What it takes to reach Everest Basecamp and climb a Himalayan 6,000 meter peak

Paying a visit to Everest is a bucket list adventure for many mountain lovers. Watching the sun rise over the tallest mountain in the world is a sight to behold, and the trek to Everest Basecamp (EBC) is now a well-established and heavily-supported trade route that welcomes thousands of trekkers each season.

David Breashears photographs the famous mountain view of Ama Dablam and Thamserku from above Namche/Khunde

Overview map - click for larger view

That is not to say that an EBC trek is an easy vacation - particularly not if you do what we do: couple the Everest pilgrimage with a 20,000ft (6000m) alpine climb of neighboring Island Peak.

If you’re curious what the day-to-day effort of an EBC looks like, keep reading.

For the most part, you can expect a gradual ascent with four to five hours of trekking each day - but there are some harder, longer days right from the get go. Climbing up to Namche Bazaar on Day 2 includes a veritable ascent of ~4,000ft for example; and for many days later on during the trek, a vertical gain of 2-3,000ft is standard.

The real work, though, begins once we reach Pheriche after roughly four days of trekking. From here on out, you are sleeping near or above 17,000ft (4500m) for a full week while we visit Everest Basecamp, hike up neighboring Kala Pattar of 18,514ft (5643m) for sunrise views of Everest, and eventually launch a summit bid on Island Peak from Island Peak basecamp.

Summit day on Island Peak is ‘only’ a little more than 3,000ft of climbing, but the peak offers a taste of a little bit of almost everything that makes mountaineering interesting: rock scrambling, crevasses crossings, a steep headwall, and finally an exposed knife-edge ridge to the summit. In short, Island Peak has everything to keep you on your toes.

Take a look below if you’d like to get a first-hand taste of what each day on the trail tends to entail. And subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates from the field from this year’s AWExNepal expedition as we’ll be sharing stories and images on the blog as connectivity permits.

Happy climbing!

 

Typical day-to-day itinerary with estimated distances and daily ascent / descent stats for our Everest Basecamp & Island Peak expeditions

 

Sunny Stroeer
AWExNepal: Welcome to Island Peak and THANK YOU Camp USA

AWExpeditions friend & many-time climbing sirdar Mingma Sherpa is all smiles in his new CAMP gear - crampons, ice axe, helmet & harness!

Today is the first day of October, and that means one thing: the post-monsoon season in Nepal is in full swing, and it’s time for AWE’s 2019 Nepal team to migrate towards Kathmandu and get moving in the mountains.

This year we’ll be visiting Everest Basecamp before heading over to neighboring Island Peak, also known as Imja Tse. Island Peak is a striking glaciated peak located slightly south of Mt Everest and Lhotse, and about two days of walking from Everest Basecamp. Island Peak’s summit elevation is 20,305ft or 6,189m; it is considered a classic introductory climb in Nepal, rated PD+ (‘Peu Difficile’ which translates to ‘Somewhat Difficult’) on the difficulty spectrum - but that sure doesn’t mean that it is going to be boring or easy! Island Peak combines a host of mountaineering challenges that are sure to keep our team engaged: rock scrambling, crevasse crossings (which sometimes can involve ladders, depending on the season), exposed ridge lines, and a steep headwall just below the summit.

To that end, we are grateful to once again partner up with CAMP USA for cutting-edge lightweight glacier gear. Just as we did after climbing Mera Peak in 2017, we are going to gift the team’s harnesses, helmets, and ascenders to our sherpa team at the end of the expedition - hoping to contribute a small part towards modernizing the gear that keeps our climbing Sherpa and other local friends safe in their day-to-day work on the mountains that we aspire to summit. Thank you CAMP for making amazing gear, and for being such a strong supporter of our endeavors.

The mountaineering gear that’s readily available in Nepal is of variable (and often downright terrible) quality; climbing sherpas and porters can often be seen tackling steep snow and ice without the requisite gear or with outdated, heavy equipment that’s been through many seasons of intense use. Being able to bring over five sets of state-of-the-art glacier gear is a privilege that we here at AWE highly appreciate, as do our Sherpa friends!

And with that… back to expedition prep. We’ll be touching down in Kathmandu in less than a week now, and start our long walk towards Everest and Island Peak on the morning of October 8. Expect more regular updates both here and on Instagram over the next few weeks as our 2019 Nepal adventure is in full swing.

Glacier safety gear is an essential element of any AWE Nepal trip.

2017 Mera Peak expedition member Tara testing out her CAMP USA glacier kit a few days before the summit push

If you are curious to read more about the 2017 Mera climb and CAMP’s role on that particular trip, check out the article “The Case For Porter Support” at www.sunnystroeer.com below.

