Everest Base Camp / 3 Passes

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One of the best hikes in the world

Everest Base Camp / 3 Passes

the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world :-)

most EVERYONE wants to see Sagarmatha – goddess mother of the world

base camp sign

There’s NO shortage of information on how to hike to Everest Base Camp (5,320m / 17,450ft) in Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal.

But the best route is fairly new, via three high passes:

Kongma La (5,535m)
Cho La (5,380m)
Renjo La (5,388m)

You can do one, two or three of those.

If 3 Passes are not challenging enough, you can opt to side-trip 3 trekking peaks:

Gokyo Ri (5,483m) … similar vista to Renjo La
Kala Pattar (5,545m)
Chukkung Ri (5,550m)

Pokalde Peak 5806m (19,048ft) is an option, too. But requires a Climbing permit as does the much more popular Island Peak 6,189 m (20,305 ft).

The sacred Gokyo Lakes is a superb side-trip. Don’t miss it.

The focus of this page is this difficult 3 Passes route. For independent trekkers.

everest-3-passes-map

AT A GLANCE

  • in 2013 we added 3 Passes to our list of top 10 hikes in the world, replacing the Annapurna Circuit
  • majority of hikers in the Everest region hire a guide, porter(s) and/or pack animal(s) but it’s fairly easy to do independently
  • guided trekkers stay in lodges, or sprawling tent encampments
  • September to mid-November best months
  • beginning of March to mid-May next best
  • 16-18 days minimum for 3 Passes. 21 days would allow for rest / illness / sidetrip / and other unanticipated delays.
  • if you don’t have time, it’s minimum 14 days just to get to Base Camp and back safely.
  • generally easy hiking on good trails with a light pack. Some very challenging, potentially dangerous sections, if you cross any of the 3 Passes
  • on the main trails buy food as you go and stay in comfortable “lodges”
  • Everest trails are not expensive, but many spend more than they anticipate on luxuries
  • be clear — you might have to QUIT if by bad luck or rushed ascent you suffer altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS).
  • many suffer respiratory problems. And fatigue.

Why We Like This Hike

  • wonderful photographic opportunities
  • it’s fun to leave the main trails, take to the paths less traveled
  • very little gear is needed
  • you can easily get pack weight down to 10kg (22lbs)
  • walk with no tent, stove or food. Stay in lodges, eat in lovely restaurants. Books are even available on the trail!
  • safe and easy to hike solo
  • no need to speak Nepali, only English
  • food is good and quite safe (compared with Kathmandu)
  • Everest is the goal. But our favourite peak is Ama Dablam, much more visible en route.

  • guest houses sell “hot (luke warm) showers” for about $3.
  • at altitude, food tastes GREAT. The bakery in Tengboche is particularly good.

  • Maoists never have bothered trekkers much in the Everest region because the one bridge entrance can be so easily policed
  • keep your pack light by resupplying at stores like this one in Dingboche

Tred in the footprints of the great Everest mountaineers. Here’s the shrine of  Babu Chiri Sherpa at Dughla Pass

Considerations

First concern of many is the flight in to Lukla Airport 9,380ft (2,860m), officially named Tenzing-Hillary Airport since 2008.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Most Extreme Airports, broadcast on The History Channel in 2010, rated the airport as most dangerous in the world.

There have been plenty of accidents. Statistically, however, riding a Nepali bus to the Jiri trailhead may be even more dangerous. About 95% of Everest trekkers fly leaving the Jiri walk-up uncrowded.

  • if your plane lands, this is a surprisingly safe adventure. Even for solo trekkers.
  • if you acclimatize well, and have enough days, it’s relatively easy to get to Everest Base Camp
  • but the 3 passes are challenging. For example, Kongma La 5535m, is about 9hrs. No facilities. Remote. Rugged. Here’s Pokhalde Base Camp.

  • all 3 passes are weather and health permitting. It’s easy to skip any one of the 3 if you are hiking independently.
  • November 1995 a freak snow storm killed dozens (46 some say) of hikers, porters and guides throughout the Himalaya, most by avalanche. Bring suitable clothing. This Yak knows how to dress. .

  • Main trails are easy. But crossing glaciers is can be difficult and dangerous. Get local advice before you do so.
  • some hikers buy Diamox in Nepal. It’s called Diamox Sequels in the USA.
  • some even bring a course of antibiotics, just in case
  • both men and women are advised to wear modest clothing respecting local culture
  • treat water
  • do not buy bottled water on the trek
  • “squater” pit toilets are the norm
  • you’ll be tempted by pizza, beer, German bakeries and everything else. Almost everyone spends more money than they expect.
  • evacuation by helicopter is expensive, guaranteed in advance
  • bring a combination padlock for the door in lodges
  • be wary of crossing bridges if you see pack animals — or heavily laden porters — approaching from the opposite direction. You might be knocked down.

