Family adventure holidays don’t get much more adventurous than visiting the famous Base Camp at Mount Everest. But did you know, far from involving lots of hiking and serious climbing, you can actually drive right into Base Camp at Mount Everest with kids? Guide Jamin York – also known as Losang – has guided over 1,200 clients over the years around Tibet including his two sons Tsering (8) and Norbu (6). He also continues to take visitors on tours to Everest Base Camp from the Tibetan side. He tells suitcases&strollers his travel tips for how to do it and why visiting Everest Base Camp with kids is, in terms of unusual holiday destinations, one family holiday with a difference.
Why visit Everest Base Camp with kids?
From the Tibet side Everest Base Camp, you can get a clear, unobstructed view of the world’s highest peak. The north face of Everest is regarded as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. In addition, 8 kilometres north of the Tibet side Everest Base Camp is Rongbuk Monastery.
Rongbuk Monastery is the highest monastery in the world at nearly 5,000 metres in elevation. This scenic mountain offers a stunning view of Everest as well as a look at traditional Tibetan monastic life.
Is the Everest Base Camp in Tibet the same as the one tourists are trekking to from Nepal?
Since Mount Everest lies along the border of Tibet and Nepal, it has 2 base camps….the Tibet side and the Nepal side. To reach the Nepal side Everest Base Camp you will need to trek the entire route from Lukla as there is no road. The trek from Lukla to the Nepal side Everest Base Camp takes between 10 and 12 days to make the roundtrip journey. Taking young children or children with no high elevation trekking experience is not recommended. This would be a better trek for teenagers who have adequate experience hiking in high mountains.
You can also trek to the Tibet side Everest Base Camp, but there is also a road that leads all the way to Base Camp. The trek to Tibet side Everest Base Camp takes 3 or 4 days, but many people choose to drive there. If you are traveling with kids and want to see the world’s highest peak, I recommend going to the Tibet side of Everest since you can drive all the way there. The road is a bit rough, but currently road work is going on that will drastically improve the road leading to the Tibet side of Everest. Both the Tibet and the Nepal side of Everest offer amazing views, but the view of Everest is better on the Tibet side, in my opinion.
[For more travel tips on family holidays in Tibet with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Can you interact with the climbing teams at Everest Base Camp?
There are 2 parts of Everest Base Camp, the part for tourists (non-climbers) and the part for climbing teams. Without a trekking or climbing permit, you cannot enter the area sectioned off for climbing expeditions. However, from the part of Everest Base Camp for non-climbers, you can still get a good view of all the expedition tents as well as climbing teams, which are camped a further 500 metres to 1 kilometre beyond the base camp for non-climbers.
Is going to Everest Base Camp with kids an experience you would recommend for families?
Due to Tibet’s high elevation, caution needs to be taken when planning a journey that involves small children. Most high altitude specialists/doctors agree that children under the age of 3 or 4 should not be taken to 3,000 metres or higher for extended periods of time. Even with my own children, who have grown up on the Tibetan Plateau, I waited until they were 3 years old before taking them above 3,000 meteres on an extended journey (more than a few days).
However, with proper acclimatisation, children over the age of 4 normally do well at high elevation. I have taken my 2 boys to over 5,100 metres on several occasions (while ascending slowly and gradually) and they have had no problems. For young children, I highly recommend postponing your journey to Tibet until your children are older in order to avoid serious complications with altitude sickness.
[For travel tips on another country in the clouds at a more manageable elevation, see the suitcases&strollers story on Bhutan with kids.]
Are you missing anything by choosing to get to Everest Base Camp with kids from Tibet rather than Nepal?
On both sides of Everest, there are stunning views of Everest and the Himalayas. The best thing about the Tibet side of Everest is that you don’t have to trek to it like you do in Nepal. You can simply drive to Base Camp. In fact, many people agree with me that the view of Everest from the Tibet-side is much better than the view from the Nepal side.
Is there an age restriction on who can go to Everest Base Camp?
There is no official age restriction on the Tibet side of Everest Base Camp that I am aware of. I have been leading photography and cultural tours to Everest for more than 10 years and have seen many families there with children over the age of around 8. However, experts agree that children under the age of 3 or 4 should not go to elevations higher than 3,000 metres for extended periods of time because of the risk of serious altitude related illness. Since the average elevation in Tibet is 4,000 metres and with the Tibet side Everest Base Camp sitting at 5,200 metres, families should not take their young children to Tibet until they are older.
I personally recommend waiting until your children are around 6 or 8 years old before taking them to Tibet and Everest Base Camp, though some experts say children are safe once they are over age 3 or 4. It is best to check with your doctor and get professional medical advice before taking young children above 3,000 meteres for extended journeys.
[For more travel tips on how to deal with altitude sickness in kids, see the suitcases&strollers story about The Sacred Valley.]
Can you do the trek to Everest Base Camp from Nepal with kids?
The trek to the Nepal-side EBC is not for beginners or for young children. There are not any actual “age restrictions” for the trek that I am aware of, however, only older children (over age 15) who are experienced mountain trekkers should attempt this trek.
Is it possible to trek the route to Everest Base Camp with kids from Tibet?
The trek to the Tibet side Everest Base Camp normally begins either from the town of Baber or from the town of Old Tingri. Of the two options, I recommend starting from Old Tingri as that route allows better views than the other route. Both routes take between 3 and 4 days. There is no age restriction, however, I really don't recommend trekking in Tibet with children unless they are teenaged (15 years or older) and have experience trekking in high elevation. For reasons mentioned above, you will not want to bring young children under the ages of 3 or 4 to Tibet because of the higher risk they have of developing serious altitude-related illness.
