In April, I had the chance to do the Three Passes Trek in the Solukhumbu District. This overlaps with the Everest Base Camp trail for the first few days, before splitting off to cross three high passes, all between about 5300 and 5600 meters, and then looping back around towards Namche Bazaar.
Most people start the trek from Lukla after taking the quick 30-minute flight from Kathmandu into the ‘world’s scariest airport’. If you have enough time and want to save a bit of money or get a chance to enjoy some hill region villages, you can also start the trail from Salleri or Jiri.
After Lukla, the trail roughly follows the Dudh Khosi River for one and a half days, before reaching Namche. This part of the trek isn’t particularly remarkable, but there are some nice views of the hill region and some pretty impressive hanging bridges to cross. Most trekkers choose to take a rest day or just a day hike at Namche for acclimatization, since you don’t want to ascend too fast. Namche is the starting and ending point for the Three Passes Trek, which is a loop. Most people choose to do the trek in the counterclockwise direction, and that’s what I did.
For the next two days, the trail continues to overlap with the EBC trek. The downside of trekking in this area is that the trails get pretty crowded with trekkers heading to EBC, especially large guided groups. It can also be a bit annoying to cross paths with long strings of donkeys carrying supplies and luggage along the trail, and kicking up quite a bit of dust in the process. But, beyond Namche is where the mountain views start to appear and provide some pretty great motivation for all of the long, slow uphill sections of trail.
After reaching Dingboche, the Three Passes trail finally separates from the EBC route, splitting off towards Chhukung. This part of the trail has mesmerizing views of Ama Dablam, which dominates the valley. Chhukung is another popular place to spend an extra acclimatization day before you start crossing the passes. Chhukung Ri (about 5400m) makes for a perfect acclimatization day hike, with stunning views. From Chhukung, you will cross Kongma La, the first of the 3 passes, and head to Lobuche village. This is a long, hard day of trekking, and it’s a good idea to start early.
After reaching Lobuche, many trekkers choose to head up the valley to hike up Kala Patthar and visit Everest Base Camp. This can be done in one long day from Lobuche, or if you want to take your time, you can spend a night at Gorak Shep. After returning to Lobuche, you will break off from the main EBC trail again and make your way to Dzongla (4830m). From here, you will cross over the second pass, Cho La, to reach Gokyo. Gokyo is another nice place to spend an extra day, with a sunrise hike up Gokyo Ri and hikes to visit some of the lakes further up the valley.
Finally, you will cross the final pass, Renjo La, and then it’s a long descent back towards Namche. There are several villages along the way to spend the night. From there you can finish your hike at Lukla, or trek all the way back to Salleri or Jiri and take a jeep back to Kathmandu.
The recommended time needed for this trek varies depending on your experience and trekking style. I managed to complete this whole trek, starting in Lukla and finishing in Salleri, in just two weeks, hiking fast and without taking any extra days for acclimatization. Most trekkers take a little extra time and spend about three weeks on the trail. Of course, if you start the trek and then realize that you won’t have enough time to complete all three passes, it is quite easy to cut a couple of days out by doing just one or two of the passes.
I was initially a bit hesitant to go trekking in the Everest region since I knew that the trails would be really crowded. Luckily though, the Three Passes Trek is relatively empty compared to the more popular EBC route, and I didn’t feel that the other people on the trail detracted from my experience. It was nice to meet other trekkers in the tea houses, and as long as I woke up early and hiked fast, I still had plenty of solitary time on the trail to enjoy the mountains in peace.
Want to go? Have a look at some of the treks Royal Mountain Travel offers in the Everest region: