and the massive Lhotse wall dwarfs everything. There are good views of Tabuche, Cholatse and Ama Dablam.
The easiest and shortest walk climbs the ridge to the north of Dingboche to a series of chortens and good views of all the surrounding peaks.
Day 7: Dingboche–Loboche 3½hrs
Take any one of a number of trails that lead to a white chorten on the top of the ridge behind Dingboche. The ridge is the edge of an ancient lateral moraine and the trail takes an obvious route along the top, providing views of Ama Dablam (behind), Pheriche (below) and Loboche Peak (ahead) among other peaks on either side.
The trail will eventually descend to cross a small river that emits from the end of the Khumbu Glacier, on the far side is the small settlement of Dughla (4620m, 1½hrs). Climb the lateral moraine on the north side of the glacier snout on a well-defined trail to a series of stone memorials for climbers killed on the surrounding peaks. Cross a bridge over a stream flowing from Loboche Peak and continue to the often crowded teahouses of Loboche (4910m, 1½hrs).
Day 8: Loboche all day
Some trekkers decide to take an acclimatisation day at Loboche despite the cramped conditions. However, you may choose to continue to Gorak Shep if you are not suffering from the gain in altitude, and explore around Loboche on your return trip. Directly behind the teahouses is a ridge that climbs to form the east flank of Loboche East Peak.
There is a small trail that climbs to about 5400m (2½hrs) and really good views of the surrounding peaks including Everest. Alternatively, cross the Khumbu Glacier on a good trail and climb a scrambly, rocky track to Khongma La (5528m, 3½hrs), where it is possible to continue on to the summit of Pokalde (5806m, another 1½hrs), but remember it is a long descent to Loboche (or the Chukung/Dingboche valley) so exercise caution if you decide to continue.
Day 9: Loboche–Kala Patthar– Gorak Shep 5hrs
The trail continues on the same side of the glacier past the trail junction to the Italian Research Centre pyramid and over the Changri Shar glacier snout. Kala Patthar (meaning black rock) is clearly seen ahead and Gorak Shep is the cluster of teahouses beside the small lake. Your crew will want to go to straight to Gorak Shep (5140m, 3hrs) to deposit their loads, and you should take a rest to check everyone for symptoms of altitude sickness before attempting to climb Kala Patthar.
It is important to take your time and monitor your group for symptoms of altitude sickness throughout the climb and when resting on the summit. From the teahouse, climb north by north-east to a prayer-flag-covered rocky summit (5550m, 1½hrs) for one of the best views of the highest point on earth, Mt Everest, and the surrounding peaks of Nuptse, Lhotse, and Pumo Ri. Your descent will take 45 minutes, or longer if you wait until sundown (when it gets very cold very quickly).
Day 10: Gorak Shep–Everest Base Camp (EBC)–Loboche 4hrs
From Gorak Shep the trail curls around the base of Kala Patthar, continuing along the side of the Khumbu glacier. After an hour you will move on to the glacier itself and care needs to be taken not to walk off the track. As you approach EBC (5350m, 30 mins) views of the notorious Khumbu Icefall appear on your right, it looks far more intimidating from here than from other viewpoints. Most expeditions do not appreciate you walking around their camps for security reasons, so respect their wishes and avoid intruding. The return trip to Gorak Shep along the same trail takes about 45 minutes and a further 2 hours down to Loboche.
Day 11: Loboche–Dzongla 5hrs
Descend from Loboche for about 20 minutes towards Dughla and turn right before crossing a stream (4835m); after crossing a flat area, follow an obvious trail that climbs up and around a grassy hillside, with views all the way to Pheriche and beyond. The trail continues to climb an easy gradient up natural contours in the hillside, the turquoise Chola Tsho (lake) lies below the rugged summits of Cholatse and Arakam Tse. The teahouses of Dzongla (4830m) are across another stream and up a small rise, and should be reached in 2 hours from the Loboche–Dughla turnoff. If you are camping continue for another 40 minutes to a large meadow surrounded by a horseshoe of impressive peaks.
Day 12: Dzongla–Cho La–Dragnag (Thangnak) 5hrs
An obvious trail loops over a grassy hill behind Dzongla and then gradually climbs a large meadow to a rocky bluff near the end of the valley. The trail switchbacks up to a rock-face and then climbs to the right, up a worn boulder-strewn trail to an area of smooth rock slabs covered in cairns, next to a glacier. Stick to the true right (south) side, rather than climbing onto the glacier immediately, on a track that is frequently covered in snow, before crossing the glacier just before Cho La (5420m, 2½hrs). There aren’t any views of the highest peaks but there are many lesser peaks that fill the western horizon. Beneath is a steep rocky trail that will be covered in parts with snow and ice. Take care on the descent but keep moving as the lower section is prone to rockfall from a craggy peak to your left. In less than an hour you should reach an easier gradient; cross a minor boulder-covered ridge, which leads to a good campsite in a trough. Climb the grassy hill on the far side of the campsite to a large obvious boulder and then a long steep descent brings you to the teahouses and campsites at Dragnag (Thangnak, 4700m, 1½hrs).