The Case for Porter Support - #purejoy

If you looked at my Instagram yesterday , you saw that I shared a few words about our porter team during the Mera Peak expedition. The forced brevity of Instagram captions just doesn't do things justice, so here's a more in-depth introduction to our lovely support crew.  


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A Word on Strategic Footwear Choices

Ever wondered about optimal footwear strategy on the mountain? Keeping your feet safe - meaning: blister-free, warm, and dry - is always a top priority of any mountaineering expedition. Frostbite is a serious concern on high peaks in the Himalayas and the Americas, and just a single bad blister or sprained ankle can easily put an end to your carefully planned (and expensively paid for) big mountain trip.

AWExpeditions founder Sunny Stroeer has been putting different footwear options to the test for years, including extreme scenarios such as taking a beefed-up trail running shoe to the summit of Aconcagua (with some major modifications for added warmth, don’t try this at home!), or going ice climbing in 8000 meter boots.

Stay tuned for a future post that’ll go into detail about our nuanced footwear recommendations for the peaks that we offer expeditions on - spoiler alert: we like the Expedition 6000M EVO RD from LOWA Boots - but in the meantime check out the footwear strategy advice that Sunny recently shared over at www.lowaboots.com where she’s proud to be an ambassador.

Hope you find something useful in there!

Lessons from the Trail: A Note About Footwear Choices - By Sunny Stroeer

"Wait - you are going to wearing boots today?" I hear that question a lot. You see, I am a mountain runner and high altitude endurance specialist. In my world, according to common gospel, light is fast. Trail running shoes to the top of a 14,000ft peak? Check.

Aconcagua: An Introduction to the Normal Route

Aconcagua is the perfect high altitude mountain for all sorts of shenanigans, because it has something for everyone: the South Face is among the biggest walls in the world, with some 9000ft of highly technical climbing; the Polish Glacier on the east side of the mountain offers a moderate technical option.  And then there's the Normal Route leading up the northwest ridge. 

The Normal Route is mostly a walkup; there are no glaciers or major cliff bands that could pose serious objective hazards. It is also the most popular way up the mountain; Plaza de Mulas at its foot is rumored to be the second largest basecamp in the world, and from there a well-worn track leads most of the way to the summit.  Now... that's not to say that getting up the mountain via the Normal Route is easy.  No matter how non-technical it may be, the route still gains almost 4000 meters / 13,000ft from the park entrance to the summit. It is long, it is steep, and the conditions above basecamp are often brutal.   

Aerial view of the Horcones Valley Route - courtesy Sunny Stroeer

How long and steep, you ask?  Great question - it’s not that simple.  Interviews with Fernanda Maciel, the original women's speed record holder, suggest that the entire route is somewhere between 40 and 45 kilometers in length one way.  Kilian Jornet, who briefly held the men's  speed record in 2014, recorded a distance of 59.85km for the roundtrip or just under 30km one way.  My (Sunny’s) own GPS data from a 2014 climb comes in at right around 34kms one way.  

Normal Route Elevation Profile - courtesy Sunny Stroeer

So much for the distance question. But how steep? This one is easier to answer: at first not very steep at all; then, very steep. The approach to basecamp follows the Horcones Valley which ascends so gradually that it is almost imperceptible for a good portion of the hike.  But the story changes drastically after Plaza de Mulas: the final 10 kilometers from basecamp to the summit cover almost 2,700m of elevation gain, translating into an average gradient of 26-27%.  

There are five main camps in between the park entrance and the summit.  The first two, Confluencia and Plaza de Mulas, offer relative luxury thanks to local logistics providers: Inka Expediciones and a few others maintain semi-permanent tents to provide meals and bunk beds for their clients.  In addition, there is ample mule traffic all the way up to Plaza de Mulas which makes it easy to move loads up to basecamp. Once past Plaza de Mulas everything gets harder: the air is thinner, the temperatures colder, the comfortable logistics support a distant memory (unless you’re hiring expensive porters to help carry gear as high as Nido de Condores).   Put all those factors together with the increased steepness, and you’ll easily see why the 25km to Plaza de Mulas is typically done in only three days, while it’s then another ~ ten days to cover the remaining 10 kilometers from Plaza de Mulas to the summit.  

A map of the upper mountain, via www.aconcaguaexpeditions.com

Aconcagua via the Normal Route is not much of a technical challenge, but (or maybe "because of that") it makes for an excellent introduction to high altitude mountaineering; the Normal Route also lends itself to comparatively safe solo missions.  Hopefully these maps are useful for you as you’re following along friends on the mountain or if you are researching your own Aconcagua climb. 

