AsiaNepalLukla

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Lukla Travel Blog

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Bored pilot on flight
With weather fine most mornings at Lukla, a dawn start and an early flight was the best way to keep to our schedule, so it was a little after 7am that we found ourselves in the chaos that is domestic departures at Kathmandu. Basant, our local manager, knew the system backwards and steered our supplies and luggage through the mayhem, the eight of us following meekly behind. Our fellow passengers were a small group of Aussie friends - off to visit Everest Base Camp and do some ice climbing in the Khumbu Icefall before wandering up Lobuche East - another trekking peak in the valley.

Lucky enough to grab a seat in row 1 (technically first class!), the inflight service began on the tarmac - by that I mean the elfin stewardess squeezed her way through the cabin to offer us each a boiled sweet before taking a jump seat on the rear bulkhead - her job over before we left the ground.
Lukla
With the plane full of trekkers, rucksacks and luggage, the sole qualifying attribute for cabin crew on this route seemed to be size - if you are over 5' 2" you just don't qualify. We headed out onto the runway and lined up straight into the blinding early morning sunshine - as both pilots had clearly forgotten their sunglasses the Aussie across the aisle from me leaned forward and offered his, earning a wry smile from the crew. 30 seconds after take off the captain picked up a newspaper and got stuck in - leaving the co-pilot to continue our ascent, one hand on the controls, the other visor-like shading his face.

Not the fastest plane in the world, (I've never been overtaken by a helicopter before), our Twin Otter happily rumbled Eastwards, the most famous mountain range in the world filling the view out of my window before, 40 minutes after leaving KTM, Lukla could be seen below.
Our group at Lukla
The captain took control again, descended into the valley, dropped the right wing until the view out front filled with a mountain and the runway simply climbed up to meet us head-on. After a firm, camera-dropping and video-clip-wrecking impact we rolled up the hill onto the apron - safely down at Lukla. Redundant for the approach, our co-pilot chose the film the landing on his camera, clearly as excited about it as we were.

Arrivals consisted of a gate in the fence to leave the airport, around which scores of porters lingered, waiting for day work. We grabbed our bags and skirted around the top of the runway to our lodge - finally in the Himalaya proper and raring to go. Step one for our Sirdar Pemba was to distribute the loads between our porters, so we had a couple of hours to explore Lukla, gateway to the Khumbu Valley and the start of the Everest Base Camp trail.
Flat runway!
10 minutes later, I finished exploring Lukla - you really don't want to be stuck here for more than a day.

The journey ahead would be a ragged anti-clockwise loop, crossing between the three North-South valley systems which fall away from Everest and the spine of the Himalaya into Eastern Nepal. From Lukla, there was the option of hacking straight across a the 4580m Zatr La pass to get into the right valley, but this was risky without proper acclimatisation, so the counter-intuitive alternative was to head in almost the opposite direction to where we wanted to go, then curve steadily around and onto the approach of our first goal, the near 6500m Mera Peak. We would sidestep into the Hinku Valley, then trek North to where the snout of the Mera Glacier transformed from ice into a jumble of rocks above the unlovely outpost of Khare at 4900m.
Main street, Lukla
If all went to plan (don't hold your breath - it didn't) our group would descend off Mera to the East into the remote Hongu Valley, then trek North again, crossing the scary-looking Amphu Labtsa Pass which sits a mile or so South of our second objective, Island Peak (6189m). Finally, we would return to Lukla via the Kumbhu Valley and the well-travelled Everest Base Camp trail. Not joining us for the first 10 days or so would be our Western group leader - he would remain in Kathmandu and then trek over a shortcut to meet up with us at Tagnag, a day's walk short of the Mera Glacier.

This left Ang Pemba Sherpa in charge of us at first, a supremely confident 24 year-old who had summited Cho Oyu and guided clients as far as the South Col on Everest.
Crash 4 days before. RIP all...
With him were two other climbing sherpas and his younger brother Sumba, an effervescently cheerful 18 year-old starting his sherpa training under the wing of his elder sibling. Add to this our chef, Nima Sherpa, his kitchen crew and the porters themselves, and you get a total of 24 staff looking after just 8 of us!!

As we left Lukla, we trailed quietly past the wreckage of the crashed Twin Otter, its instrument panel and control columns eerily identical to the ones I had sat behind a couple of hours earlier. Months later I would see a brief clip of the crash taken through the clouds which caused it, the camera showing a simple static shot of the runway, which disappeared into a murky grey sheet within a few metres. A steady drone from the engines buzzed across the frame, before an orange fireball flashed in the monochromatic middle distance, before the camera jarred away with the shock, the actual impact invisible throughout.
Typical sign
RIP all...

A couple of hours later, a late lunch was our first real experience of the Himalayan lodge system - a network of places to eat and sleep with absolutely no history or tradition - they existed solely because of western trekkers and climbers. Each lodge room was lined with glass cabinets of Everest beer and cheap whiskey, neither of which we had any intention of touching as this would be a teetotal trip until after Island Peak - dehydration being the sworn enemy of successful acclimatisation. Late afternoon and our first camp was a pleasantly chaotic affair in the grounds of another lodge. It seemed odd erecting bombproof high-altitude mountaineering tents in such a benign environment, but within a half hour we were happily ensconced in our rip-stop nylon homes, our adventure finally underway.
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Bored pilot on flight
Bored pilot on flight
Lukla
Lukla
Our group at Lukla
Our group at Lukla
Flat runway!
Flat runway!
Main street, Lukla
Main street, Lukla
Crash 4 days before. RIP all...
Crash 4 days before. RIP all...
Typical sign
Typical sign
Lukla
photo by: halilee