Three Passes Trek

Don't rush, especially during the journey up to 4700m.

Fantastic journey! I’m posting this because I didn’t see any/many trip reports last time I looked.

See the costs section for info on PERMITS – you don’t need to buy a permit before starting in Lukla (or lower). Nor do you need any passport photos or USD.

Author notes – I completed the Annapurna Circuit a week before. I have also hiked to 14000’/4300m many time in Colorado USA. Also I’ve done a lot of trekking in the USA and New Zealand – basically I’ve suffered a lot in the past. I’m traveling the world, so am somewhat budget minded. Most the world uses the metric system, you might as well learn it – all altitudes I mention below will just be in meters (as are printed maps, signs, etc).

See other writeups for a packing list. Things which I think are small but essential:
– water treatment tablets (these are cheap and weigh nothing, there is no treated water on the entire trek)
– sunscreen lip balm (hard to find in Nepal, bring it from home!)
– power bank (it costs $$ to charge almost everywhere, this will help you keep costs down)

This is a difficult trek – if you don’t find it difficult to simply walk, you might find it difficult to sleep at the high altitude. If not that, then your knees will hurt. Or your digestion will fail you.

This is not a technical trek, but the steepness of the slopes and terrain hazards are higher than EBC or Annapurna Circuit. If you are experienced in wandering wild mountain peaks or rock climbing, then nothing on this trek will make you think twice. If you are from Paris, you may freak out in a few places – there are some no-slip (slipping would have high consequences) sections.

Lukla (2800m) is the common start point, accessed by the 170USD flight into this “most dangerous airport in the world”. Flights can be cancelled due to weather (you don’t want to die do you?) – DO NOT plan tight scheduling around your start and end dates, 2-3 day buffers on each end would be wise (in ADDITION to buffer time for sick days and side trips). It takes multiple days to walk down from Lukla to somewhere where you can catch ground transport back to Kathmandu. Helicopters can speed things, but can cost 600USD per person.

As you trek upwards, Namche (3400m) is the last place where you can buy almost anything you need. You can get either Nepal-standard counterfeit gear or real gear (check the Sherpa brand dealers). From Namche, you decide if you want to walk clockwise or counter(anti)-clockwise. I recommend going anti-clockwise (as in Lonely Planet). One main reason for this is the altitude gain on some of the passses – acclimatization is easier in this direction. Some guides told us that it is “easier” in the clockwise direction, but my group retrospectively observed that sometimes there was a massive altitude gain in that direction and also some switchback ascents that looked soul-destroying.

As you head towards Chhukung, feel free to get creative with adjusting your daily walk distance by stopping at any of the -boche towns (Tengboche, Pangboche, Dingboche, etc). Note that this is the last time you’ll be below approx 4700m for the next week so this is a critical acclimatization time. Personally, I had a hard time sleeping above 4700m and had a four-night stretch where I had minimal sleep. I wasn’t taking Diamox; I didn’t suffer any AMS symptoms. Temperatures decrease, rain/clouds decrease.

The next section of itinerary is up-down, up-down for the duration of the three passes. Take your time, take care of your health. Stop extra time in villages which you like, enjoy your time, don’t rush. I traveled with other independent travelers, in a group of four or less. All of us agreed that our time which overlapped the EBC (Everest Base Camp) route was the worst – loud and big groups, larger and less friendly villages. The trails which serve EBC were like human freeways/motorways – and we were traveling at the very end of the season as monsoon was arriving! The time on the passes was fantastic, very few trekkers, but enough to allow for some safety and some to talk to if needed.

The most attention grabbing part of the trek is crossing the two glaciers you’ll find between the passes. Route finding across these is absolutely critical. It’s a hazardous environment. But if you love seeing nature at work, these are also a real part of the experience, walking across the rubble on top of a moving glacier. You’ll be rewarded with views of the long glacial path, knowing that it’s crawling and scraping a huge gouge in the Earth, and you crossed it without dying.