All guides and lodges have phone. Some hikers have working phones. And phones seem to work almost anywhere.

You might first put off by telephone contact in the “wilderness”. But consider how many lives have been saved by modern communication.

  • painfully slow internet is available too. At cost. Right up to at Gorak Shep 5,164m.

Cost

In 2013 you could do it for $400-$500 (3 weeks) from arrival in Jiri or Lukla, independently.

It could cost 5 times as much to sign on with a high end guiding company. But some are only about $1500 for 20 days. Plus expenses like visas, meals, beverages, travel insurance (including helicopter evacuation insurance), tips, etc. Budget $2000 total.

  • carry more Nepali rupees and American dollars in cash in case of  emergencies. There’s actually a bank in Namche, though it’s best to bring in all your cash from the city. Lodges and restaurants in Khumbu only accept rupees..
  • there’s a slight chance you’ll need to be evacuated. Have a credit card to pay that. Or purchase travel insurance. Check what the policies cover under “Adventure Sports”. It varies depending what nation you live in. World Nomads has been recommended. Some of their policies cover trekking up to 6000m.

Here’s is the main Office of Sagarmatha National Park. You must sign-in if you are hiking independently, showing your TIMS (Trekking Information Management System) card (20USD or equivalent in Nepalese Rupees).

And buy your Park entry ticket (3000R in 2013). You’ll probably be asked to show your passport, as well. Keep that in a perfectly waterproof container.

IMGA0734.JPGBest get permits in Kathmandu or Pokhara in advance. Update – you could not buy Everest Park permit in Kathmandu 2013. Both are available at the Park entrance in 2009, as well. (So long as you remembered to bring 2 passport size photos with you.)

  • in 2013 a single entry tourist visa cost was US$40 for 30 days, available on arrival at the airport in Kathmandu. It took about 2hrs to get through two line-ups, however. :-(
  • A visa for 31 days or more jumps to US$100

Routes

  • get a trekking guidebook well in advance and decide on your destination each day. That way you can adjust for weather and fitness. It’s fairly common to take a rest day while ascending to acclimatize for altitude.
map by Centurion Adventure

map by Centurion Adventure

  • if you want to fly out, buy your flight out of Lukla in Kathmandu. In advance. You can change the date of your return, if necessary. It might be difficult to get a seat on a plane if you try to buy in Lukla.
  • Namche Bazaar — one of our top 10 hiking towns in the world — is the end of civilization. :-)

Almost none of the independent hikers tents. Yet besthike editor Rick McCharles did (a few nights).

side trail to  Kusum Kangru base camp

side trail to Kusum Kangru base camp

Tenting is absolutely unnecessary. But Rick enjoyed the variety. Surprisingly, dispersed  tenting is not illegal in the National Park. But it’s best to be discrete.

Here’s the goal for every Base Camp trekker. Kala Patthar as seen from Gorek Shek. The intimidating mountain in the background is Pumori 7161m (23,494 ft).

And there is the BIG mountain as seen from Kala Patthar.

EverestYou made it. :-)

From the Nepal side, it’s difficult to get a good look at Everest. You must earn the privilege.

Many also trek to Everest Base Camp. It’s a harsh place.


This Google Earth flyover of a Base Camp trek via Cho-La gives you an excellent idea of the terrain. It includes a climb of Island Peak (6,189m/20,305ft) after acclimatization.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Hiking independently gives you the freedom to decide each day where you want to go next in the Khumba. There are many, many options.

related – trekking to Everest North Base Camp in Tibet

Trekking Guides

Should you sign on with a guide?

Consider that you will then be tied into the group itinerary. You’ll travel only as fast as the slowest person in your group.

If not sure, go independently. And — if it turns out you need help — hire a porter, porter-guide or guide and porters yourself on the trail. That can be arranged next day from most lodges.

guide will show you around, but not carry your gear. They may be Nepali or foreign. Many hikers are happier to be led — though you certainly can do the entire Circuit on your own without a guide. A good guide may enrich the trip for you. We did the hike in 1998 independently, but by the finish wished we had hired a guide, at least for parts of the Circuit.

porter guide from the Trekking Workers’ Association of Nepal is a local who speaks English who may also carry a limited load, perhaps 15kg (33lbs). You can hire a porter guide if and when you need one on the trail for something like US$10 / day plus tip. There is often an insurance fee added.

