The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 5 – Gokyo to Lukla via Renjo La

The approximate trail from Gokyo back to Namche via Renjo La

“I’m homeward bound!”  That thought was foremost in my mind as we left Gokyo. We’d been on the trek for sixteen days- and before that, I had spent almost three weeks in the Annapurna region doing the circuit there. So, yes- I had some extra gas in my tank as we headed for our last high pass- Renjo La- and then the walk down the Bhote Kosi valley to Thame and on to Namche Bazaar and the airport down in Lukla.

looking back at Gokyo teahouses from the trail to Renjo La

our porters lead the way to Renjo La (5345 m)

nearing Renjo La from the Gokyo side

our yaks approaching Renjo La

prayer flags at Renjo La

Again- the weather gods smiled on us as we dealt with the last of the high passes.  As the pix show, we had a perfect day to make the ascent to the pass from our Gokyo lodge. The views of Everest and the mountains and glacier we had walked over to get to Renjo La did not stop being stupendous. (My Brit fellow-trekkers were big on the word “brilliant”; I used the perhaps more North American “wow” and “holy moly” to give inadequate sound to the feeling of looking back and seeing what the pix show.)

hardy Tibetan mountain dog lounging at Renjo La

 Everest as a backdrop at Renjo La

mountain dog after Renjo La- I named him Bhikku!

At the top of the pass, we met a couple of dogs who would join our caravan for the next day.  They were in good physical shape and seemed well-fed; they were not shy and took the ear scratches I offered with no complaints. They did score some scraps at lunchtime on the other side of the pass- and the cooks also put out something for them after supper.

BTW- bhikku is a Pali term to describe a Buddhist monk, whose daily food requirements are met by lay people who put food in his bowl as he wanders down the roads of life.

Angladumba Tsho on the west side below Renjo La

Bhikku’s buddy Renjo hanging around our lunch spot below Renjo La

doorway to yak enclosure

the trail descending to the Bhote Kosi valley from Renjo La

Lungden yak pasture on the hills above Bhote Kosi valley with Tashi Lapcha beyond

We tented somewhere near Lungden after descending from the pass and having lunch.  The next day we walked the distance all the way down to Namche.  It was perhaps the easiest walking that we had done in the almost three weeks we had been on the trek with our Sherpa guides, cooks, camp team, porters and (for some of the trek) the yaks.

stone wall enclosures and huts in the Bhote Kosi valley

Kerok monastery billboard

chorten near Thame

our porters’ baskets (dokos) and walking sticks at a lunch stop

trail tumbles down towards Thame on the left-hand side of the river

Satellite view of Namche Bazaar

Namche from the end of the trail from Thame

Namche stupa- at bottom right in the image before this one

Namche stupa up close

dusk at the Tibetan market in Namche

checking the email in  Namche- a sign that the trek is over!

graffiti wall in Namche restaurant

Tibetan market in Namche Bazaar

side street in Namche Bazaar- our tent spot/lodge was a short walk up

getting close to Lukla- the Pasang Lhamu Gate

Comrade Prachandra’s “mission statement” on a Lukla wall – now a historical relic

As we entered Lukla the big topic was the weather and whether it would hold.  We had heard the stories of trekkers stranded in Lukla for days because the planes could not land because of bad weather.  After a night at a Lukla lodge, we headed for the airstrip. To the very last day our luck had held- by noon we were back in Kathmandu, blown away by the transition from one superlative to another- from our fantastic walk through and over  the best of the Khumbu back to the great valley we now landed in, with its cultural highlights like Bodhnath and Swayambhu and Bhaktapur…another post will explore the city that I think is the most amazing expression of human culture.  More “wow” to come!

If you’ve stumbled into this mess of words and pix and actually read all the way to this point,  well – first of all, “Congratulations!”  and secondly, you might want to check out the first post in the series-

The High Passes of Everest Trek- Parts One and Two.

More than anything I’ve uploaded these posts in the hope of showing people that the trips are worth doing – and that they can do them too.  After all,  it is not a climb up to Kala Patthar or Everest Base Camp, it is a walk on a trail!

