The Three Passes Challenge

Experience Issue 212 Jul, 2019

Where there’s an adventure, there is bound to be risks. Are you up for the challenge? If so, you might want to go for the Three Passes Trek in the Everest region. It is many an adventurer’s dream to set foot on the base of the highest peak in the world. But the route has been so overcrowded lately that it feels like you’re in a queue for petrol during the blockade. The Three Passes Trek overlaps with the Everest Base Camp trek till Namche, before heading off to cross three high passes, all over 5000m.

A trek into the Everest region usually starts from Lukla, after a 30 minutes’ flight from Kathmandu. You get to see an amazing view of the Himalayas; if you get good seats that is. If you are uneasy flying and have a few extra days to spend, there is an alternate scenic route where you take a bus to Jiri or Phaplu and start heading up from there.

No matter how you decide to get to Lukla, you won’t regret the experience. After leaving Lukla, the path is a relatively easy walk with ups and downs but not too daunting. The trail follows the Dudh Koshi River until you begin the climb to Namche Bazaar. The hike till Namche isn’t generally exceptional in terms of the view, but you get to walk on different terrain and cross staggeringly high suspension bridges. Namche is the hub to start and end the three passes trek. Trekkers either follow the classic route to EBC from Namche or they take an alternative route on the other side. It is best to spend an extra day for acclimatization at Namche before you cross the passes. Regardless of the route you choose, you’re certain to have an experience of a lifetime.

After leaving Namche, the trail drifts off from the EBC trail—this is where you get away from the crowd. It’s also when when you start seeing the grandeur of the mountains, which gives you the extra boost for the uphill sections of the trek. The narrow trail to Lungden is a pleasant walk away from the congestion of the main route. This part of the trail has picturesque villages like Thamo and Thame with stunning views of the mountains as the backdrop. You can take a bonus day to acclimatize your body to the high altitude at Lungden. From Lungden, you cross the first pass, the Renjo La Pass, and make your way down to Gokyo village. There are no teahouses between Lungden and the pass, so make sure to carry a packed lunch. Also, it is a long and intense day of trekking, and it’s ideal to start early. The view from the top of the pass is unbeatable and worth all the effort: a panorama of mountains surrounds you, including Mt. Everest. You can see the Gokyo Lakes, the highest freshwater lakes in the world, as you descend from the pass. It is actually nice to spend an extra day here in Gokyo, hiking up to Gokyo Ri and visiting other lakes further up the valley.

From Gokyo, you make your way to Thangnak, crossing the Nzogumpa glacier, the longest glacier in the Himalayas. From Thangnak, you cross the Cho La Pass to reach Dhzongla, one of the most delightful places on the trek. There’s a real feeling of accomplishment as you survive the back-breaking trail of Cho La. The view is dominated by a tall standing Ama Dablam, which is mesmerizing to see with the valley underneath it. The walk to Dhzongla is a fairly easy one after you finish the steep descent. You see the mighty north face of Cholatse Himal and Tobuche standing tall right next to it from there.

After Dhzongla, you get back to the main EBC trail making your way to Lobuche. From here, trekkers have an option to go to Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp before summiting the final pass, Khongma La. The hike to Kala Patthar and EBC might take up to two days depending upon your level of fitness. The final push to Khongma La involves crossing another glacial moraine just after leaving Lobuche. The steep ascent will make you take frequent breaks and challenge your vigour. After a long day of walking through steep ascents and descents, you reach Dingboche. Dingboche is the second largest village in the Khumbu region after Namche and an ideal place to give your body and mind a rest as you’ve completed all the strenuous hike to the passes. From Dingboche, you can finish your trek by heading back to Lukla or walk all the way down to Jiri or Phaplu and drive back to Kathmandu.

Take as much time as needed for this challenging trek. Some might finish it early and some might take a bit more time. The time is not the challenge, completing the whole route while also being physically fit and mentally stronger than before is. But, in any case, if time is an issue for you, then you can choose to cut off one of the three passes from your itinerary. If you still feel concerned about going to the Everest region due to its being crowded, don’t worry as the trail to the three passes is relatively empty. You are sure to have a ton of solitary time to enjoy the majestic mountains in peace.