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Into Thin Air and Back Down Again

NEPAL | Wednesday, 24 November 2010 | Views [451]

Well it's official, we have successfully flown in and out of the world's most dangerous airport in Lukla, Nepal! We read in the Kathmandu Post that it is also the world's 8th most "thrilling" airport to fly in and out of...guess they are trying to take a positive spin on their bad reputation. There are some exciting videos on YouTube of the Lukla airport runway that Travis spent hours watching before we left. Victoria could not quite stomach them. 

After leaving Namche Bazzar, the flow of tourists decreased a bit as we veered off the main valley.  The rigorous days we were both expecting and dreading a bit never came.  We hiked only 2-4 hours a day on average and gained a mere 1,000 feet each night.  There were even some days where we didn't have to move at all though as self preservation and for our own sanity we did.  The low mileage days were deliberately planned to help us acclimate as we quickly got above 14,000 feet where we stayed for over a week.  The slow pace was different from our normal routine but did the trick; we all felt "great" at the high altitudes we are very unaccustomed to.  Our 11 day slow climb and acclimation time could have been accomplished by a local Nepalese in a mere 2-3 days. 

Our mornings would begin at around 6:45 when we would wake-up to heavily frosted window.  It took all our strength to get out of our warm sleeping bags knowing that our very visible breath was a good indication of just how cold it was.  We donned our layers and layers of clothing, packed our bag and were greeted with a warm breakfast and hot drinks in the freezing cold dining room at 7:30.  The porter, aka strongman, carrying our bag would head off to our next night's accommodations to secure our rooms.  Depending on how much futzing needed to be done, we would hit the trail anywhere between 8:30 and 9am.  We would often stop for lunch and hot drinks at one of the many tea houses along the way.  As the day progressed we would change layers over and over again to accommodate the sun, then the light breeze that would start in the early afternoon and soon the cold fog that would come in and steal away our sunshine for the rest of the day.  Our arrival at our destination would leave 5-6 hours in which we played numerous card games, wrote in our journals, read, drank oodles of hot drinks, and tried to stay warm until the fire in the dining room was lit with frozen yak dung at around 4pm. We eagerly awaited our 6pm early bird special as that was finally an indication that we could go to bed.

The tea houses themselves were much nicer than expected given that we were over a week's walk from any road.  They were however very, very cold, something that we never quite adjusted to.  The buildings were made from local stone that was hand-chipped into blocks and had wood door and trim around the windows.  Most had 10 or more rooms with two beds with decent mattresses and heavy blankets which were life-savers.  There was a dining room with many tables and a central metal stove with the previously mentioned poo to offer a slight hint of warmth (perhaps by now you can tell that it was cold and we are just now thawing!).  The food at the tea houses was amazingly luxurious with an actual menu to choose from (full of great misspelled English words) with everything from the local Dal Baht dish of rice and lentils to pizza and spaghetti.

Our trek in the Everest Region had several highlighted destinations we were gunning for.  The most well known of course was the actual base camp used for climbing Everest, a small "hill" that was our high point called Kala Pattar near the base camp with one of the best views of the mountain and the valley, and a pass we hiked over that most trekkers do not do as it was off the main valley.  Our team was successful at all three (though Travis's mom passed on going to base camp saving up for a long day the next day).

To climb the pass (17,800ft) we had to break our normal routine and woke up very early so we could have lunch at a reasonable time on the other side and for safer glacier conditions at the top.  The climb up was very steep right below the top and was pretty much a loose scree field, not a favorite of Victoria's.  The amazing part was watching the strongmen with huge loads scamper right by us very fleet-footed and hardly breaking hard at all.  What was then more amusing was watching them on the other side as we crossed a small glacier: walking on snow is their one weakness!  Victoria and I actual gave our two porters our trekking poles to prevent them from falling too many times.  It was of great joy to us to feel we could actual do something they couldn't.

After a quick descent back in the main valley, it was uphill again. We were met with heavy crowds but were in better shape than most and passed many groups.  We slept at a village called Gorak Shep which is the end of the line for trekkers and just a few miles from base camp.  This was the highest place we slept at 17,00ft, and ironically the warmest dinning room of any!  The area of the actual base camp (17,500ft) is completely abandoned at this time of the year as the climbing season is in the Spring.  There was only a string of prayer flags and a large rock telling you that you are there.  It is located on an edge of a very large glacier that the climbers continue up towards the summit.

The next day we awoke with Kala Patter (18,450ft) as the goal with droves of other trekkers to see the mountain from a very well known outlook.  To not get out of breath to much we hiked very slow and steadily for about 1:30 hrs to the top and were treated with the sun just rising over Everest and a very cool cloud blowing off the summit. The view made the long plane ride and days of trekking well worth it!

Despite the high elevations, we all were feeling good, though we had started to develop the very common "Himalayan Cough."  We were told the combination of super dry air, dusty trails, and burning dung were the culprits.  When everybody was eating a meal in the dining rooms, we became well acquainted with the constant sound of people coughing up a lung!

And then down we went with dust behind us as we could walk as fast and long as we wanted now that we were fully acclimated and no longer climbing up.  It took us 2 full days and 2 shorter days to get back to Lukla, drinking a few beers on the way!  Waiting in Lukla for us was a great German Bakery and a fake Starbucks Coffee that we took full advantage of along with a hot shower that we desperately needed!

Trekking By the Numbers:

13: Number of Tea Houses

18,450ft: High Point of the Trek

16: Days of hiking

32 Gallons: Amount of water per person we drank to help stay hydrated

2hrs: Time spent using our Steri Pen (a device that purifies the water)

7: Nights slept above the highest point in Colorado

2: Number of broken legs we were within 20 minutes of them happening to trekkers

3,000: Number of people stranded in Lukla as the airport was closed for 5 days due to bad weather.  We were fortunate enough to arrive 1 day after all the chaos had cleared.  We  heard that there was a black market for the plane tickets and even a Polish guy that was arrested after vandalizing the check-in counter at the airport.

10 Degrees: Coldest temperature we saw

Off to the jungle to warm up and not walk for a change!


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