As the tallest mountain on earth, it’s easy to see why Everest garners the huge attention it does. Standing in the mountain’s colossal shadow makes you quickly realize just how small you are and how impressive Mother Nature can be. Not only this, but the surrounding area of the Himalaya is a study in the spectacular, a smorgasbord of rugged mountains, beautiful valleys and winding rivers. With over 30,000 tourists hiking the trail every year, the Everest Base camp trek is one of the most popular treks in the world.
With so many trekkers on the trail to Base Camp you might wonder if it gets uncomfortably busy. Certainly in peak season the trail is crowded, you won’t get many serene moments and tea houses along the route are full up and need to be booked well in advance. That being said, trekking in peak season certainly provides a great communal buzz, the best weather and crystal clear mountain vistas.
There are, however, alternative routes to Everest Base Camp that allow trekkers to get off the beaten path, get away from the crowds and see more of the stunning region. One of these is the Gokyo Lakes trek which, unlike the standard Base Camp trek, has the added benefit of being a circular trek. Although 3 days longer than the standard trek, the Gokyo Lakes trek allows you to experience the standard trek on the return journey whilst also seeing the stunning Gokyo Lakes region on your journey to Everest.
My own journey began with a hair-raising flight into the local town of Lukla which, with one of the shortest runways on earth, had me sweating already. Sadly, I was sat on the right hand side of the plane whilst the people on the left got some great views of Everest. We then spent the first day trekking to Phakding along the Dudh Koshi Valley – a lovely green valley with a river winding through it. From Phakding we trekked to the Bazaar town of Namche. A surprisingly big town for the terrain, Namche was a hive of activity and the market is certainly worth visiting.
Just north of Namche our group diverged off the standard Base Camp trek and headed towards Gokyo. It was only at this point that I realised just how crowded the standard trek was. Immediately after diverting off the main route the amount of trekkers on the path went down ten-fold. It was a welcome relief as we now walked for considerable sections without seeing a single trekker. The occasional views of Everest and Lhotse were made all the more spectacular without the hustle and bustle of other groups stopping to admire the view also.
Before reaching Gokyo we trekked several days up through the villages of Dole and Machermo through incredible sceneries of Birch and Rhododendron forests and Juniper Scrub. Our guide informed us that when the Rhododendrons flower in April, entire hill sides become awash in colour, providing one of the most incredible sights in the Himalayas.
On the eighth day of the trek we reached the holy Gokyo Lakes. Shimmering in the gorgeous September sunlight, the beautiful aquamarine lakes reflected the surrounding mountains like a mirror. Walking beside the lakes is an amazing experience, especially as you can see the summit of Gokyo Ri looming above the village of Gokyo on the Eastern shore of the third lake.
The next day we ascended Gokyo Ri and were rewarded with one of the best views of Everest in the entire region. It was with slight regret that we left the Gokyo Lakes Region and headed for Dzongla. Before reaching Dzongla we crossed over the Cho La Pass – one of the best passes in the Everest Region. The views from the top were incredible and we could see all of the Rolwaling Valley in the west and Ama Dablam to the south east.
After another day trekking we once again joined up with the standard Base Camp trek route at Pheriche where we followed the famous Khumbu Glacier towards Everest. On day 12 we reached Base Camp. Although the summit is not visible from Base Camp, the sheer size and vastness of Everest really hits you here as the mountain is all consuming.
We then trekked back to Namche along the standard route which, although much more crowded, provided wonders of its own. Seeing Everest from the view point at Kala Pathar the following day was one of the highlights of the trip. The summit was perfectly visible from this point as was the infamous Khumbu Icefall at the base of the mountain.
Although slightly longer, the Gokyo Lakes trek would be my first choice and recommendation to anyone thinking of trekking to Everest Base Camp. The crowd free route makes for a much more authentic feeling trek, as does the beautiful Gokyo Region that seems untouched by outside influences. For me, this route brings the best of both worlds together to make one of the best treks in Nepal.
About the author: Burnham Arlidge, destination specialist for Kandoo Adventures.