Today may very well be the final day of my Three Passes Trek. Before setting out on this adventure, the sometimes not-so-trusty internet indicated that I should budget approximately 19 days to complete this trip; the internet was wrong (shocking, I know). Honestly, if I was really motivated or seriously short on time, I could have been done in as few as 11 days.
My plan now is to hike to Namche Bazaar, see what time it is and how I'm feeling, and then decide whether I'm going to continue to Lukla (this hike's origin and also final destination).
The lodge owner, who is a humble and badass dude, has been up Everest multiple times. He also recently returned from climbing Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Europe west of Russia's Caucasus peaks). He seems a reliable source of information, so I double check the way to Namche before leaving. Why do double check? Because there are two trails leaving Thame, one to Namche, and another past the villages of Kongde and Toktok to just north of Phakding where it meets the main trekking route.
It would be cool to take this less traveled route, but Namche Bazaar is awesome and I may be spending the night there tonight, so I decide on the official “Three Passes Route”.
The trail today winds along the valley wall passing small villages tucked into the valley's corners. It's mellow hiking and it's another beautiful day of winter weather in the Himalaya – not a cloud in the sky.
At one point, I get stuck behind a large group of yak. “No danger!” shouts the man leading them. I'm clearly more mistrustful of these animals than their human overlord, and I endure some tense moments as I pass the huge animals along a steep and narrow section of trail (I wonder if they're okay with being ridden).
Today I also bump into the first hiker I've seen hiking the Three Passes clockwise since I left Cho La. He's an awesome Korean dude who hiked in from Jiri (the alternative to flying to Lukla), and I'm very jealous that he had the time to do this (knowing what I know now about the Three Passes, I probably could have made it from Jiri within my timeframe as well).
A little further down the valley, I get chatty with a local who scolds me for calling his dzo (also spelled zo, zho, and dzho) a yak. What the hell is a dzo? It's a hybrid between a yak and cattle (and apparently the females are called dzomo or zhom).
They're probably delicious.
There's not too much elevation change this morning, and before I know it I'm back in the familiar Bazaar of Namche. My arrival here completes the lollipop bit of the lollipop loop that is the Three Passes Trek (if you don't know what a lollipop loop is, just think about it for a second). From here until Lukla, I will be retracing the trail I walked nearly two weeks ago.
On a related note, I've now entered Namche via all the primary hiking trails surrounding the village; this place really is the hub of the Himalaya.
I drop in to visit with the shop owner who has become my de facto friend in Namche, and we do a bit of bonding before I head down the street for lunch. If I come back here, I owe him a down jacket (he gave me a magnet which basically makes this an airtight contract). What's for lunch? Pastries at the bakery along with my first beer of the trip (drinking on the way up is not a smart game to play with the altitude).
By the time I'm finished filling myself with cake and beer it's only two o'clock.
Guess I'm heading to Lukla today.
I get stopped at the checkpoint just south of Namche where the two guards check my TIMS card and (I'm assuming) record that I've safely made it down from mountains. Hanging on the window of their post is a sign for two missing hikers from 2014. I wonder if they're dead.
Finishing up at the TIMS checkpoint, I notice a small Nepalese man standing just past me on the trail. He appears to be staring intently at me (that, or there's something very interesting going on behind me). Given my leave, I head south and directly into this man's gaze. Yup, it's me he's staring at alright.
“Hello, friend! How are you today?” I ask. The staring continues. After a few more attempts at communication (and after receiving no response), I'm ready to go, “Well, it was nice talking to you. See ya later!” And I set off down the trail.
He follows me. When I slow down, he slows down; when I stop, he stops. Weird. I try talking to him again. No response. I decide that he's not after my organs, so I just decide to ignore him. What else am I going to do?
Eventually I am saved from this strange situation by an equally strange age, albeit far more pleasant, situation: I run into a Nepali guy I made friends with last year in the village of Ghat on my first trip up here (on day one of my Everest Base Camp trek).
My friends are going the other way, so our meeting is brief, but I'm feeling a lot better now that I'm free of my unwanted escort.
Before long, I'm passing through the village of Phakding where I see Tim (the photographer living in Hong Kong) whom I haven't seen since leaving Dzongla to head over Cho La. I stop to sit with him as he finishes his meal and then together we descend the final stretch of trail to Lukla (but remember, the real final stretch to Lukla is uphill – lame).
When we arrive, we are both keen on finding a hot shower. This begins what becomes a nearly two-hour long excursion to every lodge in town as we ask them all to allow us to test their showers before we commit to anywhere. We do not find the droids we are looking for. Instead, we settle for “not freezing” showers in the lodge across the street from the Illycaffè.
Before taking my shower I also buy myself a pair of fresh socks for 200 rupees (~$2 US) – may be the best investment of the entire trip.
Now clean(ish), we cross the street to the cafe where we get pizza and beer for dinner as we watch an Indian drama on TV (I really think I could get into these shows – I have no idea what's going on but I know they're intense – so much facial expression and camera zoom).
When the girl running the cafe tells us that she's going home for the night (aka when she kicks us out), we head back across the street to our lodge where I climb into bed and drift off into my final night of crazy altitude-induced dreams.
Three Passes Trek, check.
- Start: Thame (12,533 ft / 3,820 m)
- End: Lukla (9,383 ft / 2,860 m)
- Distance: 16.78 mi / 27 km
- Sleeping elevation change: -3,150 ft / 960 m
- Day's elevation gain: +1,309 ft / 399 m
- Total time: 8:04:33
NOTE: I have no guarantee that this route is correct, nor that it can be accurately relied upon for navigation. It should serve only as a general guideline for what the trail is expected to look like.