Comparing Everest and K2 treks
We find that many people get in contact with us with the goal of trekking to both Everest Base Camp and K2 Base Camp. Mount Everest in Nepal is the highest mountain in the world at 8,848m and K2 in Pakistan is the second highest at 8,611m. On the surface of it these treks are similar in relation to altitude reached and number of walking days. The trek to the base camp of Mount Everest is a 14 day hike and the highest altitude is 5,545m on Kalapatar. Whereas the trek to the base camp of K2 is a 15 day hike and highest altitude is 5,300m at Gilkey Memorial.
Trekking in Nepal and trekking in Pakistan is a superb experience. You will see the most impressive mountain scenery in the world. However you should understand the differences and be aware that the trek to K2 is more challenging. Over the years we have received feedback from trekkers that have completed both of these high altitude hikes. Almost everyone tells us how surprised they were that K2 Base Camp was so much more difficult than Everest Base Camp...
In this Blog article we discuss the 5 Differences between Everest Base Camp and K2 Base Camp. We also explore the 5 Reasons why K2 is a more challenging trek. Our Managing Director, Roland Hunter, has led six treks to K2 Base Camp treks and five treks to Everest Base Camp. Therefore this article is based on his first hand experience of both of these high altitude walking holidays.
5 Differences between Everest Base Camp and K2 Base Camp
1. Nepal versus Pakistan
These treks are in different countries and have very different cultures. The religion of the Everest region in Nepal is Buddhist. You will meet the Sherpa ethnic group in the villages along the trail. In the lower altitude regions of Nepal such as Kathmandu the main religion is Hinduism. Whereas in Pakistan the main religion of this country is Islam. When in the cities hearing the call to prayer from the mosques early in the morning will be a fond memory of a K2 Base Camp trek.
2. Landscape of Himalaya versus Karakoram
These trekking holidays travel through different mountain ranges. K2 Base Camp trek is in the Karakoram mountains in northern Pakistan. Whereas the Everest Base Camp trek is in the Himalaya.
The landscape of these two mountain ranges is very different. Seeing the varying mountain scenery is why trekkers enjoy doing both of these hikes. The mountains in the Karakoram are steeper and more vertical. The peaks rise up dramatically from the glaciers. The views of the Karakoram mountains as we trek up the Baltoro glacier are very impressive. These range from Trango Towers to Masherbrum to Gasherbrums then to Broad Peak and the mighty K2.
The mountain views seen on Everest Base Camp trek are impressive and especially the panorama from Kalapatar. The Himalayan peaks in Nepal have a different “feel” to them than in the Karakoram. The landscape in the Khumbu is greener with more trees lower down and plants like juniper exist higher up.
3. Time of Year
The best time to trek to K2 Base Camp in Pakistan is in July and August. Nepal has a different season due to the monsoonal rains over the Summer months. The best weather and conditions for Everest Base Camp are Spring (March to May) and Autumn/ Fall (late September to November). For more information read our Blog article When is the Best Time to go Trekking in Nepal Himalaya?
So there is only one short season to trek in the Karakoram whereas there are two seasons in the Himalaya. Therefore you have the choice of more dates if you are planning to join a Himalayan trek. We have noticed some operators promote treks to K2 during June and later into September. We would not recommend trekking in Karakoram during these months. By trekking in these shoulder seasons it might compromise the success of your trip.
4. Travelling to the trek start point
For Everest treks we fly from Kathmandu airport to Lukla airstrip taking 35 minutes. Whereas for K2 treks we fly from Islamabad airport to the town of Skardu and this takes about one hour. Both of these flights in Nepal and Pakistan are prone to delays or cancellations. If there is bad weather with poor visibility in the mountains then the planes cannot land. The reliability of the flight to Skardu has increased recently due to installation of radar equipment. Also Skardu runway is much longer than the small STOL airstrip at Lukla for the Everest region of Nepal.
In Pakistan there is an alternative way of travelling to Skardu by driving for two days along the Karakoram Highway ("KKH"). It takes longer to go overland from Kathmandu to Lukla with a one day jeep ride to Salleri followed by a three day trek. There is a road under construction to near Lukla however this would be a long and bumpy ride from Kathmandu! For more information read our Blog Article Is there a Road to Everest Base Camp?
After flying to Skardu we have a day's drive to reach the road head where we start K2 trek. This is a spectacular drive on a winding jeep trail with several steep sections. Whereas the Everest trek starts from the Lukla airstrip as we follow the Dudh Koshi to Pkakding.
5. Red Tape!!
5 Reasons why K2 Base Camp is a more challenging trek than Everest Base Camp
1. Nature of the Trekking Trails
K2 Base Camp is a rugged trail and is not maintained to the same level as Everest Base Camp. We have given Everest Base Camp a grade level of Demanding whereas we have given K2 Base Camp a higher grade level of Strenuous. You can read the definitions of our trek gradings.
On the K2 trek up to Paiju we follow a dusty trail near the Braldu river. After Paiju the trail comes onto the Baltoro glacier and we follow the ice to Concordia. The surface of Karakoram glaciers is covered in loose rocky moraine. Lower down on the Baltoro glacier there are ice fins (called penitentes), ice humps and ice hills. Walking over the undulations of the glacier means there is a significant ascent and descent. As the glacial ice is moving the trail changes from year to year. The path is not signposted and is only indicated by cairns in some places.
We follow a trail mostly covered in rock although there are some exposed patches of ice. You need to take care as it can be slippery in places. It is for this reason we include micro crampons and trekking poles on our kit list. As we walk from Goro 2 camp to Concordia the glacial surface starts to flatten out. There is also less rock on the surface so it makes the walking much easier. After Concordia we follow the medial moraines on the Godwin-Austen glacier to Broad Peak Base Camp.
Whereas the trail to Everest Base Camp is well constructed with stone steps in many places. There is a good trail to follow up to Lobuche and then about half way to Gorakshep there is loose rock underfoot. After Gorakshep we follow a good trail on sand and dirt along the lateral moraine. We descend down a rocky trail on to the glacier near our final destination at Everest Base Camp. For more information you can read our Blog article 7 Tips for a Successful Trek to Everest Base Camp.
K2 Base Camp and Gondogoro La trek is a more challenging alternative to K2 Base Camp & Concordia. This itinerary does not descend Baltoro glacier and instead exits from Concordia over Gondogoro La pass (5,560m). This hike finishes at the road head in Hushe village where we drive to Skardu. The Gondogoro pass is technical and requires mountaineering experience. For more information take a look at our Blog article How Difficult is Crossing Gondogoro La pass on K2 Base Camp trek?
2. River crossings
When trekking in Pakistan our groups may have to cross rivers by foot as some do not have bridges. Meltwater from glaciers feeds the streams so you will find these flow very fast in the afternoon of a sunny day. We have designed our K2 Base Camp itinerary to decrease the risk of river crossings. It is for that reason we stay at Bardumal before several notorious rivers on the trail to Paiju. By crossing these streams early in the morning there is a low flow of water and we arrive in Paiju shortly afterwards.
We have included trekking poles and sandals on the kit list for our K2 treks. These are required for your safety during river crossings.
Whereas on the Everest Base Camp trek there are suspension bridges made from steel supported by concrete pillars. These are of a solid construction. However there are long drops below so this might be a consideration if you are scared of heights. There is only one small bridge on the trail before Dughla on the day walking to Lobuche. This bridge is over the river flowing from Khumbu glacier. It is a basic one although does not tend to cause trekkers too much concern.
3. Weather conditions
It can be very hot in Karakoram mountains over the summer months. Temperatures can rise to more than 30 Celsius for the first few days of the K2 trek. There are few trees so there is not much shade available from the heat. We suggest copying the Pakistan guides who often bring an umbrella for protection from the hot sun.
Heat is less of an issue for Everest Base Camp trek for most trekking months in peak season. Although it will feel hot and humid if hiking in the months of September or May especially on the lower sections of trail from Lukla to Namche.
