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To Everest Base Camp with Babies

Plenty of trekkers have a tough time getting themselves to Everest Base Camp. These parents guided their youngest-ever trekkers for weeks through Nepal’s Himalayas and had the time of their lives along the way. Here’s how.

By Liliia DeCos

 

If you’re like us, you probably think that trekking to Everest Base Camp with kids is a crazy idea, and even more so with a baby. And just a year ago, we thought the same thing. However, it turns out that the three-week trek is not as extreme or dangerous as many tend to think. Moreover, I am here to tell you that this trail is very hospitable and perfect for families with children, even young ones.

Simply put: There is no other trek like Everest Base Camp. We have trekked the Himalayas of Northern India, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and have even trekked in Patagonia. But nothing compares to the experience of this high-altitude trek – plus it’s the only place with herds of wild Yak left in the world!

Our two kids were only 3 years and 11 months old on May 1, 2018, when they broke the unofficial world record and became the youngest-ever kids to set foot in Everest base camp. We were unaware we would be breaking this record until halfway through the hike when some guides told us the previous record holder was 4 years old. While our “world record” status made us celebrities and we were cheered on by bystanders, it also made us question our sanity a little. We were confident, however, because we had done a ton of research and knew how to do the trip in the safest way. (Read our full list of tips below.)

I remember very clearly the first time I heard about the Himalayan EBC trek. I looked it up on the Internet and watched a few videos on YouTube about it. What I saw took my breath away; the Nepalese country was so beautiful and pristine. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think that this trek was way too expensive, challenging, and dangerous for our young family. I knew the journey wasn’t for everyone – and definitely not for someone like me who considers a trip to the beach as an active day 😉 Having kids along for the hike didn’t help calm my fears, either. So I decided the hike of my dreams was going to stay in my dreams – at least for the foreseeable future.

But then in March 2018, we found ourselves in Nepal as part of a trip through Southern Asia and the temptation was too strong. My husband Jose and I started our own research about the logistics and safety of the EBC trek to see if the picture I had for so many years in my head was accurate. We learned a great deal about altitude sickness, conditions and hardships of the trek and most importantly we talked to our friends who had completed the trek a season earlier (although without kids).

What we learned inspired us and gave us hope. We found the EBC trek is not as expensive as many believe. Additionally, it is not dangerous if you take simple precautions. And it is only challenging if you rush the hike. For example, it’s hard to hike more than a couple hours without there being a tea stall and/or guesthouse with a restaurant along the trail so there is always a chance to rest and refuel.

Now that we completed the trek, I believe that anyone can reach Everest Base Camp, some just might take longer than others. We met an 80-year-old Israeli couple, a Canadian guy missing an arm and equipped with an artificial leg, a 4-month pregnant Finnish girl, and many other trekkers who are living proof that most of our perceived limits are only in our heads. If we all made it, you and your family can too!

Best of all, the EBC trek was a great family experience. Except for the last couple days at very high altitude, most guesthouses are run by families with a minimum of 2 kids and sometimes 10 or more! The locals love foreign kids since they don’t see many and our kids had instant friends each evening or during bad weather. I am really glad we didn’t postpone this trek until our kids are older. Having our kids with us was exactly what we wanted and what we hoped for.

And in the future, who knows? Maybe one day we’ll follow in our own footsteps in the Himalayas with our girls walking by our side.

The ROAM Report: Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

  • Travelers:Liliia (28) and Jose (34), little ones: Lia (3) and Ksenia (11 months)
  • Date: 24 days during April-May 2018
  • Itinerary:Kathmandu (2 nights) for sight-seeing and to gear up for the trek. Bus to Jiri (12 hours), hike to Everest Base Camp (18 days) return to Salleri (6 days), then bus back to Kathmandu (12 hours)
  • Budget: During 24 days for 2 adults, 1 toddler and 1 baby we spent $1,300 which included transport to and from Kathmandu. The following figures are approximate totals: Lodging $150, food $800, permits $54 per adult (kids free), and the rest on extras (mostly Snickers bars and Yak cheese)

The Good Stuff

An “Amazing” and “Wow” Trek  The trek, in and of itself, is the best part of the whole experience.  From dramatic vistas at every corner and high-altitude Tibetan Buddhist monasteries to the unique culture of Sherpas and other indigenous groups, all aspects of the experience were one of a kind.

There were many times admiring endless snowy peaks with tears in my eyes, thinking how I lived not knowing that this type of beauty exists. At times I couldn’t trust my own eyes, the views were so epic. Our toddler Lia’s favorite word became “amazing” and our baby Ksenia’s first word was “wow.” I think at least one member was saying “Wow!” or “Amazing!” every other minute!

