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Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?

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Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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I'm planning a return to the Khumbu in a year or two and am wondering why more people don't trek via Phortse instead of Tengboche on the way to EBC Kala Patthar? I had to abort my trek in December 2019 due to heavy snow (December is the driest month, right?), so I have already visited Tengboche and am looking for more adventurous options... On the map, it looks like the climb from Phortse Tenga to Phortse is roughly 200m (3810-3610m) versus the 610m climb from Phunki Tenga to Tengboche (3860-3250m) - so there's much less elevation loss on the Phortse route, which would seem to make it more desirable. What are the reasons that the Phortse route is less popular? Is it all about visiting the monastery or are there other reasons? Is Namche - Phortse doable in one day (looks similar to Tengboche on paper)? Thanks for any help.

16 replies to this topic
Espoo
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3,887 posts
1. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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I think the Tengpoche route has become the standard because the first Everest expeditions went up that way. "Follow the Footsteps" kind of thing. Also the idea of Rimpoche's blessing for the expedition is romantic (not may people really pay much attention to the monastery actually). Also the trail via Tengpoche is slightly shorter. What the real cumulative climb difference between Tenpoche and Phortse routes really is I am not so sure. Phortse Tenga (bridge) to Phortse is certainly less than the Tengpoche hill, but you have to consider also the long but gradual hike to Mong La first also. Best lunch views in Khumbu, though.

In any case I have been trying to promote the Phortse route here because I consider it better on the way up. Three reasons: Views are more impressive as the trail is higher and on the better side of the valley considering the location of the mountains. Also the trail is more varied, more a trail than a dusty cart track (without carts) and it has nice stone staircases. Secondly there are plenty of Himalayan tahr which are surprisingly tame, also possible to see musk deer. Thirdly, so far the number of trekkers there is maybe 90% less than on the Tengpoche route. And a bonus reason: Phortse is the best preserved Sherpa village along the EBC routes.

There has been a change in recent years, I have noticed that some expensive and exclusive operators have already started using the Phortse route on the way up to differentiate themselves from the standard offerings. Nepalese agencies seem to be more conservative just sticking to the tried and trusted itineraries. As nobody asks for more, why change?

Namche to Phortse is a normal easy day. Phortse to Dingpoche is slightly longer than from Tengpoche, because Phortse to Pangpoche takes somewhat longer.

There is also the Namche - Phortse - Ama Dablam BC (Mingbo) - Dingpoche variation, which is more demanding but doable for reasonably fit trekkers.

Edited: March 25, 2021, 4:03 am
12 posts
2. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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Thanks for the excellent information. Your points confirm my research - Phortse is the more scenic route, with an authentic village experience, wildlife - which is really why I asked the question... It seems that with so much going for it, a much larger percentage of trekkers should be using it, so I assumed there must be something, some negative, that I was missing. Thanks again!

Espoo
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3. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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I do not really see anything negative*, except a breach of tradition. Of course, if doing the 3 passes or planing to return via Gokyo, it is a tough call to decide between the better views and seeing the Tengpoche monastery.

*) the trail via Phortse is somewhat more demanding, but still nothing extraordinarily hard or scary. Experiences and thrills are what we came for, no?

None, Italy
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4. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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If you have been via Tengboche before then the Phortse route would be preferable. In general I would say if people are coming back down the Imja valley and not over one of the high passes then it would seem to make perfectly good sense to go up one way and come back the other.

I quite liked the Tengboche - Lobuche walk, we did see Tahr on this trail by the way.( Bear in mind that the climb from the river to the Tengboche ridge is one of the harder ascents on that trail) But as Ark points out the Phortse - Pangboche is more scenic and has much less traffic. Do both is my advice.

On the subject of the Tengboche monastery I can tell you that our porter who was a sherpa from near Lukla, and a devout buddhist, was entirely dismissive of the Tengboche establishment "because it was new" - having been rebuilt after a fire in the 80's. He and we both loved the Pangboche monastery.

Paris, France
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547 posts
5. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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I did found a negative point.

If at Phortse you are suffering Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), you may be in trouble. If AMS not receding by itself, you normaly need to walk down. You can do that to Phortse Tenga, but it is probably not lower enough. Then in order to go much lower, you first need to cross the Mong La, therefore hiking up! Not easy if suffering from AMS.

The lowest point you can reach easily from Phortse is the bridge on the direct path to Tengboche. In case of trouble, that was my backup plan, but no lodge there, nothing...

Since I had been a quite good altitude acclimatizer in the past, and I trekked first to Pikey Peak before entering Khumbu, I decided that Phortse was the right option for me.