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21 Responses to The High Passes of Everest Trek Part 5 – Gokyo to Lukla via Renjo La

  1. yves says:

    There! I’ve been through the three last posts all the way round and back to your departure point! The feeling at having followed you on this awesome trip is (very) sobering! I can see that you aren’t a young man any more, and yet… my heartfelt congratulations!

    Thanks for the magnificent pictures which will (hope you don’t mind) adorn my computer screens for months to come and make me dream: will I one day do this sort of trek? You mention $4000! Well…Who knows? I wonder if in Heaven they hop us on such trips?! No, I sure would want to do it before.

    My only 2 experiences of altitude was in the Alps (Ecrins) and in Moroccan Atlas… And the one time we “trekked” in Himalaya (as you might have read on the Bollywood blog turned travelog for the occasion) was a fiasco! So we (my wife and I) want to go back… But will we get the glorious weather you had?

    Anyway, thanks once again for this fantastic work which shows that the Internet is a great way to make people dream and share the best.

    • true_north says:

      Yves, congrats for reading through the entire thing! Nice to hear that you liked some of the pix. It must be one of the easiest places on earth to get the occasional great shot.

      Don’t let the $$$ deter you from taking on at least a part of my hike. I went deluxe and appreciated the service but you can do it much cheaper. My advice – find a trekking company in Kathmandu or even in Lukla. All you need is a porter. No need to tent the way we did – there are tea houses every 5 or 10 kilometers. Just have a good sleeping bag.

      The most important thing is being in excellent physical shape so you know you can count on your body to do what you want it to! Some basic hiking skills are good too – as is having decent gear and equipment like trekking poles. A bit of planning and you and your wife can do the walk up to Gokyo Lakes.

      I hope to return to Nepal and the mountains in 2016 – I will be 65 then. My wife and I were there when I was 45; I joined the Exodus group in the trek you read about in 2006. In 2016 I plan on hiring a porter and doing it by myself. I haven’t decided if it will be the Annapurnas or Sagarmatha.

      I hope you make your dream come true – whatever it is. Make a checklist of things you need to do to make it happen – and then do them. Don’t wait until it is too late!

  2. Robin says:

    This really is a fantastic blog !! I am planning on doing a Gokyo Lake trip including at least one of the high passes in October this year. A question I need to ask is whether or not crampons are required at this time of the year? Once again thanks for your great blog.
    Best regards

    • true_north says:

      Robin, I brought my mountaineering boots to Nepal with me for my Everest trip. The tour leader convinced me that they were not really needed and I left them behind. He was right. I did the trek in a pair of mid-weight (2 lbs. 8 oz. for the pair) hiking boots with room for heavy socks.

      Crampons are not really necessary for this. The trail is usually very well packed down. I did google “crampons for cho la crossing” and noticed that not everyone would agree with me! Read the first entry if you want an account with lots of drama. A number of companies have a lightweight crampon that would perhaps be easy to pack for an emergency situation. Since my Everest trek I have bought a pair of the Grivel Air Tech Light which weigh 1 lb. Most mountaineering crampons weigh twice that.

      Here is what the current Exodus Trip Notes for the Everest trek I did says about optional items to bring along – “Crossing the Cho La involves approx 2hrs walking cross a glacier and sometimes the ascent and descent of all the passes can be slippery and icy if there has been snow. Many trekkers and porters cross all the passes in normal 3 season boots. However you may like to bring a pair of instep crampons, Yaktrax or Spikeys or similar to put on the sole of your boots in case of ice or snow.
      (Your leader will carry an ice axe and rope for safety).”

      Trekking poles effectively used would be a much better thing to bring along. They would increase stability, balance, and decrease the stress on your knees by transferring some to your upper body.

      I do recall that the guides had ice axes and rope strung around their shoulders for the various high pass crossings but we never had cause to use them. Even in crossing the various glaciers crampons were not required.
      It sounds like you will do Cho La from Kala Pattar and Lobuche passing Chola lake and then over to the Gokyo side and its lakes. At least, I hope you’re doing it from east to west! It is more difficult to do it from Gokyo to Lobuche. It is a stunning slice of the Himalayas. Enjoy the walk and may you have lots of sunny days!

