The Three Passes Trek | Nepal

The Three Passes Trek is a longer (much longer) and more challenging (much more challenging) version of the very popular Everest Base Camp (EBC) Trek, which is relatively short, straightforward and easy trip. Whether you are still deciding on which trek to do or already planning your Three Passes Trek, you will find here a lot of useful information to help you make plans.

THE ITINERARY

The Three Passes Trek usually starts – and ends – in Lukla, reached by plane from Kathmandu for around 160 USD. After two easy days until Namche, you will have to decide between hiking the loop starting left (toward Thame and the Renjo La pass), or right (toward Tengboche and the Kongma La pass).

Trek du Khumbu

Although both options are possible and similar in many ways, I would strongly recommend to start left (towards the Renjo La pass) for two reasons:

  1. The scenic view you will get from climbing the Renjo La pass from this side (looking down on Gokyo village) is one of the most magnificent of this trek. For this reason alone, I would walk this trail this way again if I did it a second time.
  2. The Renjo La pass is usually the easiest to climb with its huge stone steps, while the day needed to cross the Kongma La pass is the longest and – quite possibly – the most exhausting. This pass forces several people who started from the right to give up after it. Better prepare yourself with a gradual acclimatization!

*A standard itinerary with every day’s destination is listed further down this article.

ADD-ONS

On top of the three passes, there are several highlights you can add to your trip by not – or slightly – modifying your itinerary!

  • The Everest Base Camp (EBC): take two days from Lobuche to hike up to Gorak Shep and then to the EBC!
  • The three “summits” of the three passes: Gokyo Ri, Kala Pattar and Chhukung Ri are three small summits with great views you will meet on the trek. Each one of them requires about 1:30-2:00 to climb up, they are a perfect option to make the most of an acclimatization day!
  • The 4th and 5th Gokyo lakes: respectively one hour and two hours from Gokyo village, these two lakes are reached with an easy and unfrequented trail. Although they are both beautiful by themselves, the best view is still the one over the moraine at the 5th Many high peaks are easily distinguishable, including the Everest.
  • The Island Peak (Imja Tse), 6189m: for those who are looking for an even bigger challenge, the Island Peak base camp is about 2:00-2:30 from Chhukung, which is right after the Kongma La pass. Starting from the left (with the Renjo La pass) and crossing the Kongma La pass last, you will be perfectly acclimatized when you will get to Chhukung!

WHEN TO GO?

The two trekking seasons in Nepal are autumn and spring.

  • Late September to December: Probably the best moment to enjoy Nepal. With the end of the rainy season in late August, nature is blooming and the most important festivals are happening. I would recommend earlier (early October) than later (December), as the snow is unpredictable but more frequent around winter and ruins many people’s plans.
  • February to April: At the end of the dry season (and winter), there shouldn’t be much snow left, but closer to April/May means hot weather. In the lower parts of your hike, that might be uncomfortable. Many flowers are blooming at that time though!

HOW MANY DAYS ARE NEEDED?

From Lukla to Lukla, one should expect a minimum of 14 days for the three passes only. Add a few summits on top of that or the EBC and 19 days will be much more realistic for people with a tight schedule.

Example of a tight itinerary:

  • Day 1 : Lukla to Monjo
  • Day 2 : Monjo to Namche
  • Day 3 : Rest/acclimatization (mandatory)
  • Day 4 : Namche to Thame
  • Day 5 : Thame to Lumde
  • Day 6 : Rest/acclimatization (mandatory)
  • Day 7 : Lumde to Gokyo (through the Renjo La pass)
  • Day 8 : Visiting 4th and 5th lake and rest (optional)
  • Day 9 : Climb up Gokyo Ri (optional), then Gokyo to Dragnag
  • Day 10 : Dragnag to Zongla (through the Cho La pass)
  • Day 11 : Zongla to Lobuche
  • Day 12 : Lobuche to Gorak shep + EBC round trip (optional)
  • Day 13 : Climb up Kala Pattar (optional) + Gorak shep down to Lobuche
  • Day 14 : Lobuche to Chhukung (through the Kongma La pass)
  • Day 15 : Climb up Chhukung Ri (optional), then Chhukung to Pengboche
  • Day 16 : Pengboche to Namche
  • Day 17 : Namche to Lukla

This schedule is a tight one, including very little rest and a few long days. I personally took an additional day off at Zongla on day 10 (after crossing the Cho La pass) and it would be ideal to plan for one or two more between Lobuche and Pengboche, be it to rest a bit, to acclimatize better or to deal with unexpected weather.

Ideal time to ensure a successful trek: 20 to 21 days.

