These next three days of the Everest Three High Passes Trek crosses over the Cho La Pass and finishes in my favorite Khumbu village; Gokyo.
However, before you earn the comfortable Gokyo lodging and bakeries, you’re going to have to cross the iciest pass yet – the Cho La Pass. This segment is notoriously slippery, with long sections of icy scree slopes.
This guide picks up from the previous post: EVEREST THREE HIGH PASSES TREK DAY 10 – 12 EVEREST BASE CAMP – ULTIMATE GUIDE
The map above will give you an idea of the general direction and topography of the area. . However, there is no exact route for the Cho La Pass. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a physical Everest Three Passes Trek map.
This guide should not replace a proper map and should be a complement to individual research and preparation efforts.
At the moment, my guides are the only sources of free content available online for the Three Passes Trek. If you’re looking for more information about the three passes trek and Cho La Pass, then you could also get a copy of the Lonely Planet: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya book which was very useful for me.
TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR THE CHO LA PASS TREK
For most trekkers looking to tackle the Three Passes, travel insurance is high on their list of priorities. However, more travel insurance companies don’t cover trekking at altitudes above 4000 meters.
I always purchase travel insurance from WorldNomads.com, since I believe that they are the best for adventure travelers. It includes cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities, including trekking in Nepal at high altitudes.
Day 13: The Cho La Pass
TREKKING TIME: 6 HOURS TO TAGNAG OR 9 HOURS TO GOKYO
ALTITUDE: 525M ASCENT 650M DESCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 4700M
Before you depart from Dzonghla, speak to the lodge owners to see if the Cho La Pass is open for trekking and if there are any other trekkers departing on the same day. If it has been snowing, then finding your way on this Three High Passes segment without a guide can be very difficult.
Cho La Pass Itinerary
For a Cho La Pass Itinerary, trekkers will have the option of making their way from Dzonghla to Tagnag (Dragnag) or continuing all the way to Gokyo. Since I had plenty of time, I decided to stop at Tagnag.
Keep in mind that if you do decide to walk all the way to Gokyo after the Cho La Pass, you’ll have to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier (largest in the Himalayas) after the Cho La Pass. Finding your way over is a little hard, and I wouldn’t recommend attempting it without a guide unless you have plenty of remaining light.
For the purpose of this Three High Passes Trek guide, I’ll include a Cho La Pass itinerary from Dzhongla to Tagnag, since this is how I completed this segment. However, you’ll find a detailed guide for the Tagnag to Gokyo trek below.
Do I Need Microspikes on the Cho La Pass?
If you’re already in the lodges, then you’ll probably hear the nervous chatter of trekkers wondering about microspikes for the Cho La Pass. After a little research and speaking to some trekking shops in Thamel, I decided that I wasn’t going to bring them along.
However, the Cho La Pass can get very icy. If there was a segment where they would come in useful, this would have been it. The couple I was trekking with had them, which made walking on ice much easier. In saying that, I didn’t have any major problems without them.
Section 1: Dzonghla to the Cho La Pass
After organizing a packed lunch with your lodge, ask the owners to show you the beginning of the track to the Cho La Pass. From here, it’s a fairly easy and gradual ascent that winds up the valley and crosses a few small rivers. There had been some heavy snow when I crossed the Cho La Pass, which made finding the track easy by following the footsteps of other trekkers.
If you look behind you back towards Dzonghla, you’ll see a magical scene of Ama Dablam positioned in a perfect panorama between the surrounding peaks.
There is a clear view of the Cho La Pass from about halfway. You’ll see it as the low point between the mountains. Just continue following the worn-in path until you reach a steep, rocky climb. Expect to reach the pass after approximately three and a half hours of trekking.
Section 2: The Cho La Pass
Cho La Pass Altitude: 5420M
This first steep section of rocky and ice should be fairly easy to climb, with some light scrambling in segments. After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach the top – a wide, snowy basin that makes for a perfect place to catch your breath.
Continue on, following the path along the ridge that rolls past the edge of the Cho La Glacier. Along the path, you’ll see huge boulders resting atop blocks of ice. It’s a humbling thought to imagine how long they’ve sat there, still.
Soon, you’ll see a rock wall with a faint glimmer of prayer flags in the distance. From here, it’s only a short climb up the icy, black rock wall until you gain the Cho La Pass.
Section 3: Cho La to Tagnag
Lay down your pack and enjoy a brief rest with the satisfaction that you’ve now climbed two out of the Three High Passes! Still, don’t get too comfortable. The hardest part of the Cho La Pass trek is still ahead of you.
