With four of the highest peaks in the world, Nepal is home to some of the most hair-raising and vomit-inducing passes for trekkers and climbers. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons why Nepal continues to be one of the exciting destinations for nature lovers and thrill seekers. But first, what are passes? These are landmarks that separate two mountain regions. It’s also where you achieve the highest altitude.
Along with the altitude is the ever-looming possibility of high altitude sickness, or worse, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). You cannot hurry your body to get used to breathing in higher environments. Sometimes it takes a couple of days to let your body get used to going another thousand meters higher. This is the challenge of people who want to trek the Himalayas - on one hand, the air is naturally thinner because of the altitude, on the other hand, you also burn more oxygen because of the sheer physical effort it takes to trek on steep, elevated land. Even the most experienced trekkers bow down to the elements in these parts. So, the preparation it takes to cross any of these passes is just as important as the actual climb.
Here, we compile four moderately-challenging to vertigo-inducing passes, in Nepal:
Thorong-la Pass is the highest navigable pass in the world, and it is also the highest point in the Annapurna Circuit at 5,416 meters (17,769 feet). It is not as grueling as Everest but is known to claim its share of lives. A snowstorm in 2015 claimed over 43 lives, and another 518 residents and trekkers were rescued at the Annapurna Circuit. A lot of trekkers have been stranded here as well. In 2014, it claimed 29 trekkers in an accident known to be the worse climbing disaster Nepal has ever seen. This is not to scare those who want to climb Thorung-La and Annapurna, which usually takes 10 to 12 days to traverse but merely to show how much commitment is needed to go through these snow-capped areas.
The area also has stupendous sights, such as the Annapurna Massif, Manaslu, Tilicho Peak, and Gangapurna. The trek usually starts in Dharapani and ends in the Kali Gandaki River Valley or the Black River. It also passes through waterfalls, cliffs, forests and paddy fields, as well as through many highland villages. The circuit is considered the best long distance trail in the world.
Address: Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
2. The magnanimous Cho-La Pass to Everest
It’s not always possible to climb Cho-La Pass. The trek has a lot of variables including weather, climbing equipment, and most importantly, perhaps, the ability and willpower of the climber. Many experienced climbers rate this pass as moderate to fairly challenging. The pass connects the Everest Base Camp and Gokyo Valley, which has Gokyo Lake, a cobalt-blue lake that’s worth the trek. Higher up is Gokyo Ri, the peak. More than this, the trek allows you amazing views of Himalayan vistas that include Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Everest - the four highest peaks on Earth. The trek also allows you to pass through small villages with vast historic significance, such as Namche, a town that comes alive, especially every Saturday. Here, the people of Nepal, Tibet, and sometimes Bhutan meet to trade their wares and animals. Speaking of animals, these parts are part of the yak grazing area, so you’ll most likely be sharing road space with them.
Everest Base Camp
Address: Khumjung 56000, Nepal
Book Now: Everest Base Camp
3.Strive for Heaven on the Kang-La Pass to Dolpo
Some say that striving to reach Dolpo, via the Kang-La Pass, is akin to striving to reach heaven. Its inaccessibility has made it aspirational for many trekkers who strive to follow in the footsteps of the Tibetan salt caravan route. While still part of Nepal, much of its jurisdiction and culture leans towards Tibet and you’ll need special permits should you want to trek this pass. There are no green pastures in Dolpo. Everything is hard mountain range with dramatic landscapes, coupled with snowcapped peaks and rain-shadowed country.
Dolpo is one of the most remote areas in Nepal which makes it one of the most rewarding to climb. Here, you’ll be able to see some high altitude wildlife, such as the mountain goat, the blue sheep, and if you’re lucky, the elusive snow leopards. Most of these are protected by the Shey Phoksundo National Park where Phoksundo Lake is, said to be the makings of a female demon. In striking aquamarine, the lake dramatically stands out from the rest of the gray and somber weather. While there is no wildlife there, it is a sight to behold, in Dolpo.
Address: Western Nepal
Book Now: Dolpo District
4.The colorful Ganja-La Pass to Langtang
Unlike other passes, you’ll see a lot of color and greenery in Ganja-La at 5,122 meters (16,804 feet) above sea level, heading to Langtang Valley. There will be lots of rhododendrons, forests, and waterfalls along the way. Towards the end, there are also leisurely side trips towards monasteries and rice paddies. The Langtang region is one of the most accessible areas from Kathmandu, yet it has retained its provincial, untouched feel. There, you’ll be able to see the Gossaikunda Lakes. While Langtang, like the villages of Tarke Gyang and Sermathang, is prevalently Nepalese, many of the ancestors of the people here, hold claims to Tibet, and so many of them look more Tibetan than Nepalese.
Address: North of Kathmandu Valley
Book Now: Langtang
Preparation is key
Trekking these passes involves a lot of physical and mental stamina. For the Nepalese and Tibetans, it involves a lot of spiritual focus, as well. But the laborious act and the distance often make these passes a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking. To any climber, the harder the pass, the more worth it and aspirational it becomes. So, whether you’re in it for the long run or if this is just a one-shot adventure, make sure you fully prepare. Many climbers have tried before, and have turned back. Make sure you’re not one of them.
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