The three passes trek is a beautiful moderate to high challenging trek in the Everest region. It encomprises three passes above 5000 m: Kongma La (5535 m), Cho La (5420 m), Renjo La (5360 m), and shares beginning and end with the popular Everest base camp trek. The three passes trek offers stunning views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu and other peaks. It is a well walked trek with limited challenging terrain. The trek shares the first 4-6 days and the last day with the EBC-trek, these sections can be very crowded, up to the point that you have to wait due to dozens of hikers in front of you. It offers a bit of solitude, however only in certain places, if you hike during peak season, you’ll most of the time be surrounded by other hikers. Overall, I was amazed by the beauty of the mountains, valleys and glaciers, the kindness of the Nepali people. In places I had a difficult time to cope with the sheer number of other hikers and touristy places as bars or shops. It is a good start for high altitude hiking.
A nice online overview map can be found here. A sample intiniary is shown below. Our planned and actually walked itinary can be downloaded as an excel-file. There are limitless possibilies to walk the trek and where to stop. The suggestion below includes…
|Day 1||Salleri to Nunthala, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 6:30 h||Day 11||Chuckung to Lobuche, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 6 h|
|Day 2||Nunthala to Paiya, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 7 h||Day 12||Lobuche to Gorak Shep, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 1 h|
|Day 3||Paiya to Cheplung, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 5:30 h||Day 13||Gorak Shep to Dzongla, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 4 h|
|Day 4||Cheplung to Namche Bazaar, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 6 h||Day 14||Dzongla to Gokyo, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 7:30 h|
|Day 5||Acclimitization Day Namche Bazaar||Day 15||Excursion Day Gokyo (e.g. Gokyo Ri)|
|Day 6||Namche Bazaar to Pangboche, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 5 h||Day 16||Excursion Day Gokyo (e.g. Fourth/Fith Lake)|
|Day 7||Pangboche to Dingboche, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 2 h||Day 17||Gokyo to Thabuteng, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 8:30 h|
|Day 8||Acclimatization Day Dingboche||Day 18||Thambuteng to Kongde, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 6 h|
|Day 9||Dingboche to Chuckung, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 2 h||Day 19||Kongde to Lukla, 1200 m ↗, 300 m ↘, 5 h|
|Day 10||Acclimitazation Day Chuckung|
Generally, the track is very easy to walk and to follow. Most of the time you will have people around you, so it is difficult to get lost. We only got lost once, when descending from Renjo La to Lumde we took the wrong path, leading too far back into the valley. Nearly all other travel was quite straightforward. When ascending Cho La at the end of the valley after Dzongla there is a rock scramble until the track bends around a corner to the left. When the track bends don’t descend but keep the altitude until you reach the glacier. After traversing the glacier keep to the left side for the last few meters to Cho La. The second passage where a bit of route finding might be necessary is the traverse of the Gokyo glacier. After Dragnag you walk along the mountain side of the moraine for about 20 min before you gain it. Then a route marked by cairns should lead you across the glacier.
Difficulty: The three passes track is not a difficult track. Its challenge stems from the altitude which makes hiking much more difficult and the risk stemming from high altitude sickness. Most of the track can be compared to an easy hike in the alps as. The crux sections are the glacier traverses as just before Cho La (very small glacier but slippery ice) and the Khumbu and Ngozumba Glaciers (route finding). Before Cho La glacier there is a bit of rock scrambling I enjoyed a lot, and which didn’t pose a problem to anyone we met. About half of the people we met had a guide and porters and the others didn’t. Quite a few people also did the trek solo.
You can find our planned itinerary and the actual walked one here. Even though we met people, who didn’t take acclimatization days I believe it is wise to so to avoid high altitude sickness. If you take time to acclimatize, also the passes will likely be easier. -> counterclockwise
I brought printouts from the lonely planet trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, which I had as a pdf. As the trek is so straightforward I think these are nice to have but not mandatory. Also, the trek description is spread over several sections and I read better ones for other treks before. It might be nice to learn a bit about side trek options or the culture, but this can also be done on the trek by other hikers and local Nepali.
We had the Jiri to Everest Base Camp NE521 map and were fine with it. It is not perfect, some elevations are wrong, some information on the map are inaccurate (for instance Chucking Ri is a trekking and not a climbing peak), however route finding on the three passes trek is straightforward and the map gives a good overview. I didn’t hear about a map which is more accurate. It is much cheaper if you buy it in Kathmandu, we got ours there and payed about 500 rs. As backup I had Locus Map Pro on my phone, in which you can get a topographical map of Nepal for free. If you want to go for a completely free map, Windy Maps might be a solution. Both the maps of Locus Map and Windy Maps have limited details. This is however no problem, hiking the trek is generally no problem and I believe I never used my smartphone to navigate.