The trekking route begins at an elevation of around 4,400 metres and ends at Everest Base Camp, which lies at 5,200 metres. From Old Tingri, the trek covers approximately 60 kilometres and the route gently ascends for the most part. No serious climbing is involved and no crampons or rope is needed. Anyone who has done a fair share of trekking in the mountains should be able to complete this trek.
Everest Base Camp is at quite a high elevation of 5,200 metres. How should tourists acclimatise to the altitude?
Since the average elevation in Tibet is over 4,000 metres, taking time to acclimatise is extremely important. For the groups that I arrange and personally lead, I usually have them stay in the city of Xining for at least 1 or 2 nights. Xining (elevation 2,300 metres) is the largest city on the Tibetan Plateau and is located in the province of Qinghai, about 1,500 kilometres northeast of Lhasa.
After spending a night or two in Xining, I then recommend flying or taking the train to Lhasa (elevation 3,550 metres). I then recommend people to stay at least 2 or 3 nights in Lhasa before setting out for Everest Base Camp.
Many people think that Everest Base Camp is right near Lhasa, but it is actually nearly 800 kilometres away from Lhasa. I recommend taking another 3 or 4 days between Lhasa and Everest Base Camp to have more time to acclimatise. You can gradually ascend higher by going from Lhasa to Gyantse, Shigatse and Baber before arriving at Everest Base Camp at 5,200 metres. Taking time to properly acclimatise won’t eliminate the risks of altitude sickness, but it will drastically reduce it.
What happens if someone in the family starts to experience altitude sickness? Is there a fast way down and out of altitude?
If someone begins to show symptoms of moderate to serious altitude-related illness, there are good hospitals in both Shigatse and Lhasa that are well set up for treating patients with altitude sickness. Nearly all reputable travel agencies will carry supplemental oxygen in their vehicles in the rare case of their clients becoming seriously ill from altitude. Once a client begins showing symptoms of serious altitude sickness, drivers and guides will immediately begin descending to lower elevation and take their clients to a good hospital for treatment.
It is important to note that with proper acclimatisation, serious altitude-related illness is relatively rare. Over the years working in tourism in Tibet I have arranged over 500 journeys to Tibet and have personally led nearly 70 groups across Tibet and other parts of the Himalaya. In all my experiences, with nearly 1200 total clients, I have only had 2 people suffer from serious altitude related illness and both of them were fine shortly after seeing a doctor in Tibet. Don’t let the small possibility of altitude sickness prevent you from traveling to an amazing part of the world.
What are the types of family friendly accommodation in Tibet near Everest Base Camp for kids?
There are 3 choices in accommodations at Everest Base Camp. As long as children understand that all 3 accommodation options are extremely basic, they won’t have any problems staying in them.
Rongbuk Guesthouse, run by the government, is located across from Rongbuk Monastery. This concrete block of a guesthouse is really only popular with Chinese tour groups. This place tends to be overpriced, quite cold and dirty and really isn’t recommended.
Another option is the small monastery-run guesthouse at Rongbuk. This
place is quite simple, but is run by pleasant people from Rongbuk Monastery. In
addition, it has a fantastic view of Everest. Both the Rongbuk Government Guesthouse
and the Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse are located about 8 kilometres north of
Everest Base Camp.
The last option is the so-called “Tent Hotels” located 5 kilometres past Rongbuk Monastery and 3 kilometres before Everest Base Camp. This is the last place before Everest Base Camp where you can spend the night. The “Tent Hotels” are a group of 35 or so yak wool tents that all offer beds, lots of blankets, basic food and drinks for the same price. The tents are very basic and do not offer any running water and only a pit toilet, but they are very popular. The tent hotels are only open from late April until mid October. All the tents offer an excellent view of Everest’s north face.
What is the age of the youngest person you've guided to Everest Base Camp? How did they cope?
Though I have guided many dozens of groups across Tibet over the years, I have never guided any groups that have had children. However, my own 2 boys, who have lived nearly all of their lives in the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau, have traveled extensively across the Himalayas and have never had any issues. Of course, I always make sure that they are properly acclimatised, especially before going above 4,000 metres.
Though my boys have not made the journey with me to Everest Base Camp yet, they have been over 5,000 metres in elevation numerous times and have always done well. I am planning on taking my boys to Everest Base Camp next year, when they are 7 and 9 years old and I am certain they will have a great time.
What are your top 3 suggestions for families considering visiting Everest Base Camp from Tibet with kids?
When planning your journey to the Tibet side of Everest Base Camp, follow these 3 important pieces of advice:
1. Make sure your children are old enough. You do not want to take young children to the high elevation of Tibet due to the high risk of them developing serious altitude-related illness. Experts say to wait until children are at least 3 or 4, however I recommend waiting even longer until your children are 6 to 8 years old before planning a journey to Tibet with kids.
2. Make sure that your travel itinerary allows you proper time to acclimatise. I often receive emails from people who only have 4 days to explore Tibet and they want to see Everest within their short time frame. I politely tell them that 4 days is not enough time for their bodies to acclimatise to the elevation of Everest Base Camp. I then suggest a route that allows them more to to adjust to the elevation so that the risks of altitude sickness are reduced (though not eliminated).
3. Make sure you choose a reputable travel agency. All foreigners traveling to Tibet must be on an organised tour that includes travel permits, a tour guide, a private vehicle and a driver. There are no exceptions. Only a travel agency can arrange a journey to Tibet for you. There are hundreds of travel agencies to choose from. Make sure that you choose a travel agency that offers not just competitive prices, but one that also has an excellent safety record and has great customer service.
Losang is happy to answer questions about visiting Tibet with kids directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: Losag Jamin York of Plateau Photo Tours