After experiencing some high-altitude trekking in Ladakh, we were very excited to adventure further into the Himalayas and wonder among the highest mountains on earth. Our trek to Everest would take us through the famous Khumbu region on a journey over three high passes. Renjo La (5,360m), Cho La (5,420m) and Kongma La (5,535m), including several mountain peaks and ultimately Everest Base Camp (EBC).
Having thoroughly considered our options we decided to do the route independently. Like much of our previous trekking we researched heavily in advance and planned our route to ensure safe acclimatization. But most importantly trekking unguided gave us full control over all aspects of the trek leading to a much greater sense of achievement.
In total, it took us 21 days including return transport from Kathmandu to Salleri. We decided to take the trek clockwise from Namche Bazaar as we learnt it was more challenging and therefore less crowed (Damian’s choice).
Start date – 27.09.16
Day 1 – We arranged a jeep ticket for ₹1,500 per person that would leave for Salleri (2,309m) at 5am. The journey was overcrowded and bumpy, squished up like sardines swishing about in a tin can! We thought the jeep being more expensive would have provided a comfier journey than the bus, but with recent bad weather the road conditions were awful. This didn’t however stop our very courageous driver from attempting to overtake vehicles on single track dirt roads or driving within a hairs width of deadly cliff faces! A journey completely unimageable in a large urban bus.
Arriving in Salleri after 12 hellish hours, we found a small guesthouse that served local food with free accommodation. The room was great and the evening meal was a delicious portion of dal bhatt served with unlimited cups of black tea. The next morning breakfast was served and our water bottles refilled, all for the total price of just ₹1,200!
Day 2 – Setting off from Salleri we felt excited knowing that it would be at least three weeks until we returned. Although anxious of the unknown we headed on to conquer our first day of the trek. The morning was spent curving along a wide vehicle dirt road until we reached the village of Ringmo (2,794m). After lunch we continued briskly but quickly found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of donkeys clogging up the trail. With increasingly poor visibility and ankle-deep sludge, we weaved our way slowly through the herds on a path so badly damaged it seemed almost non-existent. Even with the congestion we eventually made it to Taksindu pass (3,071m) but with several hours left in the day we decided to carry on, descending over 1,000m to the quaint village of Nunthala (1988m). Our chosen homestay was set just before the main street, built beautifully from hand chiselled blocks of granite derived straight from the mountains. Inside was very homely, open planned with a log fire burning at the centre and many guests scattered in the communal dining area making it easy to socialise.
Day 3 – Leaving from Nunthala we continued our decent from the previous day down through the lush green landscape until we reached a huge steel suspension bridge that resided at roughly 1,500m. This would be our lowest elevation during our time on the trek. Having lost all altitude, the remaining journey consisted of a short yet steep ascend through terraced fields, then more uphill climb to reach Bupsa (2,500m). Along the trail we saw many porters and Sherpas carrying huge loads balanced upon their backs, a tight strap pressed deeply against their foreheads for extra stability. Many of the Himalayan workers wore nothing but flimsy footwear that seemed impractical and impossible for tourists to comprehend. Ironically, when arriving in Bupsa we chose a guesthouse at random that happened to be owned by a young Sherpa. He shared with us his incredible 15-year journey, from working as a young porter to his recent experience as a guide to the summit of Mt Everest (8,848m).
Day 4 – From Bupsa to Chaurikharka (2,700m) was a long day starting with a steep ascent before levelling out to reach the small village of Paiya (2,560m). After a quick lunch, the trail edged around the valley revealing a stunning paramaniac view over Lukla (2,860m) and the route to Namche. It was fun to watch the tiny prop planes landing and taking off from what many people consider as one of the world’s most dangers runways. As we continued to traverse the valley we began to descend down a steep rugged trail occupied by a steady stream of donkeys, most of which were overloaded leaving almost no room to manoeuvre. A local shepherd leading the donkeys forced momentum by throwing rocks at those that slowed or came to a standstill. Luckily, neither of us were hit but we did come close to being pushed off the edge several times. After dropping over 600m we finally made it to Surke, a village at the base of the valley that had recently suffered a devastating landslide. Although exhausted we choose to continue and slowly ascended onto Chaurikharka just before sunset.
