April 2, 2018 02:30 PM NPT
In December, chefs from Noma and London’s Ledbury built the world’s highest-altitude pop-up restaurant at Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
It sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and in many ways, it was. But in fact, you can pop up to Everest for breakfast almost any day of the year, if you’re so inclined. All you have to do is know the right people.
Catherine Heald of Remote Lands has been planning quick-stop trips to Everest for her guests since December. They travel by helicopter from Kathmandu to South Base Camp, where they explore the surroundings for a 15-minute visit. (That’s all an unacclimated traveler can usually bear at 18,000 feet.) Then it’s back in the chopper to the adjacent peak of Kongde Ri, where Yeti Mountain Home, at 13,000 feet the world’s highest-altitude luxury lodge, sets out tables for a private Champagne picnic with Everest in full view. Nicola Shepherd, of the Explorations Co., also coordinates morning trips to Yeti, minus the stop at Base Camp; that’s an avalanche risk she’d rather not take, she said.
Both outfitters work with the same summiteer to lead the adventure: Tashi Tenzing Sher, the grandson of sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who with Edmund Hillary took the first steps atop Everest in 1953.
“He’s climbed to the top of Everest a couple of times himself,” said Shepherd, “so while you’re flying there he’s giving you blow-to-blow, first-hand accounts of what it all entails. He really brings it alive for you.”
Both Shepherd and Heald tend to book Everest breakfasts as part of larger packages—10-day treks through Nepal, most often—but the experience can be booked à la carte. Heald charges $10,000 for groups of up to three; Shepherd charges $7,163 for two. Full 10-day trips cost around $25,000 (everything is affordable in Nepal except for choppers).
Two things are key. First is your health: Even though you’re not spending much time at altitude, those with heart or lung conditions can struggle with the elevation. As for your hotel, it's best to start in Kathmandu, where an AS350 helicopter will pick you up early in the morning—as early as 6:30 a.m., depending on anticipated weather patterns. From there, it takes 45 minutes to fly around Everest and land at Kongde Ri, not including the optional stop at South Base Camp.
The Highest Meal of Your Life
Breakfast itself is a private, white-tablecloth meal of eggs with bacon and sausages, croissants, and jam made from Nepalese fruits, plus plenty of Moët & Chandon, all served by a talented team of Sherpas. But you’re not here for the food, but for views you’ll never forget.
“This is as close as you can get to Everest without being on it,” said Shepherd of being on Kongde Ri. “Nobody does it closer.”
Heald concurred, adding that on your fly-around alone, you’ll get views of four of the world’s six tallest peaks: Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Everest. Don’t worry about sitting outdoors in the extreme weather; you’ll be given appropriate clothing.
Nepal is a country deeply in need of tourism dollars. After a 7.8-magnitude earthquake left nearly 9,000 dead and 22,000 injured in 2015, the country has made an incredible (and successful) effort to rebuild—but visitors have yet to return. That means it’s a great time to find yourself in the Himalayan country: You’ll be welcomed with unparalleled warmth, have sites largely to yourself, and scarcely see a European face.
Both Shepherd and Heald speak emphatically about the forbidden kingdom of Mustang, a wildly rugged expanse of countryside roughly 320 miles northwest of Kathmandu. Driving there can take 11 hours, due to difficult conditions, but Shepherd also organizes helicopter transfers to cut the journey to one hour, making it doable in as little as one or two days. (Heavy winds can bar afternoon return flights.) Stay in Dwarikas Dhulikhel, said Shepherd, and enjoy the surroundings for a bit: The resort is the perfect place to go horseback riding along the edge of the Tibetan plateau, learn to throw traditional pottery, and take Nepalese cooking classes.
In Kathmandu itself, make a pit stop at the art-filled temple of Bhaktapur, which many local experts prefer to the crowded monkey temple of Swayambhunath Stupa, and don’t miss the beautiful restoration work at Durbar Square, whose temples date back to the 12th century. But do your exploring by bike or by foot, advises Shepherd, or risk getting stuck in terrible traffic.
For one last dose of luxury, round out your visit with a few days in Chitwan National Park, just two and a half hours southeast of the capital by car. There, the ultra-plush Taj Meghauli Seraisafari lodge fills your days with tiger-focused game drives.