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Hiking Everest’s Three Pass Loop

On the way up Renjo La
On the way up Renjo La

When most people think of hiking in Nepal, they think of the Annapurna Circuit or Everest Base Camp. Both of those hikes are fantastic, but if you want something extra challenging and gorgeous try the Three Pass Loop in the Everest region.

The three passes consist of Kongma La, Cho La, and Renjo La (“la” means “pass” in Nepali). The passes all hover around 18,000 feet and you will spend at least half of your hike on this trail over 13,000 feet. Basically, it’s a pretty serious trek. Don’t worry though, it’s still a teahouse trek. You can save pack weight by leaving your tent and cookware at home, not that it will feel easier while that high up.

Hiking through the snow on Cho La
Hiking through the snow on Cho La

Why You Should Hike the Three Passes

  • The Everest region is an iconic, bucket list trek.
  • You can still go to Everest Base Camp. After doing Kongma La, you end up in a town called Lobouche and it’s only a half day of trekking to get to base camp. When you’re done you just continue on to do Cho La. I’ll admit that I wasn’t too impressed with base camp, but it’s still worth going just to say you’ve been there.
  • It’s customizable. Think of the three passes as a big loop around the Everest region. There are still lower trails that hikers can take to get to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo. It’s totally doable if you decide you want to skip a pass or if you’re running short on time and need to go down.
  • The views are spectacular. You see towering, snow-covered peaks every single day.
  • It’s a teahouse trek. You don’t need to carry food or camping gear. After a rough day of hiking, you get a bed and a hot meal. Don’t forget your sleeping bag though because the rooms are not heated.
  • Plan on this hike taking about 20 days. This includes a side trip to Everest Base Camp and a few days off in Goyko. It can be done in a shorter amount of time. I did it in 17 days, but budget 20 in your itinerary in case you you need extra time for acclimatization or the weather delays your hike over the passes.

What to Know Before You Go:

  • The weather can get rough. There’s always a chance of snow while hiking that high up. This is a big deal on days when you’re planning on hiking the passes. If there’s a chance that things might not be safe, be prepared to either wait an extra day to see if weather improves or take the low route around and skip the pass.
  • If you are a beginner hiker, you should either do this trek with a partner or hire a guide. Trekkingpartners.com is a good resource if you’re looking for a partner. If you are an experienced hiker, it’s ok to go alone. There will be plenty of other people doing this route. I would advise on the days you are doing the passes, try to see if you can link up with other people because the passes can be dangerous and it’s occasionally difficult to spot the trail. I’m usually a big advocate for hiking alone, but I do think it’s a bit safer to go over the passes with someone else. Don’t stress too much though; it’s easy to meet people at the teahouses the night before who are on the same route.
  • Don’t underestimate the altitude. Take the time in the beginning to hike short days so you don’t go up too fast. Have rest days where you stay in the same town for two nights, but do a day hike and increase in altitude. The hike will be much more pleasant if you take it easy at the beginning and acclimate well.
    On the way up Chukkung Ri
    On the way up Chukkung Ri
  • It’s difficult to stay healthy when you’re at a high altitude breathing cold, dry air for a long amount of time. I got a terrible cold and cough (called the “Khumbu cough” since it’s the Khumbu region) somewhere around Everest Base Camp. I should have taken more time to rest, but instead I hiked over Cho La. Finally, I spent three rest days in Gokyo and I couldn’t do any of the gorgeous day hikes because I was too sick. Take care of yourself. Also, before you start the hike go to one of the pharmacies in Kathmandu and buy cold and cough medicine. It’s priced ridiculously cheap, and even if you don’t end up needing it one of your trail friends probably will.
  • Bring enough money for your whole hike. Plan on spending about $20-25 a day, depending on how much you like to eat. The majority of the money you spend on trek will be on food and just a little bit for room charges. If you do run short on money, there are banks in Namche Bazzar and Lukla that will do withdraws.
  • Use the same packing list that I have on my Annapurna Circuit article.
  • If you don’t have time to do the 5 day hike to and from Jiri then you will have to fly into Lukla, one of the world’s most dangerous airports. The cost of the ticket is about $160 each way. I put off buying my return ticket until I finished my hike, and I didn’t have a problem getting a next day flight. Other people who had booked their flights ahead of time didn’t seem to have issues changing their flight dates if their hiking schedule changed. The Lukla airlines are pretty laid back.
  • Get your TIMs card in Kathmandu before your trek. This will cost about $20. You will also need a Sagarmatha National Park permit, which was about $32 when I got mine. You will get this permit on trek when you hike into the park.

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