Day 13: Dragnag (Thangnak)–Gokyo Ri–Gokyo 5½hrs
Of all the glaciers in the Everest region the most impressive is the Ngozumba, which you must cross on a trail to the west of Dragnag. Ask locals which route is currently recommended and take your time while crossing the glacier to catch mountain reflections in the turquoise lakes. Once on the far side of the glacier turn north (right) and join the main Gokyo trail just before a large lake (1hr from Dragnag). The trail to Gokyo (4790m), located on the east bank of another large lake, takes a further hour. After depositing unnecessary gear in your teahouse or camp, head out of the village on a trail that crosses a broad shallow watercourse crossed by stepping stones and rock platform. The track up Gokyo Ri is badly eroded in the lower section but it soon becomes a substantial ridge trail all the way to the summit (5483m, 2½hrs). This rocky, prayer flag covered peak offers one of the best views of Mt Everest and surrounding peaks in the entire region. It will take an hour to descend back to Gokyo.
Day 14: Gokyo all day
A great day out is to explore the higher lakes and Cho Oyu Base Camp; without crossing the watercourse, head north on a good trail from Gokyo in the ablation valley caused by Ngozumba Glacier. You will soon come to the fourth of Gokyo’s lakes (1hr) surrounded by craggy peaks. Continue on the same trail to the picturesque fifth lake (4990m, 1½hrs). Here you have three options, climb one of the higher lumps of glacial moraine for views of Mt Everest reflecting in glacial lakes, or climb a ridge that comes down to the north-eastern corner of the lake to an excellent viewpoint at roughly 5500m (at least 1½hrs), or continue on a smaller trail which turns left to the foot of Cho Oyu, which reflects in the sixth lake (1½hrs). For groups with camping equipment it is worth spending a night in the sixth lake area and enjoying all of these options as well as potential sunset views of Mt Everest.
Day 15: Gokyo–Renjo La–Lumde 6½hrs
From Gokyo head to the base of the Gokyo Ri climb, but instead of heading up the hill take the left-hand trail that heads around the lake. There are two trails, do not take the one by the lakeshore; instead, take the other which climbs slightly. In an hour you should reach the bottom of a steep switchback trail where the ground is loose and climbs an unrelenting gradient for another hour. At the top of the climb the gradient eases a little and heads across a rocky section, which can be icy from December to March. You now enter a broad valley, which can make an ideal high camp for those with tents. The trail heads due west across the valley and then climbs again around a rocky spur before heading up to Renjo La (5360m, 1½hrs) via a stone staircase. The trail is much easier to follow now that the people from Thame have completed a major reconstruction project. This is especially true on the western side of the pass, which is now a stone staircase in good repair. The view from the pass is one of the best in the entire Solu-Khumbu, and a terrific lunch spot. The trail down the western side of the pass rapidly brings you to the edge of a glacial lake, where the stone steps finish. Beyond is another lake, Relama Tsho (4905m, 2hrs), which is a popular camping spot for those approaching the pass from the Thame side. A broad trail now winds around the eastern side of a hill above the lake before descending to a large sandy kharka. At the very end of the kharka the trail descends rapidly into the Bhote Kosi valley and in one hour you should reach the few teahouses at Lumde (4368m).
Day 16: Lumde–Thame 3hrs
An easy trail descends from Lumde to a bridge at the village of Marulung (4210m, 1hr), where there are some more teahouses. You now cross the Bhote Khosi and descend the true right (western) bank along a broad and easy-to-follow trail to Thame (3820m, 1½hrs), where there are many teahouses beyond a large moraine with some stupas on top. If you have the time, it is worth climbing this moraine and following a trail through juniper and fir forest to Thame’s major gompa (at the entrance to small valley heading west from the main village); it is the site of a Mani Rimdu festival in May.
Day 17: Thame–Namche 3½hrs
The trail from Thame descends to the Bhote Kosi and crosses a steel-box bridge at the end of a canyon section carved by the river. The locals believe this is an auspicious place and have painted the rock-face above the bridge with Buddhas and prayers. The trail now climbs a little before settling into an easy downhill gradient to Thamo (3480m, 1hr). Cross the Thesbu Khola and continue on a broad trail through pine forest all the way to Namche (3440m, 1½hrs), where you will arrive next to the new helipad and many painted mani stones on the hill above the western side of the town.
Days 18-20: Namche–Lukla–Kathmandu
From Namche to Phakding takes about a day to walk; the next day is a half-day walk to Lukla where many people spend the afternoon drinking beer to celebrate the end of their trek, before flying to Kathmandu on the following day.