The loose rock trail leading down from the Cho La Pass is infamous for being slippery, icy and steep. Without crampons or microspikes, you’ll probably slip and slide a few times, so take care as you descend.
When you reach the bottom, look back at the pass and count your blessings that you chose to tackle the Three High Passes anti-clockwise! The rest of the trek to Tagnag is much easier, but it can be difficult to find the path. Expect roughly 2.5 hours from the base of the rockfall.
You’ll have to cross a boulder field, looking for stone cairns that mark the way. After this, there are a few small hills and a breeze descent along a beautiful river to the small Gokyo Valley township of Tagnag.
There are a few lodges here, take your pick and throw down a warm Dahl Baht to celebrate.
Day 14: Tagnag to Gokyo and Gokyo Ri
TREKKING TIME: 3 HOURS
ALTITUDE: 150M ASCENT 40M DESCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 4790M
Legs heavy after crossing the Cho La Pass the previous day, we woke up at first light to get a head start on the short trek from Tagnag to Gokyo to still allow time to climb Gokyo Ri. This first section isn’t particularly difficult, but you’ll need to cross the Ngozumpa Glacier, which constantly moves and changes.
The trail from Tagnag isn’t immediately obvious either. But, if you walk to the end of the town, you’ll see the trail leading right at the very base of the mountain. We followed porters and footprints in the snow that lead up the moraine wall for our first glimpses of the Ngozumpa Glacier.
If you don’t have footprints or porters to follow, keep an eye out for stone cairns which mark the zigzagging path down and across the glacier.
After crossing, there’s a section where you walk alongside a steep rockfall. BEWARE this is a dangerous section with huge rocks rolling down and smashing into the glacier. We even had to make a run for it at one stage to avoid getting hit. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
After narrowly escaping the rockfall, you’ll climb a small hill snowy hill where you’ll get your first glimpse of Khumbu’s most beautiful village: Gokyo. It’s a lot larger than most of the other villages you would have past on the way and the unofficial capital of the North.
Gokyo and the Gokyo Lakes
Gokyo Lake has an incredible turquoise tint which contrasts beautifully with the white hills and soaring peaks. Unfortunately, it was still a little early in the season when I arrived in Gokyo, and the majority of the lake was still frozen over. Still, making the wobbling descent down into Gokyo was an incredible moment.
In terms of lodging, I’d definitely recommend the Namaste Lodge, which offers large comfortable rooms for only 200 Rs per night.
Gokyo Ri (Side Trip)
TREKKING TIME: 5 HOURS
ALTITUDE: 570 ASCENT 570M DESCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 4790M (GOKYO)
Originally, our post Cho La Pass itinerary was to rest in Gokyo once we crossed the glacier. However, we had perfect weather conditions when we arrived, and it was still very early. So, we decided to push on and climb Gokyo Ri to get arguably the best views on the Three Passes Trek. It’s best to leave your pack in your lodge and enjoy another light-weight side trip.
GOKYO RI ALTITUDE: 5360M
READ THE FULL GOKYO RI GUIDE: GOKYO RI SAGARMATHA NATIONAL PARK FREE TREKKING GUIDE
The trail zig-zagging up Gokyo Ri is immediately obvious from the lake. After crossing a trickling river, begin the tiring and steep walk up the hill.
After roughly 3 hours, you’ll reach the rocky summit, wrapped in prayer flags. From here, you have panoramic views of the Ngozumpa Glacier, the Gokyo Valley, Mt Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and other huge unnamed peaks in Tibet.
In good weather and on a clear day, you’ll unlikely be in a rush to head down. The views are absolutely incredible. We sat for hours in attempts to edge every detail into a panoramic memory I knew I’d cherish forever.
The walk down from Gokyo Ri is much easier and quicker than the ascent. By now, after having crossed glaciers and the Cho La Pass (two out of three passes on the Three Passes Trek!) and having climbed Gokyo Ri, you’ve deserved a rest day.
Day 15: Rest Day
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 4790M (GOKYO)
Many trekkers decide to spend at least an extra day Gokyo, since it really is a special place. You have the option of just relaxing by the lake, recovering in the lodge or hitting some epic Gokyo Lakes side trips.
Gokyo side trip highlights include Scoundrel’s Viewpoint and the back lakes. The only reliable self-guide information that I could find for these side-trips in Gokyo can be found in the Lonely Planet book, which can be downloaded as an e-book or purchased as a physical copy.
If you’re in a rush to get back to Lukla, then you can continue on to the Renjo La Pass, which is covered in the next section.