Hard trek, pay attention to lip care and avoid blisters
My timeline of the Three Passes Trek. The most important event was the snowfall on Day6, which really changed the character of the trek.
Day0 (7 December): Kathmandu to Phaplu (6:20-18:50) Taking a taxi to Chobahil Chowk bus station (400NRP) then a jeep to Phaplu (1600 NRP). Terribly long and crowded, suffered a lot due to jetlag and lack of sleep. Someone threw up during the ride, but that was not a reason to stop.
Day 1: Phaplu to Nunthala (2200m, 8:45-16:30): 18.4km, 800m elevation. Got lost after Taksindu pass (do not follow the orange marks after the monastery, they indicate some past marathon, rather tend to the right), monks I met warned me about this. At lodge I was convinced by two separate groups to start the 3 passes from clockwise direction. I accepted. Paid 1830 (sleep, tea, breakfast dinner).
Day 2: Nunthala to Paiya (2730m, 8:20-17:30): 16.3km, 1664m elev. Very long day, I was very tired at the end (not yet too fit). Also reached lowest point of the trek (1500m at bridge). Lots of donkeys, interesting discussions with Sherpa guy in the lodge. Paid 1980 at lodge +730 lunch (tea+soup)
Day 3: Paiya to Phakding (2610m, 9:25 -15:45). Easy day, but my stomach is not very good. It turns out, my probiotic caused it, so I stop it and have no more stomach problems in the entire trip. After the Lukla connection, villages look much more wealthy, and lots of lodges. Paid 1950 + 450 lunch.
Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3440m, 8:20-13:00): 7.5km, 1080m elev. I feel good, and arrive early. I like Namche, and I hang out and shop the afternoon. Mostly cloudy the afternoon. Paid 2350 + park entry 5000 + food in Namche 1000 +gloves, microspikes, etc 2600. Stayed in Namaste lodge, wonderful ambiance.
Day 5: Namche to Thame (3820m, 9:40-13:10), 8km, 630m elev. No visibility this day, foggy. Paid 2530 (this included shower for 400, only had 2 showers the entire trek, this was one).
Day 6: Thame-Thyangbo-Thame (3810m, 11:00-15:00), 7.3km, 510m elev. Woke up to snowfall, so visited the Thame school, with classes ongoing, very interesting to know about history and struggles of the school. Then walked up to Thyangbo (~4300m) and back in heavy snowfall and very little visibility. Only met yak herders bringing the animals down in the snowfall. Stepped into the creek twice, but boots still ok. Spent ~2300 in lodge only.
Day 7: Thame: woke up to ~50cm fresh snow and poor visibility. Attempted a hike up, but got to ~100m. Impossible to move, snow is not even powder, but starts to be heavy. Village just shoveling itself out of the snow. Bad mood. Spent ~2300.
Day 8: Thame-Namche-Thame (9:00-17:00), ~16km, 900m elev: decide to go down to Namche for news and reports for the other side (EBC? more people means easier to walk?). Well treaded path in the snow due to human and yak traffic. Met several people, so decide to try from the other side (anti-clockwise). Spent 2300 in lodge and 1000 in Namche (2x garlic soup + tea).
Day 9: Thame-Tengboche (3890m, 9:10-16:20), 15.8km, 1130m elev. Beautiful sunny day after 4 days of bad weather. Also, after 4 days in the snow, my GoreTex boots are wet inside, and the evening very cold, very unpleasant combination. From now on, I spend the evenings drying my boots. Paid 2300 + 500 for lunch.
Day 10: Tengboche-Dingboche (4410m, 8:30-12:20), 9.6km, 680m elev. When I arrived, I also went up the next hill, and reached ~4900m (13:00-15:20, 3.16km there and back, 485m elev). Paid 2800.
Day 11: Dingboche-Chukkung-Chukkung-Ri-Chukkung (4750m, 8:40-11:10), 5.1km, 460m elev. After arriving to Chukkung, I went up to the small peak of Chukkung Ri (5400m, 12:40-14:40, down at 15:40, another 700m elev). On the way down, I met two other guys, and then I crossed all the passes with them. Paid 3750 (including wifi and charging). Starting from this day, no wifi was available for a week (until Thame), as the snowfall destroyed some equipment near Ama Dablam. In this valley, there seemed to be decidedly less snow.
Day 12: Chukkung-Chukkung: half-hearted attempt at the pass (6.7km, 680m elevation). Started 8:50, got lost twice in the snow. Got to ~5100m at 13:30. Convinced the others to turn back and try tomorrow. On the way down, I made a definite attempt to wade through snow and create steps on the correct path. Paid 2180.
