This is going to be a pretty big post, so before I jump into it, I’m going to give you a little table of contents.
I’ll be covering:
- A brief summary of the trek
- How to get in/out
- Essential Items
- A day by day overview/ “what to expect”/ my recommendations (the longest bit!)
A Brief Summary of the Three Passes
The three passes trek is a two-week trip that follows the Everest Base Camp route before splitting off and taking you over three passes that give amazing views of the Himalayas and Mount Everest. It’s been dubbed one of the most beautiful treks in the world, and for good reason! While going on the Everest Base Camp route is nice because of its commercial status, the three passes take you beyond that side of the region and show you even more of its beauty.
Fly to Lukla, walk to Phakding* | 3 hours | 2610m
*Alternatively, you can walk to Monjo, which is about 3 hours further, if you arrive early or are feeling up for it
Walk to Namche Bazar | 6 hours | 3440m
Acclimatisation Day | Walk to Everest Viewpoint Hotel or up to Tenzing Norgay Statue
Walk to Tengboche | 4 hours | 3870m.
Walk to Dingboche | 5 hours | 4410m
Acclimatisation Day | Walk partly up Nagkartshang Peak
Walk to Chukkung | 3 hours | 4730m
Acclimatisation Day | Walk to Chukkung Ri
Walk to Lobuche via Kongma La Pass (5535m)| 10 hours | 4940m
*From here, you can go on to Everest Base Camp following THIS itinerary*
Walk to Dzongla | 3 hours | 4200m
Walk to Gokyo via Cho La Pass (5420m) | 10 hours | 4750 m
Rest Day | Go up Gokyo Ri or around the lakes
Walk to Lungde via Renjo La Pass (5340m) | 6 hours | 4380m
Walk to Thame | 3 hours | 3800m
Walk to Namche Bazar | 3 hours | 3440m
Walk to Lukla | 7 hours | 2850m
I’ve written a full budget breakdown of the Everest Base Camp trek HERE. The budget accounts for all necessary permits and your daily budget and includes a section on how much getting in and out of Lukla will cost. I would stick to this budget breakdown as a guide for the three passes as well.
How to Get In/Out
From Kathmandu, you’ll need to get up to Lukla for the start of the trek. You can do this many ways.
The most popular method of getting to Lukla is by aeroplane. Flights to Lukla only operate in good weather conditions (and while inconvenient, this is a good thing because the runway is VERY short), and they’ll only fly out of Kathmandu if they are sure to be able to do a round trip flight. There are often delays and cancellations, so make sure you have a couple days to spare before flights in and out of Kathmandu. You can book flight tickets online, but I recommend booking from a tour office in Kathmandu or emailing your hotel before you arrive to organise your tickets. Buy round trip! You can always cancel for a 10% (of the ticket price) fee, or if your flight is cancelled due to weather, you are entitled to a full refund of that ticket.
When flights are cancelled or delayed for days at a time, or for those who are on tight schedules, helicopters are the way to go. Helicopter flights are significantly cheaper going INTO Lukla than they are going OUT of Lukla. Helicopter prices depend on the season and demand. I’ve heard of people paying as little as $150 USD to fly into Lukla and as much as $500 USD to fly out. When there is a backlog of people in Lukla due to cancelled flights, helicopters are in high demand and the local “Lukla mafia” will charge as much as they please for a seat on a heli back to Kathmandu. It is standard to pay about $250 for a helicopter flight back to Kathmandu, but if there are many people who want to fly out of Lukla during peak season, I’d expect to pay $500.
That being said, if you are stuck in Lukla, you can take a helicopter to Phaplu, then a 10-hour jeep or bus ride. The helicopter will cost about $200 USD, and the jeep will cost 13,000r to 20,000r depending on the demand. I’ll go into more detail about this option in the last section.
Finally, you can walk in and out. It takes about 4 days of walking to get to Jiri or Salleri. It is hot and there is a lot of up and down, but you escape the touristy part of the trek and I’ve heard good things about this (if you like walking!).
After trekking in the Everest region multiple times, there are a few things that I’ve come to really appreciate bringing up into the mountains with me.
- Hand Sanitizer
- Extra Pair of Socks
- Trekking poles
- Sleeping Bag (some people think relying on teahouse blankets is enough- its not!)
Day By Day Overview / What to Expect / My Recommendations
While you can book flights to Lukla at around 8 or 9am, I’d go for the earliest flight, as those are the most likely to take off.
Our flight was early, and we got to Lukla no problem! In Lukla, you have to buy your trekking ticket. Just walk down the main street and you’ll be stopped to buy one. From there, head onto the trail! The walk to Phakding is downhill and pretty easy. Remember to walk left around the stupas and mani stones. We arrived in Phakding at about 11am, so we kept going onto Monjo, which is at a slightly higher altitude. There was more uphill on this section, but nothing so steep it was memorable.