Day 5 – In the early morning we were fortunate to see the clouds reveal several of the snow-capped jagged mountains in the distance. After enjoying the beautiful views, we set off but within minutes our route converged with another and suddenly we found ourselves on the main trail to EBC. The number of trekkers skyrocketed with a seemingly endless row of shops and restaurants hugging the pathway desperately in search of our attention. Despite the extra distractions the first part of the day was relatively easy, we followed the river ascending gradually. When we finally crossed the famous steel bridge seen in the Everest movie we were faced with a formidably steep ascent that spiralled endlessly to reach the base of Namche Bazaar (3,440m). As we entered the legendary village it was impossible not to admire its overwhelming scale. Hand carved from the mountain the village horseshoed around the valley with rows of houses tiered steeply. It was an impressive site that truly proved its status as the central hub for the Khumbu region and it’s Sherpa community.
Day 6 – For acclimatization reasons today would be our shortest trek which gave us plenty of time to indulged in some of the many creature comforts Namche had to offer. After enjoying a lazy start, by midday we were back on the trail heading northwest towards Thame. Its humble appearance disguised its legacy as home to the famous Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who accompanied Edmund Hillary on the first successful accent of Mt Everest. Also, since we had now left the main EBC trail the route ahead was very quiet with only farmers and yaks to keep us company. The path was fairly gradual taking just over 3 hours to reach Thame, however at 3,750m the altitude was beginning to affect our pace.
Day 7 – Feeling strong and well adjusted, we set off towards Lumde (4,137m), only 2 hours from Thame it was another short steady hike that was destined to be another slow acclimatisation day. As we approached Lumde it was fascinating to see at vantage a few quaint settlements on the opposite side of the river, they appeared to be entirely made by hand, with farm land partitioned by traditional dry-stone walls. Arriving at Lumde, there were only a few basic but comfortable lodges to choose from and after settling in Damian wanted to test how his body was adjusting to the altitude. He decided to venture up a nearby valley towards a ridgeline that sat just below 5,000m but after making it just half way he turned back, afraid of pushing too far. Even though Damian ensured me he was feeling fine, we were still unsure as to whether we should take a further day to acclimatise before attempting our biggest challenge yet, Renjo La pass (5,360m).
Day 8 – Despite our prior concerns, having rested well we decided to attempt Renjo La pass, knowing it was going to be a difficult climb ascending over 1,000m. We both took a Diamox (altitude sickness prevention and treatment) tablet that morning to help lessen any symptoms that might have occurred during the accent. The morning started slow and as usual bad weather conditions made it difficult to follow a trail up the valley, however we eventually reached a plateau and was strangely confronted by a stretch of golden sand. Like a welcome relief we lay down and envisioned ourselves somewhere warmer! After our beach break, we continued ahead until we arrived at a crystal-clear lake. Conveniently the fog had subdued revealing a faint route directly to the top of the pass, coated in a layer of snow the path was steep with over 500m of vertical ascent to go. Mentally preparing ourselves we scoffed some boiled potatoes for energy and slowly proceeded on to a second equally beautifully clear lake.
From this point the climb became increasingly more slippery, forcing our sense of balance to its limits. The trail crept along the sheer cliff face, zigzagging all the way up to the pass leaving very little room for error. Our bodies were fatigued by the serious lack of oxygen making every step more difficult than the last.
Finally, after over 5 hours we had made it to the top of our first pass, we quickly absorbed the glorious view overlooking Gokyo (4,750m) before it rapidly vanished into thin air. Although we were engulfed by clouds once again we decided to build a happy chappy snow man and met a lovely couple who had travelled from the opposite side.
For nearly 2 hours the four of us sat sharing stories at a whopping altitude over 5,000m until we could no longer feel our fingers and departed ways. It possibly wasn’t the brightest idea, but it gave us an insight into the route that lay ahead. The descent to Gokyo took less than 2 hours as we shuffled along a tight trail above the huge lake below, however we were unnerved more than once by rumbling echos of seismic landslides in the distance.
Day 9 – Exhausted from the previous day we chose to rest in preparation for climbing to the summit of Gokyo Ri (5,357m), a peak famed for its grandiose panoramic view of Mt Everest. Taking time out allowed us to indulge in the tasty delights that the local bakery had to offer, we spent the entire day eating huge chocolate donuts, drinking cappuccinos and playing multiple games of chess (that we weren’t very good at).
Day 10 – Due to poor weather the trek so far had granted very few high mountain views so to increase our chances we started our summit to Gokoy Ri early. Carried peacefully by the morning fog our ascent began slowly until a sudden break in the clouds revealed a glimpse of the colossal mountains nearby. Filled with a new sense of hope we continued but it seemed with ever step we climbed the weather worsened and after roughly 2 hours we reached the peak with zero visibility. The Himalaya’s had eluded again, but there amongst the clouds we were still left with satisfaction of summiting the mighty Gokyo Ri. The descent was fast, a little foolish but great fun as we bounced down the mountain in only 25 minutes.
