The (Two out of) Three Passes Trek in the Nepal Himalayas

How many times are you allowed to cry on a trip that you planned for yourself? 1? 3? 15?

It is incredibly challenging to trek in a remote backcountry for 3 weeks. Add onto that foreign food, minimal lodges that provide no insulation, colds that morph into feverish illnesses and muscles that don’t have enough oxygen to recover, and you have a recipe for tears.

We originally laughed at the trail descriptions that provided hours instead of kilometers; it would never take us 3 hours to go 5km, we said, these estimates have to be for those who are inexperienced or slow. Oh, how we were wrong.

This trek was hard. Very hard. If you’ve been following along this year, you saw me traverse a rugged and remote section of the North Cascades, complete a trip around Mt. Rainier, and even stumble up a few volcanoes. I thought I was ready.

Suffice to say, I don’t think you can ever be ready for the beautiful beasts that are the Nepal Himalayas. They stand giant, imposing and powerful over sacred valleys that only relinquish potatoes, cabbage and small blades of grass for the yaks. Humans have tried for over 500 years to tame the flanks and dips in topography, yet I have a feeling the mountains are just laughing, knowing they will stand for tens of thousands of more years while we fade away.

We are nothing compared to them. Even as we stood at over 18,000 feet, the ground below us frozen solid, the rocky giants still cast their shadows over 10,000 feet higher than us.

As if to highlight the danger and the seriousness of this endeavor, we are now learning that five people lost their lives in the last month along the same route we just completed. Wishing their families peace and strength as they deal with such tragic loss.

The First Week

We began our trek by flying into Lukla. Google Lukla. No, go ahead, do it.

It’s the world’s most dangerous airport, a mountain town booming due to its lucky and close proximity to what must be one of the world’s busiest small airports. Helicopters and planes are constantly going in and out with an unrivaled efficiency, ironically mirrored by the fact that flight times are incessantly delayed by the airport down in Kathmandu or the early afternoon clouds that roll into the mountains each day without fail.

Lukla sits at about 9,000 feet, high for those accustomed to sea-level situations, but low for those of us with aspirations to do the 3 Passes trek, which would take us up to and beyond 18,000 feet several times over the course of our journey.

The first week of our trek brought us through the lush Khumbu valley, still teeming with greenery and life other than yaks and trekkers stumbling their way down the dusty highway.

The sacred Khumbu valley is an expansive collection of hodgepodge hamlets nestled into nooks and crannies in the topography, maintained by people who have inhabited these places for hundreds of years.

Many of the pack animals had colorful harnesses or headgear

One of our first views of Thamserku

Tea with views in Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar

Making a friend on an acclimatization hike

Very first view of Everest

Yaks are surprisingly agile on steep surfaces-hence the name “yaktracks” for the zigzags you can see up the mountain

Morning views in the Himalayas

Ama Dablam from the rhododendrons near Tengboche

Tengboche and its famed monastery nestled beneath peak after peak

My lady isn’t scared of no heights

Prayer flags sending their messages to the heavens

Ama Dablam opening her arms to greet us

Week 2

The second week of our trek was spent entirely above tree line, with little to no vegetation present around us. In fact, we were higher than the highest point in the lower 48 of the US for most of this week.

Personally, my body never fully adjusted. Sleep was fitful and my appetite was completely gone, even though we were burning large amounts of calories carrying heavy packs through some tough terrain. This week is also when I contracted the plague that took down 3 out of our 5 members.

In contrast, we began passing through some stunning vistas and began to see different sides of the same mountains as we traveled further into the backcountry.

Arriving in Dingboche

Dingboche in a valley of giants

The first vista to remind me of the North Cascades

The moon high above Taboche

Island Peak and its snowy neighbors

Frozen waterfalls en route to our first pass, Kongma La

Parts were incredibly steep

Peaks reflected in small lakes

One of my favorite views of the entire trip

Walking into a hall of giants as we approached Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp

Spot the person

The grey mass in the right foreground is actually the giant Khumbu glacier crawling its way across the valley floor-we had to cross it as part of the Kongma La pass

The glacier continuing down the valley. The size and scope was unbelievable

The Khumbu Icefall, a notorious and dangerous section of glacier that must be ascended on the most popular route up Everest

5380 meters up, we made it!

So proud of this woman and the things we’ve accomplished together

Exploring the glacier and its giant ice sculptures near EBC

Making our way to Dzonglha and our second pass

A beautifully colored glacial lake set beneath a magnificent peak

Week 3

By this time, we had spent two weeks working hard in the backcountry, had obtained our terrible illnesses, had begun to grow weary of the food, and were starting to itch for a shower. We had two passes left and were deteriorating rapidly.

Unfortunately, due to the sickness three of us acquired, we had to skip the last pass and head straight back down the valley from Gokyo. Although this was the easiest pass out of the three, we just physically had nothing left. In hindsight this was a perfect decision, as we barely crawled into Lukla. We were exhausted, several pounds lighter, and in awe of this beautiful and rugged region.

Ascending our second pass and looking back on Ama Dablam and the valley

Another view of the valley

So thankful we brought our microspikes!

Our last glacier crossing looked decidedly otherworldly

Walls of ice and rock

Sacred lake of Gokyo

Heading straight down the valley after deciding we were unfit to complete the last pass

The famous suspension bridges high above the valley floor

Our faces after waiting for two days for our plane out of Lukla and catching the very last one

We are now safely back in Kathmandu, enjoying beer, meat and much balmier weather. Taylor and I head to Malaysia for 5 days on the 17th, while the rest of the group heads back to the States for the holidays.

Look for pictures of all the delicious Malaysian food in the days to come ☺️

5 Comments

  1. WOWZA! All the virtual high five and hugs from me to you both for crushing it out there. The details and photos of your trip are insanely amazing and beautiful. I see a Shutterfly photo book in your future. Also, those suspension bridges. Makes the Wonderland ones look like little babies. 🤣😂

  2. Namche Bazaar and the cities up into the mountains look amazing! The pictures, I know, don’t do it all justice but greatly appreciate you sharing. So glad you both made it back alive, even if having to skip the last pass. So damn proud of you both!!! MUAH!

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