COSTS

It is possible – and quite easy – to spend much more money than expected of this trek. Everything costs money and costs up to 10 times more than in Kathmandu. But unless you are at the peak of a very touristy season, you should be able to spend about 2000 Nepalese Rupees (NPR) or less per day.

List of prices:

  • It is possible not to pay for accommodation (sometimes even in Gorak Shep, the most remote village!). See the “ACCOMMODATION” section below for more details.
  • The typical meal (the delicious and filling Nepalese dal bhat) costs between 500 and 700 NPR from Namche onward.
  • For breakfast, the very nutritive Tibetan porridge costs about 250 NPR.
  • Chocolate bars and cookies: 250 NPR.
  • A big beer: 600 NPR.
  • A cup of black tea: 50-100 NPR.
  • A hot shower: 250-500 NPR.

It is therefore quite important to buy in Kathmandu your own snacks (nuts, chocolate bars, etc.) as they will cost only a fraction of the price and once on the trek, you won’t resist getting some.

GEAR AND EQUIPMENT

Everything depends on the comfort you need and the weight you want to carry on your back. Remember that in high altitude, each step is harder.

To sleep comfortably, a sleeping bag “liner” is an excellent option considering the warmth it will bring vs the weight to carry. It is even possible – that’s what I did from September to November – to sleep without sleeping bag, but only in a sleeping bag liner. Every teahouse offer a thick blanket (or two, if you ask) which can do the trick if you wear most of your warmest clothes during the night. Just make sure you have very warm socks reserved for sleeping.

List of material to bring (example):

  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Sleeping bag
  • Down coat (one of those super thick ones)
  • Fleece or polar coat (that fits underneath your down coat)
  • Raincoat (ex.: ProShell Gore-Tex)
  • Light waterproof pants (ex.: Gore-Tex)
  • Walking boots, warm with a rigid sole
  • Light sandals/flip-flops for shower time
  • Gaiters (optional)
  • Crampons (optional)
  • Warm hat/tuque
  • Scarf
  • Buff (or light hat for the sun)
  • Warm mittens
  • Mitten liners
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Compact towel
  • Walking sticks
  • Water bottles (2)
  • Water purification tablets (60)
  • Knife
  • Head lamp
  • Sunscreen and lipstick
  • First-Aid kit (including the recommended medicine from your doctor against AMS)
  • Toiletry kit
  • Warm lower body underwear
  • Super warm lower body underwear
  • Warm upper body underwear
  • Super warm upper body underwear or very warm synthetic long shirt
  • T-shirt (2)
  • Shorts
  • Pants
  • Underwear (3)
  • Polypropylene sock liners (3)
  • Merino wool socks (3)
  • Super warm wool socks for the night

ACCOMODATION

It’s possible to always bargain to sleep for free, although it will be much harder during the peak of the touristy seasons.

How to do it: ask to see the room and bargain only when you are alone with the host. Ask to get the room for free if you eat all of your meals at their teahouse. If the host doesn’t want, try another one! I did it in every village, and it worked.

If you are not comfortable so ask to sleep for free, the “official” cost of a night in a teahouse goes from 100 to 400 NPR. But as negotiating the prices is extremely common in Nepal, it will be easy to lower the number given to you.

HOW FIT DO I NEED TO BE?

The Three Passes Trek is a long hike with some easy and short days, and some much longer and tougher ones – a trekker met on the trail took 11 hours to cross the Kongma La pass (from Chhukung to Lobuche) with a guide. Keep in mind that climbing up is much more tiring at high altitude.

You thus need not only to be accustomed to long days of hiking in mountains, but also to the basic idea of trekking: walking many days in a row with a backpack. Apart from endurance, the physical strength required will be solely dictated by your backpack’s weight. If you hire a porter, there is no need for more than a decent hiking background with a normal backpack (around 10kg).

If you intend to cross the three passes without porter, you will probably carry between 14kg and 19kg, which will definitely make a difference above 5000m. I would then strongly recommend some physical training specific to the trip you are planning, either in gym or – the best option – with several multi-days hiking trips carrying a heavy backpack.

ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS (AMS) :

See the page « HOW TO PREVENT AND DETECT ACUTE MOUNTAINE SICKNESS».

  ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT THREE PASSES TREK
Difficulty: Intermediate Difficult
Landscapes: Diversified Grand
Cultural trek? Yes No
Possibility to do a section mountain biking? Yes No
Average total time require: 15 to 19 days 17 to 22 days
Days above 3000m (high altitude): 5 to 7 14 to 16
Passages above 5000m: 1 to 2 (including the Tilicho lake) 3 to 7 (including EBC and the three summits)
Minimum daily budget: 1000 to 1500 NPR 1600 to 2000 NPR
Maximum altitude reached: 5416m

5550m

Interested to read about my own experience on the Three Passes Trek and see what it’s like? Click here!

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