Day 11 – This was the hardest day for numerous reasons. Firstly, we crossed the Ngozumpa glacier, the longest in the Himalayas (36km). Walking down into the glarier was like entering an alien landscape revealing open cavities of melted ice. Its monochrome appearance was unexpected as it creaked and crumbled as slushed ice fell into pools below. You could sense that the glacier was alive as it slowly carved out the valley beneath.
Having made it through the glacier we continued onward to Cho La pass (5,420m). Entirely alone we traversed the path for several hours rising steadily into the thin air until we were suddenly met by a surge of guided trekkers passing in the opposite direction, all offering words of support for the pass ahead. As we strode on the fog thickened and the path steepened until we were no longer trekking but instead scrambling up a loose granite face. For over 200m we dragged ourselves over the rocks, until almost without warning we had emerged at the pass, greeted by the flutter of prayer flags and the infamous snowy glacier ahead. Known for its difficulty in bad weather this was a section of the trek we had feared most but due to no recent snowfall clear footprints made it very easy to navigate. This didn’t however stop us from falling on the ice many times!
Once we made it through the glacier the dense fog again made it difficult to find our way but after scrambling down some huge boulders to the valley below we finally rejoined the trail.
Having crossed Cho La pass we were feeling euphoric and so after reaching the village of Dzongla (4,850m) we decided to carry on. But shortly after departing Dzongla our adrenaline dropped and the days fatigue kicked in. Combined with the lingering mist and random maze of trails ahead, identifying the correct path was difficult. Using our best intuition, we tracked a route which appeared to have the clear markings of other trekkers but as we carried on our trail began to rapidly ascend carrying us back above 5,000m. Adding to our anxiety we could see a second trail hundreds of meters below and with the sun setting we had limited daylight left. Then in the midst of our panic, a group of fellow trekkers traversing a trail just 20m below emerged, we quickly scurried down in hope of some much-needed direction. Luckily, we were close to Dughla (4,620m) and would make before night, but ultimately on the upper trail we were heading for Lobuche!
Day 12 – Waking up after a very tiring day we were rewarded by sweeping views and beautifully clear skies, a welcome change to the seemingly relentless fog. With the mountains towered in all their glory we sluggishly walked up through the Everest memorial pathway, a sombre reminder of just how dangerous this region is. We had also rejoined the main EBC trail and it was the first time we had experienced any kind of human traffic jam, albeit safer and more predicable than the donkey jams earlier in the trek.
Heading north we passed the village of Lobuche (4,940m) from where we could see directly to the top of our final pass, which we would tackle after EBC. Before reaching Gorakshep (5,164m) the highest village on the trek we had to cross another glacier. Sitting adjacent to the better-known Khumbu glacier the narrow route was riddled with endless lines of trekkers all moving at a snail’s pace.Although just a small settlement, Gorakshep was the gateway to Everest and flooded with people from across the world. Regular helicopters cut through the skies above, hauling supplies and a handful of the wealthiest tourists. The price of food had practically tripled and rooms were no longer free of charge, there was a different vibe compared to the quaint homestays we had been so used to. Many of the lodges were at full capacity and it was not uncommon to see several tour groups sleeping on the floor or in any available living space. We felt very lucky to have arrived early enough to claim a small room for ourselves.
Day 13 – At 4am we ventured into the darkness with only one head touch and a mobile phone light in the hope to reach the peak of Kala Patthar (5,643 m). This landmark is famous for providing the most accessible closeup view of Mt Everest which we were hoping to catch at sunrise. It was faintly snowing and as we shuffled our way out towards the base we were presented with what seemed like hundreds of fireflies drifting towards the summit. We couldn’t believe the number of tiny luminous specks that looked so pretty in the darkness and we were about to join them. It was a very crisp morning and when the snow began to fizzle away all hopes of seeing Everest seemed a reality.
As we approached the summit it was very hectic with many people milling around in hope of a clearing in the sky. Much of the surrounding area was swallowed by clouds and the longer we waited the more it confirmed to us that today we would not see Mt Everest. Although it was unfortunate that we didn’t even catch a glimpse of Everest, sitting patiently at the top of Kala Patthar we were extremely proud of our accomplishments.