The Joy of Being on Foot  The EBC trek is an opportunity to challenge yourself spiritually as well as physically. This trek was often described to us as a transformational experience, a walking meditation and a great way to meet your true self. I can’t agree more. Just the idea of hiking so far from roads/cars, conveniences, and daily luxuries make this an unforgettable journey.

Great People Another beautiful thing about this trek is the other people doing it. Great, inspiring people you meet on your way. Each and everyone had a unique and interesting story to tell.

Lots of locals and travelers were easily attracted to us because we had the youngest kids on the trek. With all the downtime you have in the evenings we became very close and still stay in touch today.

The Kids’ Experience The biggest surprise, even though we hoped for this outcome, was how much they loved it! Fresh air, interactions with people, seeing all sort of animals (yaks, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, cats and dogs) was so much fun for them. We also had a very relaxed pace so kids could play while we were drinking hot tea at the hospitable Sherpa guesthouses.

From the kids’ perspective, the trek was 24 days of full parents attention without phones, computers or other gadgets. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that it was a good bonding experience for the whole family.

Highlights from Each Part of the Everest Base Camp Trek

Part 1: From Jiri to Lukla

This part of the hike is now optional because there is an airport in Lukla and most choose to fly into Lukla and hike from there. As a result of the new airport, this section of the trek is completely different than the rest which provides a unique experience. For example we only saw 10 other trekkers during the 7 days hiking this part or the trail whereas after Lukla we saw 10 people in about 5 minutes. This route used to be the only way to get to base camp many years back so you can see many abandoned guesthouses and really outdated but interesting signs of the crowds that used to come through. The scenery is great and you can even see Everest from one point. You get to really experience the culture, since there are so few tourists the locals are more willing and excited to meet with you. We recommend this part of the trek with kids as it allows you to start acclimatizing slowly vs. a flight, it also gets you into shape and even helps you realize if you want to keep going all the way to the top. Plus you don’t have to spend up to two thousand dollars plus on plane tickets if you have a big family just to find out if you’ll like hiking the Himalayas with kids.

Part 2: Namche Bazaar

Only 1-2 days hike from the Lukla airport at around 3,200 meters, this city is now the “base camp” to the Everest Base Camp trek. Even though you are still several days walk from the closest road, Namche Bazaar has your last taste of luxury and options you would expect to only see in a connected place. We had our first Yak steak, which we really recommend, and even a salad with fresh vegetables. A salad might not sound that exciting but once you’re past Namche you’ll understand why. We stocked up on protein and chocolate bars, bought lots of Yak cheese – also highly recommended – and some extra locally woven socks and mittens for the little ones – just in case.

Part 3: Namche to Base Camp

This is the most challenging and most rewarding part of the trek. The caravans passing by change from donkeys to yaks, the locals become noticeably indigenous and separated from the modern world, and the air thins into the freshest, cleanest air you’ve every breathed. The views and valleys are beyond striking with wild yaks grazing on the grass coming out from the snow the night before and at times even walking on glaciers for hours at a time. It’s amazing to see the looks of satisfaction and content on the trekkers coming back down as well as those still climbing up full of aspiration and excitement. This part of the hike is worth taking slow as there is so much to enjoy.

Gokyo Lakes Initially we planned to do a circuit to see Gokyo Lakes after base camp. That would have added another 5-6 days to our trek. However, due to weather, we didn’t have the proper equipment for that stretch of the trek and opted not to risk it. But if we had good shoes, crampons, and our kids would be a little bit older we would absolutely make a detour for those lakes. People report those views as stunning and less crowded.

The Not So Good

Being so far from transport, paved roads, and familiar conveniences adds a share of romanticism to the hike but at the same time it creates a lot of inconveniences.

Food Keep in mind that all food items that you can consume on the trek past Namche Bazaar is carried to that spot by porters or donkey/yak caravans. Thus the variety of food is very poor. I think this was the most challenging part of the trek. We would eat mostly rice, beans, and pasta with vegetables (only carrots, onion and potato) for 24 days. Also keep in mind the vegetables in a pasta dish usually comprise about 1%.

That said, our kids loved the food that we grew sick of! Most kids – including our own – love pasta and would eat it every day. As parents we want to give them more healthy options, but here on the trek we had no options and they loved it!

We avoided meat by all means unless it was fresh local yak. We personally walked alongside porters carrying fresh meat in baskets for three days straight without any proper conservation/refrigeration. When they would stop for lunch, there were crows picking chunks of meat off the huge legs and ribs that were sticking out of their packs. Also keep in mind, food poisoning is among the most common disorders that trekkers experience during the hike.