Lots of time for acclimatization and flexibility from 4000 meters on upwards. AWExpedition climbs often build in an additional overnight at ~3.000m right at the beginning of the trip, before heading into the park.

On that same note here is one last resource: a sample mountain itinerary for a typical AWExpeditions Normal Route climb, this one pulled from a 2017 expedition. The actual schedule in any given year is of course dependent on weather and team condition, but this straw-man is a decent blueprint of how to tackle a 7000 meter peak with solid acclimatization. 

These maps and schedules should give you a good starting to point to plan your own Aconcagua climb - or, if you’d rather tackle the summit with a team and have all your logistics taken care of: get in touch with us!

This article originally appeared in modified form over on AWE founder Sunny Stroeer’s website www.sunnystroeer.com. You can find the original version at https://www.awexpeditions.org/field-notes/aconcagua-normal-route-description.


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Upcoming AWE climbs

  • Aconcagua Normal Route
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  • Aconcagua 360 Route
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  • Nepal Island Peak via Everest Basecamp
    October 2019 (three weeks)

  • Kilimanjaro
    September 2020 (11 days)

Find out more and join us here.






Think You've Got What It Takes? Or: How To Get Ready For Aconcagua

A shakeout run with Aconcagua standing proud and tall in the background

Aconcagua is the second highest of the Seven Summits, and at 22,838ft it is a formidable peak. Even if you choose the easiest way up the mountain, you are looking at a one way trip of ~35km / 22 miles with 4000 meters (13,120ft) of ascent. The typical climber takes about two weeks to get to the summit, allowing time to both acclimatize and to wait for the somewhat elusive weather window.  

OK - if you do the math it doesn't sound that bad, does it? Two weeks for 22 miles and 13,000 feet elevation gain should translate to an average of just a little under 2 miles and 1,000ft of ascent each day.  Of course it's not that easy: there are acclimatization days and load carries which mean that, once above basecamp, you essentially have to climb every bit up to high camp at least twice.  And most of the action happens above 14,000ft ASL where the air is thin and every step is a battle.  

So how do you prepare for a climb like this?  Here's what AWE founder Sunny Stroeer has to say to Aconcagua hopefuls:

‘The better your cardio base is, the better your chances of acclimatizing and making it all the way to the summit.  A huge part of the battle is mental, but you have to be working off an incredibly strong cardio base to even be in position to fight that mental battle. What I mean by that: being in marathon shape is a great benchmark; short of actually running a marathon, you ought to be able to knock out a twenty mile run/walk over the course of 5-7 hours without feeling like you’ve got nothing left in the tank at the end of it.’

One of the biggest challenges on Aconcagua is both the duration of the climb and the lack of opportunities to truly recovery. Even the approach to basecamp isn’t a walk in the park - the longest approach day on the normal route is a 12 mile hike with significant vertical gain right towards the end of the day - but it’s still quite manageable for most fit hikers. Once above basecamp, though, every day is difficult; rest days lack the creature comforts of basecamp. And as if that’s not enough, a string of difficult days is then capped off by what may just be one of the hardest physical efforts you’ve ever undertaken: summit day.

Working hard at 22,000ft

That’s why, in addition to an excellent cardio base, the ability to suffer is key.  Climbing at altitude and in the extreme cold that characterizes Aconcagua means that there will be plenty of suffering, even under the most favorable conditions; the outcome of the climb depends majorly both on your physical preparation and on how badly you want it (while respecting physical limits and objective hazards, of course). 

If you are not already an ultra endurance athlete with a first-hand idea of what this suffering talk is all about, here’s a good way to get a first-hand taste: overnight training sessions. Start at dusk and hike all night until the sun comes up again; ideally up a local hill or mountain, and carrying weight.  When a 12 hour overnight hike doesn't faze you anymore, chances are you'd handle the physical demands of Aconcagua just fine. 

You are still reading and all of this sounds appealing rather than exhausting? Maybe you should come climbing with us.


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Upcoming AWE climbs

  • Aconcagua Normal Route
    Jan & Dec 2020 (three weeks)

  • Aconcagua 360 Route
    Feb 2020 & Jan 2021 (three weeks)

  • Nepal Island Peak via Everest Basecamp
    October 2019 (three weeks)

  • Kilimanjaro
    September 2020 (11 days)

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Beyond the Summit

Why do we climb? It’s a complicated question, and one that invites unsatisfying answers. George Mallory’s famous response to the question of why he wanted to climb Everest (“Because it’s there!”) is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg; pardon the pun.