In the afternoon about 1pm we set off to visit the world famous Everest Base Camp (5,545m). Even though we were hundreds of miles from urban life it felt as if we were caught on a highway during rush hour. Everyone seemed to be gridlocked in position with a few of us gradually manoeuvrings our way through the congestion. Having reached the spectacle many people gathered around the signature collection of rocks and prayer flags to have their obligatory photographs taken. Lots of visitors peered over at the Khumbu Icefall and were then escorted away by their guides. We on the other hand took the rare opportunity to go down into the icefall and experience the natural beauty we had travelled so far to witness. The glacier water was angelic as it meandered gently through the endlessly melting ice. It was fascinating to sift through the crystal-clear water and study all the difference polished rocks. We spent almost 2 hours there, not realising how much time had passed our fingers turned completely numb, we quickly managed to refill our bottles with the refreshing icy water. It truly was a unique and surprising addition to our experience as we had heard and read so many negative things about Base Camp.
Day 14 – Round two in the attempt to see a clear view of Mt Everest. That morning seemed very cloudy with little promise in the air as we dragged ourselves back up the peak. Once the sun rose, we were roughly half way to the summit but again surrounded by dense fog. Our hopes and motivation had shattered, both equally disappointment we turned around.
Back at the guesthouse we packed our belonging and headed for Lobuche. But just moments after leaving Gorakshep the sky started to brighten granting visible views of the surrounding peaks. Stopped in our tracks we revelled at the sight when suddenly cheers came applauding down from Kala Patthar, as people could see Mt Everest! Without a second thought we spun around in pursuit of climbing Kala Patthar one last time. Dumping our rucksacks back at the lodge we began hastily walking/running up the trail. We could now see that the majority of clouds had faded and it wasn’t long after that we got our prefect view of Everest. Feeling elated we took some well-deserved photos and enjoyed the astonishing peaks, even caching sight of a several tremendous avalanches as they chased down the valleys ahead. We felt extremely lucky to have witnessed Everest so clearly, after 2 weeks of trekking and our fair share of bad weather we had finally been rewarded.
Mt Pumori & Kala Patthar
After absorbing the moment for just long enough we made the short trek down to Lobuche and took our first glacier bucket shower. This was breath taking to say the least!
Day 15 – This was the day we would climb over our very last of the three passes, Kongma La (5,535m). Like weaving through a maze, we started our day navigating through the lower end of the Khumbu glacier until we emerged at the base of the valley. It seemed as though the monsoon had finally passed and visibility was fantastic with a direct view to the pass over 500m vertical up. The trail was reasonably easy to traverse and remained steady until we reached a plateau. From this point it we began to zig zag across the crumbling rock face, hopping in between boulders to reach the pass. Although it was a challenging climb we felt at our strongest and were motivated to see what spectacular views lay ahead.
Mt Nuptse & View of Kongma La pass
This was definitely our most beautiful pass as we had a gorgeous view overlooking two 8,000m peaks, Lhotse and Makalu. The mountains engulfed us as we ate our lunch with fellow trekkers in satisfaction. Looking down it was hard not to notice the stunning aqua blue lakes isolated by the craggy terrain. We made our way down to the lakes and carried on our journey through the overwhelming giants until we reached Chukhung (4,730m).
Day 16 – Having rested well in Chukhung we set our target for the day to reach Namche Bazaar, where we intended to take a well-deserved rest. It was the furthest in terms of distance we had covered in one day but completely doable as the majority of the way was downhill. We could feel our bodies readjust as the atmosphere grew thicker the more we descended. The trail pleasantly followed the Imja Khola river, granting us a stunning view of Ama Dablam which protrudes magnificently by itself. We were having a very successful morning, descending quite rapidly until we happened to follow a route down towards Tengboche Monastery. This wasn’t necessarily the wrong way but it meant we had detoured from the higher path towards Phortse and lost over 500m of altitude. When we finally climbed back up to Namche Bazaar we entered from the north, looking down over the staircase overjoyed at the sight of coffee shops and restaurants to indulge our cravings.
Day 17 – This was our rest day to relax and absorb the wonder of Namche, we decided to visit the Sherpa Museum which housed several collections of photographs and articles of those who had summitted Mt Everest. There was also a large display of traditional tools and equipment, along with a video made by a famous Sherpa who specialised in photographing the Himalayan region.
Day 18 – Eager to return to Salleri in rapid time, we set off early, pushing through a very long day we made it to the village of Paiya. From here we hoped to make it to Salleri in two days.
