UK Mountains Walking, Mountaineering and Equipment Reviews
Three Peaks and Three Passes plus EBC

Visiting the Himalaya has been on my bucket list for many years. Reading Chris Bonningtons' adventures over the years drew a vivid picture of excitement, danger and amazing mountains. It also made me want to connect with the Sherpa people, explore Buddhism a bit more and really see what Nepal as a country had to offer.

Himalayan Valley

Rather than signing up for the Everest Base Camp trek, I wanted something a bit more of a test, something that had more bragging rights so when I saw a trek that would climb three Peaks and cross three Passes all of which were over the magic 5,000m and some over 5,500m, plus a trek out to Everest Base Camp, it had my name on it! Now this might be stating the obvious, but those figures don't come easy. Jagged Globe themselves describe it as a 'tough and arduous trek'. They are not wrong! In fact, from a group of fourteen, only five managed all the objectives, and this was a fit group.

Namche Bazaar

Our trek started after a night in Kathmandu at the wonderful Summit Hotel, an oasis of calm and tranquillity if ever there was one, followed by an early flight to Lukla Airport which is nowhere near as scary as some reports would have you believe. Yes, it is a very short runway (500m), yes there is a mountain at the end of it, yes, there is no Radar so if the visibility is bad, planes cannot land or take off, yes it has a poor safety record due to overloaded planes, but the views flying in, especially on the left hand side are amazing, Lukla itself is another world and it is the start of an adventure.

Our Sherpa team plus porters met us at Lukla and guided us to a Tea House - our kit bags would magically appear shortly. We had the first, and second, and third of about a million cups of tea. We also discovered that Sherpas can make two tea-bags provide enough tea for 14 people! After a quick briefing and time to re-sort our rucsacs so we only carried the minimum we would need for the day, we set off through Lukla and through the gate and into the Sagmartha National Park, pausing for the obligatory photos of individuals and a few group shots. Interestingly, the next section is all downhill and in fact our first overnight stop at Phakding was at a lower altitude than Lukla by about 200m. We were being eased in very gently! The Phakding Lodge was also one of the best on the tour, so we were definitely being eased in.

Mani Stones

The next days trek to Namche Bazaar showed us what the Himalayas is all about with big climbs, distant views of tiny people - yes, we really do have to cross that bridge up there, and yes, that is our path way up almost in the clouds, or at least it would have been if there were any clouds. The weather followed a very similar pattern for the entire trek; mornings started off cool but bright with no cloud, as the day wore on until lunchtime it rapidly warmed up. In the afternoon the clouds rolled in from the valley, catching us later and later as we distanced ourselves from Lukla and the valley beyond. By early evening it cooled considerably and by dark at around 6pm big coats were necessary.

On the climb to Namche, there is an Everest viewpoint, but on this day the clouds had arrived early, denying us the view which was a shame, but we would only have to wait until tomorrow. Namche Bazaar is built on a hillside, apparently there is a 200m of altitude gain from the bottom to the top. It is true that you can buy anything you want/need in Namche and it is also true that haggling can often pay with discounts reluctantly agreed to, but even if no discount is forthcoming, it is fun to try, and everyone takes it in good humour. Often heard 'How much! No.' Saving 100 Rupees (about 70p) could take time, but is time well spent for the entertainment value alone. Namche also has several excellent cafes which sell great coffee and awesome cake, most of which also offer free Wi-Fi so well worth checking out for all those reasons. The 8848 café being a particular favourite.

Eagle

We had two nights in Namche to allow the altitude gain to 'catch up'. On our free day, we visited the Tenzing Norgay memorial before breakfast which boasts fabulous views of Mount Everest - this time, no clouds! The views from here are stunning and it was only about 10 minutes from the Lodge. After breakfast we took an acclimatisation walk up to the Everest View Hotel at 3,800m which is perfectly placed to view Everest and Nuptse directly ahead and Ama Dablam to the right. Everest summit popped in and out of the cloud and almost made it look like it was on fire.

Several people were already suffering from headaches, some worse than others. A couple had started using Diamox to aid with the acclimatisation. Personally, I'd had no headaches at all, nor did I suffer a single headache for the entire trip. I'm not sure there's a secret, everyone kept well hydrated, consuming much more water than me, everyone had pretty much the same rate of ascent. Maybe one minor difference is that I keep my water bottles on my rucsac belt so took on water at a more frequent rate than others who drank a lot but infrequently whereas I took smaller more frequent drinks.