And a gpx track of the hike can be found here. Note that this track is hand drawn so might not be accurately reflecting the actual track.
There are two main seasons where to go, either October/November or March/April. Generally, in autumn the views are clearer, and you have to deal with colder temperatures, especially in November. In New Zealand, we met a German who went mid-February to mid-March and thus was able to avoid the crowds.
Weather and Forecast: In the beginning I used the yr app as forecast, as it generally provides a reasonable weather prediction worldwide. In Nepal however the forecast was quite inaccurate, predicting rain for a couple of days when it was sunny in the end.
Generally, there is very few rain in the Khumbu Region in October/November. We didn’t encounter a single drop of rain or snow in the whole November. The weather is either sunny and clear for the whole day or it is sunny in the morning, and in late morning clouds start to move up the valleys and reach the end of the valleys around afternoon.
In November it is quite cold in upper Khumbu. I was fine with a wind-jacket, a down-jacket, a light fleece and long underpants. Jeannine additionally bought a down-vest in Namche Bazaar. We were both happy to have brought a – 5°C sleeping bag. My Cumulus Panyam 600 sleeping bag was perfect and provided more and quicker warmth than Jeannine’s Mountain Equipment xx. At night temperatures can drop outside to – 15°C or lower, so it is worth to bring a good sleeping bag. You can find our complete gear list here.
You can find my gear list here and Jeannine’s here. We both shared the two power banks with cables and adapter as well as a first aid kit, the map and trail notes. Overall, we were happy with our equipment, being light but having all necessary items at the same time.
[spoiler title=“Unnesseray Items „] We brought the Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid XL tent without inner net along the way and didn’t use it once, since it was just too cold to sleep outside. Very few people brought a tent and when talking to an American group sleeping outside in tents, they admitted that it was quite rough. Two power banks were too much, one would have been enough. Since the washing options are very limited a towel is not really necessary. Jeannine bought some down shoes in Namche bazaar but found them to be not warm and thus unnecessary later on.
[spoiler title=“Items we missed „] After careful reading of track descriptions online I decided not to bring micro spikes for the Cho La pass. I already traversed several glaciers, with and without crampons and thus thought I would be fine up there and thus not having to carry the micro spikes for the whole trek. However, after having walked this part, I believe that bringing them is worth it. The ice is very pure, the purest glacial ice I walked on so far and thus quite slippery. Also, the traverse is angled a bit which increases difficulty. I was fine traversing the ice and did not feel too insecure but would however recommend bringing micro spikes. You could for instance purchase them in Namche Bazaar and give them away after the pass. Thus, you wouldn’t need to carry them all the way. Jeannine bought a down west in Namche bazaar for extra warmth and was very happy with it.
Items which broke or had malfunction: My shoes completely opened up on the last day of the trail. This might not necessarily speak against them since they were already some years old, although they hadn’t covered a lot of kilometers. We were not happy with the sea to summit leaves since they got wet at some point which made them completely unusable
[spoiler title=“Camera equipment „] I brought a Sony Alpha 6000, along with the kit lens and a circular polarizer. As tripod I used the Ultra Pod II, which is quite versatile for its weight and size. However, you can only mount it on the ground or on stones, so that in some situations I wished to have brought a freestanding tripod. Probably I would bring one the next time. As memory two 64 GB cards were enough for me, shooting in Raw and JPG at the same time. The Sony Alpha 6000 provides outstanding imagines for its small size and weight. Just in some occasions the corner lens aberrations when shooting free hand are quite significant. I also brought a second battery which I kept warm next to my body since the cold might drain the battery in the camera very fast. I didn’t back up my pictures along the way.
We spend each about 1000 € for being one month in Nepal and walking the three passes trek (not including the flight). On the track we spend about 2500-3000 Rs per day each. The beds in the lodges cost between zero and 700 Rs per night for a double room, depending on which altitude you are. They increase with higher altitude and in the middle and right valley above Namche Bazaar there is with beginning of 2018/19 a mandatory nightly fee of 500 Rs (700 Rs in Lobuche and Gorak Shep) which is collected before the villages from a Khumbu hotel association claiming to renew bridges and trying to improve the track. You must pay at posts before the villages where you get a receipt which you can use to pay your overnight fee at the lodges.
We spend most money on food and tea. We had breakfast and dinner every day, and sometimes also lunch. This is where you spend most money, we also bought quite some tea to keep us warm. A good idea was to fill some hot water into a platypus bottle and use this as a warming bottle overnight. I was happy to have brought about 1,3 kg of chocolate along the way for food to eat in between meals. However next time I would bring even more. Chocolate and chocolate bars are very expensive on the track (about 400-500 Rs for 100g of chocolate, the cheapest we found was 100 rs for one snickers bar in Namche Bazaar).
On the way it is only possible to withdraw cash from ATMs at Namche bazaar. However, these are quite unreliable. We tried one afternoon and only were able to withdraw 7.500 rs once. It seems to work better in the morning. However, the withdraw limit is with 10.000 rs per transaction quite low and the transaction fee per withdraw is 500 rs. It seems reasonable to bring enough cash for the trek from the beginning on.
Permits: Currently you need at TIMS (2000 rs) and an entry for the Everest national park (3000 rs). It is possible to purchase both along the track. We bought the national park entrance in the tourism board in Kathmandu, this was however not necessary. At the moment to purchase the Tim’s there.
If you need mobile data on the way I recommend the Everest link data package for 2000 rs. I bought this in Pangboche to be able to communicate with Jeannine who headed back to Namche Bazaar to cure her coughing. Unlike other packages it works in all three valleys of the three passes trek and not only at one village. As cellphone package we bought a xxx at Kathmandu for xx rs. You need a passport picture to complete the forms, but this can also be quickly taken while buying the card.
For the drinks we mostly had tea in the morning and evening. During the day we carried about 1l of water each, which we either took from the streams or asked in the lodge for it. We purified the water with Micropure Forte (2 drops per liter). Another lightweight option is to bring the Catadyn be free to filter water. With this filter you could drink the water instantly from the stream, with the drops you have to wait for at least 30 minutes. Treating your water is cheap and saves the environment since plastic bottles are not recycled on the track.
As food we had muesli, porridge or pancake in the morning and dhal bhat, pasta or pizza in the evening. Dhal bat is a very healthy meal out of rice, some vegetables and lentil soup, which is the most popular meal in the Himalaya. It is a cheap option to go since you nearly always get a refill for free if you ask for it.
One of the most important things on the trek is to stay healthy. We both got sick at the second day in the trek. Probably because we shared our water with a young fellow from India who was already sick when we met him. Jeannine got throat inch on the second evening which turned into a bad cold and intense coughing. We tried to give her time to recover in taking a lot acclimatization and rest days, however in Nepal she never fully recovered from the coughing. At Chukung she had the feeling that she could not inhale enough oxygen while walking further up in direction to xx base camp. Thus, we decided that it would be best to walk down to Namche bazaar to be able to recover in low altitude. Indeed, she got better there, to the point she was able to hike up to Gokyo, up to Gokyo Ri and over the last past pass, the xx la with me. However, she only felt fully recovered from the coughing when we were already in New Zealand, our next destination during our trip. During the coughing she possibly broke or injured one of her rips, which would explain the intense pain she went through. She took as much pain killers for quite some time as she was safely able to take. I also got the cold and it lasted for the whole trip in Nepal, weakening me a bit, without having major problems. I was still able to traverse all three passes without too much trouble. However, we both greatly underestimate how much the combination of altitude, cold and dry air can slow down recovery from disease, which is normally reached within a few days. Even when taking rest days and moving up very slowly. A lot of people are sick on the trail, it is a bit of an incubator for diseases especially affecting the breathing system. Pneumonia also occurs not too seldomly and we met a guided group where the guide had to be flown out, probably with a case of pneumonia. Other than this, we met hikers with gastrointestinal problems.
Altitude sickness: Despite being sick, we didn’t have any problems with high altitude sickness, as headache, substantial breathing problems or mental/physical fatigue. Here you can find the current guidelines according to therapy of high-altitude sickness, as advised by the international mountain guide association. I also created a fact sheet combining useful information around Has. However, this list just a short summary and I encourage you to do your own research before setting off. The most important thing is to rest and not move higher once you show signs of Has (as headache, breathing problems, extensive fatigue) and move to a lower altitude if the problem persists. Has is quite unpredictable, we met a former trekking guide who guided in the Himalaya in his twenties and now came back with his daughter. In his twenties he never had problems and this time was affected by has, having to descend. Also, we heard of the sad case a woman who died in Dingboche when we were there. She was said to move further up on a horse since she was not able to walk further up by herself, likely because of has.
What would we do different next time? I think most of all trying to stay healthy, trying not to catch a virus or bacteria from other people. Also bring numerous of ibuprofen in case of pain and beginning of a cold. I would also bring codeine, in case of coughing, it was a big relief for Jeannine taking it. We would be more sensitive about hygiene, not hypochondriac but more aware. Lastly, we took a lot rest days but moved up when Jeannine felt better but was not yet fully recovered, so should have taken already several rest days when the disease started.
If you need medicine, there are two pharmacies at Namche Bazaar and one in Dingboche. Here you can get also medicine which in Germany would require a prescription as tramal and codeine. Hospitals can be found at Lukla, Namche Bazaar and Pheriche. Also, you can find health posts along the way as in xx or in Gokyo. For a first visit in a health post you must pay 5000 rs, even if you just need a very specific medication. The one in Gokyo was however closed when we were there.
Cold, illness, strenous
Useful further trek descriptions can be found here: link, link