Recommended teahouse: Mount Kailash in Monjo
The day starts off nicely. You’ll have to stop to get a national park permit and for a ticket check, and then you start walking along the river. I personally find this bit absolutely stunning! There’s a beautiful view of two suspension bridges. You’ll eventually cross the higher one. After this viewpoint, it’s all uphill to Namche. About an hour and a half into the uphill section, you’ll come up to a public bathroom. From there, you can see Everest. This is also halfway up the uphill section. You can refill water here. Continue uphill, and eventually, you’ll get to another ticket check. At this point, you’re only about 20 minutes from Namche!
Namche Bazar is the biggest village on the trek, and it feels like paradise! I love going to the Liquid Bar at 3pm for a movie. Ordering popcorn is a must. There’s a Himalayan Java right next to the Khumbu Lodge that offers free wifi and charging if you purchase something. If you’re feeling the need for a massage, someone who summitted Everest and tried ALL the massage places in Namche recommended the one inside the Khumbu Lodge.
Recommended teahouse: Khumbu Lodge. We splurged on a room with an electric blanket, charging, an attached bathroom (with a hot shower!), and a double bed for $25 USD.
The weather for us was poop. We wanted to walk up to the Everest Viewpoint Hotel, but since it was so cloudy, we were sure we wouldn’t get a view and only went about a third of the way up. Instead, we walked to the Visitor Center and Tenzing Norgay Statue, which is the acclimatisation walk I usually do anyway. I love the Visitor Center and highly recommend going! Note that it is open from 8am to 4pm Sundays to Friday, and that it is closed Saturday and public holidays.
You’ll love the start of this day: it’s flat! And there are great views! Eventually, you’ll start going downhill. I’d stop at the river for a pot of tea or lunch, because after you cross the suspension bridge over the river, it’s a ticket check, then a lot of uphill! I always used to remember this bit as the WORST, but this time, I took it slow and steady, and it really wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Tengboche is absolutely beautiful. If you can, head into the monastery at 3pm for the prayer. You aren’t allowed to take photos.
Definitely go to the bakery to get a slice of apple crumble. It is necessary. And delicious.
Recommended teahouse: Tashi Delek
Our whole time in Nepal, the clouds had been really low and it was foggy, but this day, it cleared up! Tengboche is BEAUTIFUL on a clear day.
Your day will start with a downhill walk before it flattens out. The flat bit is full of blooming rhododendrons in March-May.
Once you hit the river, you’ll start heading uphill again. It’s a pretty bearable uphill hike to Dingboche. The land seems very vast and very barren here. It’s awesome.
In Dingboche, the first lodge you’ll hit is the Snowlion lodge. It’s attached to a French Bakery. I love this lodge and I love the chocolate truffles (more like a dense fudgey cake) at the bakery.
This is an acclimatisation day! Just above the Snowlion lodge is a stupa. Walk up there, and then further up the hill. There will be a rest stop. You can either continue up or stop around here. On my trips to this region, I’ve acclimated by going all the way to the top, to the rest area, and somewhere in between. I honestly don’t think that the height of your acclimatisation hike makes a huge difference, just make sure to get a hike in.
If the weather is clear, the peak offers some stunning views, but if it’s cloudy, I wouldn’t bother.
The walk to Chukkung is a very gradual uphill. It’s quite windy in this valley. I really liked this day because there was a great view, a gentle hike, and only 3 hours of trekking! We stayed at the Khangri Resort. Their dal bhat is fabulous and Skye (the manager) is soooo lovely! Again, the views from Chukkung are beautiful.
Another acclimatisation day! Walk up to Chukkung Ri. This is a pretty steep trail with a couple false peaks. You think you’re almost there, you make it over the ridge of the hill, and bam. Another hill to climb. That being said, the views are worth it! Once you get to the prayer flags, the rest of the trip up to the summit is a little scramble-y. It was really cloudy and we didn’t feel safe on the loose rocks, so we didn’t actually get to the summit, but maybe 30 meters below. Just be mindful of where you step! On the way down, you’ll be proud of how far you walked- it’s so much longer than it seems!
I would bring trekking poles with you- it’s a steep climb and on the way down, your knees will want that extra support!
The day of the first pass! We didn’t really know what to expect regarding how long this pass would take… Lonely Planet said it would take 7 hours, online resources said 6, our guesthouse owner in Chukkung said 9. It took 10. This is a LONG day, guys.
You start by walking down towards Dingboche on the side of a hill. It’s a pretty gradual uphill. The walk isn’t too bad at the start, but it gets a lot steeper. Once you see the big frozen lake, it’ll flatten out. Even though it’s flatter, I found this section REALLY tough. I started seeing double, feeling nauseous, and feeling faint. I thought I’d have to be med-evac’d out, but I powered through. It’s a steep scramble up to the pass. The view from the pass is amazing if you look behind you. Looking forwards, towards Lobuche, isn’t that impressive.
We spent about an hour at the top of the pass, but I would have a quick snack and water and keep moving. Though the uphill part of the pass is over, the hard part isn’t!
Going down, your walking on scree. It’s very slippery so watch out! There also isn’t a distinct trail, so look out for rock cairns to guide you. After a couple hours of this, you’ll reach a valley. Unfortunately, you go down the valley only to go back up it. The uphill isn’t too bad, and it’s pretty short.