Everest

Onward from Namche the following day to Thame (rhymes with clammy) where the aforementioned Tenzing Norgay was born, and also Apa Sherpa who has summitted Everest 21 times. On the way, we visited another Monastery at Thamo which is for Nuns only. I met one of the Nuns who gave me a blessing and sold me a necklace which I wore for the remainder of the trek. The Monastery is beautiful inside and well worth the minor detour to get to it.

Thame is a very small village with a Monastery overlooking it on the slopes of the mountain. We had arrived quite early so had plenty of time. We had also noticed a lodge advertising cake so enthusiastically marched down and demanded said cake. It turned out it was owned by a very friendly lady who had run (and won) the Everest Marathon on more than one occasion - very impressive. Slightly less impressive was her cake making abilities! Clearly unused to baking a cake with sugar, or it would seem, any other flavouring, we patiently waited whilst she produced a chocolate cake. Dividing it between 12 was a challenge but we were all rather relieved that the portions were small. Thanking her as politely as we could, we paid the bill and headed out.

Ama Dablam

The draw of the Monastery above Thame was too much to resist so whilst everyone else retired to the lodge I took a walk up the gentle path, arriving within about 20 minutes. It was deserted so I carefully and quietly made my way into the temple area, not wanting to disturb or offend the Monks. I need not have worried. I was spotted by a young Monk who encouraged me to visit the temple but warned me that shoes must be removed, and no photography was allowed inside. I complied and was given the reward of a personal guided tour of the temple, shown the books which dated from 600 years ago, told about the Monastery itself - one of the oldest in the region and the young Monk told me he had been there 15 years since the age of 8. It was a very moving experience and I felt very refreshed but humbled as I bade him farewell, promising to visit the next day with my friends. At the age of 23, he had everything he wanted, was totally content with his life and couldn't conceive of being anywhere else or doing anything else. As I walked back down to the lodge in the fading light, I stopped for a few moments just to enjoy the silence, the view across the valley and to try to imagine spending an entire lifetime there.

The following day we visited the Monastery again, this time en-masse on our way up the mountain for an acclimatisation walk. We managed 4,300m before we decided that would do and lunchtime was approaching!

The following day we trekked up to Lundgren which was the most basic Lodge so far. The bedrooms were almost like beach bathing huts but did feature an en-suite hole in the ground! The temperature had dropped considerably but we were at 4,300m so not surprising. There were no discernible washing facilities but there was an outside shed that had 'Shower' written on it. I don't think anyone tried it. I had considered commenting on clothing choices but whereas I had been comfortable in a T-Shirt so far, a couple of others had worn down jackets during the day. Adding an extra mid-layer from here on suited me, but others were in Thermal base-layers, mid-layers and down jackets. At the other end of the spectrum, one guy was still in shorts, so clothing choices are extremely personal, and it would be impossible to recommend.

Our following night was our one and only camping night at Renjo Lake, so done to put us in a good position for our first big test; the Renjo La at 5,360m. On arrival, the Sherpa team had pitched all the tents, including the mess tent and were well on their way to preparing lunch. Seriously, they are unbelievable! It was a really nice site, quiet and remote, but became very cold in the evening and overnight - bed-socks were a 'must have'.

The ascent of the Renjo La was a tough outing but the reward was stunning; views across to Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and Puomori and many others I didn't recognise. We were finally over 5,000m! The descent is every bit as hard, but the reward is Gokyo and the lakes which come into view early and are just stunning.

Gokyo lodge had internal bedrooms and a hot shower (for Re700) which I took advantage of but had to dress quickly afterwards as the temperature inside the lodge was quite chilly. A word about the lodges; they generally comprise twin bedrooms, some of which have basic en-suite facilities. Generally, they are part of the main lodge, but not always. There is a common room which has a wood (or often Yak dung) burner in the centre of the room which is normally lit early evening and warms the room nicely, but once the evenings supply of dung has been used up, that's it. The room cools which normally signals time to make a run for the bedroom. Sometimes the supplied quilts are sufficient, higher up most people were in their sleeping bags as well - the bedding doesn't look like it is changed frequently! Boiled water is supplied by the Sherpas each evening which needs to last until the next evening, although bottles can be purchased from most lodges at an ever-increasing price the higher you go. Tap water in the lodges is okay for washing, but not for drinking or teeth cleaning.

