Day 1: Lukla to Phakding

Phakding, Nepal
8,700 feet above sea level; 73% oxygen

Back at the airport at 5:30 a.m. this morning felt like a case of Groundhog Day. To make matters worse, another soupy layer of pollution hung thick over the city as the sun attempted to rise.

So, it came as little surprise when the first delay announcement came. While the tension rose, there was also cause for some relief: the cause was poor weather in Kathmandu. Indeed, Dawa confirmed that the skies were clear in Lukla.

By 10 a.m., the sun had burned off the fog and we were called to board our small aircraft, a Twin Otter designed to land and take-off on short runways. There were just enough seats to hold our group and 90 minutes later, we erupted into applause as our wheels lifted off.

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Inside the non-pressurized cabin, we ascended to 12,500 feet for the 45-minute flight. After passing the tin towns on Kathmandu’s outskirts, we soared over terraced farms at the foothills of the Himalayas. Off in the distance, we then spotted a narrow, upwardly sloped runway carved into the mountainside.

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Having watched the wild videos of landings into Tenzing Norgay Airport, the approach into Lukla did not disappoint. The runway is a mere 1,700 feet long, with one side 180 feet higher than the other.

Needless to say, it was not the least stressful landing that I’ve ever experienced.

Safe on the ground, now 9,366 feet above sea level, we handed over our bags to our porters — three zobkyo (pronounced like “joekay”), a mixed breed of yak and cow — retied our hiking boots and prepared to start our trek to Everest Base Camp.

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Heading through pine and cedar woods along the Dudh Kosi Valley, the steep trail initially descended a steep flight of stone steps.

In this part of Nepal, there are no roads. The trail we were now following was essentially the Himalayan Highway. We would follow it through several dozen villages from Lukla for about 40 miles to the base of Mount Everest. The highway is subject to its own traffic: human porters and yak caravans carrying tremendous loads of building supplies, food, drinks and other goods.

We passed through the small village of Cheplung. The trail was lined with rocks engraved with Buddhist carvings, pearl white stupas and colorful prayer flags flapping in the breeze. There was the near constant sound of bells tied to the necks of yaks and zobkyo.

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The skies were clear as we soaked in the magical scenery. We crossed several suspension bridges over gushing, crystal clear glacial water.

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After about 3 hours and 3 miles, the Sunrise Lodge & Restaurant, in the small village of Phakding appeared. These simple teahouses offer basic rooms and foods; they are not the reason for visiting the Himalayas. But they do offer a place to recharge and refuel on the trek.

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With a big day in front of us, we settled in for an early evening. Little did we know that our 8 p.m. bedtime would be the latest of the entire week.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] of training to get there. By reading the Mountain Madness itinerary, and another base camp trek blog I searched out, I was able to analyze the trip and thus get a clearer picture of what I was in […]

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