The Everest Three High Passes Trek is the most challenging trekking route in the Everest region. This guide includes a run-down of what to expect in the first three days leaving Kathmandu.
Many head to the passes in search of a more challenging adventure and to leave the crowded trails of the Everest Base Camp trek behind.
In this guide series, I’ll be going into more detail about each hiking day. This Three High Passes Trek itinerary follows an anti-clockwise path. It is possible to go the other way, however, this way is better in order to avoid a huge gain in altitude in the first week.
The first three days of the trek sees you leaving Kathmandu to Lukla, and hiking to Namche Bazaar via Phakding. You’ll also probably want an acclimatization day in Namche Bazaar.
The Everest Three High Passes Trek on a Budget
Hiking in the Himalayas can be an expensive undertaking. This is especially true for those looking to hike in the Khumbu region. However, I believe that there’s no money in the world worth more than the unrivaled beauty of the Khumbu region.
In saying that, like most adventures, it’s just a matter of planning and making smart decisions in order to complete the trek on a budget.
My Experience and Research
This guide will be written based on my personal experiences on the Everest Three High Passes trek, which I completed with my girlfriend Haylea, in April 2019.
I have also gathered extensive research from books, local sherpas, and online sources to give you the most reliable information so that you can tackle the trek by yourself.
Paying it Forward
I have written this guide because we all can’t afford expensive lodges, personal guides and porters to carry our bags. At the same time, it’s important to understand that our trekking is paying for the livelihood of many communities that survive in the harsh Khumbu elements.
So, if we’re not hiring a guide or porter for the Everest Three High Passes Trek, what can we do to pay it forward?
Spending Money on the Everest Three High Passes Trek
While hiking for 20+ days, you’ll need to spend money to refuel and survive. Our two inevitable costs are paying for lodges and food.
When choosing a place to sleep, try to support the smaller lodges. This means you’ll be helping smaller local families who don’t see as many trekkers. You’ll probably also get a more authentic experience and a better home-cooked Dhal Baat.
Remember to support your lodge by eating your meals there. While you can save money by carrying oats and lightweight dried foods for breakfast and lunch, you can support the Khumbu people by buying dinner each night.
If you want trail snacks, there are also many small shops along the trail.
Although I didn’t hire a guide or porter, it’s also possible to hire each for only the passes. If you’re worried about making it over the passes, or the trails are icy, then it’s another great way to pay it forward.
Everest Three High Passes Trek
So, let’s get into the guide. The first three days will see trekkers leaving the human altitudes of Kathmandu, landing in Lukla and trekking to Namche Bazaar with a stop in Phakding on the way.
The map below will highlight the general route for the first few days. Remember to disregard any Google time predictions, because they certainly aren’t accounting for altitude. Also, it’s crucial to have a physical Everest Three Passes Trek map when hiking in the Khumbu.
Day 1: Fly From Kathmandu to Lukla and Walk to Phakding
TREKKING TIME: 3 HOURS
ALTITUDE: 200M DESCENT 50M ASCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 2610M
The typical Everest Three Passes Trek begins in Lukla. While it is possible to walk from Jiri, this will add another five to six days to your itinerary. Furthermore, you’ll likely spend the same amount of money on a bus, food, and lodges as you would a plane ticket anyway.
The Lukla Flight
By taking the mountain flight to Lukla, you’ll voluntarily be landing in one of the most dangerous airports in the world. In fact, when I was waiting to fly down from Lukla after trekking, I witnessed a terrible plane crash which resulted in the death of a pilot and two police guards.
But, don’t let the reputation put you off flying. This really was a freak accident, which hadn’t happened for several years before. I’ve also been told that a bus or jeep to Jiri would be much more dangerous than flying.
There are three main airlines that operate scheduled flights from Kathmandu to Lukla. The most reliable being Yeti Airlines. A flight from Kathmandu will cost roughly $170 one-way.
The flight will take roughly 45 minutes, however, delays are very common. I would suggest booking the earliest possible morning flight, and booking online at least a week before the hike.
LUKLA FLIGHT TIP:
For those hiking to Everest Base camp or doing the Everest Three High Passes Trek, make sure to sit on the left side of the plane when flying to Lukla and on the right side when flying back. This will give you the best views of the mountains.
Lukla to Phakding
The combination of adrenaline from the flight and the quickly thinning air will no doubt be making your feet itching to start the trek. This is also the time where you can hire a guide or porter, as there will be several waiting for newly landed passengers.
As you pass through the North end of the town, you will see a police checkpoint. Here you will need to register your name and planned route. You will also be directed to a house directly opposite, where you will need to pay a Solukhumbu Entrance Fee. This costs 2000 rupees.
After registering and leaving Lukla, the trail drops past Kyangma and after about 30 minutes, into Cheplung. Soon after, you’ll see the first views of the Dudh Kosi, which you will then cross twice over huge, hanging metal suspension bridges.
Continue on the track, following yaks, donkeys and other trekkers on the obvious trail until you reach the village of Phakding (2160M), roughly three hours after leaving Lukla.
There are several lodges to choose from in Phakding, my choice was the Trekker’s Lodge, which charged 200 rupees per room for two, and 500 rupees for a Dahl Bhat.
If you arrived early in Lukla and you still have energy, it’s another steep, six-hour walk to Namche Bazaar. You will have to climb another 1000M on arguably one of the toughest ascents on the entire trek, bar the passes.
