Three Passes (Nepal)
This is Part 4 of my 14-day trek on the Three Passes trek in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park. Check out my previous posts for more on this spectacular trek into the heart of the Nepali Himalaya:
- Part 1 Three Passes: The Bigger, Better Everest Base Camp Trek
- Part 2 Knocking Some Dust Off the Old Expedition Route
- Part 3 “Your Name is Karma Sherpa”
Day 10 – Lobuche to Gorak Shep
The day after our climb over Kongma La treated us to some more serious climbing to the Everest viewpoint at Kala Patthar (5,550m) and the Everest Base Camp (“EBC”) (5,364m). We left Lobuche (4,910m) at 8am and made it to Lobuche Pass (5,110m) an hour later, where we began a mild climb that ended at Gorak Shep (5,140). We’d spend that night at Gorak Shep, so we dropped our packs at a tea house before continuing north toward Kala Patthar and the EBC.
From Gorak Shep, the trail to Kala Patthar crosses a small open field, then charges straight uphill to the summit. The second half was covered in snow that had become slick in the late morning sun. Partly for this reason, but also for the amazing sunrise views of Everest, most people make the climb before dawn.
Our reward for the hour and 15-minute climb was a massive view of the entire Everest panorama, including Everest (8,848m), Lhotse (8,414m) and Nuptse (7861m).
We sprinted back down just a few short minutes after reaching the top. Mingma recommended a “short-cut” to the EBC and, always up for an unnecessary challenge, I readily agreed. So turned off trail and tried to shave some distance off our day by cutting straight across the mountainside, rather than heading back to Gorak Shep to pick up the trail there.
In hiking, unlike Trigonometry, the shortest route between two points is often not a straight line. Our short-cut devolved into a tricky and tiring two-hour rock hop across a glaciated boulder field. Even more fun, our direct route eventually stalled out on top of a massive, nearly-vertical scree slope.
On the upside, though, at least we could now see the EBC trail snaking below the 75-meter embankment as the trail worked its way along the edge of the Khumbu Glacier. A hairy but mercifully short scramble down the cliff face, plus another 15 minutes on the EBC trail, finally brought us to Everest Base Camp (5,364m). We promptly ran into Hali, Susan, Cat and Jim, the crew of Canadiens and Americans I’d gotten to know the day before. After waiting in line for pictures, we all returned to Gorak Shep to spend the night keeping warm over massive pots of tea and hot chocolate.
Sadly, the only activity at the EBC that day was from trekkers and their guides. The camp was shut down to climbing expeditions for the year in early April when an avalanche on the Khumbu Ice Fall claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas. Add that to October’s fatalities on the Annapurna Circuit and it was a bad year for tragedies at Nepal’s most popular adventure destinations.
Day 11 – Gorak Shep to Dzongla
From Gorak Shep, we headed back to Lobuche. The trail passed through the village then continued to the southwest for an hour before turning northwest along the contour line around Awi Peak (5,245m).
We had spectacular views as we rounded the corner of (from left to right/south to north) Tabuche Peak (6,367m), Cholatse (6,335m) and Arakam Tse (6,423m). Chola Tsho (4,590m), with glaciers dripping over its banks from the shoulders of the peaks above it, nestled in the valley below.
Another hour brought us home for the night to Dzongla (4,830m). Lobuche East (6,119m) and West (6,145m) towered to the north-northeast above the four tea house-village.
Day 12 – Dzongla to Gokyo
We began the day with a quick climb over Cho La (5,420m), the second major pass. Cho La is lower than Kongma La, but can be challenging due to a glacier along the upper section. We again started early and crested before the sun could soften the snow and ice on top of the pass.
From the pass, the trail angled through a picturesque valley toward Dragnag (4,700m), then turned north for an hour along the east side of the Ngozumba Glacier as it flows down from Cho Oyu (8,188m/6th highest peak in the world). We cut west across the glacier and, after a short climb, dropped into Goyko (4,790m) on the shores of the Gokyo Tscho (lake) (4,870m).
Day 13 – Gokyo to Thame
Renjo La (5,360m), the last of the three passes, loomed above us immediately outside of Gokyo. We traced along the shoreline then headed due west to begin the climb. The ascent started gradually but soon reached a steep and arduous middle section. We made the top in just over two hours and basked in the best views yet of Everest and its sister peaks.
Over the pass, the trail worked to the southwest as it began a long slow turn toward Nachme far to the southeast. The rest of the day we followed the Bhote Koshi Nadi (river) as it descended through the towns of Lumde (4,368m), Marulung (4,210m) and Thame (3,820m). We stopped in Thame and spent the afternoon relaxing in the shadows of Nup (6,035m), Kongde Ri (6,168m), Shar (6,093m), Nupla (5,885m).
Day 14 – Thame to Thado Koshi
Our last real day day on trail was another long descent. Staying close to the Bhote Koshi Nadi, the trail dropped gradually back to Namche (3,440m), where we began the circuit portion of the trek nine days earlier. We took a brief break before continuing the descent to Thado Koshi, my last stop before flying to Kathmandu.
We followed the main trail out of Namche until we reached the Chhusema Khola’s confluence with the Bhote Koshi Nadi. We branched off there on a local trail that climbed away from the combined river. This alternate route had great views and gave us a welcome respite from the hordes of agency groups, donkey trains and porters that clogged the main trail.
We reached Thado Koshi in the early afternoon and celebrated a great trek over vegetable soup, plates of yak cheese, endless dal baht, milk tea, and a dash of Khurkuri Rum (Mingma’s favorite).
Post-Hike – Lukla
The next morning, we raced the last hour to Lukla so I could catch my 9:00am flight. We arrived to find Lukla socked in with clouds and the flight schedule in disarray.
Weather in Lukla is undependable to say the least and delays of 2, 3, or even 5 days are not unheard of. I luckily found Hali and Susan and had some company while I waited.
Only 8 flights made it out that day (I would have been on #17), but I didn’t have to wait too long and was cruising over the Himalayan foothills by noon the next day. It was that rare case where my flight was delayed over 24 hours and I felt like I got lucky.
Hike #4 – Asia’s Three Passes: