Lukla Travel Blog› entry 3 of 17 › view all entries
October 13th, 2008 – by: cja17
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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