Buddhist stupa in mountains, Everest region, Nepal

Go for a checkup before trekking to Everest Base Camp

Mar 26, 2024
Reading time: 6 minutes

You need to be fit and healthy to trek to Everest Base Camp safely. We encourage everyone keen to trek in the Himalayas to first visit a doctor to discuss their health as well as the potential dangers of high-altitude trekking. Forewarned is forearmed!

We really want to highlight two things.

Firstly, the trek to Everest Base Camp is often harder than people think. That doesn't mean it isn't eminently doable, because it is. But you do need to have really good hiking fitness or train in earnest for it.

Secondly, altitude sickness can be very dangerous, even fatal.

Every year, plenty of Everest Base Camp (EBC) trekkers have to turn around or be airlifted out of the region before reaching base camp because they've developed altitude sickness, or the high altitude has exacerbated another condition. And yes, sadly, the odd person has even died from an altitude-related illness.

Civil helicopter landed in high altitude Himalayas mountains. Thamserku 6608m mountain on the background. Namche Bazaar, Nepal.

Helicopter evacuations are common along the EBC trek route

While you can capably assess your suitability in terms of fitness (if you understand how hard the EBC trek is), it's a really good idea to have your doctor weigh in on your health and overall viability to tackle this challenging high-altitude trek.

Discuss these 3 things with your doctor

The main thing to tell your doctor at your pre-trek checkup is that you wish to do a multiday high-altitude trek that will take you well over 5,000 m (16,400 ft) above sea level.

Doctors know all about altitude sickness, of course, from how to avoid developing it to how to treat it. So your doctor will likely lead the conversation at your consult, but please do check that the two of you cover the following topics:

1. The dangers posed by high altitude

You can start to feel iffy from the negative side effects of high altitude from around 3,000 (9,800 ft) m above sea level (asl). EBC is 5,364 m (17,598 ft) asl, so you're heading into rarified air and it's not if you'll feel icky, but how much.

Moreover, you'll likely hike even higher than that โ€“ to 5,644 m (18,519 ft) asl โ€“ since there's a nearby lookout hill called Kala Patthar that most trekkers climb for a view of Mt Everest (since you can't actually see the peak from base camp).

High view of Namche Bazaar on EBC trek, Nepal

Most trekkers start to feel the ill effects of the altitude by Namche Bazaar

Your doctor will explain to you that mild altitude sickness isn't a serious health concern, and you can keep trekking provided you personally feel able to push through the shortness of breath and other unpleasant symptoms (which can include headaches, nausea and poor sleep).

Should your altitude sickness become serious, however, then you must descend rapidly or you could develop high-altitude cerebral oedema (which can be fatal) or trigger another medical issue (such as a heart attack).

2. How to prevent or mitigate altitude sickness

The single best way to avoid developing serious altitude sickness is to only ascend in altitude in a very gradual manner. Your doctor will undoubtedly explain this to you.

The important thing that you can bring to the discussion here is discussing the elevation profile of the trek, which includes your starting altitude and overall altitude gain.

EBC-Trek-Elevation-Map

Elevation map of the Everest Base Camp trek

The map above shows the elevation jumps of our standard itinerary for the EBC Camp trek with a helicopter return. But please note that there are other villages along the EBC trek route where you can stop overnight, so the above map doesn't show all of your options in this regard. Moreover, it's up to you if you spend more than one night at any destination to help you acclimatise to the new altitude.

So the main takeaway here is that there are various ways of trekking to Everest Base Camp. Please read one or both of the following to help you prepare for this itinerary discussion with your doctor:

Armed with this info, you and your GP will be able to have a fruitful discussion on how long you should take over the ascent, and where and when to plan rest days.

In addition to offering advice on your EBC trek itinerary, your doctor will most likely want to prescribe you an altitude medication (such as Diamox) to help prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. They might also raise the question of having spare oxygen with you should your breathing become too laboured.

This is an important topic, and the point here is that you need to choose a reliable trek guide who is trained in wilderness first response, carries spare oxygen on all climbs, and will monitor your health closely at all times.

Finally, your doctor might also want to prescribe you the following:

  • Painkillers for headaches (a common symptom of mild altitude sickness).
  • Strong anti-nausea tablets (another common symptom of altitude sickness).
  • Cortisone (should your breathing become properly troubled).

Please note that there are also things to put into your personal EBC first aid kit that your doctor won't discuss, such as antiseptic for cuts and abrasions. While your trek guide should carry many of the health and safety items discussed here, it's important to check on this. Moreover, having your own little first aid kit is always a good idea for any adventure trip. We discuss all of the health and safety items we think you should consider bringing for yourself in Your complete EBC packing list.

You can also download our free EBC trek packing checklist (see below).

 

 

3. Any potential concerns based on your personal medical history

This final point is, of course, an invaluable part of the consult. Does your doctor believe that you are in good enough health to tackle this challenge?

If you have a serious or rare health concern, perhaps you should also schedule an appointment with the relevant specialist?

Gokyo lake view from Gokyo Ri, Everest region, Nepal

You climb Gokyo peak when you trek to EBC and return via Gokyo Lakes

Visit a doctor before booking your trek

Please book your doctor's visit before paying anything towards your EBC trek. We say this because the moment you part with any money it becomes harder to objectively assess any disappointing advice about the advisability of you undertaking such a trek.

Alternatively, if you're given a qualified thumbs up from the doc ("make some changes first and then you're good to trek", for instance), you're then in a position to take the time necessary to get your health in line before heading to Nepal.

Please take your doctor's advice seriously and do everything possible to ensure you're fit and healthy enough before embarking on an Everest Base Camp trek. You want to ensure it's a truly memorable trip for all of the right reasons!