Gokyo and Cho Oyu

Gokyo provided us with a rest day, some electing to walk down the lakes to view the glacier, myself included, others took the more challenging walk in the direction of Cho Oyu base camp which I thought was a stretch given that we had just crossed a Pass and tomorrow we would climb Gokyo Ri (5,357m) but each to their own.

Gokyo Ri starts pretty much outside the lodge and takes around two hours to ascend, but due to the long day ahead, we left the lodge at 4am. It was cold enough for me to be in full gear including my Black Diamond gloves and Russian Hat, although within a short space of time I needed to remove my Down Jacket. Due to the different pace of the team, frequent stops were needed to allow the tail-enders to catch up. It wasn't long before we took the decision to split the groups into ability-based groups. I thought we should have done that right from the get-go but that was just my opinion. As we ascended, the dawn glow appeared behind us, lighting up Everest and the surrounding range. Clearly, we would not see the dawn rise over Everest from the summit, so a few took the opportunity to watch it from our current altitude.

Himalayan Meadow

The final section of the climb was a bouldery scramble which was tough on the thighs, but we overcame it to stand on the summit and marvel at the views. Back down for breakfast followed by the trek to Dragnag which involved crossing the mighty Ngozumba Glacier. The crossing point changes over the years but either way it is a hard crossing, making our way over boulder fields, around frozen lakes, zig-zagging our way across. Glaciers being what they are, there is normally a climb down to get onto it and another off, this was no exception, but luckily the exit was easier than the entry. Dragnag Lodge appeared surprisingly quickly afterwards.

Island Peak

The Cho La (5,420m) was the next on our list, requiring another early start and plenty of warm clothes. The entire climb was either in the dark or shadow as a result of the high mountains either side and the angle of the sun. This made it a very cold day. My Down jacket along with base and mid-layers remained on for the entire day - quite unusual for me. There is a section of downhill from which the summit of the pass is in sight and looks as steep as it proved to be with a scramble over large rocks near the top. Five and a half hours from the lodge followed by four hours down, partly across a glacier where our in-step style crampons were necessary to avoid slipping. These crampons fit almost any type of boot from B0 upwards, so it is not necessary to wear B1 boots for any part of this trek. The lodge at Dzongla was basic but comfortable and most took advantage of the relatively early finish for an afternoon nap. One of our team, who had been suffering with a bad cold and cough was diagnosed with HAPE and spent the afternoon and evening on Oxygen, being constantly monitored. A helicopter came first thing in the morning to evacuate him back to Lukla and then onward to Kathmandu for hospital treatment.

Our trek to Lobuche was tiring for most people, me included so we all took it easy, frequently stopping for breaks. We met up with the main EBC trekking route today and there was a significant increase in traffic, both human and Yak in both directions. I felt very tired today, even walking upstairs took it toll, so underachieving was the order of the afternoon. I'd finally succumbed to the cough and colds that are doing the rounds amongst the team which wasn't helping matters.

Yaks on the trail

Our next stop was Gorakshep, a place I had wanted to visit for many years, featuring as it does in many early Everest accounts and in fact, was the original Base Camp before it was moved further up the glacier. I must confess to some disappointment with the reality, consisting as it does of several lodges and a couple of shops, but does having the saviour of a coffee shop which also sold excellent cake and reasonably priced. We had lunch there before taking the additional trek out to EBC further up the valley. I found this additional trek really hard work, especially on the way back when I began to flag. EBC is empty of tents currently, but very full of tourists on the EBC trek so one must wait for a turn on the traditional photo spot. The icefall can be clearly seen from here, but the Western Cwm and Everest are both hidden from view, although Everest was visible on the walk-in. I was pleased to be back at the lodge having gotten quite cold during the final half hour or so. I think the combination of altitude, general fatigue and a cold were finally hitting me. After dinner I was in bed by 7:30pm and slept like a baby.

Pumori, Kala Patthar and Gorakshep

Kala Patthar rises to 5,643m and is the highest point on our trek. It starts at Gorakshep almost immediately and rises steeply up, culminating in a boulder field at the summit but again, a summit well worth the effort. To toast our success, I took out my Jack Daniels hip flask which proved very popular especially amongst the Sherpas. Back down, we had lunch at the lodge before a three-hour trek back to Lobuche again.