Pursuing high altitude peaks in a country like Nepal is a deep reflection of personal desires and values. Looking beyond the physical and mental challenge of attempting a big summit, the irony of seeking out mountaineering objectives is not lost on the introspective climber: what a manifestation of privilege it is to put tremendous resources towards a summit goal that entails not only deliberately pushing into difficult environments but also means voluntarily embracing hardships which the majority of the local population is working hard to avoid.

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That’s why expedition mountaineering is about so much more than about the mountain or the summit. It’s about refining our understanding of what matters in life - both in our own and in the lives of others - and growing as a person in the face of constant consequential choices and reality checks. It’s the reason why some of the best experiences on a mountaineering expedition may have nothing to do with climbing.

Read on below for a LuminAid story from AWE founder Sunny Stroeer’s most recent visit to Nepal, where Sunny talks about precisely one of those experiences.

Notes From The Field: Mera Peak Nepal

Even among the highest peaks, a LuminAID ambassador finds a way to share light. This story comes from mountain-climber Sunny, who recently embarked on an all-female climb in the Himalaya. On the way, her team was able to distribute safe solar lights to families in high remote mountain villages, with fire stoves as their only light source.


Here at AWE we’re about climbing mountains and enabling extraordinary experiences, but hopefully the above story helps shed light on why we also believe that summits are just a tiny piece of the puzzle: what’s much more important than reaching one is how you get there, and the personal connections you make a long the way!

Visit Nepal with AWE

Sunny Stroeer
Kilimanjaro: A Mother-Daughter Trip

What’s the biggest adventure you’ve ever gone on with your family? How about a climb up to the roof of Africa! Take a look below to read AWE founder Sunny Stroeer’s account of an unforgettable summit push on Kilimanjaro over at the REI Co-op Journal.

The Mother-Daughter Bond at Elevation | REI Co-op Journal

A lot of parents worry about their children's safety on epic alpine adventures. Gudrun Stroeer used to be one of them. But now, she's summiting peaks alongside her daughter Sunny. It is 3:30 in the morning and my mom, Gudrun Stroeer (65), is doubled over and breathing hard.


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Meet the 2019 AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship Recipient

If you’ve been following our Summit Scholarship updates on social media over the last month, you already know this much: the response to the $5000 free-ride-to-Nepal scholarship surpassed all expectations. 236 women from more than twenty countries applied, and the scholarship steering committee faced the difficult task of choosing just one recipient among hundreds of women with powerful stories and a demonstrated love for the outdoors.

The intent of the scholarship is to open up the empowering adventure of big mountain expedition climbing to a woman who typically would not be in a position to embark on such a climb without the scholarship’s assistance. As such, we were looking for candidates with a powerful story who demonstrate a credible financial need in addition to alignment with AWE’s mission and values. Ideally, we also wanted the scholarship recipient to be someone for whom the expedition would be a truly extra-ordinary experience: someone who hadn’t been to the Himalayas before, who hadn’t yet climbed big mountains such as Kilimanjaro or Cotopaxi, who hadn’t (yet) been able to pursue life-changing bucket list adventures around the globe.

We found our perfect candidate in Colorado’s Melissa Estep, who describes her evolution in the outdoors as follows:

Melissa (Photo Credit: Melissa Estep collection / Instagram)

Melissa (Photo Credit: Melissa Estep collection / Instagram)

“Through college, I had felt tied to my relationships with men to get out and climb or challenge myself. I think there are great things to be gained from sharing these experiences with men, but I felt too dependent to pursue them alone and consequently felt limited in what I could do. When I was told I couldn’t join a trip to Mt. Baker with male friends due to concerns over my abilities and emotional capacity for handling the situation, I decided I would do whatever it took to feel competent on my own. Climbing mountains is an incredibly empowering experience, and the opportunity to join other strong women makes it even more rewarding.”

Melissa embodies why AWE was created, and we are incredibly excited to have her join the expedition team for our upcoming Island Peak climb & Everest Basecamp trek as the recipient of the 2019 AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship which will cover her expedition fee, a $500 stipend towards international air travel, and top-of-the-line trail and high altitude mountaineering footwear from LOWA Boots.

Welcome to the team, Melissa!! We can’t wait to share the trails of the Khumbu Valley with you and hopefully snatch a sunrise or two from high up on Island Peak, too.


Note: The quality of quantity of scholarship applications drives home the need for programs like this one, and we’re hoping to build a larger scale scholarship effort in future years. If you’d like to get involved as an individual or corporate partner or help in building this program, please contact us.

