Looking to tackle Chukhung Ri or Island Peak Base Camp? Perhaps you want to add both to your Everest Three High Passes trekking itinerary. Either way, this guide has you covered.
Travel Insurance for Himalayan Trekking
For most trekkers looking to tackle the Three Passes, travel insurance is high on their list of priorities.
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.
Getting to Chukhung
Chukhung is a small lodging village dotted on the outskirts of the Chukhung Valley. Primarily, the township exists for the purpose of catering to Three High Passes trekkers and those looking to summit Imja Tse, or Island Peak.
To get here, you’ll need to walk for at least a week. If you’re doing the Three Passes Trek, then I’ve written a comprehensive guide to help you tackle it on your own.
Acclimatization in Chukhung
The Kongma La Pass is commonly recognized by trekkers as one of the most difficult and draining passes on the typical Three High Passes route. It takes anywhere from 8-12 hours to complete, and takes you to an altitude of over 5500 M. Therefore, a bit of acclimatization time and training is highly recommended once you reach Chukhung.
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, then you could also get a copy of the Lonely Planet: Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya Book which was very useful for me.
Which Side-Trip to Do?
If you’re strapped for time, you might be on the fence about which acclimatization hike you would prefer to do. By far, the most popular option is Chukhung Ri, as it takes hikers to a much higher altitude and only takes 4 hours for the return trip, compared to a 7-8 hour trip to Island Peak Base Camp.
However, if you’re attempting the Kongma La, it’s highly recommended to stay in Chukhung for an extra night, giving you plenty of time to reach Island Peak base camp, or as I did, complete both acclimatization hikes over the two days.
There’s no substitute for a good, physical map when you’re in the Himalayas. The best map for Chukhung Ri, Everest Base Camp, and The Three Passes Trek can be purchased here.
Trekking to the Top of Chukhung Ri
Chukhung Ri is a rocky peak at the top of Chukhng Village. There are two main peaks, the taller reaching 5546 M, which is even taller than the Kongma La Pass!
For this reason, trekkers should attempt the hike slowly and follow adequate acclimatization strategies.
For many, this peak is one of the hardest parts of their Everest hiking journey. This is due to the relative steepness and the rapid increase in altitude. Furthermore, it’ll most likely be the first time trekkers reach an altitude above 5500M, especially Three High Passes trekkers who are walking anti-clockwise.
How Long Does it Take to Hike Chukhung Ri?
The side-trip will take you roughly 4 hours of trekking time for the return trip. However, it’s recommended to take your time in order to avoid any issues with AMS, since the ascent is very steep.
Picking Up the Chukhung Ri Trail
Depending on the season and time of day, you may already have seen other trekkers walking up or down the sloping hill above Chukhung. The trail is quite obvious from any point in town.
Begin by walking to the North-Eastern side of the town and taking the track behind Makalu Lodge. Leave the town and cross a small flowing creek before starting the winding walk up the first rocky hillside.
After a series of switchbacks, you will have reached the top of the rocky section in front of a smooth, round hill to your right and a very steep sloping hill in front of you.
If you’re looking to get to the top of Chukhung Ri, then you’ll need to begin the long and tedious ascent up the slopey hillside.
For those not confident in their acclimatization, it’s possible to finish the side-hike on the hill to your right. Getting to the top of this will see trekkers hit 5000M of elevation which may be enough for many people.
If you’re feeling good and up for it, continue up the worn track up the slope straight up to the Chukhung Ri viewpoint.
Chukhung Ri Peak and View
As you approach the top, you’ll notice the first peak immediately to your right, indicated by several chortens and prayer flags. From here, you’ll have 360-degree views of the valley beyond, including Imja Tse, Ama Dablam, Baruntse and Makalu. On the other side, you can also pick up the faint sign of the Kongma La pass trail.
If you’re feeling fit and ready, you can continue back across the top of the slope and begin the scrambling ascent to the top of Chukhung Ri. You’ll notice the second peak indicated by more prayer flags.
This section is a little more tricky, and the wind is known to howl through here. However, once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a slightly more rewarding experience of the same view, since you would have just reached an altitude of 5546 M!
Trekking to Island Peak (Imja Tse) Base Camp
Another half-day acclimatization hike from Chukhung is to walk to Island Peak (Imja Tse) base camp, which sits at 4970 M.
The Island Peak base camp is an excellent side-trip which takes roughly six to seven hours for the return trip. The trail is gradual, but sweeps along the moraine of the Lhotse Glacier and passes the beautiful Imja Tsho alpine lakes.
Island Peak Expedition Trekking
Imja Tse is the most popular trekking peak in the Himalayas. The peak gives novice to intermediate trekkers a taste of proper mountaineering climbing. While it is one of the easier summits in the region, the peak still sits at 6189 M, and requires a dedicated climbing guide.
It’s also a huge step up from regular Himalayan trekking. So if you’re looking to go all the way to the summit, you’ll need to arrange a guide, permit, and trip in Kathmandu or join a crew in Chukhung.
Picking Up the Island Peak Base Camp Trail
The Island Peak Base Camp trail starts at the opposite end of Chukhung to Chukhung Ri. Instead of taking a left at the end of town, take a right, and cross another makeshift plank-bridge overflowing creeks.
There is a clear path, and depending on whether or not it’s Island Peak season, there might be some porters and expedition guides making the same heading.
The path winds up to a small raised hill, then continues around on top of it, before dipping down into a flat valley.
The Imja Tsho Alpine Lakes
After approximately two and a half hours of trekking, you’ll reach the large Imja Tsho Alpine Lakes. However, if you’re only sticking to the trail, you might miss the best views.
Along the Island Peak Base Camp track, you’ll see raised hillsides which you walk through and around. At any point, it’s possible to scramble to the top of these for a better view of the lakes on the other side.
For me, looking out over the lakes and listening to the powerful cracks and groans of the Lhotse Glacier was a surreal moment. It really makes you appreciate the hardships of the people living in this otherworldly landscape.
Island Peak Base Camp
Just past the lakes, the trail continues down a gently, flat gradient for another hour before reaching Island Peak Base Camp. The altitude is 5087M.
Summit trekking seasons are in April to May and October to November, so depending on the season, you’ll either see plenty of expedition tents or just an empty, flat landscape.
Either way, it’s an amazing landscape and a perfect acclimatization hike before attempting the Kongma La Pass!
Free Three Passes: Independent Trekking Guide Ebook
Since internet connectivity is limited in the Khumbu, I’ve written a comprehensive trekking guide to the Three Passes which you can download as an eBook for use on your mobile, tablet, or e-reader. I’m currently offering this book free for new subscribers, so enter your email and download the book.
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