The final Pass; the Kongma La (5,528m), was an option that could be avoided by a longer but flatter route around. Just five of the team elected to cross the Kongma La, myself included. I had come on this trek to climb Three Peaks and cross Three Passes, plus visit EBC and that was my intention, however hard it proved, it never occured to me to do anything else. I think the Kongma La was the toughest of them all, coming as it does after several days of tough climbs, but we made our way steadily up, stopping frequently. The Sherpas seem to have a sixth sense, just when I really felt like I needed to rest, the lead Sherpa called a rest. We eventually reached the top of the pass which was a very thin summit, barely room to sit down, but we found places out of necessity. Other reports describe the far side as being easier than the side we came up. Well, I guess that's probably true but only because the climb flattens in places giving a rest, whereas the Lobuche side is relentlessly up. As we descended, Chukhung came into view, then out again, dwarfed as it was by the monster that is Island Peak (6,189m) beyond. On our way down, we spotted the rest of the team making their way up the valley and arrived within a few minutes of them to applause.

Buddhist Stupa with Everest and Lhotse

Another problem had arisen, Alex had been suffering for a while and was getting worse, so the decision was made to evacuate him. Unfortunately, the helicopter couldn't make it, so he was taken down by horse to the local hospital at Pheriche where he would be treated that evening and then flown out the following day.

Our final peak was Chukhung Ri (5,546m), again almost immediately outside the Lodge and a good couple of hours but a longer walk than other peaks due to a slightly flattened section mid-way before going steeply up again and onto the final boulder field to the summit. Again, the JD emerged and was handed round along with the final bag of jelly babies as a celebration of our final peak bag. Along with the Sherpas, myself, David, Ian, 'G' and Liam congratulated each other on a 'full bag' of Peaks and Passes before heading back down for lunch at the lodge. The afternoon trek was down to Dingboche which was pretty much downhill all the way apart from a very slight uphill section right at the end.

Next day was more downhill with one major sting. To get to the Tengboche Monastery the path descends to the river then has a mighty climb back up to the Monastery itself, catching many out, but not feeling too bad I thought - maybe we are acclimatised and with the relative low altitude of less than 4,000m our bodies coped well. The Monastery is beautiful, and the café served us Cheese and Tomato sandwiches with chips which was just perfect. In addition, it sold cake which we all took full advantage of. Our Sirdar had told us some days ago that he had been a Carpenter at the Monastery and proudly showed us his work as we toured. It is much bigger than Thame, but in my opinion, Thame is a more rewarding experience to visit. As we left the Monastery, we could see across the valley to the Everest View Hotel and Namche Bazaar where we would be tomorrow.

The following day we arrived in Namche for early coffee, cake, Wi-Fi and final tourist stuff before heading back down to Phakding again and our final night on the trek. Tomorrow we would be in Lukla preparing for our flight back to Kathmandu and the luxury of the Summit Hotel. Or so we thought!

Gokyo Lake and Ngozumpa Glacier

We arrived in Lukla feeling good. The lower altitude and increased Oxygen working wonders. Checking into our Lodge by the airport we busied ourselves repacking ready for tomorrows flight out. We also met with the Sherpas and Porters to give them their very well-earned tips. Smiles all round and much gratitude. I had been told that the Sherpas would be grateful for whatever we gave them and indeed they were, although we were generous, but no more than they deserved for all their hard work over the last three weeks. I couldn't help contrasting with Africa last year where the tips were an expectation and immediately checked, whereas the Sherpas politely pocketed the money. Our final day came, and we hurried round to the airport to watch the first flight leave. Ours would be soon, but then disaster! The clouds rolled in and all flights were cancelled for the entire day. Being British we stuck it out in the hope that it would clear but no such luck, so we returned to the lodge feeling very dejected.

Next morning, back to the airport and this time we got the flight out, not to Kathmandu, but to the remote airfield of Ramechhap where we were met by a coach dispatched by the Summit Hotel. A five-hour drive followed which was better than it sounds - we got to see rural Nepal, dine out in a small village roadside café, meet some Nepalese who were, without exception, helpful and friendly, and generally see something more of the country than we would otherwise have done. Finally, we arrived at the Hotel, taking well earned and needed showers and relaxed for the afternoon before heading out into Kathmandu for a final meal.

It had been an incredible trip, exceeding my expectations in so many ways. The Jagged Globe organisation was first class, the Sherpas were awesome and the Nepalese people so helpful and friendly, the views breathtaking. All we had to do was to turn up and climb a few mountains and passes, how hard could that be?

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