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Nepal: Three Passes Trek

Plan to spend three weeks--or more--trekking through Sagarmatha National Park in the shadow of Mount Everest on this hike from our adventure travel series. With this report, get all the expert trip-planning info you need to pull off this life-list destination.

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Season The two hiking seasons are mid-March through early May, and October. Autumn boasts the clearest skies, but lodges in the high villages around the Everest corridor may be entirely booked by commercial trekking groups. April has slightly fewer crowds, but an increased chance of clouds obscuring the views and a bit more atmospheric haze. At other times, the passes are more likely to become unsafe because of snow conditions, and the views obscured by clouds. Certain key lodges can be closed, though crowding is a non-issue.

Schedule Give yourself an absolute minimum of 20 days going clockwise, 19 going counterclockwise. Ideally, budget four full weeks to give yourself time for side trips, weather delays, and sick days, plus three extra days before your flight leaves from Kathmandu as a buffer against flight delays in Lukla. Total time: about 30 days.

Altitude Take it easy. Sleep no more than 1,000 feet higher each night, and spend two nights at the same altitude every three or four days while climbing. Ascend any faster than this and you’re almost certain to get sick. 

Basic Itinerary (with no side trips)
(Basic room cost: $2.50–$6 per night, double beds. Average cost for meals: $3-$8. Can of Everest Lager: $3-$5.50)
• Lukla – Himalaya Lodge, near the Airport, is one of the best.
• Pakding—Stay at the Namaste Lodge and ask to try Tshiri Nima Sherpa’s homemade rakshi (whiskey).
• Namche Bazaar x 2 nights – Forgot something? One of the only shops offering authentic (non-counterfeit junk) gear is Sherpa Adventure Gear outlet here.
• Thame x 2 nights– Stay at Everest Summitter Lodge, owned by Apa Sherpa and his family. Ask to see the Hillary-era oxygen cylinder at the 400-year-old monastery above town.
• Lungden
[Over Renjo La Pass to Gokyo, 7 miles]
• Gokyo x 2 nights
• Tagnag
[Over Cho La Pass to Dzongla (5 miles) or on to Lobuche (9 miles)]
• Lobuche — The Eco Lodge in Lobuche is worth the $18 you’ll spend on a room.
• Gorak Shep x 2
• Lobuche
[Over Kongma La pass to Chukkung (5 miles)]
• Chukkung
• Pangboche
• Tengboche — Rooms are scarce—grab what you can in within 15-20 minutes of town.
• Namche
• Pakding
• Lukla

Which way? Some books advise a counterclockwise circuit of the Three Passes, since the elevation climbs more gradually in that direction. Go against the grain. Just take your time to get to Thame—the trip unfolds better, with arguably more spectacular views, going east. 

Map The closest thing to USGS quality is the Schneider 1:50,000 series “Khumbu Himal” which you can buy online or in Namche Bazaar. 

Guidebook Trekking in the Everest Region by Jamie McGuinness, 5th edition.

What to Pack (besides the obvious): Your warmest jacket; Steripen and Katadyn MyBottle or MSR Hyperflow (yes, both); a true 15-degree sleeping bag (or true 0-degree if you’re sleeping outside), stiff-soled boots (one step down from full-shank mountaineering boots, a big step up from light hikers, waterproofing isn’t necessary), collapsible trekking poles, the lightest flip flops you can find, a Kindle with 3-4 great books (you’ll be reading a lot), insulated bottle (water freezes in your room at night, and you’ll appreciate the hot tea on cold passes), sleeping pills, earplugs (mandatory in the dorms), merino everything, a pack towel, Bonner’s soap, lightweight windblocking gloves, beefy winter gloves, a windblocking Buff (not for warmth: for humidifying the dry air and keeping the dust storms out of your lungs—boosting your chances of avoiding the infamous, rib-breaking Khumbu Cough), a watch with a loud alarm (vibrating if possible), a catch-all antibiotic, your best camera, more memory cards than you think, 2-4 passport sized photos (for permits). Luxuries: insulated pants, down booties, softshell. Don’t need to pack: Snacks, food, TP, extra batteries (except C123s), solar chargers (every lodge has a plug to their solar power source), sleeping pad, gaiters, axe, crampons or traction spikes, or Diamox (buy it cheap in Kathmandu or Namche). 

Tips You’ll Get Nowhere Else
*Bring an ultralight, summerweight tent and ultralight pad. The lodges in Dzongla, Lobuche, and Gorak Shep are mostly miserable squats and it’s not uncommon to find no rooms available at all. Save the stress by tenting outside and buying hot meals in the lodge.

*Forget about yak burgers. The best source of protein in the Himalaya is the rice and beans (dal bhat). If you eat mostly fried rice, fried momos, and fried noodles you’ll lose muscle quickly. Eat dal bhat whenever you can, and bring amino acid supplements to help you get some protein from the starchy teahouse foods. 

*Avoid bottled water: There’s no recycling in Nepal, so all those bottles you see commercial tourists downing all end up dumped by the trail or in landfills. 

*Find a guide: Most of the eager guides crowding you as you get off the plane in Lukla are competent, but get a personal recommendation from your hotel operator. Dawa Tshiring, owner of Himalaya Lodge next to the airport, is the local maven, and knows many of the best guides (ask for Dawa Sherpa from Bhojpur!). Expect to pay $20 a day plus a 20-percent tip.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 128.7



Location: 27.687576, 86.73245



Location: 27.703565, 86.71756



Location: 27.70857, 86.715635



Location: 27.739959, 86.712364



Location: 27.778667, 86.72235



Location: 27.79344, 86.715886

Everest View


Location: 27.804267, 86.711214



Location: 27.82177, 86.678696



Location: 27.832159, 86.649893

Side Trip from Thame: Visit the 400-year-old Gompa (monastery) just outside of town (ask to see the old German oxygen bottle from 1953—it’s used as a dinner gong), and then continue three hours up the trail to 17,155-foot Sumdu


Location: 27.88551, 86.638286



Location: 27.90282, 86.636867



Location: 27.94743, 86.658513

Renjo La (Pass #1)


Location: 27.953886, 86.694153

Side trip from Gokyo: Hike up the valley towards Cho Oyu to Gyazumba for an excellent, and private, Everest view.


Location: 27.950638, 86.710178

Rockfall Risk


Location: 27.941275, 86.720979



Location: 27.9585, 86.747635

Tricky Rocks


Location: 27.939553, 86.773572



Location: 27.948608, 86.810604



Location: 27.980206, 86.828231

Gorak Shep/Everest Base Camp: The hike to the base of the Khumbu icefall is great, though don’t trade it for a chance to see the sunrise from Kala Pattar. Leave by 3 a.m. to avoid the mosh pit at the top. Even better, head up the trail as far as you can toward Pumori Base Camp and you’ll get to enjoy the views by yourself.


Location: 27.92974, 86.836235

Kongma La (Pass #3)


Location: 27.904328, 86.870719

Chukkung: Island Peak requires a $400 permit (plus guide and gear, and/or experience with large crevasses and jumaring). You can get almost as high—no fee or gear required—by scrambling to the top of Chukkung Tse, a 19,282-foot hill above town.


Location: 27.892204, 86.829903



Location: 27.856008, 86.79269



Location: 27.836286, 86.764668


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