If you have time, then I’d suggest refueling in Phakding and tackling Namche the following day.
Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
TREKKING TIME: 6 HOURS
ALTITUDE: 1000M ASCENT 100M DESCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 3450M
Phakding to Monjo
The second day of the Everest Three High Passes Trek begins with a short descent, following the Dudh Kosi valley through the pine-tree hills.
Take the time to appreciate the green surroundings and homely villages as you hike through TokTok, Benkar, and Chumoa. The trail has patches of rhododendron forests and in Spring, blossoming and flowering trees.
It’s a short climb into Monjo, which also has several lodges and stores for stocking up on Snickers Bars or hiking snacks.
At the end of the town, the entrance to the Sagarmatha National Park begins. Before you can enter however, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee of 3000 rupees. Don’t worry, this is the last fee that you’ll need to pay on the entire trek.
The entrance is marked by a kani, which is a gateway shaped as a Stupa. As you walk through, turn the prayer wheels. This is a moment that really signifies the start of your Everest Three High Passes Trek journey.
Monjo to Namche Bazar
After a steep descent down into the valley, you’ll be walking along the rocky river trail. Soon, you’ll get your first views of the Edmund Hillary Bridge.
You’ll notice that there are two hanging bridges in the valley. The first one is no longer in use by trekkers, so you’ll need to take the top bridge. Follow the trail into the forest, which will signify the start of the big climb.
Be mindful of donkeys on this trail. As this is the only trail between Lukla and Namche Bazar, it can get pretty crowded with Everest Base Camp Trekkers and porters. Remember to stay uphill of any yak or donkey when letting them pass you.
First Views of Everest
There is a single rest area on the track between Monjo and Namche Bazar. It will be on the right of the path, and you’ll notice a small toilet block and waste disposal area. From here, you can also catch the first glimpse of Everest before continuing the long climb through the pines into Namche Bazar.
Just before you enter the town, you will see another police checkpoint. You’ll need to show both of your permits that you picked up in Lukla and Monjo. This can be a pretty slow process, especially in peak trekking season.
Shortly after, you’ll start hearing the peaceful hammering of rocks and flowing of water that is Namche’s heartbeat.
Namche Bazar is the largest town that you’ll visit on the Everest Three High Passes trek, and the biggest in the Khumbu. There are dozens of lodges, bars, cafes, pizzerias and bakeries.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Namche on a weekend, don’t miss the market. Many local Khumbu people make the long walk from surrounding villages every week to trade and gather produce.
As of 2019, there is a new fixed lodge pricing scheme operating in most townships. In Namche Bazar, it will cost you 1000 rupees per room in any lodge. We stayed at the smaller Sagarmadddtha Lodge on the hill, where we picked up a double serving of Dhal Bhat for 500 rupees. Expect to pay much more in some of the bigger lodges for food.
Day 3 – Acclimatization Hikes to Khunde and Khumjung Village
TREKKING TIME: 4 HOURS
ALTITUDE: 450M ASCENT 450M DESCENT
SLEEPING ALTITUDE: 3450M
Most trekkers are encouraged to spend a second night in Namche Bazar to help with acclimatization. Luckily, there are plenty of day trip treks from Namche, so you don’t need to stop walking.
It’ll also be a nice change to leave your bag at the lodge and take a smaller day pack out to give your back a bit of a rest.
I’d highly recommend checking out neighboring Khunde and Khumjung, which are two of the largest Sherpa villages in the Khumbu. There is a trail that loops between Namche and these villages, which also offers incredible views of Mt. Everest and Ama Dablam.
The trail starts just near the Namche Gompa. Begin by taking the steep trail up the mountain and follow it to the small township of Zarok.
There are a few signposts indicating the route to Khunde. You’ll also pass an airstrip on the way, which is no longer in operation.
Continue past the large boulders and the windy road down into Khunde.
After spending some time checking out the local sherpa life in Khunde, you can turn right and navigate the stone-wall maze and through the potato fields onto the next village; Khumjung.
These villages offer an insight into real Sherpa life. All houses here have been reconstructed after the earthquake and look almost identical under Khumbila peak.
In Khumjung, there is a school, established by Sir Edmund Hillary, along with a post office, and gompa.
I’d recommend tackling the hill just beside the Hidden Village Lodge for a little extra acclimatization and incredible views over the villages and mountain giants ahead of the trail.
This acclimatization trip was the first and only time I personally experienced signs of AMS. It was nothing more than a lingering headache, which vanished the following day. After speaking to other trekkers, most people begin to feel these symptoms here, due to the huge increase in altitude from Kathmandu to the Sherpa villages in only a few days.
Returning to Namche
You can loop back to Namche by taking the southern trail past the post office. There’s even another viewpoint a little further down this trail that offers some glimpses of Everest.
Once you reach the airstrip, follow the same steep trail back into Namche Bazar. The next few days will continue on the Everest Base Camp trail until you eventually verge off and begin the Everest Three High Passes trek.
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.
Keep Reading the Everest Three High Passes Trek Guide
That’s it for the Three High Passes guide days 1 – 3! Keep reading in the next articles below.
Also, don’t miss this Three Passes itinerary for a run-down on everything you’ll need to know before heading out on the Three High Passes Trek.
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