Attention – In 2019, most flights to and from Lukla were flying into and out of Manthali airport, not Kathmandu. At least a 4 hour drive added on each way.
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
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)
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. (Many sources wrongly state that a guide is mandatory.)
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
- October to 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
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 a flight 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.
- slow internet is available too. At cost. Right up to at Gorak Shep 5,164m.
Visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International, Kathmandu in 2019:
Multiple entry 15 days US$ 30
Multiple entry 30 days US$ 50
Multiple entry 90 days US$ 125
You can pay with credit card or other major currencies.
In 2016 you could do it for $400-$500 (2-3 weeks) to and from Lukla, independently. Sam and Danielle only spent about $40 / day (or $20 USD/day/person) carrying their own packs.
But 2 Drifting Coconuts spent $726 each for 16 days trekking independently. That’s about $45/day/person.
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 / person for Everest guided.
- 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. Sadly some in Nepal organized a helicopter evacuation insurance scam to profit from suffering hikers. Check on that when you buy insurance.
- In 2018 a tourist visa for Nepal cost 5 days=$25, 30 days=$40, 90 days=$100 are available on arrival. Very convenient.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
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.
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.
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
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.
A 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.
A 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 specific company on the list below. It’s simply a starting point if you choose to hire your own guide.
Kristen loved her trip with Anywhere Plus.
- Exodus HIGH PASSES OF EVEREST (23 days from: $2,630 to $2,800 land only)
- Advanced Adventures 3 Passes
- Bookmundi – 3 Passes
- Nepal Trekking Holidays 3 Passes
- Himalayan Wonders
- Jagged Globe 3 Passes
- Crusade Himalaya 3 Passes
- One World Trekking – 3 Passes
- World Expeditions Everest High Passes
- Mountain Kingdoms 3 Passes
- Unique Paths High Passes
- International Mountain Guides 3 Peaks & 3 Passes
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 …
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)
- TrekkingPartners.com (find others to hike with you)
- you can now book some lodges in advance online
If you want to hike in rather than take the plane to Lukla, check this post – Everything you need to know about Jeep to Phaplu or Salleri 2018
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (2009) – Bradley Mayhew & Joe Bindloss – is the first guide you should pick up. It’s got a good overview of 3 Passes.
- Cicerone Everest: A Trekker’s Guide: Trekking routes in Nepal and Tibet (2012) – Kev Reynolds
- Trek Everest Base Camp: The Ultimate Preparation & Survival Guide (PDF) – Jason Weise
- Trailblazer Trekking in the Everest Region, 5th (2009) – Jamie McGuinness
- The Everest Trek: The Everest Trek in the Nepal Himalaya from Jiri to Solu Khumbu, Gokyo and Kalla Pattar – Ian P Johnson
- Trailblazer Nepal Trekking & the Great Himalaya Trail – (2011) Robin Boustead
Best Travel Guidebooks
Yep. We still like Lonely Planet best.
Other Recommended Books
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster – Jon Krakauer
- A Beard In Nepal (2012) – Fiona Roberts
- Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal (2011) – Conor Grennan
- The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
- Travelers’ Tales Nepal – Rajendra S. Khadka
- The Chomolungma Diaries: What a commercial Everest expedition is really like – Mark Horrell
- Nepal Trek – A Woman Alone (2006) – Kay Petterson Shaw
- The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman
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 / Apps
Navigation is not difficult in this region. We use the free Maps.me app.
Best Web Pages
- Stingy Nomads – Everest Base Camp independently ($35.60/day)
- KimKim – Everest Region Treks
- wikitravel – Everest Base Camp Trek
- Lonely Planet – Top Ten Detours off the Everest trek
- wikitravel – Trekking in Nepal
- living if (2012) – Nepal Trekking Tips
- Nepal Trekking Holidays
- World Nomads travel insurance
- TrekkingPartners.com (find others to hike with you)
- Staying online on Everest Basecamp 2018
Best Trip Reports
ramblin’ boy – 3 Passes Trek tenting with Exodus (Nov. 2006):
- The Longer, The Better – Three Pass Trek (2016)
- Hank Leukart – Without Baggage (2014 guided)
- 2 Drifting Coconuts – Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Lakes Itinerary: Unguided (EBC/Cho La Pass/Gokyo)
- ramblin’ boy – Parts 1 & 2- Lukla to Namche Bazaar to Chhukung
- ramblin’ boy – Part 3 – Chhukhung to Everest via Kongma La
- ramblin’ boy – Part 4- Lobuche to The Gokyo Lakes via Cho La
- ramblin’ boy – Part 5 – Gokyo to Lukla via Renjo La
- Stingy Nomads – Everest Base Camp Trek on a Backpacker budget
- Freya Render – Luxury Mount Everest Base Camp Trek (2014 Yeti Mountain lodges)
- Everest 2 Passes (2009) – besthike editor Rick McCharles
- living if (2012) – 3 Passes
- Backpacker – EVEREST CONFIDENTIAL: TREKKING THROUGH NEPAL’S KHUMBU REGION (2012) – Justin Nyberg
- Nepal Trekking Holidays – Paul Darlow – 3 Passes
- Everest Base Camp Trek w porter – FAQ (2013) – Escape Artistes
Leave a comment if you’ve got an up-to-date 3 Passes trip report to recommend.
Gareth Leonard found hiking Everest tough. Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.
- Brano Gege – Trekking to Base Camp, Cho La Pass, Gokyo, Renjo Pass in Himalaya 2012
- TrekNepal.com – Everest Base Camp & Gokyo Lakes Trek 2011
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.
Click PLAY or watch the first of Ryan Van Duzer’s videos on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch Longer the Better highlights on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch Hank Leukart’s trip on YouTube.
Finally, just for fun, check Guido Patrignani’s Everest Base Camp music video – Counting Stars in Himalayas
Check our blog for posts tagged “Everest”.
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