It is worth pointing out that it rains quite often in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. Overall The K2 region has much lower precipitation than Islamabad and the plains. This is due to the rain shadow effects of the mountains to the south such as Nanga Parbat. However if there is a heavy pulse of monsoon the clouds can push northwards into the Karakoram.
Most of our K2 group since 2004 experienced heavy rain at some point during the trek. We tell our trekkers to expect the following weather conditions: ⅓ sun ⅓ rain and ⅓ cloudy weather. When it rains in the Pakistan Karakoram it can cause landslides and flash flooding. There are few trees to absorb the water and the slopes of the mountains have a high gradient so there is rapid run off. Make sure you bring a waterproof jacket and trousers with you. You should store the contents of your duffel bag in fold dry bags.
K2 Base Camp trek is a camping style trek. Whereas the Everest Base Camp trek has accommodation in teahouse lodges. These have been built to cater for the high number of trekkers that come every season to trek to see Mount Everest. Staying in a teahouse lodge of Nepal is a more comfortable experience than sleeping in tents. The lodges have heated dining rooms where you can relax in the evenings. Over the years the lodge owners have added facilities so it is now possible to upgrade to Deluxe rooms. Take a look at our Teahouse Plus+ Treks in Nepal. These rooms have an attached bathroom with hot showers. Recently we noticed many of the lodges provide a hot towel to their guests before meals, this is a nice touch! Also it is now common to see bakeries and coffee shops along the Everest trail.
Some people prefer to camp while on trek however this tends to be for the more experienced trekker. It is worth pointing out that the mess tent used for our K2 treks where we eat our meals is not heated. We will be camping on the glacier for five nights of the trek at Goro 1, Goro 2, Concordia (two nights), Broad Peak Base Camp. If we encounter rainy weather then on a camping trek it is harder to dry out wet clothes. Whereas in a Nepalese lodge you can hang damp clothing around the wood burner in the evenings. Camping is a wonderful experience if you have the right kit to keep warm and you enjoy this kind of walking holiday.
After leaving Askole village on K2 Base Camp trek you do not pass any villages until your return back to Askole on the last day of the trek. During the K2 trek you are walking through a rugged and remote landscape. There are a few fields and pastures above Askole however after the second day you are in an inhospitable place. Traditionally the locals would have only travelled here for expeditions to hunt ibex.
Whereas the path to Everest Base Camp has been used by generations of Sherpas. The locals travelled between the villages of the Khumbu and higher up to yak pastures. During the Summer months they would look after their animals staying up high in temporary shelters.
The Everest region does not feel so remote as K2 due to the high level of tourist infrastructure. In Everest there is 4G cell phone signal in most places and wifi connectivity at the lodges. Whereas in Pakistan we take satellite phones for communications as there is no connectivity.
In Nepal there are many commercial helicopter operators. It is a simple (but expensive) process to get back quickly to Kathmandu in an emergency. Whereas in Pakistan only the military are allowed to fly helicopters. As a result it is a more complex and bureaucratic process to get a medical evacuation by helicopter.
As you can see there are many differences between these two treks. It is well worth doing both of them as they are both superb experiences. However you should do Everest Base Camp in Nepal first before doing K2 Base Camp in Pakistan. We do not recommend trekking to K2 Base Camp as your first walking holiday at high altitude. Only consider doing K2 Base Camp & Gondogoro La if you have technical mountaineering experience and previous experience trekking at high altitude.
You can find out more about these treks by reading our AITO Traveller Reviews for Everest Base Camp and AITO Traveller Reviews for K2 Base Camp. I have copied one of the reviews received below:
"Both the Western Leader (Jo) and the local leader (Zahid) were exceptional with a strong focus on quality and safety ..... and having great time! They were well supported by amazing local men. The Mountain Company is the most organised trekking company I have been with. Pre-trek communication is excellent, all questions are answered promptly, service and facilities during the trek are exemplary and safety is a high priority including satellite phones, comprehensive medical kits, a Gamow bag, clear leadership and good support from the UK when out on the trek. The ability of the family at home to track our trek was also really positive." Michelle Z
If you have any questions about the Everest and K2 treks please get in touch with us. We can provide feedback on your suitability as well as a training plan to help you get ready and prepared.