      • Anonymous says:

        Many thanks for your quick response and hepful suggestions – greatly appreciated.

        Best regards


  3. Srini says:

    A riveting account of the three passes and EBC and Gokyo trek. Thoroughly enjoyed your experience and the photographs. I plan to do this at probably a little slower place and by staying at tea-houses, in Dec 2015. In Dec, I guess I would need a lot more protection from the wind and cold, and a strong pair of legs. not ruling out a strong back and shoulder 🙂 Having done the Annapurna circuit trek, Annapurna base camp, Langtang Gosaikunda trek, and the new Mardi Himal Trek, I can’t wait to get onto the Everest side.
    I wish you the best for your trek in 2016.

    • true_north says:

      Srini, your previous trekking experience bodes very well for a great walk up the Khumbu. The tea-house approach is an excellent one; you lose a bit of flexibility but it is more comfortable and probably cheaper too. I have yet to decide on whether to do the Annapurna Circuit or the Three Passes of Everest again next year. If I return to Sagarmatha it will be with the teahouse route in mind.

  4. ADK_Guy says:

    Beautiful blog true_north. The photos provide great prep regardless of the spoiler effect! My buddy and I are 57, fairly fit and will carry our own 32 lbs with full ultralight camp gear for -10 C in early October. We plan on taking as much as a month to explore the area comfortably. We may expand the trek if weather and health prevail. I’m still researching the post-earthquake conditions. I plan to pick up a guide in Namche and trek Lukla/Phortse/Gokyo/Cho La/Lobuche/Kala Patthar and back down the Everest Base Camp freeway, plus sidetrips. If your guide has a friend in Namche around Oct 7, we’d be happy to employ him for 2-3 weeks with. I’d be very interested to hear your 5 most memorable viewpoints or experiences in the region. Thank you for your wonderful contribution to trekking.

    • true_north says:

      Nice to hear about your upcoming adventure. You guys have to be pretty keen to be carrying all your stuff yourself! Given the collapse of the trekking biz in Nepal I’d imagine there are a few porters available. Maybe hiring one and sharing with your partner would lighten your own load by 50% – and inject $15. -$20. a day into some Sherpa’s microeconomy!

      Hiring a guide is a good idea – he will enrich your appreciation of the terrain and its history and serve as a facilitator for the many daily interactions that can occasionally grind you down. I still remember how positively our guide was greeted by fellow Sherpas and by monks and teahouse owners as we made our way around the Khumbu. I felt like he was showing me around his house and introducing me to members of his family.

      I’ll admit I have lost touch with the main guide from that trip – but I’m sure if you were to show his picture some trekking-related local in a lodge/teahouse in Namche, someone would know his name. He was born there and as I mentioned his father was a part of the first summit of Everest. I’ll contact the Exodus team to see if it still deals with him and let you know in a few days. If not him, I just know that he is not the only excellent guide out there.

      I did find that the high altitude took its toll on some of my fellow trekkers. The “Khumbu cough” set in after about two weeks and I had it too. Severe stomach upset sapped me for a couple of days as we trekked from Lobuche over Cho La to the Gokyo lakes. You can only hope that everyone else is as obsessed about hygiene as you are!

      To lengthen the trip a bit do walk up the valley to Imja Khola to Chhukkung and maybe even Imja Tse base camp…but really, if you stay healthy there will be more enticing options availble than time to do them! October is traditionally the best month to be doing this so you guys should be good for weather.

      Now that I insist on taking a two-pound dslr with multiple lenses, some weighing another pound, I remember fondly the 2006 six megapixel Sony H2 point and shoot that I used for all the pix in my Everest post. No matter what camera you bring along, the landscape seems to provide brilliant images.

      Re: the five most memorable viewpoints? The Khumbu is an enchanted place – passes and mountain peaks are always special given the effort to get up there, but so is seeing the porter’s basket leaning up against a five hundred year old stone wall or prayer flags streaming down from a chorten on the path…

      You’ve got a bit of a wait until that first day in Lukla. Enjoy it when it arrives – knowing that you are in great physical shape and well-prepared for the journey. Good luck. Please send me the link to your Everest blog when it all gets done – I do hope that the buildings in the region were spared. I’ll include your post link in my post as an update.