Day13: Chukkung-Kongma La-Lobuche (4910m, 7:10-16:20):10km, 1310m elev. Got to the pass at 12:30. We used GPS track, maps.me and papermap not to lose the way, but it required constant attention. A dog followed us all the way, gave him food. Lots of snow breaking, way down also difficult and lots of snow, and also ice. There was a single footprint in the snow sometimes, but mostly disappeared due to heavy winds since snowfall. Glacier crossing following flags, but took ~1.5 hours. Paid 2840.
Day 14: Lobuche-Kala Patthar-Italian Pyramid (5050m, 9:20-16:00)12.5km, elevation maybe 1000, but my watch went crazy. In the morning we left our luggage at Italian pyramid, then went for Kala Patthar, started from Gorakshep 12:10, got to top at 13:50, very strong winds and cold. Paid lump sum of 3500 for shower, breakfast, dinner. Fantastic place to stay, my favourite. Very strong winds during the night.
Day 15: Italian Pyramid-Dzongla (4820m): 11:15-14:45, 7.7km, maybe 100m elev (my watch did not work). In the morning we visited the laboratory, very interesting (learned that relative humidity of air is 2.4%, extremely low). Nice and easy day, but I felt very low on energy. I did not like the Dzongla guesthouse (only one open). Paid 2950.
Day 16: Dzongla-Gokyo (4790), 7:15-18:45, 11.75km, maybe 1000m elevation (watch did not work). I felt this maybe the easiest pass, but very nice with the glacier approach. Very cold on feet, tried warmers but did not work. Used microspikes around glacier. Got to pass at ~11:30, down to Tagnag 15:00, started 15:30. Lots of steps kicking in the very hard snow at steep parts, mostly the way down. Missed glacier crossing in daylight by ~20 min, and when night fell, immediately got lost. Most difficult moments to scale the very steep side of the glacier moraine on Gokyo side, while lost and very cold also in the dark. Lost ~1hr, arrived very cold to Gokyo 18:45. Paid 2400.
Day 17: Gokyo: rest day, only small walks. Gokyo really pretty! Paid 2400.
Day 18: Gokyo-Renjo La-Thame (3820), 7:20-17:15, 19.2km, ~800m elev (watch did not work). Got to pass at 11:20. I felt this pass hard, maybe due to fatigue. Also got lost in snow near pass, ended up doing real climbing moves above 5000m. Valley on other side very nice and deserted, Lots of snow until Lumde (there 14:30-14:45), after that much easier because of yak and human paths in the snow. Paid 3435.
Day 19: Thame-Namche (3440m): 8:55-11:30, 8km, 250m elev. Ate a wonderful Yak-burger in Namche as a celebration (900NRP), plus several cakes and coffees with others, and watched a film also. Paid 2790 in the lodge.
Day 20: Namche-Surke (2300m), 9:20-16:40, 17.4km, 590m elev. Rather slow day. Paid 3100 the whole day (2200 lodge and 900 along the ways for soups and teas). I liked the friendly but simple guesthouse (Thamserku Guesthouse)
Day 21: Surke-Nunthala (2200m), 8:20-18:00, 21.3km, 1670m elev. I finished alone, as my trekmates took jeeps from Bupsa. I enjoyed the whole day, the last part is a straight 700m uphill from the bridge. Stayed in the same lodge as 20 days before, but I was the only guest this time. Owners said no guest in last 1-2 weeks. Paid 2350.
Day 22: Nunthala-Phaplu (2400m), 8:10-15:00, 17km, 1020m elev. Glorious sunny winter day to finish, was happy to be trekking and enjoyed a lot. Starts with 850m hike up to taksindu pass, but enjoyed it (2h10min to pass). Paid 1900 (1250 in guesthouse and 650 for lunch)
I think I lost 5-10 kg on the trek (which was welcome)
My biggest medical problem was a blister I developed on one of my toes on day 13, which turned into a bloody wound. I tried to clean and maintain it every day, but it really only started to heal when I stopped the trek.
Lip became swollen and broken, and really requires some high quality products to keep it from getting worse. Much less problem with skin sunburn.(but maybe these conditions are more characteristic to winter season, when the sun might be less powerful, but lots of wind and very cold)
I have to say, probiotics did not work for me (I read before I should take them), they caused me stomach problems, which they were designed to prevent (and I am 100% certain about this), while I had no problem with the local food.
As additional info for winter trekkers, I felt the weather was noticeably colder after 3 weeks. Also, there was frost in the sleeping room above Namche almost every night (on the way back even in Namche). I had a -10 sleeping bag (bought in Kathmandu), which was ok, but I found with an additional blanket it is really warm and comfortable.
Make sure to cross glaciers in daylight. Extremely easy to get lost in dark, especially with fresh snow.
- Backpack, Down Jacket, Headlamp, Hiking Boots, Sleeping Bag, Sunglasses