Sunday, March 30, 2008


Wake up call came at 04:20 this morning and we were all downstairs at 5am with bags, checking out of the Yak & Yeti. The whole process from that point forward moved like a well-oiled machine: Transfer to the airport in no time thanks to little traffic on the roads, Willie knowing all the right people to speed our way through the check-in line and ensure that all of our bags made it along with us. "Remember to take all of your batteries out of your carry-on luggage and check them through". Five minutes later while being frisked and doing a bag check, I am asked "do you have any batteries?" Willie has been through this so many times that he was even able to chat it up with the airport security as we prepare to board what appears to be the first flight of the day out of the Kathmandu Domestic Terminal. Tired and all with bloodshot eyes, we were truly excited to finally be on our way.

The little twin engine Otter was jam packed with climbers and trekkers to the point where we all felt like sardines. I laughed when I realized that we actually had a Flight Attendant to service the plane- it's only like a 30 minute flight to Lukla.. seriously? She crawled over us as she moved to the back of the plane on her single pass, offering a wicker plate of hard candy and cotton for our ears if so desired. Then the plane taxiied onto the runway and seconds later lept skyward, pointing toward a faint ridgeline looming over Kathmandu.

After a few minutes, peaks became visible, then entire mountains, and soon the pilots literally started to thread the needle by flying not above ridges and valleys, but in them. I looked out the cockpit window at one point and noticed another plane about 1/2 mile in front of us that we were following. The way the plane banked left, then right, up, down, left and right again it almost appeared like we were dogfighting. Pretty cool for sure.

A few minutes later we were approaching Lukla and got our first view of Everest. This picture isn't very hot thanks to the scratched up plexiglas and spinning propellers that I took the pic through, but you can still make out the distinct profile and it was pretty exciting to see.

Lukla is a remote town and the trailhead to Everest Base Camp. Here, the plane literally lands uphill- there's no margin for error and once the plane is on final we are committed, I learned thanks to Joe.. who happens to be a pilot. I'm glad he saved this little gem of info for after we landed. The Otters basically conduct a hot load- we get kicked off, our bags are thrown onto the tarmac, and before we even get the chance to step aside a waiting stick of passengers is already boarding. The whole five minutes this occurs, props are still spinning and the pilots are dialing in on their flight plan back to Kathmandu. They turn back around, point back downhill and then -poof- they are gone.

Lukla is great- loaded with little guest houses, restaurants and "hotels". We grabbed breakfast while our bags were being assigned to various porters.....

Ok, I need to tell these two stories. At one point I walk outside to my bag to collect my batteries, trekking poles and knife. Some girl in her early 20s is hovering over it, so as I'm walking away I mention that I feel bad that she's carrying the thing around, but at least its just to a waiting Yak or something. "Oh, no- that girl is carrying your bag all the way up to our stopping point today". Whaattt? I felt bad, so I ran back outside to take some more weight out of my trek bag and offer her the straps, telling her that she can use them as shoulder straps of sorts. "Oh, she doesn't need those- she'll use a burlap strap around her head". Yeah. I thought I felt bad before. Hearing that? Now I truly know what feeling bad is all about. Then they started passing us on the trail like we were driving an electric car on the Autobahn. The crazy part is that it wasn't even just my bag. The load consisted of my bag, another bag, some expedition equipment, water.. Here's what the rig looks like, complete with the standard issue high-tech head strap:

The other story comes in a bit more comical. Before leaving Lukla I realize that my Camelbak has sprung a leak. GREAT. What perfect timing. What the heck am I going to do now I wonder? 20 yards down the trail, I pass mini shoppette after mini shoppette. Some have daypacks and miscellaneous climbing gear. After passing the second store, I casually ask one of the owners in what I assumed was a long shot move if they have a Camelbak, pointing at my water hose. The owner points at a brand new Camelbak dangling on a chain at the front of his store "Like this?" You have got to be kidding me. Yep, like that. Total hook-up.

Over the next few hours we slowly and patiently wind our way higher, following a well worn trail past bunk house after restaurant. Willie knows about half the owners on this leg of the trip, so I laugh as we enter one store after another where he knows legions of locals. It's great, too- they are all amazingly friendly and kind, offering us sodas, prayer scarves and a place to sit and catch up. While not in one of these shops, we continue onward and pass over rickety wire bridges and around yaks that are meandering in front of their shepherds. There are tons of trekkers too- from all parts of the world I'm guessing based on the languages I hear and clothes they are wearing. Since the intent of this leg of the trip is to build on acclimatization, we don't push it too hard and are at our destination around noon and in time for a nap, some french fries with ketchup (this is a specific menu item.. If I see it tomorrow I'll take a pic of all the different french fry options in this part of the world).

Oh, and check out a local band of Maoists who swung through, flags a wavin'. But true to form, they all left us alone. Just hung a few flags here and there, then on their way to canvas the neighborhood. Just like Kathmandu, they are literally everywhere.

Tomorrow we depart early and will press on to Namche Bazaar.

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