Once you get back to the top of the valley, you’ll meet the Khumbu Glacier. You have to cross this. Again, there isn’t a distinct trail, so follow the rock cairns. Lonely Planet describes crossing this glacier as “a final sucker punch,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a LOT of up and down. Also, if you go in late May, the glacier will be melting from under you and rocks will be falling around you. It can feel a bit dicey. If you’re a solo trekker, DEFINITELY try to link up with others for this bit.
After you cross the glacier, you just have to walk up one last steep uphill bit, then go downhill, and Lobuche is there!
If you are skipping Everest Base Camp, go to Dzongla. We skipped EBC for two reasons. 1) I’ve already been there and the views are not that incredible. EBC is mainly something you visit to tick off the bucket list. 2) We were really effing tired.
The walk to Dzongla is amazing. It’s a gentle downhill, then a gentle uphill, and then you walk along a side of a mountain, so it’s flat! It takes 3-4 hours at a leisurely pace.
Recommended teahouse: Green Valley Lodge
If you are going to Everest Base Camp, read this post.
We woke up at about 5, had breakfast at 5:30, and were off by 6! I was honestly dreading another pass… Kongma La nearly killed me. But don’t worry if you’re feeling the same- Cho La is MUCH better.
It’s a gentle uphill for about an hour or two, and then you’re climbing up big boulders. Once you make it up the big boulders, you’ll see a string of prayer flags. There’s a great view from here, but it isn’t the pass.
Keep going up the gentle uphill. You’ll have to cross some very icy paths, which is technically challenging. If you have microspikes, I’d put them on for this section.
You’ll walk up a frozen glacier, then up maybe 10 meters of rocks, and you’ll have made it to Cho La!
The way down is steep and rocky. It was a little icy but not too bad. You’ll be walking on loads of boulders, and again, the path isn’t so clear, so follow the cairns. Once you make it through the boulders, you’ll have to walk up and down to a valley, from which it’s all downhill. You’ll go down the valley to Thangnag, a small town. You can either stop here or continue onto Gokyo. I recommend continuing on- Gokyo is THAT much more amazing when you’ve had a really tough day.
If you’re continuing onto Gokyo, you’ll have another glacier to cross. This one isn’t as tough as the Khumbu Glacier, navigation wise. Once you make it over the glacier, another uphill and downhill, and you’re in Gokyo!
I HIGHLY recommend staying at Thanka Inn. It’s a new hotel (only around 2 months old!) and it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It’s right on the lakefront and the rooms are amazing. They have real duvets (a LUXURY to not have to use a sleeping bag), double glazed windows, and delicious food. I couldn’t recommend this place more.
This is the day most people go up to Gokyo Ri. We decided not to because we were feeling a little sick. Phil ended up having a bad cold with fevers and chills, and I just had some stomach troubles. We walked around the lake, which was more than enough for us.
The lake is beautiful.
The third pass- Renjo La! Follow the trail to Gokyo Ri, but instead of going up, continue straight. There is a sign that will make it easy to follow. It’s a very gradual uphill for about an hour, and then a steep uphill section all the way to the top. This is the easiest pass. That being said, I still found it quite tough- I think my body was just exhausted!
Luckily, once you make it to the top, it isn’t too bad. There was a LOT of ice when we were up there, so we had to be VERY careful for about 30 minutes on the way down. It was windy and cold, and the fog came out, so we couldn’t see very far in front of us. Total whiteout. If the weather is good, this part should be no problem.
It’s a steep downhill section, and then the trail flattens out. After about an hour and a half of walking on flat(ish) ground (HEAVEN), you’ll start going downhill again. It isn’t rocky so it’s easy to go down quickly. After losing 1000m from the pass, you’ll get to Lungdhen. There are a couple teahouses here, but we chose to just stop for tea, then continue walking down. 30 minutes below Lungdhen is another town called Marulung, but we continued down another 3 hours to Thame. The road is pretty flat and the scenery is absolutely beautiful, so it’s a nice day. It’s one of my favourite days on the trek. You get away from the commercial EBC route and get to see how people actually live.
You’ll be super excited to get going this day, because you’re heading to NAMCHE BAZAR! Namche feels like paradise after 2 weeks of trekking. There is a LOT of up and down the whole way to Namche, but with lower altitude is a lot more oxygen, so it doesn’t feel too bad.
It does feel quite warm compared to what you’ll be used to though, so wear short sleeves this day! You’ll make it to Namche in time for a movie at the Liquid Bar. We planned on doing that, but we accidentally fell asleep for about half the day. Our bodies were tired.
The trek down to Lukla is a lot tougher than you’ll have remembered. It’s steep downhill for the first hour or so, then lots of uphill and downhill, then just uphill. Again, it’ll feel really warm. Load up on sunscreen- I got SUPER burnt this day.
While the trek is pretty tiring, you’ll feel really motivated to make it to Lukla because it’ll mean you’re on your way to Kathmandu. Even if people dislike Kathmandu, after a trek in the Himalayas, you’ll crave comforts in Kathmandu you didn’t even know you had!
And that’s it! The Three Passes trek. Have any more questions? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me.
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