Side trips which you find in the guides are plentiful. Walk some or all of them, sacrifice some when necessary for weather or health. Personally, I needed rest in Gorka Shep which is right below Everest, my group did the local peak and Base Camp while I stayed stationary and tried to rest. Really high altitude, long days walking passes or sleepless nights can really leave you needing some recovery. Our group all experienced difficult days at different times – me due to lack of sleep, others due to unhappy stomach, it’s a difficult environment, having a happy and energetic body the entire time would be a gift.

As you approach your Renjo La crossing, be aware of your enjoyment factor because after that pass, you’ll probably be sprinting down to Namche, as there are not many villages to stop in. Speaking for our group, we will tell you that Thame was our favorite village on the entire trek – rustic, quiet, beautiful location, peaceful. It has quite a few tea houses because it receives both Three Pass traffic and side-traffic from people in Namche.

As you descend, you’ll notice the temperature really start to increase. Human and yak/mule traffic increases.


Gear

Leave the gaiters at home for in-season walking. Bring a rain cover for your pack. Bring trekking poles even if you don't normally walk with them, they are really nice for pushing yourself up steep climbs on unstable ground. Heavy waterproof boots are not necessary in-season.

Bring Microspikes.

Bring the heavy puffy jacket instead of the light one - it is cold at 5000m (you spend most of your time near this altitude).

You will be able to save some money if you buy a SIM card for your device(s) down in Kathmandu. NCell seemed better, but they aren't that expensive, so perhaps get both NCell and NT SIMs. At high altitudes (perhaps above Namche at 3400m), there is no phone service. WiFi is provided in the tea houses by EverestLink, which costs 6USD per 200MB.


Costs

(cost is for no guide or porter, starting and ending in Lukla)

NO TIMS card is necessary as of May 2018.

340USD - KTM to & from Lukla 170USD each way, much cheaper if you bus and walk to Lukla (~5 days)

54USD - 20USD local area pass in Lukla, 33.90USD park pass in Manj(ua) or Namche

600USD - for food and accomodation

The 600USD is pretty minimal, you should carry 800 if you want to leave room for sick days and side trips. For 600, I had no alcohol and ate cheap breakfast and Dhal Bhat for lunch or dinner every day. If you really want to eat whatever you want, you need more than 600USD.

At high altitude, I sometimes spent 70USD for two nights at one place (so $35/night, which is a huge amount).

If you compare this trek to Annapurna Circuit (which I did a week before), the per-day cost different is significant. Especially since you begin at 2800m in Lukla.

There are multiple ATMs in Namche (3400m), you can top-up/off your cash there if you realize that you didn't bring enough. Always get your cash down in Kathmandu though, just to be safe. These are the high mountains, weather, electricity and technology don't always cooperate. Bank services are available in Lukla and Namche.

If you are a couple, your per-person cost will be about the same, since you don't save a significant amount on dual-occupancy accommodation (at least not during off-peak).

Comments

5 replies
  1. Thanks for taking the time to post this…very helpful

  2. Mr Hiro!,

    Thank you so much for this report! I will start the trek in the beginning of november .. did you arrnaged a group on this website? I would actually want to go alone.. for the experience.

    • I did not arrange any group before I started. There will be a million people on the sections where you overlap EBC walkers (most of the people).

      I do recommend not walking alone for some parts of the trek, like crossing the glaciers. You’ll be able to find people to walk with along the way, so don’t worry much about arranging a group in advance.

      I’m not sure how the crowds will be in November, since October is the preferred month. I did it at the very end of the “other” season (May) and there were not many people doing Three Passes – the tea houses were almost empty.

  3. Jeffrey

    Dear Hiro! Thank you so much for you response and all the tips! 1 quastion… did you use a map and are these available in KTM?

    Regards,

    Jeffrey

  4. I brought a map and you can easily buy them in KTM or other places. It’s hard to be sure if they map you get is the most current revision though, do your best.

    For Three Passes, don’t buy the EBC map, it doesn’t cover the entire trek.

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