Everest Circuit Trek with World Expeditions
11.12.2013 - 01.01.2014 -6 °C
Recently, we completed a 22 day tour beginning and ending in Kathmandu, Nepal with an 18 day trek in between. I am also basing this tour at the very end of high season as it was from December 13 to 30 i.e. Winter! As opposed to the more common and popular trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and back out we chose a much more enduring one called the Everest Circuit. The official itinerary and info on this tour can be found here. This trek of course went to EBC but it traveled via a loop to another popular destination to Goyko Lakes then added some challenge by connecting back to the main trail with a 2 day jaunt over the high pass dividing it called the Cho La Pass.
When we first started looking into this trek close to 18 months prior, the choices seemed endless...first we needed to know if we were going to do it solo, hire a guide or join a tour. So how do you choose which is best for you? You need to do your research and also see what best suits your budget, ecological choice, level of fitness and mostly what you want to get out of your trek. Our choice to go with World Expeditions (W.E.) was decided on a combination of a few key factors that anyone considering a EBC trek should take note of.
We knew we had mountaineering experience but we really had no idea the level of difficulty or various challenges with ease in terrain or language and the biggest factor high altitude. so we quickly ruled out going solo and unless you've done trekking in this area a few times i suggest you eliminate that option from your consideration also; just too many things can go wrong and you really won't enjoy the experience as much. Still, quite often those with the lowest of budgets choose this way so it is still quite popular.
Hiring a guide is much more cost effective...or is it? We saw and met many small groups or even single individuals that hired personal guides & porters. They basically followed their lead and relied on their knowledge of the land and hopefully their mountaineering expertise. You usually will be expected to pay for their lodging, food and drink along the way on top of your own expenses plus whatever fee you arranged at the start. The cost of everything increases exponentially the further you travel from a Lukla by 3 to 5 times its value. but more importantly you may not be guaranteed to find a guide that is 'legitimately' trained with first aid / medical training or more importantly pace you for proper acclimatization; if either of these conditions issues are required by you they could end your trip early so do your research well.
paying for a tour operator tends to be the most expensive but for a reason and this option narrows down the field but there are still so many reputable operators; World Expeditions, Intrepid Travel, Gecko Adventures, Himalayan Glacier Trekking, G Adventures and they all vary in price from as low as $1300 to higher then $4000 CAD. But you have to read the details in the fine print to see what isn't included. (There are also many not so reputable operators out there so defiantly do your research before you choose).
The less expensive ones usually do not include most meals, washing water (you will encounter very few shower opportunities), drinking fluids so you will need to add at least another 2000 to 4000 NRP per day for proper hydration, hygiene and LOTS of food as you burn a lot of energy to get to EBC.
FACTORS YOU NEED TO CONSIDER IN CHOOSING A TOUR OPERATOR
- For us we put a high standard on making certain the local indigenous people and the land itself are both compensated and not exploited by us borrowing their space & time. Be it villages, farm land or lodges and all that live in the region.
- Does the company use Yaks or Dzo (half cow half yak) to carry your required gear and supplies or do they use porters? If they use animals then only 1 or 2 local people are actually getting paid for the use of these pack animals where as if they use people you are providing an income to many more (in our case 26 staff) people who rely on our tourist dollars.
- In reference to Porters you should also look into is does the tour operator look after them along with the Sherpas, Sidar, Trek Leader and Cooks that will be taking care of you i.e. Are they provided with shelter, food, clothing and limited to the a amount of weight they have to carry.
- Be sure to make certain proper medical care via your tour leader is also provided. One thing that is a guarantee about these multi day, high altitude, endurance treks is 'you ARE going to get sick'. In fact each and every one of the 15 in my ‘Everest Family’ needed some form of medication or emergency service in our 18 days. I only took medication for a short bout of diarrhea once but didn't want this to accelerate as being ill up there can weaken you to exhaustion, so don't be timid in asking for help if you need it. Even though 90% of us were taking altitude sickness medication it does NOT prevent acute mountain sickness (AMS) the only cure for this is to descend to a lower altitude. Unfortunately one of our group required about 6 hours in the Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC) and didn't ascend any higher.
- Environmental sustainability is a concern and can visibly be seen improving in the valley. About 10 hours north of Lukla inside the Sagarmāthā National Park it is illegal to cut down trees. This is done primarily as the masses of tourists that have infested the area over the decades the more tea shops, lodges and facilities increased which has put a strain on the local forest for building material and fuel for the heat source of fire. Now instead of burning wood; yak dung is the primary burning agent for the cast iron fire barrels found in every dining area/tea shops. One extremely cold evening I even went out to collect an arm load of dried poop on Day 6 in Dhole where we just couldn't seem to get the fire warm enough and the -17 C was inescapable.
