This year National Geographic asked 20 outdoor luminaries—from trail runners to CEOs to beloved authors—about the trails they dream about. Among their picks for the world’s best hikes, Everest Base Camp Trek is the one picked by Jim Whittaker, First American to climb Mt. Everest.
Hiker: Jim Whittaker, mountaineer
In His Words
I would recommend the trek to Everest Base Camp to anybody. The people are incredible, the scenery can’t be beat, and you get to take a look at Everest or Chomolungma, meaning the “Goddess Mother of the World.” It’s spectacular just to see the highest point on planet Earth. In 1963, it was a 185-mile trip. These days you can start by flying into to Lukla, a village at 9,000 feet with a slanted airstrip that makes for a hell of a takeoff and landing. In May, the rhododendrons are in bloom with orchids growing in them. There are guest houses on the way up. You can get a beer. There are waste baskets on the trail. They have done a nice job of cleaning it up. I made the trek to Everest Base Camp last year but had to turn back near the camp due to intestinal difficulties. I went ten years ago for the 40th anniversary of the climb with Gombu [Nawang Gombu Sherpa who summited with Whittaker in 1963] and our families. That is when my son Leif decided he wanted to climb it. Who knows, I might wander up there again. —Jim Whittaker
Length: About 40 miles
The Details: The two-week trek to Everest Base Camp and back has become increasingly popular—REI even runs a trip—but no less spectacular, if you don’t mind how much the route and the now-bottlenecked climb to the summit have changed since 1963. And why not? It’s a bucket list trip available to people who don’t have the ability (or money, a guided trip to the top of the world runs around $50,000) to actually climb Everest. Simply viewing the peak is a must. And while so many books and films have focused on the trip from Base Camp to the summit, the journey to Base Camp is no less miraculous.
Beyond the chance to come face to face with the mountain from the spot where climbers begin their ascent, the route passes through the heart of the Khumbu region and wanders into its bustling, little capital, Namche Bazaar. Perched at 11,286 feet, this is where most trekkers spend a few days getting acclimatized and immersing themselves in the local culture—as well as returning to their own by checking email at an Internet cafe. From here, the trek heads up past smaller villages, like at 13,074-foot Pangboche, with its famed Buddhist monastery, before topping out at 17,650 feet at base camp, with the summit towering over 11,000 feet above.
Don’t feel bad if climbers who are acclimatizing at Everest Base Camp seem to keep at a distance from you—they don’t want to be exposed to germs from trekkers before making an attempt at the highest spot on planet Earth. And while many trekkers are quite content just looking at that summit, some others, like Leif Whittaker, feel the urge to return.
When to Go: Spring from March until the monsoons move in in May is best but September–November after the monsoon season can be beautiful as well, and a bit less crowded.
About Whittaker: Jim Whittaker became the first American to stand on the summit of Mount Everest on May 1, 1963, for which he and the members of his team were awarded National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal and invited to the White House by President John F. Kennedy. Before he climbed to the top of the world, Whittaker was already a proficient mountaineer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and like many climbing bums he worked in outdoor retail—he was the first full-time employee at Seattle’s Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI), and later its CEO. He also led the first successful American summit of 18,151-foot K2—the world’s second highest mountain and a more difficult climb than Everest—in 1978 and the 1990 Everest Peace Climb, which included American, Soviet, and Chinese mountaineers and helped remove two tons of trash from the mountain. His son Leif followed in his father’s footsteps, reaching the top of the world in 2010 and again in 2012 when Jim set out on the Base Camp trek with him.
Source: NTB-12 July, 2013