The highest marathon in the world

Original Everest Marathon Itinerary

Original Everest Marathon November 2019

A 23 day holiday including a 15 day acclimatisation trek, a 42 kms High altitude marathon and some optional sight seeing in Kathmandu!

It’s the highest marathon in the world and it’s also a whole world that you’re signing up to. To reach the start of the race, you’ll journey through the Sherpa land of the Khumbu valley, an adventure into the land of Sagamatha, the sacred ‘Mother of the Universe.’

Day 1 Kathmandu Hotel Shanker

We’ll be meeting in the exotic city of Kathmandu. It was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Nepal and has many important Hindu temples and Buddhist Stupa. It’s a city to be experienced at least once in your life – the vibrant colours, a riot of sights, sounds and smells and riches side by side with poverty. If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll be met at the airport and taken to the wonderful Hotel Shanker. Originally the royal residence of the rulers of Nepal from 1894 until 1964, it was converted into a luxury hotel. Having been damaged in the 2014 earthquake, it has been beautifully restored and it’s gardens and rooms are an oasis of calm.

Day 2 Sightseeing around Kathmandu

After a feast of a breakfast we’ll get down to preparing for the trek, with team meetings, kit issue, medicals and packing. There’s time for a walk into Thamel, the pedestrianised shopping area where it’s possible to buy everything you might need for the trek as well as presents ranging from prayer flags to fabulous rugs and jewellery. There’s time for a swim in the pool before dinner at the hotel with your new team mates.

Day 3 Flight to Lukla and trek to Phakding at 2610m

We’ll be up very early to get to the airport for the flight to Lukla. If the weather’s good and the gods are with us, we’ll get an early flight. We’re going from 1,400m to 2,860m (9,383 feet), a huge jump in altitude and the start of the acclimatisation process. The noise and pollution of the city is left behind and we walk into a world of lush greens, the bright white of steep mountain peaks and the deep blue of the Dub Kosi river below. Luggage bags are loaded onto the Naks and taken to the first campsite at Phakding, 2610m, listening to the rumble of the turning prayer wheels and sending our thoughts to the Gods.

Day 4 Into the Sagamatha National Park and on to Namche Bazaar

As we follow the river upstream, crossing suspension bridges festooned with fluttering prayer flags, we pass through the ornate gateway into the Sagamatha National Park. The steps down beside the rock face feel a little like a passage from Lord of the Rings. A lovely path alongside the river leads up the steep hill to Namche Bazaar - the Sherpa capital. This town, nestled in a natural bowl, has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, providing more shops and tea houses to cater for the increase in trekkers. We’ll be camping above the town for two nights, to let our bodies catch up with the extra altitude.

Day 5 Acclimatisation in Namche Bazaar

You need to familiarise yourself with the next bit of the race route and then you can enjoy walking to the Everest View Hotel where the terrace looks up the valley to the fabulous views of Everest and Ama Dablam. You might want to visit the Edmund Hilary School that was set up in 1961, or the Edmund Hillary hospital in Khunde, or just tour the shops and cafés in Namche Bazaar. It’s a great place to buy cheap extra gear, provided you can carry it.

Day 6 trekking to Khumjung

Bags are packed up for the Yaks to take them onto the campsite at Khumjung while the runners get to stretch their legs along the ‘Thamo Loop’, the last 6 miles of the marathon. Three of the race control points are visited today and they need to be etched into the memory. On the way you’ll probably see Impeyan, the Nepali national bird, similar to a pheasant - the males, with deep iridescent blue and green plumage, wander the stone-walled fields.

Day 7 Trekking to Dole 4110m

The valley drops below us as we ascend the path to the Mong La, a high point, where we stop and take tea, before descending steeply to the lunch stop at Phortse Tenga. The path divides - straight on is the Khumbu valley but we take the left fork to Phortse Tenga and the climb to the campsite at Dole. At 4110m, the effects of altitude start to kick in here and ‘taking it easy’ now becomes the way of the trek.

Day 8 Trekking to Machermo 4410m

Trekking to Machermo, 4410m, the terrain changes to a wide open, grassy valley with steep, rocky peaks either side. A large chorten signals that Machermo is just down below, the tea houses laid out neatly in the field boundaries. This is to be our campsite for the next 3 nights.

Day 9 Acclimatising in Machermo

A day of taking it easy, means doing some washing, walking up the ridge above Machermo, to the base of the trekking peak and visiting the Machermo Porter Shelter. This much needed rescue service for Porters and trekkers, was financed by Community Action Nepal. The doctors who volunteer to work here for 3 month stints, provide a talk on the effects of altitude every afternoon.

Day 10 Walking to Gokyo 4790m

Walking up the valley to Gokyo is a delight. The valley becomes a little steeper and narrower and then opens out to the dry Ngozumpa glacier, (the largest in the Himalaya). The sparkling turquoise First and Second lakes are one of Nepal’s most memorable sights. This is a sacred area – the lakes nestled into the mountain side with maybe a pair of Brahminy Ducks and the ground dotted with stone cairns, each a monument. The tea houses of Gokyo, 4790m have a view over the Third Lake and Gokyo Ri. There is an option to climb this ‘hill’ but at 5357m it feels more of a mountain. Once there, you experience spectacular views of Everest. This is the third and final night at Machermo.

Day 11 Descending to Kangjuma at 3550m

After gaining all that lovely height, it’s time to go down again, all the way to Kangjuma at 3550m. And it feels so easy. This is the day that the Nepali runners have their briefing in Namche Bazaar but you don’t get to meet them until the day before the race when they arrive at Lobuche for the pre-race medical.

Day 12 Trekking to Deboche 3820m

Now we’re walking up the race route with a steep uphill to Tengboche. Famous for its Buddhist monastery, (the largest gompa in the Khumbu region), and the cake shop; you can visit both. The views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Thamserku and Tawache dominate the skyline. We walk on just a little further to camp at Deboche, 3820m.

Day 13 Trekking to Dingboche 4410m

The path crosses the river and we follow it’s to Lower Pangboche, stopping at a race control point for tea. On these steep rocky mountain sides it’s possible to spot Himalayan Tahr, a threatened species of wild goat. After Pheriche, where there is a control point, we go off the marathon route to Dingboche for a two night stay at 4410m.

Day 14 Walking to Chukhung 4730m

This is a day of resting or if you feel good, taking a walk further up the valley to Chhukhung. This is the way to Island Peak and Mera Peak and it’s far quieter than the main valley. The field pattern of stone walls feels very welcoming and a respite from the continuous flow of EBC traffic. Sea Buckthorn grows here and is made into a delicious drink that is a powerhouse of nutrients – just what’s needed for the final push to Gorak Shep.

Day 15 Trekking to Lobuche 4910m

Returning to Pheriche and the race route, we climb up to the Thokla Pass through an increasingly rocky landscape to the tombstones hung with prayer flags. Here there’s a memorial to Rob Hall, the New Zealand Guide who died on Everest. Crossing the river we will be stopping for tea near control 2, before the last bit of the walk to Lobuche. There’s a good sized camping area here on the bumpy ground. We’re way up now at 4910 and there’s not much in the way of vegetation – the big mountains are getting closer and even with the sun out it is cold, we need to wear another layer.

Day 16 Walking to the summit of Kalar Pattar 5550m

This is a day of Options. If you want to save yourself for the race, it’s wise to stay and rest. If you want to experience more of the mountain and you’re feeling good, you can walk up to Gorak Shep and then either go onto the top of Kalar Pattar at 5550m or Everest Base Camp at 5465m before returning to Lobuche for the night.

Day 17 Trekking to Gorak Shep 5200m

Everyone has a pre-race medical and kit check in Lobuche, before moving up to Gorak Shep. It’s cold up here at 5,200m, even with the sun shining from a cobalt sky. Assembling on the flat area between the teahouses and Kalar Patthar, we have a practice start and lots of photos. From now on, it’s a countdown to the start so everyone will be getting as much rest and sleep as the altitude allows so we’re staying in a lodge for the night.

Day 18 Race day from Gorak Shep 5200m

This is the day that has been the focus of so many minds, for many months. It’s a two stage start. The runners who are expected to do fast times will be setting off after the slower group. It’s cold at the start and full body cover is needed just to get going but by the time the sun shines and a few hundred meters have been descended, the skin is bared. Doctors and marshals are stationed along the route at the controls and the team leaders and a doctor make up the ‘Sweep Team’ at the back of the race, ensuring everyone is accounted for and taken care of. At the finish at Namche Bazaar, the question is whether any of the internationals will be able to snatch the winning time from the Nepali’s this year?

Day 19 Resting in Namche Bazaar

Having spent the night in a lodge you can rest, eat and shop in NB. In the morning there is a prize giving event for the Nepali runners, as they won’t be travelling to Kathmandu. After lunch, we’re making our way downhill to Monjo for the final night of camping.

Day 20 Returning to Lukla

Walking down the valley to Lukla should be easy but there’s a sting in the tail with a couple of uphill sections. It’s so lovely to come back down into a warmer climate and see the lush, bright green of the valley crops. We’ll have a good feed in Lukla and sleep well in the oxygen-rich air. After a Tip-giving and donation of gear ceremony to our support team, we have a good meal in the lodges we’re staying in.

Day 21 Return to Kathmandu

If we’re lucky, we’ll get a morning flight to Kathmandu and the early rising will have had a purpose. Returning to Kathmandu is a bitter-sweet experience – the longing for that wonderful shower versus the leaving behind of the bright, clean air of the mountains.

Day 22 Back in Kathmandu

After a huge Hotel Shanker breakfast we have arranged a guided trip to the World Heritage Sites of Bodhanath Stupa and Pashupatinath Temple. When you get back, there’s time to relax and get ready for dinner and the Awards Evening.

Day 23 Flying home or the next stage of your journey

It’s time to say good bye to the friends you’ve just spent the last three weeks with. If you’ve arranged your international flight for the evening, you have almost a day to spend in Kathmandu. Or you might be staying on for your next adventure...

altitude sicknessWhat is the Cause of altitude sickness?