- Other considerations that may influence you are the types of lodging you will be staying in: World Expeditions offered a combination of 3 different types. The majority was in the form of permanent campsites on leased land with a constructed dining area and toilet. Each tent is a spacious 4x3x3m and housed 2 sturdy metal cots with 10cm thick foam mattresses and a pillow that proved to be clean and extremely comfortable. These camp sites are situated in absolutely beautiful locations and usually off from the main trail out of the way and offered great views of mountain peaks or near to rivers. For the Everest Circuit we also had two nights of wilderness camping where permanent structures are not allowed, here W.E. setup sturdy pup tents, dining tent complete with table and chairs and even a couple toilet tents (side note the sleeping pads that were provided were disappointing so consider taking your own Therm-A-Rest if you have the spare room). The last sleeping option is in a lodge, you will notice that every lodge calls themselves an “eco” lodge this is because if they have power it is Solar and the fuel is Yak dung or kerosene and if they have hot water it is also solar heated. Basically all lodges serve a means to sleep, eat and poop but basically even the newest and best lodges are just uninsulated stone boxes, the rooms are about the same size of a prison cell that have paper thin walls with over used mattresses a brick for a pillow (if you’re lucky) & a throw blanket. We did have one deluxe room in Namche Bazar that had an attached toilet, sink & mirror with a table, but this was a rare luxury and extremely appreciated, we also had one on our last day in Lukla that had a modern shower but there was no hot water.
- You would also want to find out what your tour Operator provides for you regarding gear. W.E. provided each of us with a brand new duffle bag which were allowed 15kgs, a well-used down parka, a -12 sleeping bag and inner liner (I brought my own silk one which saved me room and weight), 4 rolls of toilet paper which was enough for me but not for the women on our trek but it is readily available to buy in most of the lodges. Also, after landing in Lukla an outer sleeping bag liner was given to us due to the added cold we were expecting…click here to see my complete EBC packing list (under construction).
So by now you can tell who we chose as our tour operator…we ultimately chose World Expeditions because they satisfied us with all of the above factors along with a number of others…also because it offered us the opportunity to see the Gokyo Lakes area, to do some wilderness camping and to go over the challenging Cho La Pass, it gave us a variety of sleeping in locally responsible areas. We wanted reputable guides that would acclimatize us properly and have the qualifications to look after us if we became ill or injured. W.E. treat their staff well with food, clothing and lodging. The porters loads although large were set at a maximum of 50kgs as they are not paid by weight they carry like some operators do. They do not use pack animals to transport supplies and gear and did I mention the food? Wow it was plentiful and 99% of the time delicious…
So let me take you through a typical day:
630am – wake up by the Sherpa’s with hot tea and hot washing water (washy washy) brought to your bed – we need to pack our duffle bags and have them ready for the porters to carry.
700am – Breakfast, usually wheat or rice porridge, coffee/tea, toast and a variety of egg along with boiled hot water to fill your daily water bottles.
730am – Trekking begins; this varied from 4 hours up to 9 hours for the day
12 -1pm – Lunch; usually in a tea shop where we use their dining facility’s or at W.E. dinning room where they usually feed us with soup, bread, hot veggies, salad, dessert and hot drinks
330 pm – Tea Time; hot milk, tea or hot water with biscuits followed by more washy wash.
600pm – Dinner; soup, veggie curry, chicken, beans, pasta, bread, potatoes, dessert hot drinks and again more boiled hot water to fill your bottles (hot water bottles in the sleeping bag was a must)
730pm – bed time; it seems early but the trekking and the altitude makes it exhausting.
W.E. kept to this schedule every day, this helped us so our bodies, minds and digestive system would have a regular routine and you get used to It quickly. Maybe too used to it
So were we happy with W.E.? ABSOLUTELY!!!
our Trek Leader Ramesh and his team were outstanding. Their leadership, hard work and care for us as clients was impeccable and always with a smile, a story and a joke! The tour we choose Everest Circuit was great. Probably more of a challenge in the winter months as we required to purchase crampons in Kathmandu for Cho La Pass and the weather did get down to -20 and this was the same regardless if you were inside a tent or lodge usually. In fact our tour leader told us he had never experienced it so cold in the Gokyo area in his 20 years and that we were the largest group ever that ALL completed the Cho La Pass in December. The only negatives we had was the information giving to me from W.E. office in Canada was not up to date and too vague when I had questions about the gear they provide. In fact the information sent to me was completely different from the information given to us in Kathmandu. Also the W.E. gear is dated and in need of some upgrades i.e. tent, sleeping bag and parkas zippers malfunctioned often and the sleeping pad was a mere stiff yoga mat which is insufficient in the wilderness tents let alone provided very little R value in the coldest part of the trek. But these were all minor issues and my overall experience for the Everest Circuit with W.E. was fantastic. I also feel the value was excellent especially for their concern for the local people and land. It isn't the most expensive but other than a much earned tip for the staff at the end all fees you pay completely cover all your spending unless you want some mars bars, coke or even a beer. the only other extras are if you want to pay for Wi-Fi which was a lot more available then I expected. Or some luxury items like a 500NRP hot shower or some laundry service in Namche.
So would I recommend World Expeditions for your EBC Trek? 100% YES!
Just don’t expect great things from their office…leave that to the Trek Leader, Sherpa’s, Sirdar, Porters, the Cooks and the majestic Himalayas.
It was everything and more than I expected and absolutely made the right choice!