Sunny Stroeer
Announcing the $5,000 AWE x NITE IZE Summit Scholarship

Expedition climbing isn’t cheap: between mountaineering gear, airfare and on the ground logistics, big mountain expeditions tend to run in the thousands of dollars. That’s why we are  proud to announce the 2019 AWE x Nite Ize Summit Scholarship for one woman to participate in our fall 2019 expedition to Island Peak and Everest Basecamp at minimal cost, powered by Nite Ize and supported by Lowa Boots

We at AWExpeditions believe in creating empowering experiences for women, and in contributing what we can towards closing the gender gap one step at a time. We realize, though, that all too often these empowering experiences carry a steep price tag and are a domain of privilege. So we’ve teamed up with the good folks at Nite Ize, who are all about adventure and solutions, to do do something about it.  

The Summit Scholarship will cover one selected woman’s complete expedition fee ($3,190) and a $500 stipend for use towards international flights to/from Kathmandu. The scholarship also includes expedition-relevant gear from Nite Ize, and top quality mountaineering footwear from Lowa Boots valued at more than $1300.  The expedition will take place from October 5 to October 26 2019.

Qualified applicants must be female, available to travel to Nepal in October 2019, and enthusiastic about challenging themselves physically and mentally in a harsh outdoor environment.  Excellent cardio shape is a must, prior mountaineering experience is not mandatory. 

Applications can be submitted at www.awexpeditions.org/summit-scholarship between April 4 and May 1 2019.  The scholarship recipient will be announced by May 15 2019. 

Questions? Get in touch.


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The Lady Aconcagua

Karin, a member of the 2019 AWExAconcagua team, above the Cueva.

It’s mid-morning on Feb 18th. I’m alone at 22,410 feet huddled in the “Cueva,” a rather poor excuse for a cave that provides almost no protection from the relentless, biting wind. I take shelter behind a rock and hunch in on myself trying to preserve body heat while I attend to my hands. My poor frozen endlessly painful hands. By far the most painful and difficult part of climbing  Aconcagua was keeping my hands warm. I pull them out of my gloves and shove them into my armpits and try not to cry as the numbness fades into a burning searing pain.

“The pain is good- it means blood flow and circulation.”

The pain is good- it means blood flow and circulation. I wait for several minutes and look out at the vista of peaks bathed in the sunlight. The sun has risen hours ago but I am on the shadowed side of the mountain and will remain without the warmth of the sun until I reach the summit. I can see it from here- so tantalizing. So close but still a couple hours of hard effort away. I wait as long as I can for my hands to warm up and then when my core temperature drops enough to make hypothermia a real possibility, I pull my hands out, shove my gloves on, and grab my pack. Time to get moving. 

“I haven’t felt my feet in several hours, my hands are still only marginally functional, I’m alone and windblown…. and ecstatic.”

A couple hours later I am on the summit. I haven’t felt my feet in several hours, my hands are still only marginally functional, I’m alone and windblown…. and ecstatic. There is something about that summit feeling- there is nothing else like it on earth. Similar to the finish line of any grueling race or athletic event- you’re tired and proud and accomplished. And something more…. There is something humbling about being among the big mountains. If I finish a triathlon, I know it’s because I worked hard. If I make it to the top of Aconcagua, I know that it is because she granted me passage. I see why native peoples deify the mountains- they are so grand, so monumental in comparison to us. At any moment I could have been turned back by weather, or altitude, or injury. An environment so harsh I could never belong here- but I am allowed to visit. And on our summit day the lady Aconcagua deigned to let us reach her heights.

“Temperature, thirst, hunger, must all be managed with precision.”

The author enjoying a day of glorious weather not far above basecamp

People ask me which is harder- running a 100 mile race or climbing a mountain? It’s a hard question to answer. Much is the same- the grueling nature of each endeavor, the physical and mental endurance required. In some ways racing is much harder. Even in long races you feel the grind of continuous effort and the pain of perceived exertion in a way I did not feel at Aconcagua. The physical efforts are necessarily measured due to the extreme altitude. Each day on the mountain was only a few hours of hard effort followed by a generous amount of rest. But even just trying to exist in such extreme environments is hard. The wind never stops blowing. Blizzards may come in at Camp 1 and you must set up your tents in 80 mph winds and blowing snow (true story). You’re cold ALL the time. Temperature, thirst, hunger, must all be managed with precision. It’s often, or maybe even mostly, an uncomfortable experience. But it is also transcendent, and inspiring, and beautiful in a way that makes you feel very small. And that is feeling worth chasing.


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