The High Passes of Everest Trek – Doing the World’s #1 Trek

Last revised: August 17, 2022.

Table of Contents:

Previous Post: Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit – Is It Still Worth Doing?

How To Do The Trek

The Permits You’ll Need To Get

From Kathmandu To Lukla

A View of Mount Everest from Renzo La with Buddhist Prayer Flags in the foreground

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The World’s #1 Long-Distance Trek

There is no way that everyone will agree on a list of the top ten must-do treks in the world. Google the topic and you’ll come up with an incredible range of choices – and be left disagreeing with some of them.

The people behind the  Wiki Explora website came up with a novel idea – Why not check out a number of books that contain such lists and on the basis of a trek’s appearance in more or fewer books, come up with a ranking? Almost sounds scientific! In the end, it is still subjective, however, no matter how well-travelled were the writers of the various books.

The above site, for example, has as its goal the promotion of outdoor activities in Latin America. This could explain why Torres del Paine ended up as the #1 hiking destination and the Inca Trail as #2 and why they’ve provided write-ups (highlighted in blue)  only for the South American entries.

Over the past few years (from 2006 to 2019), I’ve done the four treks ranked above the Everest B.C. trek and the other South American hikes on the list below. There is a wide range in trek durations:

  • the Inca Trail takes 4 days,
  • the TDP trek and the Kilimanjaro hike take a week, and
  • the Tour de Mont Blanc takes 10 days.
  • The Everest Base Camp trek is the longest at 12 to 14 days

Having walked all of these top 5 treks,  I think the Everest B.C. trek should be at the top of the list.

The Top 5 treks in the world – Wiki Explora list

And yet – there is an even greater trek – the true #1! The Everest B.C. Trek is only a part of this longer Himalayan trek that I have in mind.

map of Nepal and surrounding territories with Sagarmatha N.P. highlighted

Click here for the interactive Google map version that you can zoom in or out on.

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One Trek To Rule Them All:

The High Passes of Everest Trek

The trek I have in mind is what the Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya describes as

“an epic journey that will take you over some of the highest mountain passes  in the world. It stitches together the best of the Everest Base Camp and Gokyo treks and two of the most rewarding side treks of the lower Khumbu.”

Called The Three Passes Trek by the LP writers,  during the twenty days or so of your adventure, you cross three 5300m+  passes –

  • Kongma La 5535
  • Cho La 5420
  • Renjo La 5335

as you traverse from valley to valley and glacier to glacier. In case you’re wondering, the word “La” is Tibetan for “pass”!

Included in the trek are three non-technical peaks that most choose to walk up for yet more incredible views:

  • Chhukung Ri   5546    18196′
  • Kala Pathar   5645   18,519′ 
  • Gokyo Ri    5357 m   7,575′ 

This puts the Three Passes of Everest Trek in a category all of its own.

  • Not to discount the wonder of Machu Picchu and the four-day hike to get there,
  • not to disparage the fine views of glacial lakes and of Siula Grande on the Huayhuash trek,
  • not to dismiss the six-day walk around the iconic towers at Torres del Paine Park or
  • three or four days doing day hikes at Fitz Roy,

but the High Passes of Everest trek offers all of this and more- and all on an epic scale that the Andes just cannot match. In the twenty days of the High Passes trek, you could do any three of the South American hikes without rushing!

The High Passes of Everest Trek has everything a trekker could want –

  • the stunning physical landscape of the Himalayas,
  • the fascinating, vibrant local culture of the Sherpa people infused with their Tibetan Buddhist religion, which becomes a part of your journey,  and
  • the physical challenge of staying healthy and acclimatizing to the demands of the high altitude over a three-week period.

The High Passes of Everest Trek

The Khumbu region above Lukla is defined by three great river valleys. From west to east, they are the Bhote Kosi, the Dudh Kosi, and the Imja Khola.

The High Passes of Everest Trek has you walk up or down all three of these river valleys and hike up and down the Khumbu Glacier to Kala Pathar above Everest Base Camp.

