By the time you’re halfway up the notorious Lamjura Pass – which rises in one lung-busting, 2km-high staircase of green, terraced hillside from steamy river to airy ridge – you’ll be asking yourself why. Why did I ever think of walking to Everest Base Camp? Why did I carry so much stuff? And why did I not fly in to Lukla, halfway up, like all the other trekkers?
At the top of the pass, feelings can change dramatically. It’s not just the glass of spicy-sweet chiya tea from a trailside lodge that does it, nor even the nip of home-distilled raksi. It’s the astonishing prospect. Behind lies two days’ tough walking, stretching back to where the tarmac ended. On either side, stony slopes festooned with prayer flags rise into a thin sky. Ahead, the eye – and the path – climbs and falls over ridge and succeeding ridge towards Everest.
Another two or three days of switchbacking past Buddhist monasteries and ramshackle villages brings you to Lukla. Here, an improbable airstrip, perched on the side of the gorge, receives the vast majority of Everest trekkers. From Lukla, all trekkers toil on up together through stony Khumbu, the fabulous high heartland of the Sherpa people. And all trekkers, as long as they can stand the thin air, arrive at either the great glacier beside Everest Base Camp or the heady peaks and lakes of Gokyo.
The Everest trek is a transformative, uplifting experience, however you do it. Walking in on the old route from Jiri, however, offers something extra. You’ll find a greener and maybe more authentic side of Nepal, where the lodges are smaller and where fellow walkers on the trail are often as not Nepalis. You’ll be fitter – you’ll have come the hard way. And you’ll really feel you’ve earned your Everest.
Jiri is 12hr by bus from Kathmandu, and Jeeps continue by rough track towards Bhandar, which can save a day or two’s walking. The Jiri route takes three to four weeks to Everest Base Camp and back (though you can always fly back out of Lukla, 35 dizzy minutes by plane from Kathmandu).