Insufficient oxygen getting into the blood stream due to reduced oxygen in the air, respiratory problems like the common cold, reduced haemoglobin in the cells and reduced barometric pressure.

It is impossible to predict who will suffer from altitude sickness as it does not seem to be connected with age or general fitness, or even to a particular altitude. Young, fit people are more likely to be affected, perhaps because they rush up the hill too fast or perhaps because their basic metabolic rate is higher. A steady pace, going slower as you go higher, is important. If you start gasping and your heart is beating fast, just stop and rest and admire the view and you will soon feel better. Carrying heavy loads is almost certainly a contributing factor: let the porters carry most of your kit and don’t try to prove how macho you are.


The OEM method

The best way to acclimatise is to do it naturally. By increasing height slowly, the body has time to adjust to the reduced oxygen level and altitude sickness should be avoided. The height at which one sleeps seems to be more important than the height gained during the day. Flying into Lukla at 2800m, the body will already be at the height when it starts to feel the reduced oxygen. We stay in Namche Bazaar at 3340m for two nights  and then ascend very slowly, with several ‘rest’ days when we climb higher during the day but return to the same altitude to sleep.

The OEM trek takes between 3 and 6 days longer than commercial treks to Everest Base Camp as we want to minimise the discomfort and maximise the enjoyment of being in the high mountains. It's important that everyone takes responsibility for their own wellness as well as  keeping an eye out for each other. We have three levels of keeping each other safe and well:

  • your room / tent partner and other team members
  • your team leader
  • the doctors 

Only a few have to descend to a lower altitude and require medication, but recover sufficiently to rejoin the group and run the race. By the time you have acclimatised on the trek up the Gokyo valley, you should not experience further problems on the trek up to Gorak Shep. The medical at Lobuche on the day before the race will check that you are fit enough to go up to Gorak Shep and do the full marathon. On the chance that you're not fit enough to start, you will probably be able to do a shorter run from Lobuche or Pheriche. 


The symptoms

Many people suffer mild symptoms of altitude sickness - a headache above 3500m, lose their appetite, sleep badly and get puffy eyes and fingers; this is usual but should not be ignored. The best description of early altitude sickness is that it is like a massive hangover. Bill Tilman called it ‘Mountaineer’s Foot’: reluctance to put one foot in front of the other. This lassitude and lack of motivation is typical and may be the only symptoms.

If you start vomiting, feel dizzy and have a rapid heart rate after rest we will make arrangements for you to rest at a lower altitude. At a lower altitude your symptoms should disappear and you can attempt to climb again – SLOWLY. It's really important to talk about any symptoms you have as we want to be able to nip any problems in the bud so that you can get to the start in good condition. Conditions do worsen very rapidly, especially at night and the worst case scenario is becoming very ill during the night and having to be evacuated by porter, yak, stretcher or helicopter.

The problem is that the symptoms are relatively minor and can always be attributed to something else. But you must always assume that it is the altitude causing your headache or nausea. One distressing sign of acclimatisation is Cheyne Stokes respiration, or periodic breathing. While you are asleep your metabolism is adjusting to the lower oxygen level and there may be periods when your breathing becomes very heavy and stertorous; suddenly breathing stops, perhaps for as long as a minute, before noisily recommencing. This is a natural sign that you are acclimatising – but it can be extremely worrying for your tent mate!

Another, often ignored, symptom is personality change. Some people become aggressive, argumentative and irrational; others become uncommunicative and just sink into silence. This is why it is important to get to know your trekking and tent companions as you may be the first to spot that something is wrong. Someone suffering from altitude sickness can get dizzy and lose their sense of balance; they are unable to walk in a straight line. The sickness often seems to deteriorate at night, so that emergency evacuation to a lower altitude is necessary. Don’t be frightened of causing an unnecessary fuss; you could be saving a life if your tent mate has developed pulmonary or cerebral oedema.


It has been shown that Diamox (acetazolomide) may prevent and relieves symptoms of altitude sickness. The dosage is one 250mg tablet a day above 3000m or one 125mg tablet taken twice a day. Medical advice used to be to take Diamox before reaching 3000m but it is now accepted that it is much better to acclimatise naturally and to use Diamox only when the preliminary symptoms of altitude sickness are noticed. Diamox becomes effective within a few hours and may help when trying to descend to a lower altitude.

Diamox is a diuretic and you will pass more urine than normal, often having to get up in the middle of the night. So you must drink more to make up for this. One of the side effects is pins and needles in the hands, feet and face but not everyone is affected this way. We have a policy of not relying on Diamox, which may only mask the symptoms while not improving the underlying condition. If your symptoms persist or get worse, you must descend. ONLY TAKE DIAMOX UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF OUR MEDICAL TEAM. 

Your own doctor may advise you to take Diamox as a prophylactic but we do not recommend this unless you have recurrently suffered from altitude sickness in the past.  Diamox is a banned athletic drug, so it should only be used to treat a medical condition.

Our medical team will also carry other drugs to treat altitude sickness as well as oxygen and a pressure bag. If a patient is enclosed in a pressure bag, it is equivalent to carrying them to a lower altitude.

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