Day 19 – Powered by the dense air we continued retracing our steps, spending most of our days discussing all the wonderful things we had seen and experienced throughout our journey. After another very long trek, just as our legs gave way, resisting to climb any further we found a homestay just outside Taksindu. This was a pinnacle moment for us as we were so close to the end of our trekking and was the first time in 3 weeks that we allowed ourselves an alcohol beverage of rice wine (Raksi) and meat, that the farmer killed and cooked in front of us.
Day 20 – From Taksindu to Salleri was only 3 hours and as we drew closer to our final destination we felt a sense of excitement and sadness as we knew our time in the Himalayas was coming to an end. It was strange to walk along a tarmac road after such a long time and to see vehicles wizz by. It was bittersweet to be back.
Day 21 – After spending the afternoon and evening in Salleri we awoke at 4am to journey back to Kathmandu by jeep. Yet again it was another nail biting journey, but I think we were already over it by this point! We arrived in Thamel, Kathmandu around 5pm.
Overall, we absolutely loved our trekking experience and if we were to do something similar in the future, these are the important things we would consider.
Without water our backpacks weighed just 5kg but for this time of year (September to October) we had everything we needed. We met many people who had packed for extreme weather conditions relaying on Sherpas to carry most of their belongings but with temperatures rarely going below zero it was unnecessary.
We both carried our own clothing and shared the rest of our things.
X 2 synthetic sport tops
Trouser/shorts that zip off
Minimal underwear/ socks
Evening comfy clothes – joggers or leggings, cotton T-shirt, clean socks and flip-flops.
Small sachets of shampoo to wash hair and body
Metal water bottles for boiled water
At the beginning of our trek we ate delicious dal bhat every evening as it was always the cheapest meal and was served in huge portions, which was a great way to refuel our bodies after a full day’s trek. After around 10 days straight the copious amounts of rice and dal became too much and we experimented with other dishes on the menu. Pretty much everything we tried was great, particularly the spring rolls which were nothing like we expected, as we imagined them to be similar to Chinese spring rolls, when in fact they were more like huge oven baked pasties which were delicious!
Chocolate & tea bags
These items were life savers! We took with us 50 star bars for ₹700 which we bought in Kathmandu and roughly 50 teabags which were ₹150. They saved us so much money the closer we got to the main Everest trail as everything was ridiculously priced – ₹600 for a bottle of coke/ ₹300 for a snickers.
This tended to be free, especially at the beginning of the trek being further away from EBC. Once we joined the main trail to base camp the prices inflated tremendously and we were charge ₹100/200 for a room. Every place we stayed had blankets and bedding so our risk had paid off as it wasn’t necessary for us to carry sleeping bags.
We saved a lot of money by never paying for a shower. We had free cold buckets of water to wash ourselves.
Damian made a breakdown of our trekking costs, he uses a budget app to keep a tack of our spending whilst travelling.
Everest Three Passes
Itinerary & Cost for Independent Trekkers
NPR 88880 $865 £690 €815 (as of April 2017)
Day 1 – Kathmandu to Salleri – NPR 4345
Day 2 – Salleri to Nunthala – NPR 2640
Day 3 – Nunthala to Bupsa – NPR 3000
Day 4 – Bupsa to Chaurikharka – NPR 2880
Day 5 – Chaurikharka to Namche Bazaar – NPR 3790
Day 6 – Namche Bazaar to Thame – NPR 3880
Day 7 – Thame to Lumde – NPR 2940
Day 8 – Lumde to Gokyo – NPR 2680
Day 9 – Acclimatisation day – NPR 3355
Day 10 – Gokyo Ri – NPR 3210
Day 11 – Gokyo to Thukla – NPR 4065
Day 12 – Thukla to Gorakshep – NPR 5160
Day 13 – Mountain “Everest View” – NPR 4200
Day 14 – Gorakshep to Lobuche – NPR 4310
Day 15 – Lobuche to Chukhung – NPR 3320
Day 16 – Chumhung to Namche Bazaar- NPR 4450
Day 17 – Rest day – NPR 6320
Day 18 – Namche Bazaar to Paiya – NPR 3190
Day 19 – Paiya to Taxindo – NPR 3210
Day 20 – Taxindo to Salleri – NPR 3465
Day 21 – Salleri to Kathmandu – NPR 3700
58% Food NPR 51225
13% Drinks & Snacks NPR 11195
12% Timms Card & Park Fee NPR 10780
7% Transport NPR 6000
5% Hot Water NPR 4430
3% Accommodation NPR 3050
2% Other NPR 2200