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Imagine this: 

You’ve spent over 5 nights in the Himalayas, trekking with a heavy bag full of gear. You overcame various terrains and walked side by side with trekkers from around the world, as well as yaks and donkeys. 

After pushing yourself HARD, you finally made it to Gorak Shep, just an hour away from Everest Base Camp. You spent the last couple of nights above 4000m, and now you’re tossing and turning in the crisp night air at above 5000m.  

Your alarm goes off at 3:30am. What do you do?  

I advise you… Do NOT hit snooze!  Get out our your warm sleeping bag, grab a flashlight, go into the freezing cold night, and start the 2+ hour climb to the summit of Kala Patthar. You will NOT regret it. 
View from Kala Pattar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal

Kala Patthar is a ‘small’ summit, at 5550m. It overlooks the Khumbu Glacier, Everest Base Camp, and is an incredible viewpoint for Everest itself. Although the trek to the top, especially before sunrise, is strenuous on the body and mind, it was one of my highlights of my trip to Nepal

As mentioned in Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, Kala Patthar is a mountain that mountaineers who summit Everest will spend time on as well. If you’re trekking to Everest Base Camp in May, this is when most of the Everest summit attempts take place. You may be able to meet some people at Kala Patthar (or Namche Bazaar) who have, or will summit Everest!  

View from Kala Patthar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
The Kala Patthar side trek starts in the dark and in the freezing cold Himalayan night. But there is something special about this moment if you focus on your senses (and not just feeling cold). 
 
If your eyes can adjust to the cold and the altitude, peer over in the direction of Everest. You may be able to see Everest summitters trekking just like you, to higher camps on Everest or going up the summit itself! Although you won’t be able to make out individuals, you may be able to see a string of light beams moving on the side of the mountain. 
 
If you listen in the stillness of the crisp night, you can even hear the glaciers moving. It sounds like there might be avalanches in the distance because of the tons of ice moving along in much the same way. 
View from Kala Pattar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
To continue your own trek up Kala Patthar, keep your eye out for rock towers, or cairns, that mark the trail that winds up the gravelly slope. The trail starts clear in the dirt, but then splits and webs out over the side of Kala Patthar. 
 
Eventually the sky turns from black to a deep blue, signaling that the sun is almost up. The guesthouses of Gorak Shep look like legos beneath you. But don’t settle for this view! Keep pushing until you get to the top! 
 
The gravel under your feet will turn to larger rocks, and finally boulders when you reach the summit. Prayer flags drape over the top boulder, creating a colorful foreground to the snowy mountains glittering in the back.
Everest and the Khumbu ice fall and glacier from Kala Patthar at sunrise, Nepal

You’ll see the sun first cast its rays on the taller mountains surrounding Kala Patthar. You may recognize Ama Dablam from your hike up, as well as Lobuche and Nuptse mountains in front of you, and Pumori behind you. 

Of course, looming in the distance, is mighty Everest itself, Sagarmartha, the Top of the World. 

View from Kala Patthar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
This elevation that you’ve pushed yourself to reach, 5550m, is probably the highest you’ve been, and will be for a long time. It’s even higher than Kongma La, the highest of the three passes on the Three Passes Trek

The struggle was hard to reach this point, but the view of the mountain range around you is the reward. To experience this reward again, I would endure the struggle again and again. 
 
There is an overwhelming feeling of: I’ve made it! 
View from Kala Patthar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
View from Kala Patthar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal

Tips on summitting Kala Patthar

  • It takes about 2-2.5 hours to reach the top of Kala Patthar from Gorak Shep, so count the hours back from expected sunrise
  • Be sure to get there before sunrise. When the sun comes up over the mountains and over Everest, it’s blinding to be at the summit of Kala Patthar
  • The top boulder on Kala Patthar is very dangerous to be on, there’s a sheer drop on the other side so it’s best to avoid it
  • Things to pack: Flashlight or headlamp, WARM clothes, water, something to take pictures with. See my full packing list for trekking in Nepal. 
  • It’s so cold getting to the Kala Patthar summit that many electronics will lose their battery power. Keep them warm next to your body on the way up so there’s some juice left when you get to the top! 
View from Kala Patthar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
The road up Kala Patthar is a rocky, exhausting one! Not an easy feat to reach 5550m!

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View from Kala Pattar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
View from Kala Pattar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal
View from Kala Pattar next to Everest, Everest Base Camp, a side trek from the Three Passes Trek in Nepal