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Trekking the Cho La Pass | Three Passes Trek

Trekking the Cho La Pass | Three Passes Trek

The Cho La Pass is one of the most iconic passes to trek while visiting Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas of Nepal.

Not only will you get some stunning views of the surrounding mountains and landscape, but you will also trek on an actual glacier.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Cho La Pass trek that connects the village of Dzongla with the Gokyo region.

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1) What is the Cho La Pass

Before diving into the guide, I thought it would first be helpful to explain what the Cho La Pass is all about.

While most people who visit the region just head out on the standard 11 day Everest Base Camp trek, some opt to take part of a longer trek in the region. One of these optional add ons is the Cho La Pass.

The Cho La Pass essentially connects the main Everest Base Camp route with the Gokyo region (home to the Gokyo Lakes and Gokyo Ri mountain). Many people like to enjoy an additional day or two in Gokyo itself to do some of these day hike options – highly recommended!

What makes the Cho La Pass so unique, is that you actually trek on a glacier during a portion of the trail. That means you must put crampons on (more on that later), in order to get yourself up and over the pass.

The Cho La Pass is also part of the longer Three Passes trek, which includes 2 additional passes (Kongma La and Renjo La), while also visiting Everest Base Camp along the way.

While you can take part of the Cho La Pass as part of the larger Three Passes trek, you also have the option to simply just do the Cho La Pass on its own without the other two passes.

Below is a map of the region showing the standard Everest Base Camp trek (blue), Three Passes Trek (green), and just the option to do Everest Base Camp trek + Cho La Pass + Gokyo (red).

Cho La Pass Map

2) Cho La Pass Details

Most people who take part of the Cho La Pass do so as a day trek between the small village of Dzongla and the lakeside village of Gokyo. Below are some helpful things to know about the trek:

 

Starting Point: Dzongla

Ending Point: Gokyo

Dzongla Elevation: 15,850 feet / 4,830 meters

Gokyo Elevation: 15,584 feet / 4,790 meters

Distance: 12 KM / 7.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 720 meters / 2,362 feet

Duration: 7-8 Hours

 

The day up and over the Cho La Pass is not an easy one. We are talking about a 7+ hour day that includes over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Along the way, you will be trekking on ice on the Cho La Pass in addition to hiking across the Ngozumpa Glacier.

While Ngozumpa is a glacier, during this portion of trail, you will be more so walking across a very uneven rocky terrain and less so like the icy trail on the Cho La Pass.

If you are wondering about overall difficulty of the Cho La Pass, be sure to head to the end of the article for more helpful info!

Cho La Pass Hiking

3) Cho La Pass Map

While the map above gives a higher level view of the region, below you can find a map that shows just the route between Dzongla and Gokyo.

You will start by heading towards the icy patch of the Cho La Pass as you slowly gain all that elevation. From there it is a downhill trek towards the small village of Thagnak, which can be a good pit stop for lunch. Thagnak is located just before the route over the Ngozumpa Glacier begins.

Once past Thagnak, it is then across the Ngozumpa Glacier and onto Gokyo.

Cho La Pass Hike Map

4) Elevation Gain Detail

Below you can find the elevation gain profile of the trek between the two villages.

The trail starts off on a slight incline before gaining all that elevation towards the high point of the Cho La Pass. What makes the trek so difficult here is that all of the elevation gain is basically within a 2 km / 1.2 miles stretch.

Once on top of the pass, it is then down and around towards the Gokyo Lakes.

Cho La Pass Elevation Gain Profile

5) Cho La Pass Glacier & Crampons

Before getting into the details of the trek itself, I did want to touch upon the idea that crampons are a necessity on this portion of trail.

The crampons will only be used for around 45 minutes or so as you reach the edge of the Cho La Pass before crossing the glacier ice field and trekking up to the pass itself.

Once you reach the top of the pass, you can take off your crampons and head down towards Gokyo on normal terrain.

While the idea of crampons may be overwhelming for some, it is really not as intense as it sounds. Most, if not all of the crampons used on the Cho La Pass are just stretchy rubber with metal spikes that goes on top of your hiking shoes.

These crampons can be purchased at many shops that line the streets in Namche Bazaar. They cost less than $10 USD and you can even give them back at the end of the trek if you don’t want them to go to waste.

Below is a photo of the crampons on top of my hiking shoes to give you an idea of how simple it is to get them on.

Cho La Pass Crampons

6) Cho La Pass Trek

After having a hearty breakfast and checking out of your Dzongla teahouse, make your way behind the small village and begin the trek up towards the Cho La Pass.

The first portion of trail is relatively easy as you trek for around 45-60 minutes on mostly flat terrain.

Out in front, you will be able to see the trail etched into the Himalayan landscape with mountains surrounding you in each direction.

For the most part, this section of trail will be on am easy to follow dirt path as you get closer to the bottom of the Cho La Pass.

Dzongla Cho LaDzongla to Gokyo Dzongla to Cho La Pass

Then the tough part begins as the trail begins to ascend up the mountainside. Here is where nearly all of that elevation gain will happen as you make your way up towards the glacier.

Although it is a tough climb up towards the pass, the surrounding landscape is just a surreal sight to take in. Out behind you will be Ama Dablam with various other mountains, river, glaciers all in view.

While the path here is easy to follow and has been etched into the mountainside, there are still loose rocks and tricky terrain to maneuver. Be sure to watch your step along the way and take care towards the top of the pass.

