Why do the Everest Base Camp Hike? Answer: Because it’s there.
When Sir Edmund Hillary was asked why he climbed Everest, he simply replied “…because it was there.” In a nutshell, this sums up the spirit of most adventurous travelers…especially those hell bent on completing the Everest Base Camp hike. On the surface of this idea is the uncomplicated logic of “well, why not?” In reality, most adventurous travelers venture to far off and exotic places because when they’re off the beaten path they always find a deeper experience than “why not.” You find the kind of experience that occurs few other places in the world. The struggles that occur within those adventurous experiences nearly always become enjoyable (especially in hindsight) they teach lessons about who you truly are and the world around in a ways that you were never aware of before. At the end of the day, the “bad idea” and “why not” nature of many adventures is a bittersweet drug that forces you to be “in the moment” in an addictive way that few other experiences in life offer these days. So, why do the Everest Base Camp hike? Why walk the 38.58 miles through bitter cold with burning lungs in a third world country…just to view the top of a mountain from afar? Because it’s there. And because the experience offers something vacant in the daily lives of most…the adventure of a lifetime.
The venture from Kathmandu, Nepal to Everest Base Camp is a walk through the harsh territory of the Himalayas dotted with extravagant culture (the Sherpas) pristine and beautiful territory (the Khumbu) culminating with a view of the highest point on earth (Mount Everest). Along the way, through rocky paths and thinning air, you are tested physically and rewarded with raw, unmolested, and utterly intimidating natural beauty. This is a story about experiencing the Everest Base Camp Trek.
How to start an adventure? Decide what you want in life…then pursue it
As I sat back in Dallas, Texas wrapping up some work on a tech startup based in Austin and finishing up some freelance work. One day, I set aside some time to sit down and do something I call a “Lifestyle Design” exercise. In this exercise, which I do every year, I ask myself, “if you could have, be, or do anything I wanted in the world…what would ‘it’ be?” This time the list was long but doable. Some things could be done now (learning to Salsa dance…again), some things could be done later (buying a house on the beach) and some things, needed to be accomplished while I was still young (running with the Bulls…again). I’m a traveler and adventurer at heart… as I have always been one. So, on my “lifestyle design” worksheet, the top experiences I listed were riding a motorcycle on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam and completing the Everest Base Camp hike to see the tallest peak on the planet with my own two eyes.
Sipping my happy Margarita at the Farmer’s Market, I looked around and thought “what, here in Dallas, is worth delaying my life for? What couldn’t be postponed six months in order to realize my dreams?” The answer I realized: nothing. Nothing was worth delaying my purpose in life…or my dreams…or the things I wanted to live for. Some people live for their careers. Some live for their children. Fame for some. Money and extravagance for others. I don’t fault anyone for any of those…in fact I respect any person that pursues their unique purpose in life with intensity and passion, and anyone that does what drives them. Personally, I live to experience the world. The thought sank in that nothing, at that point in life, was worth postponing my dreams for a second longer. So, I did what any sane millennial would do…I had three more Margaritas, struck up a conversation with the table next to me, and enjoyed the rest of my afternoon. That evening, I walked home, opened my laptop, and booked a one-way flight to Bangkok.
My goal? Travel Asia from “Sea to Sky”. Touch the water off the coast of Vietnam in Ha Long Bay, home of the floating islands, and then buy a motorbike and ride as far as I could west, making my way to Kathmandu to hike to Everest Base Camp and see the tallest point on earth with my own eyes. I would venture through Southeast Asia in search of amazing people and experiences until October, when winter breaks and the sky is clearest in the Himalayas. But until then I would meander from Sea to Sky and absorb everything in between.
The trek before the trek to Everest: venturing across Southeast Asia
One month after a flight purchase fueled by Margarita courage, everything I owned was in a storage unit as I sat enjoying a beer at DFW International airport…on a one-way flight to Bangkok. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t scared. Just relaxed, yet eager. That mood foreshadowed the next four months filled with amazing “why nots” and the kinds of escapades that would make any restless cubicle prisoner grin ear to ear.
I joined a motorcycle gang (or more accurately, a “motor scooter gang”) dubbed the “Sons of Pai” as I traveled through Thailand.
I explored Vietnam as I learned what Communism is really like, absorbed a different view of how wars can affect a country, and realized how resilient and amazing human beings can be. The experience was a stark contrast to my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, and had me questioning my opinions on war in general.
I bought a motorbike named Delilah and road her through the mountainous and rural north of Vietnam, briefly “sneaking” into China before starting the even more adventurous (and enriching) exploration of Laos from the seat of a Detech Win Vietnamese motorbike.
I trotted through Cambodia, experiencing the truly third world, learning about what the aftermath of genocide looks like (the Khmer Rouge) and how the remnants remain pronounced and clear even decades later. I witnessed the impressive Angkor Wat, an ancient palace complex and justifiable wonder of the world. In between, I questioned the dichotomy of how a land could produce such an undying legacy as Angkor Wat but be so fragile as to nearly erase its own culture from the map.