During the same day, I left early Namche (after the morning puja at the gonpa), hiked to Kunde, then Khumjung where I had lunch. Then, I crossed Mong La and arrived at Phortse just before sunset.

Next day, Pangboche then go and return to Ama Dablam Base Camp. As you know, hike high, sleep low.

At that time, I was quite 58 years old, in good shape but always slow when facing steep path, with my own 15kg backpack. Therefore, any reasonnably fit trekker should be able to do it.

Beginning December 2018, I met very few people on that path. Mainly around Mong La, trekkers coming back from Gokyo.

Between Phortse and Pangboche, wonderful views to Ama Dablam. I do thank Arkienkeli which introduced this smart out-of-the-beaten-track option to us.

Fabrice

Rio de Janeiro, RJ
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6. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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In case anyone is interested, this is a picture I took of the Tengboche monastery in 1984, before the fire. Not only the monastery changed, it's a different village today.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/xhyknblorfj6662/Tengboche.jpg?dl=0

Brussels, Belgium
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7. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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Trekking agencies,guides and porters prefer what they know, and where everyone goes, where they have friends. That's also a reason why many treks remain untouristed.

None, Italy
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8. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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#6. Thanks for that Luis - that is a fascinating photo. For people unfamiliar with the area you can see the Pangboche - Phortse trail on the hillside over the valley to the right of the monastery.

#7 Pierre do you have a recommendation for a good trek that is untouristed?

Brussels, Belgium
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9. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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One that is not restricted and has lodges: Makalu BC. Also Rolwaling (can be combined with Bigu Gompa, Kalinchowk)

A tough camping trek, but also not restricted: Dhaulaghiri Circuit

A restricted one: Kanchenjunga Circuit.

Also shorter one like Pikey Peak ,Mohare Danda or even Siklis.

Espoo
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3,887 posts
10. Re: Phortse instead of Tengboche to Kala Patthar?
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I have to dig out my slides from the year 1985 also. Tengpoche was totally different then, that is true. Next time I went through in 1998 there were maybe 2-3 small lodges but the Gompa itself was new and they were building the smaller houses around it. I have to say I prefer the older building better than the new one just like the Sherpa mentioned in #4. The whole monastery is relatively new, built in 1916, most other major monasteries in Khumbu are much older like the ones in Pangpoche and Thame, from late 17th century if I am not mistaken.

While heavy tourist traffic is a blessing on one hand (donations, photo/video permits) it also makes the atmosphere not genuine in a way it is in more remote places. For the trekking masses Tengpoche is just a place to spin around with selfie sticks shooting 360 degree video. Spirituality is quite far removed from that. Also the huge hotels do not fit in, where are the zoning laws when we need them? Last time I have gone through Tengpoche was in May 2009 and looking at recent videos there has been much new construction even after that.

FabGregTB raises a valid point in #4 about acclimatisation. Crossing Mong La to south would be a problem if problems arise. On the other hand there is some climbing up also from Phunki Tenga if evacuating from Tengpoche, Very few people have problems at these altitudes though, if the recommended extra night has been spent in Namche.

Our "average trekker" has no idea what is going on in the background when trekking with a guide or a group. Guides/porters do not want to deviate from the established patterns what comes to routes, chosen lodges etc. They get free or cheap food, even kickbacks for bringing in customers. Their friends/relatives will be there, etc. So, if somebody wants to try a less travelled route (like east side trail to Gokyo), it is either destroyed by landslide, snowed shut or the lodges are not open along the route. Quite difficult to find out the truth, when even the lodge owner where you stay might own an establishment in Machermo, or his cousin does. At least an intrepid trekker should be aware of this problem.

I have been on three "package" trips/treks arranged by two Finnish "adventure travel" agencies, to Kilimanjaro, Inca Trail and Aconcagua (all for convenience). I have been able to make them change their EBC trek routing to Phortse - Pangpoche few years ago, and the customer and guide response has been overwhelmingly positive. I have also been nagging international trekking agencies for almost 10 years about this but I have no idea if it has had any effect. Anyway about half a dozen big name agencies from the US, GB and NZ are now going via the High Scenic Trail (NatGeo, Adventure Consultants, REI until they cancelled international operations, to name a few)

Last time I was there was in 2018 November-December (see post #5...). We (porter-guide & me) went both up and down to Gokyo via HST having also come up via Pikey Peak (and Dudh Kund - Yak Butter Trail). There were maybe 2-3 groups there each time, mostly coming down. I also went up to ADBC but did not overnight there as I was not aware there is a reasonably large lodge available at Mingbo Kharka. I was 64 years old that time, Pangpoche to ADBC in 1:55h, by the way, due to excellent acclimatisation on the way in.

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