A Google Earth View of The High Passes Route:

If you want a Google-Earth 3D view of the High Passes of Everest route, download this internet-accessed kml file of the route from my Dropbox folder.  Just click on the download prompt in the top left-hand corner and then open the file in Google Earth.

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How To Do The Trek

1. The Trekking Agency Option

A. Exodus UK

I did not do the trek on my own; rather, I booked the trek with Exodus, a UK adventure travel company that I have used on a number of occasions, always quite satisfied with their service and attention to detail and with the quality Nepalese guides and support staff it has on the ground running the tours.

There are other trekking companies which offer a similar package and I am sure most of them do a pretty good job. A bit of research on your part should lead you to a good match.

What the Lonely Planet called The Three Passes Trek was originally named the High Passes of Everest by the Exodus marketing department. Then it was repackaged as High Passes To Everest Base Camp; perhaps having “Base Camp” in the title made it more marketable.

And post-COVID?  The Three Passes trek does not exist at all in the Exodus catalogue. Click here to see the details of the 19-day teahouse trek that is now the most ambitious trek Exodus offers in the Khumbu region.

B. Mountain Kingdoms – a UK agency

I did find the trek offered on the UK’s Mountain Kingdoms website but given that it does the trip clockwise and thus adds an extra level of difficulty and potential acclimatization issues to the trek,  I’d probably pass on their offering. The post-trip comments are quite positive so perhaps my fears are unwarranted.

C. Other U.K., European,  or North American-based trekking agencies

Some googling may turn up yet other non-Nepalese-based agencies which offer variations of the High Passes of Everest trek in 2022. You do pay a premium for using a U.K., European,  or North American-based trekking agency, sometimes a whopping one.  In the end, they all are required to hire local guides and support teams so it can be cheaper just to eliminate them and go with a Nepalese company.

The Lonely Planet guidebook is a reliable source of information on which Kathmandu-based trekking agencies will be able to meet your expectations.

approaching Kongma La from Chhukung and the Imja Khola valley

2. Doing It On Your Own (Or With Porter/Guide)

Since it was my first time, I had no idea what to expect before I went to Nepal. I’ll admit that letting a trusted trekking agency take care of all the details about

  • internal flights
  • accommodation
  • food
  • health and safety issues
  • route-finding (such as it was!)

while I focused on interesting camera angles had its attractions!  However, had I been 25 instead of 55, my bank account may have encouraged me to do more of the above myself!

I will say that the Exodus crew added value to my experience thanks to the fact that they were born in the Khumbu and had countless contacts in Namche, at Thyangboche (i.e. Tengboche), and all along the way that truly enriched our trek. Organized group or independent trekker – a good guide will make a difference.

If you are up to the challenge of taking full charge, the next step would be hiring your own porter/guide once you get to Nepal.  Check out this informative and up-to-date BestHike webpage with its emphasis on the do-it-yourself alternative.

Click on the header to access the Best Hike webpage

However, having done it once in an organized group, I would feel comfortable doing it on my own a second time. I might still be tempted to get a guide/porter that I would hire once I got to Kathmandu. A good guide can add to your experience in terms of explaining things that you see or pointing out things you don’t see. Your people back home will also appreciate the added safety factor!

A bad guide, of course, would be a disaster that could ruin your trip! The BestHike website points out some of them:

Certainly, trekkers regularly have trouble with guides:

  • some can be insistent on where they want you to stop each night. This sometimes leads to conflict.

  • they may ask for more money, or gear they “forgot” to bring

  • they may want to change/shorten the itinerary

  • they may ask you hire an additional porter once you get on the trail

There is also the issue of insurance for guide/porters and getting them to Lukla from Kathmandu and then back again.  Somehow setting off as an independent trekker and not having to deal with all of the above has its attractions. I like the idea of hiring a guide for certain sections of the trek where potential trouble may occur – i.e. the Chhukhung to Lobuche over Kongma La hike.  In the end, you certainly will not be the only one doing the Three Passes Trek on your own and may end up finding a trekking companion when you are on the trail.