If you are not confident to go independently, check Trip Advisor Everest for recent recommendations. Don’t sign on with any company until you are sure they can deliver what you want. We don’t recommend any on the list below. It’s simply a starting point.

wikitravel:

Only TAAN registered trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara can legally organize treks and provide the services of a guide and/or porter with insurance. Be aware that no one else, no hotel, no street broker, no nice person you just met, not even a trekking guide is legally authorized to organize a trek. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both tea-house and camping styles …

Logistics

If you sign on with a guide, let them organize everything. You are there simply to follow. And enjoy. There’s plenty of time to go off day hiking on your own.

For independent hikers …

  • get a guidebook early
  • decide on what weeks of the year you could trek
  • finalize how much time you can spend on the trail (3 weeks being the goal)
  • get to Lukla on foot or by air
  • weather permitting, there are dozens of flights everyday Kathmandu to Lukla. Tara Air and Agni Air are supposed to be slightly less scary than the other airlines.
  • the alternative to flying is to walk in from Jiri, 5-7 trekking days west of Lukla
  • once in Lukla, decide day-to-day on your itinerary
  • best hike is 3 Passes
  • second best hike is 2 Passes, skipping Renjo
  • you can try to change your flight to an earlier day if finishing earlier than expected
  • visit Kathmandu after you trek, not before. Many get sick in Kathmandu. Get sick after trekking, not before.
  • donate any clothing or gear you don’t want to take home to the Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP)

Local Information

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Best Travel Guidebooks

Yep. We still like Lonely Planet best.

Other Recommended Books

Best Maps

You are not likely to get lost. Guidebooks  are enough. Still, opening up a big map is a good excuse to take a break from walking. :-)

Online Maps

Best Web Pages

Best Trip Reports

ramblin’ boy3  Passes Trek tenting with Exodus (Nov. 2006):

Leave a comment if you’ve got an up-to-date 3 Passes trip report to recommend.

on the Gokyo Trek

Movies

If you are seriously researching 3 Passes, sit down and watch this mini-documentary.

The traveling Freeses go to Nepal and hike to Chukhung Ri, Kongma La, Everest Base Camp, Kala Patthar, Cho La, Gokyo Ri and Renjo La – November 2011.

Click PLAY or watch it on Vimeo.

Check our blog for posts tagged “Everest”.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page. Our editors will reply.

26 thoughts on “Everest Base Camp / 3 Passes

  1. I liked your blog so much that I just changed my trekking plan. First I was going to trek Jiri-Lukla-Gokyo-Cho La-Island Peak-Amphu Labtsa-Lukla. I was going to do this independently except Amphu part. But now I think that I’ll leave the Amphu part to an other trip. How are the snow conditions in 3 passes during April-May? Any advice about the gear?

    • I’ve been to the Himalaya 4 times, … in Oct/Nov.

      If you are carrying your own pack, my advice is to travel light. You can always buy anything extra you need in Nepal.

      Last trip I picked up (fake) Gortex jacket and down jacket at the factory in Thamel.

  2. Great information, 2 Aussies heading off on this trek on 19th March. Looks fantastic and looks to be even better then our Peru trek.

  3. Hi, thanks for the greatfull info, I am going begin may to Kathmandu, will stay there 3-4 day than will do the three passes track. the only thing that i dont know is, do i need a tent because i dont know if everywhere louges.
    Thanks
    Bunyan

  4. Thanks for your amazing website – so many places to go! I’m planning to do 3 Passes independently in November. You mention that guides are available in most villages. Does this mean that it would be easy enough to hire a guide for the Kongma La day, or any other days involving potentially dangerous glacier crossings, difficult to follow trails etc?
    Thanks,
    Drew

  5. I just came back from Solukhumbu to Kathmandu. There’s another access point from Sallari/Ringmo. It’s about 2 days from Lukla (via the Jiri route). It’s a great alternative if you couldn’t get a flight out of Lukla. From Sallari it’s easy to hire a jeep back to Kathmandu, but be prepared to spend 18 hours on the road. Sometimes it’s also possible to call the jeep directly to Ringmo, it will shave 3 hours off. The cost is about 30 USD.

  6. Hi Rick, I went May the route via Thame then Renjo pass and cho la pass to ebc. Unfortunately i didnt go to kongma la pass because i hurt my ankle on renjo pass. Therefore i will go back next year because it was realy cool. btw i didnt not before trekking, that was my first trekking at all. and it was not difficult.
    Next year i would like do the annapurna circuit and the route from jiri to lukla and of course the kongma la pass.
    I would like do the island peak also do you have any info about the island peak, how can i get favorable to the island peak.

    thanks and best rgds
    bunyan

  7. http://www.aboutnepaltreks.com/everest-three-pass-trek.html

    Everest three pass trekking also call Everest 3 passes trek, high pass trekking in Nepal. Everest three pass trek is located in world popular Khumbu area. This is land of sherpa and first mountain Everest climber Ten jingNorga sherpa. 20 days long trekking Everest three pass trek provide to people to enjoy with breathtaking view of high mountain, Himalaya, Sherpa culture and green jungle still above 4000 m. so this all would be interesting for you.