Food variety is somewhat better in Namche Bazaar – the so-called capital of the region, as well as Lukla – the starting and ending point for most trekkers. In other villages, sadly the food is nothing to get excited about – but you’re not doing this trek for the cuisine 😉

Lodging 90% of the time, the only available lodging is very rustic and cold. Usually, it is just a simple room with a bed and nothing else. Common toilet is in the corridor. They give you big blankets but they are not washed for God knows how many months. The best option is to bring your own sleeping bag or if you want to pack light, bring clean sheets to put over the blankets provided.

Altitude Sickness Altitude sickness is a very serious illness though it is very easy to avoid. If you are on a tour that is usually 12-14 days you might experience the first symptoms -headache, nausea, vomiting. If you decide to power through, you can put yourself in real danger unless you acclimatize properly for a day or two. I’ve included many more details about our altitude sickness with kids in the section below.

However, it is almost impossible to take the recommended time to acclimatize if you are on a tour. I would highly recommend, especially if you are hiking with children, to do this hike independently or just with a porter/no guide. If you don’t depend on anyone else it is so much easier to listen to your body and decide for yourself with what pace you should follow. If you are nervous to venture into the Himalayas alone (even though there is no reason to be afraid) you can hire a guide in Lukla or in Kathmandu. If you choose to take a guide make sure that your guide doesn’t lure you into guest houses where he gets commissions and thus forcing you to hike extra miles even if you are tired. Unfortunately, we met many people who were complaining about this issue and many would get in verbal fights with their guides because they had scheduled and others waiting to be guided up again. There are more than ample guesthouses available even in high season and we very much enjoyed stopping in several to pick out our favorite, since some were truly disgusting.

High Season Crowds During spring’s high season, the EBC trek is simply overcrowded. It gets so packed that sometimes it causes traffic jams on the narrow paths.

To avoid this we would get up at sunrise and start our hike earlier than most groups. By doing this, we avoided the absurd amount of people on the path and had our peace and quiet. Also, most people have guides, and these guides stick to certain villages and stay at larger foreign-owned guesthouses. If you stay in these villages you will start your day with tons of trekkers, if you stay in a different village you will have the whole trail to yourself, and then see the masses pass by when you are sitting down for lunch.

Good to Know

General Tips

  • Pack light.
  • Bring enough warm clothes, it gets cold up there.
  • Remember sunscreen. No matter how cold, the sun still burns – especially at altitude.
  • If you travel with children, remember to check how cold their feet and hands are – a simple cold/flu can be more dangerous than altitude sickness.
  • If you come and leave by plane, due to high potential for delays, plan for 3-4 extra days before your flight home from Kathmandu
  • Don’t eat meat on the trek. Just don’t.
  • Bring medicine against diarrhea and pain reliever.
  • Don’t take altitude sickness medicine! If you don’t feel well wait until you feel better or hike back down a bit and wait until you feel better. Medicine will only mask the problem making it more dangerous if you keep climbing.
  • Hiking poles are a good idea. I didn’t have them initially and it was tough going down, so I picked up a wooden stick (just like porters have) and hiked with it all the way to EBC. My husband had no poles since he was holding Lia’s feet while she was on his shoulders most of the time.
  • Bring extra cash just in case.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Bring UV water filter, can save you a great deal of money ($5 a liter near the top) and the water is tastelessly delicious.
  • Bring external battery since it is rather expensive to charge your phone/camera.
  • Download the mobile app “Maps.me”, it is an amazing offline maps application that shows all the trails and guesthouses along the way with GPS so you know if you’re going the wrong/right way.
  • Listen to your body and if you don’t feel well, don’t push!

Getting to Lukla If you are short on time and don’t have the whole month to get lost in the Himalayas, you’ll probably fly in and out of Lukla.  Keep in mind that weather in the mountains is unpredictable and flights are canceled or postponed very often. Make sure you have at least 3-4 days in Kathmandu before your flight back home so your delay doesn’t cause you to miss your long haul flight. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay an extra $300 per adult/kid for a helicopter ride to the closest village from where you still have to get a 10-hour bus/taxi ride.

Another option to avoid flying in or out to Lukla is to take a bus or a shared jeep to Salleri, a tiny village only a few days of trekking from Lukla.

Choosing a Tour If you decide to go with a tour, choose wisely. The optimal group size should be no more than 5-6 people. Many larger groups never make it to the top because they are stopping for one person’s food poisoning or headache or some other issue. Another important thing to consider when booking a tour is to see what is included in the price. Food and water is where you spend most of your budget. Lodge rooms cost only $1-$5. Showers and charging phones also cost extra.

Booking Rooms Considering accommodation, there are very few places where you can book online. Lukla and Namche Bazaar are the only villages where you can find nice hotels with good rooms going for $30-$50. You can book them on booking.com or by calling a few days in advance.

We stayed at lodges that you can easily find in every village along the trek. None of them, except of few in Namche Bazaar are on booking.com. We had no problems finding a room without booking anything in advance. But if you are concerned, you can always ask an owner of a lodge you are staying into call ahead for you to book a room in the next village where you plan to stay.

Hiring a Porter If you consider taking a porter (a person who carries your backpack) make sure your porter carries no more than 25kg and is dressed properly. Very often porters are mistreated by tour operators. Overweight luggage and lack of proper clothes and shoes are some of the most common problems. The number of porters that suffer minor and major injuries during the trek is much higher than the number of tourists suffering similar injuries.

If you decide not to take a porter, pack light. 10kg per person is doable for an average person. We managed without a guide or porter and carrying 10-25kg of children! So we mastered packing light and it was the right decision. Again, no one does this trek for the fashion show so you can get by with very little.

Stock Up in Namche You can purchase almost anything you want in Namche Bazaar. The choice will be smaller and the prices higher, however, it is still a good backup. You can buy all the necessary baby products (diapers, formula, baby food) there as well.

Nepalese Visas You need a visa to visit Nepal. You can apply at any embassy or consulate prior to your travel or much more easily purchase a visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu) or any official land border points of entry.

Permits You will need several permits to do the EBC trek. Important note: Permits are no longer acquired in Kathmandu. You purchase them in Monjo at the Park Entrance or in Lukla. If you don’t go to Lukla (like us) there are a few other points on the trail where you can acquire your permit. In summary, you can get them on the trail so no need to do anything permit-related in Kathmandu. Here are the permit fees:

  • Sagarmatha National Park Entry Permit: $34 per person
  • Local entry permit: $20 per person
  • Shivalaya to Bhandar park permit: $20 (this is only related to the trek if started from Jiri, those from Lukla don’t need to worry about this)

Best Time to Trek Late September-November and February-May are the main trekking months with fairly stable weather conditions, good visibility and warm temperature. Try to avoid rainy season-late May-mid September. Check out this month by month guide and see for yourself what fits you better.

We started our ascent on April 14 and broke the world record by getting to Base Camp Everest on May 1. The weather was good, most of the time even warm. It rained a couple of days at the altitude of 3000m and above 4000 it was snowing pretty much every day in the afternoon. In the morning the sky was always clear and visibility was great!

More Details on Altitude Sickness Altitude sickness was the biggest worry of our trip and the reason why most people don’t even consider hiking to EBC with children. We weren’t the exception at the beginning but doing a more profound research allowed us to change our mind and consequently allowed our family to complete the hike!

By no means am I saying that altitude sickness is not a real deal or not dangerous or to ignore it. However altitude sickness is rather easy to prevent. All you need to do is follow a few simple rules and listen to your body/observe your children. I want to spend some time discussing our experience with altitude sickness because it is the most common question we are asked about the trek.

Many other trekkers had blood oxygen testers. They are little battery powered clamps you put on your finger and then you wait a minute and it tells you your blood oxygen level. We didn’t have one but admittedly tested our kids with other people’s several times out of curiosity. If you want to be extra careful you should purchase one in your home country before arriving in Nepal.

We felt very well during the trek overall. Starting in Jiri definitely helped us to acclimatize better. Moving slowly and allowing us 1 extra day for acclimatization in Kumjung helped as well because many trekkers who get serious altitude sickness are gaining elevation much more quickly.

As for the symptoms, in Gorak Shep (last village before EBC), Jose and I had a headache and as soon as we climbed above 4000m we were getting tired much faster. That night in Gorak Shep neither of us could sleep well since we were short of breath even when resting. At the same time, our children slept well through the night without showing any symptoms.

As for the little ones, they handled it better than us. Lia, the oldest one at 3 years old, can communicate to us if something hurts and she never complained of pain. She mentioned though that she was tired and wanted to rest more often than she did at lower altitudes.

Ksenia, our 11-month-old world record breaker, felt great the whole trek. She ate well, slept well and her bowel movements were as good as always. She slept more too but when she was awake she was eager to play and to walk! Also to make our trek even more memorable, her first steps were taken in Namche Bazaar and since then she has been unstoppable!

The biggest fear of altitude sickness with very young children is that they cannot communicate if something hurts. Yes, it is true, they cannot tell you that something hurts but they definitely can communicate it to you in many other ways. You just need to know your baby. Because we spend 24/7 with our children, we know our children very well. We know the way they breathe, the way they cry and the way they are happy. Throughout our entire ascent, I was closely monitoring every slight change in their behavior. Since our smallest was in a baby carrier on my chest and sleeps with me at night I can literally feel her breathing 24/7 except when she is playing (clearly a sign of feeling good!)

The only changes we observed, such as fatigue and extra fussiness in the mornings after a new rise in altitude, we believe were the minor symptoms of altitude sickness. We allowed ourselves extra rest and extra sleep and after feeling better we kept going.

I want to highlight that all of us experienced these mild symptoms of altitude sickness only at the last stretch of the trek, from Lobuche to Gorak Shep, and to EBC where the altitude is around 5000m (16,402ft).

Day-by-Day Itinerary Many parents we’ve talked to have been interested in the specifics of our itinerary, including a guide of our daily progress. Below, I’ve included these specific details.

  • Day 0. Bus from Kathmandu to Jiri (1,905m/6,250 ft) 12 hours
  • Day 1. Jiri to Shivalaya (1,767m/5,510ft) then took a jeep from Shivalaya to Bhandar (2,200m/7,200ft). We paid 1,500 Nepali Rupees for two of us and it took us about 2 hours. This short ride allowed us to avoid the park permit fee of 2,000 Nepali Rupees per person.
  • Day 2. Bhandar to Chhimbu (2,300m/7,546ft)
  • Day 3. Chhimbu to Lodge past Goyam (3400m/11,155ft). We had to break in to a closed lodge because it started raining and it was getting dark. To the next possible open lodge it would take us another 2.5-3h and we were already exhausted. With two other trapped Chinese tourists we slept on the floor, cuddling and warming up each other.
  • Day 4. From the lodge to Junbesi (2,680m/8,850ft)
  • Day 5. Junbesi – day off. My knee was hurting and we badly needed some good rest after previous night at the abandoned lodge.
  • Day 6. Junbesi-Taksindu (2,842 m /9,324ft)
  • Day 7. Taksindu- Kharikola (2035m/ 6,676.5ft)
  • Day 8. Kharikola- Puiya (2800m/9,186ft)
  • Day 9. Puiya-Chhuthawa (2671m/8,763ft)
  • Day 10. Chhuthawa- Namche Bazaar (3,440 m/11,280 ft)
  • Day 11. Acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar
  • Day 12. Namche Bazaar-Khumjung (3780m/12,401ft), just a few hours of walking and resting the rest of the day-acclimatization
  • Day 13. Khumjung-Tengboche (3867m/12687ft)
  • Day 14. Tengboche-Pheriche (4,410 m/14,460 ft)
  • Day 15. Pheriche-Dingboche (4349m/14,268 ft), 2 hours walking and rest of the day for acclimatization
  • Day 16. Dingboche-Lobuche (4940m/16,207 ft)
  • Day 17. Lobuche-Gorak Shep (5175m/16,978 ft)
  • Day 18. Gorak Shep-Everest Base Camp-Lobuche (4940m/16,207 ft)
  • Day 19. Lobuche-Debuche (3745m/12,286 ft)
  • Day 20. Debuche-Namche Bazaar (3,440 m/11,280 ft)
  • Day 21. Namche Bazaar- Puiya (2800m/9,186ft)
  • Day 22. Puiya-Jubing (2924m/9593 ft)
  • Day 23. Jubing- Taksindu (2,842 m /9,324ft)
  • Day 24. Taksindu-Salleri (2300m/ 7,545 ft)
  • Day 25. Salleri-Kathmandu by bus 12h.

Even MORE Details  The original post about this trek appears on my blog, Bring Baby Abroad. There are even more details about our trip there. Click here to read the post about this trek to Everest.


Liliia DeCos – March 2019

ROAM Contributor

When a Ukrainian woman meets a Spanish/American while studying abroad in Chile from a Finnish University and later ends up with two amazing tri-citizen kids… well you just have to travel the world with them! Since having kids and finding it difficult to find information about traveling with kids to non-traditional locations, it has been Liliia DeCos’  life goal to provide this information to the world and encourage families to get out there and enjoy all sides of the globe. Liliia won ROAM 2019’s Best Family Travel Photo Contest with her amazing photo from Zanskar Valley. Read more about her travels at www.bringbabyabroad.com 

© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved

 
 

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