The Permits You’ll Need To Get:

When I did the Three Passes Trek, the Maoist Insurgency was still going on. Since I was part of an organized group, our guide/leader took care of all the permits and form submissions. Three different permits were required:

  1. a TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card issued in Kathmandu
  2. a Sagarmatha National Park Entrance Permit
  3. a “tax” collected by the Maoists just north of Phakding on Day 2 of the trek

These days the Maoist tax is no more – the leader of the group actually served as Nepal’s Prime Minister in the 2010s!

The TIMS fee is also no more, having been replaced by a 2000 rupee (about $20.) Khumbu entrance fee levied by the municipal government of the Khumbu. This permit can be obtained in Lukla or at the Park Entrance gate at Monjo.

internet-sourced example of the Khumbu municipal government entrance fee permit

The other fee is for the 3000-rupee Sagarmatha National Park entrance permit.  You can get it in Monjo at the official park entrance gate.

internet-sourced example of the park entrance permit

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From Kathmandu To Lukla

The Classic Approach from Jiri to Lukla  – six days

Himalayan Maphouse map – paper copies available in Kathmandu – see here for digital source

Jiri (and now Shivalaya) are the starting points for a walking trail that takes you up to Lukla over a six-day period. The main attraction of this route is the fact that in the 1950s, this was Hillary’s approach to Lukla and the Everest Region.  Do note that the villages along the route were heavily damaged in the 2015 earthquakes.

Over the six days, you gain less than 1000 meters in altitude (1950 to 2840), so it has very limited value as an acclimatization exercise.

If you see the trail as a way to get into shape before you get to Lukla, the question is – what were you doing at home in the three months before your arrival to improve your fitness level?

However, read this Backpack Adventures’ account of the Jiri-Lukla trek by a Dutch traveller, which she did in 2021. She may convince you that time spent in the lower hills below the Himalayas is time well spent!

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The Flight From Kathmandu to Lukla – 30 minutes

My agency-organized trek began with a thirty-minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. The Exodus team took care of all the duffels- 14 of us on the trek, all but me from the U.K.- plus all of the gear and some of the food supply needed for the trek.  Good weather meant no problems with take-off.

Exodus duffel bags at the airport check-in...common bag helps to keep things together

Exodus duffel bags at the airport check-in…the bags are only available to UK customers so my red North Face duffel kinda stood out!

Shangri-La Air! our 18-seater airplane getting loaded- I can see the baggage handler with my red North Face duffel!

the airport, Lukla village, and the start of the trekking trail to the Khumbu

Lukla Airport- supposedly one of the least safe airports in the world

Lukla Airport’s single landing strip is 460 meters long and slopes a bit upward

Mera Lodge- a Lukla landmark and one of the many lodges with rooms available

cultivated fields just west of Lukla airport

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Next Post: Lukla to Namche + Acclimatization (Days 1-3)

See also:

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4 Responses to The High Passes of Everest Trek – Doing the World’s #1 Trek

  1. ulrika näsmark says:

    Nepal is such a nice country. And Lukla airport is a special airport to land at …

    • true_north says:

      It has been a while – six years – since I was last in Nepal. I hope to go back in 2016 and redo either the Annapurna Circuit or trek in Sagarmatha Park again. You’re right about the Lukla airport being “special”!

  2. yves says:

    Hmm… thanks for this great journey, mouth-watering! I’ll read the next bit soon!

    • true_north says:

      Namaste, Yves! I checked out your Indian cinema blog and you highlight some great films. I hope you get a chance to get back to it soon.

      My wife and I spent a memorable four months in India back in 1996 and one day I am going to scan the images so that I can include them in a post. Hampi, Pushkar, Puri, Bodh Gaya, Jaipur, Darjeeling, Kanya Kumari, Chaennai,,,so many fond memories.

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