For anyone traveling to Tibet in the winter, this is the best time of year to fully appreciate the sheer beauty of Mount Everest. The snow covering the mountain peak and ground, the blue sky allowing for sharper photos, and the drier air conducive to clearer view of mountains and flag clouds, all these make winter the best time of year to take a trip to visit the world’s highest mountain. The main concern for travelers is often where they will be able to stay for their winter trip to Everest Base Camp (EBC), and what the accommodation is going to be like at this high altitude in the depths of the coldest months of the year.
Can we stay overnight at EBC in winter?
The simple answer to the questions often asked is “Yes”, there are places that you can stay overnight at EBC in winter. While the weather may be cold and snowy at times, it does not mean that everything at EBC is closed during the winter months. For some, this is their permanent home, and they live in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain throughout the year. And where you find people, you can usually find somewhere to stay.
Accommodation choice we can have at ECB in winter
While there are normally options for travelers in their choice of accommodation at the base camp, in the winter, that choice is very limited. In the spring, summer, and autumn months, the base camp has tent guesthouses, erected by local entrepreneurs to cater to a large number of people traveling to EBC in the shoulder and peak seasons of tourism in Tibet. However, these tents, which resemble Tibetan nomadic tents, are packed up and removed for the winter in November, and will not return until the spring season begins again in April.
This only leaves the Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse for people to stay in during the winter season. Rongbuk Monastery, built in around 1902, is noted as the official Highest Buddhist Monastery in the World, at an altitude of 4,980 meters above sea level. The monastery lies just 8km from the original climber’s base camp, and since the move recently by the Chinese government, now lies just 2km from the new “tourist” base camp. The tourist camp is the closest that ordinary travelers to Tibet can go without a mountaineering permit, and has some of the best views of the mountain and its high summit in the world. The guesthouse at the Rongbuk Monastery is the only remaining option for travelers from late November to April. Fortunately, the guesthouse is not busy due to few travelers heading for EBC in winter.
Facilities of Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse
The Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse lies across from the monastery itself, and is a small compound with limited space. The guesthouse has a total of 30 rooms, and can cater to more than 100 guests at a time. However, even with this number of beds, it can be hard to find a place in the peak season, and many people have to opt for the tents. And even in the winter months, you need to book in advance, before traveling to the base camp.
Rooms come as twin or dorm rooms, with anything from two to five beds in each room. However, at this altitude and far from “civilization”, you should not expect too much in the way of modern amenities. The rooms are comfortable however, and are ideal protection from the winds and the cold. While there is no internal heating, the beds do have electric blankets, and you have the option of hot water bottles to help keep you warmer if it gets too cold.
Each room includes a washbasin, albeit without faucet, a small table between each pair of beds, power sockets, a mirror, and a lamp. The table in the room normally has several cups and a bucket underneath. Despite being bare in the furnishings, you can have a warm and comfortable night at the guesthouse.
The toilets are located outside the rooms, to one side of the facility, and are the standard squat-type toilets, which have been variously described as poor to terrible. You will need to bring your own toilet paper. Hot water is available for washing from the main office, but you do not have shower facilities on the site.
While there is no Wi-Fi signal at the guesthouse, since it does not have a wireless internet connection, you will not be able to upload all your amazing photos just yet. However, you can get a mobile phone signal at EBC, so you can let your friends and family know that you made it there safely.
Difficulties and tips for your overnight stay at EBC in winter
Staying overnight at EBC in winter can be cold, and has its problems, just like anywhere else. As much as it is one of the best experiences on the Tibetan Plateau, an overnight stay at EBC can be a little daunting. The cold is the worst thing you will find here, and even that is not as bad as you would have thought. Yes, it can drop to -15°C at night at the base camp, but a few precautions can make sure you stay warm enough. Bring plenty of warm clothes for your ECB tour, and be prepared to wear them at night too. And this includes your warm hat and gloves. If you did not bring a sleeping bag with you from home, we can rent you one for your stay at EBC. We can also help you out with the classic Tibetan apron, which is very warm and comfortable.
Altitude sickness is another big concern about an overnight stay at EBC, due to the increased altitude from Lhasa and Shigatse. EBC near Rongbuk Guesthouse lies at an altitude of 5,150 meters, more than 1,500 meters higher than Lhasa. While you may have acclimatized a little more on your travels to Shigatse, it is not uncommon to feel the effects of altitude sickness at the base camp.
In order to counter the effects of altitude sickness, you should refrain from doing anything strenuous, and maintain your hydration at all times. Please remember, it is easier to become dehydrated at higher altitudes. When walking around the camp, walk slower and take your time, no one is in any rush anyway. And you can prepare an oxygen bottle for your overnight stay at EBC as well if you wish, or rely on the one we always carry on our tours. We also maintain a hyperbaric pressure chamber at EBC, of the kind used for divers that ascend too fast from under water. This unit can help to equalize the pressure and reduce the effects of even severe altitude sickness. And for that added energy while wandering around EBC, chocolate is the best snack for increasing energy levels quickly. High in calories, it is also a tasty treat.
Advantages of staying overnight at EBC in winter
While staying overnight at EBC can sometimes have some minor issues, the advantages of the overnight stay far outweigh any concerns or issues that may arise. For one thing, you will have much more time to enjoy the amazing views of the mountain if you are staying overnight, instead of having limited time due to further travel before nightfall. And having this extra time to appreciate the sheer size and presence of this massive mountain is well worth the few small issues that you might face.
For the photographers amongst you, sunrise and sunset are often the best times to get great photos, and Everest is no stranger to being photographed at these times. Some of the best shots of the mountain are taken with the rising or setting sun hitting its snow-clad slopes, turning the huge mountain a burnished orange color in the low sunlight. When it comes to taking great photos, sunrise and sunset beat all.
And then you have the most amazing sight in the universe – This Galaxy! While we live inside the galaxy of stars known as the Milky Way, our position on the outer arm of the galaxy gives us a unique view of the rest of the galaxy in the night sky. The view of the galaxy is better from high altitudes, where the air is clear, and also in the winter months, when the turning earth is better aligned for great night-sky photos. The low levels of light pollution on the plateau, especially in remote areas, make for clearer views of the stars in the night sky. This means better photos, and what better photo to take back home than one of our own galaxy, spinning through space above our heads in the night sky at EBC.
Winter may be colder and with more chance of snow, but traveling to EBC in the winter months can be a blessing in disguise. The accommodation at EBC is definitely nothing to shout home about, and is as basic as it gets. But the Rongbuk Guesthouse is a comfortable place to stay, with solid walls to keep out the wind and cold, and good quality beds to get a great night’s sleep on. Basic, yes; remote, yes; but well worth the minor hardships of staying overnight to appreciate the amazing sight that is Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. Truly, the Roof of the World.