As you get closer to the Cho La glacier, you will also begin to see the green colored lake from the previous day’s trek from Lobuche to Dzongla. Be sure to also take some breaks along the way to not only enjoy the view but also to avoid overexerting yourself.

Cho La Pass Elevation Ama Dablam Cho LaCho La Pass Difficulty Cho La Himalayas

Soon enough right in front of you will be the white capped glacier that stands between you and the top of the pass.

As you approach the start of the glacier, find a safe place to sit down and put on your crampons. From here, the trek up the glacier begins.

Just the start of the glacier trek can be a bit tricky as you walk a narrow line right alongside the mountainside. Be extra cautious during this first portion of trail and watch each and every step you take.

Cho La Glacier Three Passes Trek Snow

The trail will soon open up onto the wider glacier, where it is much more spacious to navigate. You will zig zag through the glacier until the final climb towards the Cho La Pass begins.

It can get a bit tough here as you now need to gain some elevation on the glacier itself. Be sure to get a solid footing each step you take to avoid any potential slipping on the ice.

After the short climb up, you will finally reach the Sherpa prayer flags on top of the pass itself. Take some time up top here to sit back and enjoy the view of the glacier that you just climbed.

» As you can see in these images, the day I trekked over the Cho La Pass was quite cloudy at times. Even though there were clouds, the overall weather was still pretty great. Believe it or not, this was the most cloudy day I came across during the entirety of my 20+ days in the Himalayas.

For this reason, I highly recommend a November trek around the Everest region. Outside of this one mostly cloudy day, the rest of my trip had some of the best weather I could ask for.

Cho La Ice Hiking Three Passes Trek Cho La

Once all done on the top of the pass, you can remove your crampons, and begin the trek downwards as you now lose all that elevation.

The way down will mostly be this rocky zig zagging path that also has a safety line to guide you. Compared to the trek down from the Kongma La Pass, this one should be much easier.

As you are making your way down, you will also be able to see the path out in the distance that you will continue to follow towards Thagnak.

After quite the decline down, you will pass by the end of the mountain section and be back on more of a dirt path in the valley below.

Continue along as you pass by one more short incline section before the trail then has a steady decline.

Trek Down Cho La Pass Thagnak Hike

The path from here goes straight down a narrow valley as you have a small river to your left and the mountainside to your right. Soon enough you will see the small village of Thagnak out in the distance.

Continue the trek into town, where you can find a teahouse to take a break, have lunch and rest a bit before continuing onto Gokyo.

Thagnak NepalThagnak Gokyo

Soon after leaving Thagnak, the trail will begin to cut across the Ngozumpa Glacier. Now like I mentioned earlier, you will not need crampons for this section of trail. However, it is still a tough terrain to walk on.

It will feel like a never-ending labyrinth of winding routes that go up and down throughout the glacier. Within the glacier itself you will walk over rivers, around some lakes, and up and over the tricky pathways.

While the walk here is done on the dirt and rock that covers the ice of the glacier, you will come across large pieces of exposed ice during the walk across as well.

Soon you will reach the opposite side of the glacier, where you will begin the climb up the wall and off of the glacier.

Ngozumpa Glacier Hike Ngozumpa River Ngozumpa Glacier Lake Ngozumpa Glacier Ice

Once you are out of the glacier, it is just another 15 or so minutes until you reach the village of Gokyo.

First you will see one of the Gokyo lakes come into view, followed by the village itself down below.

There will be some nice viewpoint spots here, where you will have several highlights in view including Gokyo Ri, the Renjo La Pass, the lake and the village.

It is then a short walk down to Gokyo, where you can find a teahouse to spend the night (or a few nights). Be sure to fuel up and get some well-deserved rest after a long day trekking in the Himalayas.

Thagnak to Gokyo Hike Cho La Pass to Gokyo

7) How Difficult is the Cho La Pass

One of the most frequent questions I get around the Three Passes trek is how difficult is the Cho La Pass.

I answer that by saying, for those who are already comfortable hiking in Sagarmatha National Park, heading to Everest Base Camp, and trekking up Kala Patthar, the Cho La Pass should not be out of your physical comfort zone.

Yes, there is quite a bit of elevation gain here in a short distance, however, if you take things slowly and pace yourself, there really should not be much of an issue.

Comparing it to a Kala Patthar or a Nangkartshang Peak (acclimatization over Dingboche), the Cho La Pass should be right in line with those.

Now, on top of the elevation gain and terrain, we are also talking about trekking on an icy glacier. This will be much different than the normal route you are used to. However, as long as you have crampons on and take things slowly, this portion should not be considered difficult.

When you think about the entire day here – Dzongla -> Cho La Pass -> Thagnak -> Ngozumpa Glacier -> Gokyo – we are talking about a long and strenuous day (although you could also split it up and sleep in Thagnak). So, be sure to understand your own physical abilities, and how comfortable you are trekking for that much time (7+ hours) at altitude in a single day.

I believe a trek over the Cho La Pass is well worth the effort to not only get this unforgettable experience but also to get to enjoy all that the Gokyo region has to offer. So, if you have some extra time and want to extend your Everest Base Camp trek, then a hike over the Cho La Pass is a great option.

 

That about wraps up a guide to the Cho La Pass trek. If you have any questions or comments feel free to add them in below.

Be sure to also check out the other Nepal itineraries and guides up on the site for more helpful content.

Have fun out there and safe travels!

 

Cho La Pass Nepal Trek

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