I learned firsthand about the practical value of Buddhist philosophies as I briefly lived with Buddhist monks at a Thai temple. As a person who grew up Christian, I questioned how much value we lose out on by blindly shunning what we don’t understand simply because of our “beliefs.”
I traveled to Myanmar during a civil war verging on genocide as the Rohingya fled for their lives. But I was still able to explore the highly underrated temple city of Bagan and to trek to the impressive floating city of Inle Lake, all the while questioning how I could enjoy so much while incomprehensible atrocities waged on hours away.
And finally, four months later…I flew out of Mandalay airport, on a flight for Kathmandu…to see Mount Everest
But Really, why would anyone fly 8,000 miles just to trek to Everest Base Camp?
The idea of hiking 38.58 miles and ascending over 8,000 ft to a place where there is 25% less oxygen in the air than at my home in California sounds exciting, to some, adventurous to others, and crazy to many. So why do it? For the beauty, the struggle & the pain, the validation, and…the beauty.
The Beauty of the Himalayas and the Aura of the Khumbu
For anyone that appreciate beautiful landscapes, the Himalayas are the epitome of such views. Jagged mountains lined in rows tower into an eerily whitish blue sky in a way that no camera can effectively capture. The higher one goes, the more adventurous the experience becomes. As the air becomes thinner with altitude, the air also grows quieter, people become harder to come by, and the aura becomes more peaceful. If you decide to hike solo (as I did) and take the Pheriche route to Dughla (avoiding the crowds) there will be times when you will have enormous mountains towering on both sides, a rocky moonscape in front and behind you, and not a soul in sight. For that moment, you will be the only one trekking to Everest. During times like these you can feel nature (and the adventure) in your bones. Don’t think so? Ask someone who has been and see how they feel about that statement. As you walk slowly, attempting to avoid altitude sickness, every breath will be more difficult than at 17,000 feet below, but every view will be more breathtaking
The Struggle and Pain of the “EBC Trek” are part of its value
Put simply, part of the allure of the EBC Trek (or any real adventure) is in the struggle and pain required to achieve the end. Yes, you could pay $1500 to hop in a helicopter and fly to EBC to see Mt Everest, but if you spoil the process you spoil the adventure. In the words of Yvon Chouinard,
“the whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. If you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”
Much of the value of adventures lies in their struggle, and we all look fondly on the struggle when we return to civilization. Taking more risks than average creates innovators like Elon Musk. Enduring more pain that average creates superhumans like Navy Seals. Persisting through the discomfort and quiet of solitude creates people with the patience and insight of Buddhist monks. What’s the point? Embrace the struggle, as the struggle of breathing and putting one foot in front of the other for the duration of the EBC trek is a portion of the adventure that you will look back on fondly, immediately after the trip and into old age.
The Validation of Completing the EBC Trek
Towards the end of your trek, as you sit on Kala Pattar at 6AM with the sun cresting over Everest and Ama Dablam, take notice of two things:
First, notice how peaceful and beautiful the view is. There won’t be a single manmade structure in sight, just epic creations of nature…and you arrived here under your own power and tenacity.
Second, notice there is little other life. There may be a small mouse that feeds on the candy bars that hikers leave behind, and a puppy may follow you from the tiny town of Gorak Shep 1,000 ft below, but nothing lives here. Eagles don’t fly here. Mountain cats and Leopards are nowhere to be seen…but you walked here under your own power.
These two facts, along with the fact that you are now acclimatized and function on less oxygen, will have you feeling like a super hero. You are existing in a place with little to no life and in view of the “top of the world”. That is validation worth adventuring for.
The stories you’ll tell
Traveling through Southeast Asia I met too many amazing people. The locals were both cordial and terse, charming and crass, intriguing and…. well, intriguing. All the same, the travelers I met were of the same brand. It takes a special type of traveler to leave the comforts of the western world and venture out into rural Asia. Appropriately enough, among these “interesting travelers” were a handful of people that had recently completed the Everest Trek, in May, when most teams attempt to summit Everest. The stories they told of how beautiful the place was, how charming the people were, and how entertaining the hardships (breathing, freezing, and eating “Dahl Bhat” for days on end) made this sound like the type of adventure that one couldn’t leave Asia without doing, unless regret is something you crave.
Time…for the EBC Trek
Now that I had my reasons pinned down to as to why heading for Everest was a must (beauty, struggle, validation, and FOMO), it was time to close the chapter on the first portion of my trip (Southeast Asia) and begin the second chapter, to Everest. After spending a great bit of time with a handful of crass Brits, an Italian, a couple Americans, and some very nice Burmese peeps in Inle, I bought my ticket to Kathmandu. After a 3AM bus for 7 hours to Mandalay airport and a cup of coffee to get my brain going, I sat on a plane and began decoding a handful of notes scrawled on napkins and index cards from EBC Trek veterans I had passed throughout Southeast Asia. It was October 1. Four months after I wrote “see Everest” on a piece of paper blotted with Margarita stains, I was flying from Mandalay to Kathmandu to check another item off of my bucket list. To complete the Everest Base Camp hike and see Mount Everest with my own two eyes.