      I was going to return to the Annapurnas this March but the on-going four-month fuel blockade at the Indian border and political crisis having to do with the new constitution made me decide to give Nepal a pass this year. That the political class would think that a new constitution was the #1 issue to be dealt with after the earthquakes of late April and early May is stunning. And – Given all their problems, it took Nepal’s politicians until Dec. 20 to appoint a head of the post-earthquake reconstruction agency acceptable to all political parties!

      I felt bad telling the Pokhara guide (Prem Rai) I had been corresponding with that the trip was postponed until maybe next year. I am going to Tasmania for a bike tour instead – stable, safe, excellent infrastructure, and I can do it on my own.

      • Anonymous says:

        First off, thanks a lot for the great blog. I used it as my main resource in the recent 3 passes trip. I wanted to add some post-quake information.

        1. The tourist infrastructure in the Khumbu region seems almost unaffected by the quake. I saw a few teahouses with cracks in the Lukla – Namche section; beyond that all teahouses seemed ‘solid’. Many Stupas had been damaged – almost every Stupa in Khumjung village had big cracks.

        2. This was my first trip to the region and I didn’t have a calibration for the crowd. The traffic seemed less than what I had expected. We were in Gorak Shep on Apr 15 and it was crowded. ( is the likely reason.) Other than that, the lodges were not at full occupancy even on the main EBC trail. On the Cho-la and Gokyo routes, entire lodges seemed empty.

        3. I am not sure if this is caused by the quake – but the mobile connectivity wasn’t great. No ncell coverage beyond Tengboche except in few patches. You can always spot these patches by the number of Sherpas clustered there with phones in hand. The base camp had Ncell coverage. After that, I had to wait till Thame for coverage. Everestlink (wi-fi) coverage was good at all villages.

      • true_north says:

        Thanks for the post-quake update. Your observations will be of use to someone who finds his/her way into my decade-old experience! I did recently see pix of the cracked chortens above Namche.

        A return to the Kumbhu is still in my plans – to me it is the world’s #1 trekking route. Maybe this fall! By the way – did you do it on your own or did you join an organized group?

  5. jane lewis says:

    I plan on doing the three high passes this November. I did the Annapurna circut and part of the Everest area in 1994 and 1995. I am now 65 years old but hike almost every day. Im excited to go back and hope it will be the same life changing experience. I am using as my company of choice. Kim is more expensive than some but seems to be loved by her clients. Give her trips a look as she does many in Nepal and Bhutan. Kim and Lakpa live in Kathmandu and have been guiding for 15 years. Anyway, hope you make it back to Nepal. Ive been wanting to go back for years. Jane

    • true_north says:

      The High Passes trek is, in my mind, the finest trek in the world. It’s got it all – high altitude, stunning mountainscape, the Sherpa Buddhist culture. ! I’m sure that Kamzang Journeys will provide you with everything Exodus Travels did – and, given the $800. price difference – more! If we were were 24 and just out of university we would of course be trying to do it all on our own for under $800!

      A return to the Khumbu is definitely in the cards – I am also 65 so we still have some time! Re: your “life changing experience” – I can hear Lao Tzu saying to you – “The world can be known without leaving one’s home/ the further you go the less you know.” Of course, he himself in his later years headed exactly to where you are – the Himalayas! Enjoy the walk.

      • jane lewis says:

        Thanks for the response. I used Exodus in 2004 for a Morrocco trip. It was a nightmare. So Im a little leery to use them again. Glad you had a good experience. I also have used KE Adventures for 4 trips. They were great.

        Look into going to the Balkans. Wonderful place and no one there. Also Albania was perfect. Great hiking and no one. We were hoping to go biking in Cuba this spring but I broke my leg skiing so maybe next year. Being an American makes it a challenge but it looks like that will be changing soon. WE have hiked in Peru and it looks like we did the same routes almost. Even stayed at Olazas!!! WE also hiked in Bolivia. The hardest hike Ive ever done. 18 days.

        Sri Lanka is on my list. Did you do this with Exodus? How was it?

        Great blog. Keep it up.