    http://www.aboutnepaltreks.com/everest-three-pass-trek.html

    Everest three pass treks mostly love by adventures travelers and young student group. traveler have to cross 3 world highest pass which is above 5000 m and so there would be high chance of altitude sickness . so this we call in Nepal one of adventures activities to do this trek.

    http://www.aboutnepaltreks.com/everest-three-pass-trek.html

  8. Hi,
    I returned from Nepal June 1st and did independently 3 passes clockwise. I managed to find some amazing companions on my from Lukla up and we didn’t have any need for guides. But if you are unexperienced trekker the guide might be a good idea. However I did hire a porter for Cho La and Kongma La to keep up with my travel mates who have been in Nepal already over 4 months. I used the porter until the highest point of those passes. Price was about 3000 rupies for each pass. Sometimes local porter is a lot better guide than Kathmandu guide. We guided in two occasions groups with guides. For most guides it looks like compass and ability to read maps is not in their abilities list.

    I found the clockwise direction much better than the opposite. In both Cho La and Kogma La you can do the hard part first – glacier crossing and steep ascent. In Cho La we actually did the glacier crossing day before. And of course the scenery is better – all the beutiful mountains are in front of you instead back.

    In April in all passes it started snowing in the afternoon, but we managed to do all of them before the snowing started. In Cho La one guided group that came after us gat lost in snow storm, but they manged to find they way after snowing stopped.

    One advise I would give is give yourself time, for first week I thought that this is hell and I’m not in as good shape as I thought. All the up hills and lack of oxygen made me slow, short of breath and so week. My mates were use to high altitude after over 4 months in Nepal and as they were moving steadily and discussing the meaning of life, I was swearing and moving my legs very slowly far behind them. But after 10 days I realized that this is fun and I can even talk while walking.

    Have a nice adventure!

    Jukka

  9. It’s mentioned on this page that in 2013 you could do the trek for about $400-$500 (3 weeks) if doing it independently. I’d be interested to hear a few more opinions on this from people who have done the trek in the past year or so.

    We’re going to do this trek in October 2014. We’ll be doing it independently, probably mostly sticking with the local food but probably with some apple pie and beer every now and then too. I imagine we’ll be happy to pay for hot showers every few days, and battery charging too. There will be two of us (my girlfriend and I).

    Also, are US dollars useful on the trek or only rupees?

    I can’t wait!

    • You need rupees. They don’t want dollars.

      That means taking enough rupees to be sure you don’t run out. … Which means you’ll probably spend more rupees than you expected.

  10. Hi Rick, my girlfriend and I are off to do the 3 Passes in October. Some people have suggested that it’s worth having microspikes (http://kahtoola.com/product/microspikes/) or something similar for the passes and glaciers. Is this overkill do you think? I’ve read various trip reports, some people say the passes are extremely dangerous and difficult, others say they’re no big deal (the comment above mine for example). It’s hard to know what to expect. Obviously we wouldn’t attempt the passes in bad weather, but apart from that, what precautions do you suggest?

    Thanks very much,

    Drew

  11. Hi Drew, i did it in Mai 2014 and in my aspect the Chola pass was exacting then the other two.
    and i did it with crossing shoes,
    i dont know maybe in october is ther more snow.

    It is amazing there. I want to do it again.

    Rgds Bunyan

  12. This post is amazing, and makes me want to ask you for some advice.
    It was suggested to me that i start hiking this trek form Jiri, because coming from a lower elevation means you get to pass through some more diverse terrain and landscape (this is a priority of mine). Is this something you would recommend? do you know how many days it would add onto the trek? would the section from Jiri to Lukla still have tea house accommodation and be easy to do solo?
    the other trek that has been recomended to me for the purposes of seeing a variety of terrain is the manaslu trek. could you say if one is better than the other for hiking in diverse landscapes (a variety of forests and more lush regions, as opposed the the more arid high mountain terrain)?

    • Very few trek to Lukla. But the few I met that did told me they enjoyed it. There are teahouses, but not nearly as many. Get a good guidebook if you do trek rather than fly.

      I’ve done Everest and Manaslu over the past few years. For me Everest is slightly better. You cannot hike Manaslu independently, only with a guide.

  13. We did the 3 -passes and started from Paphlu which was great. Because of the weather there were no flights from Lukla to return to Kathmandu, so we walked out via Jiri (another four days). All in all it was a breathtaking tour which took us 5 weeks. The sights were great, the thin air no problem, but the four weeks over 4500m were very col! So take a warm sleeping bag and maybe a pee-bottle.

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