by Hank Leukart
April 3, 2017
Hiking Nepal’s tough, high-altitude, Everest-region trek.
OKYO, Nepal — In October of 2014, a friend of mine from college, Susan, sent me an email.
“I’ll be in Nepal in a few weeks,” she wrote. “I couldn’t find anyone to join me. If you hadn’t already been to Nepal, I would demand that you join me.”
Three weeks later, I was in Nepal with her, hiking the famous Three Passes trek in the Khumbu Region. More of the story is to come, but you can watch the movie of our trip (above) now.
How to Hike Nepal’s Three Passes
- OVERVIEW: The Three Passes Trek is the ultimate tour of Nepal’s Mount Everest region, otherwise known as the Khumbu. During the trip, hikers earn fantastic views of the highest mountains in the world, climbs to three mountain passes and three peaks all with altitudes of over 5,000 meters, and a taste of authentic Nepalese culture. Depending on the peaks visited, the trek’s length is “only” about 166 kilometers (103 miles), but most of the hike is spent at altitudes above 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and the cumulative elevation gain is about 11,000 meters (36,000 feet), making this one an intensely difficult physical test.
- GEAR: The tea houses along the trails make the trek unique, because the services they provide make it possible for trekkers to bring significantly less gear than they might otherwise on a trip of this length. We completed the trek without carrying a tent, sleeping bags or sleeping pads, and we carried only a minimal amount of snack food. Trekkers can eat all of their meals at tea houses (though the food is rarely great) and rely on tea houses to supply blankets. Avoiding carrying heavy gear makes a huge difference in terms of difficulty at these altitudes.
- LOGISTICS: Set at least three weeks aside total for: the flights in and out of Nepal, a couple buffer days on either end of the trek in case of bad flying weather, and the trek itself. Book a normal commercial flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, then book the terrifying flight to the small mountain village of Lukla on a local Nepalese carrier. We booked ours through Yeti Airlines.
- DANGERS: Acute mountain sickness from hiking at high altitudes can lead to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both of which are potentially fatal. The only known cures for altitude sickness are immediate descent to lower altitude or oxygen administration. To avoid altitude sickness, once above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) hikers should avoid a net elevation gain of more than 300 meters (1,000 feet) each day, and allow for rest days to give the body time to acclimatize.
- ROUTE: Shown below is the 15-day hiking and acclimatization schedule that we followed. However, most people do this trek in about 19 days, which makes the hike less grueling and gives more time for exploring side trips.
- DAY 1: Lukla to Phakding (7.7 km, 209 m gain, 3 hours)
- DAY 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar (12.7 km, 1,116 m gain, 7 hours)
- DAY 3: Acclimatization day, side trip to Khumjung and Khunde (12.3 km, 757 m gain, 7 hours)
- DAY 4: Namche Bazaar to Thame (11.1 km, 707 m gain, 5 hours)
- DAY 5: Acclimatization day, side trip to Sundhar Peak (9.3 km, 1,194 m gain, 7 hours)
- DAY 6: Thame to Lundgen (11.5 km, 805 m gain, 7 hours)
- DAY 7: Lundgen to Gokyo over Renjo La (12.5 km, 1,097 m gain, 7 hours)
- DAY 8: Gokyo Ri climb (4.2 km, 659 m gain, 5.5 hours) followed by Gokyo to Thaknak (4.3 km, 202 m gain, 2 hours)
- DAY 9: Thaknak to Dzongla over Cho La (9.5 km, 856 m gain, 6.5 hours)
- DAY 10: Dzongla to Lobuche (6.5 km, 355 m gain, 2.5 hours) with side trip to Kala Pattar (13.4 km, 921 m gain, 8 hours)
- DAY 11: Lobuche to Chukking over Kongma La (11.7 km, 865 m gain, 8 hours)
- DAY 12: Chukking Ri climb (6.2 km, 829 m gain, 4.5 hours)
- DAY 13: Chukking to Pangboche (11.3 km, 848 m descent, 4 hours) with side trip to Ama Dablam Base Camp
- DAY 14: Pangboche to Namche Bazaar (15.2 km, 771 m gain, 1,127 m descent, 6.5 hours)
- DAY 15: Namche Bazaar to Lukla (19.8 km, 710 m gain, 1,232 m descent, 7 hours)