Note: This is an entry in a multi-part account of my June 2014 trek to Everest Base Camp. Navigate the full set here.
Day 1: Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding (2600m)
We woke up early again to get on the first flight to Lukla. Yesterday, the flight was finally cancelled around noon. That was not a problem. The flight to Lukla is so notoriously unreliable that we built in a few extra days before and after the trek. It was like the movie Groundhog Day: one delay was announced after another, and we were sure that we would be trekking to Annapurna Base Camp instead, as our backup plan.
However, an unexpected, twisted stroke of luck happened to strike in the form of a rescue. Someone up high on the EBC trek was sick and needed a rescue chopper. The chopper was about to head to Lukla with empty seats when our guide, nicknamed DB, talked our way into one of those empty seats for the same cost as our airplane ticket! We switched our Tara Air passes for a Simrik Air chopper ticket and could hardly believe our luck.
Helicopters sometimes fly in marginal weather because their visibility minimums are much lower than for fixed wing aircraft. Six of us (four westerners, two guides) boarded and we were off!
Lukla has earned its reputation as a risky landing for a reason. Its runway is tilted upward at a 12 degree angle. A cliff guards the far end of the runway, preventing any notion of a “go around” in the event of a missed approach. It goes without saying that there are no landing aids.
We were happy to be making the landing on the helipad rather than the exciting way. After we carefully unloaded (ducking to avoid the risk of the rotor blades) we watched the chopper fly away.
We ate lunch in at the Mera Inn in Lukla but didn’t stay long, starting out down the stone-paved trail for Phakding.
The way is mostly downhill, descending about 200m through a few minor villages. The cloudy day lent a gloomy air to the deep valley as we covered the deceptively easy first few miles. Near the bottom of the valley, we crossed our first steel suspension bridge – a remarkable bit of engineering considering the remoteness of the region.