      • true_north says:

        Jane, you need to send me your blog site address – it sounds like I could find some ideas for upcoming trips! My wife and I did spend a summer in the Balkans – but that was in the mid-1980’s. Things have changed!

        Re: Sri Lanka. The two weeks with Exodus on their walking tour of the highlands was excellent. I spent another ten days on my own visiting the Cultural Triangle and Colombo. I am thinking of returning with my bicycle and cycling the Tamil area from Jaffna down the east coast to Trinco.

        Happy trails!

      • jane lewis says:

        I don’t have a blog site. The Balkans trips were with ke adventure. Great trips. Check their website. Love your blogs. Sorry I m not that good at making a blog.

      • true_north says:

        Blogging is not for everyone. My wife has a ton of great pix and is happy to share them on Facebook. I am not on Facebook. Every once in a while i get to see a slide show on her laptop! Re: KE. Have heard good things about them. Just used Mountain Kingdomms, another smaller English travel company for my Bolivia trek. As that Grateful Dead song says – “Keep on truckin’!”

  6. oscaregg says:

    Excellent and informative account. Great photos. Thanks!

    I am considering a very similar trip late February 2017. The Gokyo lake extension looks great.
    I really enjoyed the Annapurna Circuit trek with Exodus earlier this year and thought maybe to look at their services again. They certainly take all the stress out of arranging everything. However it felt at times a little too ‘packaged’ and felt herded.. especially at meal times. :). I guess it is a trade off.
    From your account, it seems altogether very possible (and cheaper) to do the trip independently by employing a local guide or porter at Lukla. Maybe it is better to wait until Kathmandu and see how things go. For the purpose of booking flights in and out of Lukla what is the maximum time that you would allow for a similar trip to your own?


    • true_north says:

      The High Passes Trek remains my single favourite. It’s got everything!

      As you noticed in my account I did use Exodus for the trip. The staff was A+; the guide was a Sherpa from the Khumbu whom everyone seems to know and like; his sirdar was another very experienced Sherpa who had everything running very smoothly. It isn’t cheap but you do get the best staff and access to things that perhaps otherwise would not be possible. Also do note that the Exodus trip involved tents and camping and yaks to haul everything – and it all worked with military-like precision! And while we did not bump into any really nasty weather, you can see how that could change a pleasant walk in the mountains to a real challenge in a hurry. Nice to be with a team of locals who have dealt with this before and will be able to ensure everyone’s safety.

      You could do the trip on your own with a guide and or porter – and you would probably do fine given your Annapurna experience. Eliminating the tenting and staying in teahouses would make it easy – and cheaper. You’d save some $ and if you are lucky you would have a guide who can add value to the experience by providing context to what you’re seeing.

      Lukla seems to be a bit of a crap shoot. Our Exodus trip unfolded exactly as planned on both ends. Perhaps just luck. Perhaps having an entire plane booked for our exclusive use had something to do with that. I also think having the guide and sirdar at the airport, given their contacts and status, ensured that things got done. If you go the solo route, you certainly won’t be the only one. Google “Lukla Airport delays” and you come up with stuff like this trip advisor thread –

      Doesn’t sound so bad, eh! For something more scary, check out this Daily Mail article!

      I’m sure you’ll have a great walk no matter how you do it – solo with guide or as a part of an Exodus group. BTW of the two – Annapurna or the Khumbu High Passes – I think Annapurna lends itself more easily to independent trekkers.

      I hope I haven’t completely muddied the waters for you!

      • Anonymous says:

        Not at all. I trekked up to Nanche from Jiri, dumped my camping and cooking gear there, and walked up to Gokyo and the ‘fifth lake’ before crossing Renjo La. There were no great problems returning to Kathmandu via Lukla although some people suffered delays. Overall it was an excellent trip for very little outlay. Great weather in November too. It is certainly recommended although did note a fair amount of sickness (altitude problems and infections) in other travellers.

      • true_north says:

        Nice to hear all went smoothly for you – great November weather, no Khumbu cough and stomach ailments, no waiting for a flight back to Kathmandu. And to think you did it all for a third of what I paid to be in an organized camping trek! What a fantastic place for a walk, eh!

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