Mount Everest is unusual in having an Advanced Base Camp (ABC) in between Base Camp and Camp 1. It’s on the less-visited northern, Tibetan side of the mountain. It’s also probably the world’s highest walk, as you don’t need ropes, axes or crampons to get there.
In 2011 I trekked the 14 miles up to ABC from the North Base Camp, which is a long tough climb. I spent a gruelling five weeks there acting as Communications Manager for the 2011 Iceland Mount Everest Expedition.
As a result, I can probably tell you all you need to know about Mount Everest’s Advanced Base Camp (ABC).
Where is Advanced Base Camp on Everest?
ABC is placed at the head of the East Rongbuk Glacier, just next to the North Col, which is on the most common climbing route up the north side of the mountain.
The first time you walk up to ABC you need to stay overnight at another small camp called Interim Camp. You probably aren’t acclimatised enough to reach ABC in one day the first time.
On my way up I was forced to stay at Interim Camp anyway, because I’d started to get hypothermic and had issues with losing the feeling in some of the fingers on my right hand. Later – after a lot of painful thawing – I realised I’d come dangerously close to getting frostbite without really knowing. The cold creeps up on you like that. Read more about frostbite on Everest here.
The Altitude (Elevation) of Everest’s Advanced Base Camp
At 6400 meters/21,000 feet, ABC is probably the highest point in the world you can trek to without needing to climb with crampons or ropes.
It’s not far off the height of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemisphere, (6961 metres, 22,838 ft), which I climbed in 2014. I found climbing Aconcagua easier than getting to ABC!
What is the Advanced Base Camp on Everest For?
In 1921 the British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition decided to place ABC next to the North Col, and the same spot is still used today.
This was the very first expedition to Everest and it included amongst its members a young teacher named George Mallory. They had come over the Lhakpa La, a high pass, and needed a proper camp to recuperate, much in the style of military expeditions pushing into hostile territory.
When you get there today you’ll find the tents of several expeditions pitched along a narrow, humped ridge of gravel. It’s on quite a steep slope so you might have to climb quite far to reach your own camp.
ABC is very often snowy, even though the tents are pitched on the gravel and rocks beneath. The blue barrels are carried up by yaks and contain climbing gear, food and if you’re lucky, whisky.
The tents are pitched on the rocky rubble of a small lateral moraine and not on the ice of the East Rongbuk Glacier. That’s because rocks are warmer to sleep on than ice! Glacier ice is always grumbling and cracking underneath you as it moves downhill and this would keep you awake.
The reason Everest has an Advanced Base Camp is that Base Camp is 14 miles away from the mountain. That’s where the road ends, so trucks can deliver climbers, trekkers, Sherpas and their supplies.
The serious climbing begins 14 miles to the south of Base Camp at the North Col, so there has to be another camp with a mess tent for all the climbers to eat together, a kitchen tent, a radio/comms tent, stores tents and tents for the Sherpas and climbers. That’s what ABC provides.
When you’ve spent days up on the high mountain ABC is a great place to come down to, get washed and have a proper meal.
Advanced Base Camp Treks and Cost
The North Advanced Base Camp Trek goes to very high altitude so previous experience of climbing to altitude is essential. If you have trekked to Everest Base Camp on the South side this would be good experience, and if you didn’t have any issues acclimatising on the South side you should be fine.
You have to be ready for the altitude, be prepared for several days of walking and have a readiness to “rough it”. Carrying a backpack will be necessary. Since the 1921 expedition figured out an easier route from Base Camp there is no high pass to cross, so all you will need is well-worn in trekking boots, a pair of ski poles and warm clothing. Your trekking company should supply everything else you need.
If you are used to regular multi-day hill walking you will have the right level of fitness to enjoy your time on this trek. Acclimatisation days involve 3 – 5 hours walking, and the main trek up to and slightly beyond Advanced Base camp will involve 7 – 8 hours walking. The effort will however be worth it for the views alone, and for most of us it will be an altitude record.
That will be combined with the satisfaction of being so close and high on the world’s highest mountain. As you pant round the corner before ABC you will suddenly see the summit of Mount Everest. It looks really close, and far more impressive than the view from the South Everest Base Camp.
The whole round trip will take about 20 days and usually costs around $8000 (£6000) or so. Not cheap, but it’s the highest you can get on Mount Everest without a climbing permit.