December 9, 2017
Story and photographs by Bob Conklin
Part 2. Starting Point Surprise
Welcome to the second part of this four-part series. By writing this series, I’m personally re-enjoying my recent trip to Nepal while sharing my experiences and photographs with you.
Adventure of a Lifetime, Part 1 described my pre-trip research and preparations. I recommend reading it before you climb into this part, which begins in Kathmandu. Below the article, you’ll find photographs taken during this segment of my trek to Everest Base Camp and links to other articles in the series.
Not actually in Lukla
Like most people these days, our group planned to start our Everest Base Camp trek by flying into Lukla Airport at 9,383 ft. Back in 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to climb Mt Everest, Lukla Airport did not exist. They starting trekking from the village of Jiri, adding almost a full week of difficult hiking to the ascent. As it turned out, we would get a taste of their experience.
Having arrived from the US, our group met up for a planning meeting (and a few beers) in Kathmandu. The next morning, we returned to the airport for our early flight to Lukla. We would be flying in a small plane and so every bag was carefully weighed. Each of us had an expedition bag (which would be carried for us), in addition to a day pack. We were all a little nervous and excited for our landing on the uphill-sloping runway!
We waited for our flight. We waited some more. Then, we starting hearing that Lukla Airport was closed due to clouds. This is always a possibility, even when trekking at the optimal time of year. Suddenly, we got word Lukla was open and we were rushed to the plane. We took flight and enjoyed some incredible views of the mountains as we went. Soon, we were maneuvering around the Himalayan foothills and setting up for a landing at the approaching airstrip. After a fun and successful landing, our group applauded. That’s when we learned we were not actually in Lukla.
Itching to Go!
While we were in flight, Lukla Airport had closed again due to poor weather. We had been redirected to the nearest airport in Phaplu. The plan was to wait for Lukla to open and then make the short flight to get there. Eventually, we had lunch and when it became known that Lukla would not be opening that day, we all went on a nice hike around the area. We spent an unplanned night at a teahouse in Phaplu which had been arranged by our guides. What’s more, the delay naturally changed our remaining schedule. I was happy we had the guides to re-plan all our subsequent accommodations along the trek.
I was up early the next morning and could see some stars through the clouds. Alas, the weather still did not clear enough at Lukla. The guides huddled and when lunchtime came around again and it was obvious Lukla would not open that day, they presented the group with two options: keep waiting (along with other trekkers piling up in Phaplu) or start walking. The flight time from Phaplu to Lukla is only 10 minutes. The walk is 3 days. We chose to walk. Our group was itching to go!
“Nepal is flat.”
We headed out after lunch and hiked into the early evening under the light of our headlamps. We climbed a few thousand feet up through the clouds to Taksindu La at about 10,000ft where we ate and slept at a teahouse. We all felt proud about how much elevation we had gained and we were sure we earned our dinner that night! We were about to learn a key lesson about trekking in Nepal: elevation is giveth and elevation is taketh away. The next morning, we started by dropping 5,000 vertical feet to the river below to cross a suspension bridge and continue toward our objective. This up and down pattern repeated itself throughout the trek to Everest Base Camp, though not to this extreme. At some point, I noticed that one of our Sherpa guides had a t-shirt proclaiming, “Nepal is flat. A little up. A little down.” After a few days, you get the joke!
Still, our group was happy to be on the move and happy to have the opportunity to hike some of the same trails as the early Everest explorers which are far less travelled today. Since we were at lower elevation (that first night aside), it was still comfortably warm and humid. The landscape was lush and forested with frequent views of green, terraced hillsides. Beautiful. Along the way, we were able to visit monasteries and the family home of one of our Sherpa friends. Wherever we went, the tea was always flowing and our gracious Sherpa hosts offered us snacks and their blessings for our trek.
Bonded by Pride
We kept our schedule and passed by Lukla after three days of hiking. Now we were merged with the primary route and the number of trekkers on the trail increased. Along the way, often crossing and re-crossing the Milk River via suspension bridges. We would learn that the source of this river is Mount Everest and the Khumbu Glacier. We would be following it all the way up! Lukla Airport had reopened two days after we starting walking from Phaplu, but we had all come to Nepal to trek and so we were glad we had decided to walk instead of fly. Now it seemed to us that the clean and chipper folks striding out of Lukla maybe didn’t “earn it” quite like we did. Our little team was bonded by pride.
Two days later, we arrived in Namche Bazaar, the largest town on the route sitting at an elevation of around 11,000ft. Here, we would take an extra day to acclimatize before heading higher. While in Namche, we all did some shopping, took advantage of the coffee shops, and went for a day hike up to a monument for Tenzing Norgay which is backed by a distant view of Everest. I was able to take a nice hot shower at our teahouse, which felt great. At this point, the weather had cleared nicely and the Himalayan giants around us fully revealed themselves.
We were ready to go higher into the thin air where the best views were yet to come. Below are a few of the photographs that I took during this segment of the trek. More to come with the third and fourth parts.
End of part 2 of 4
For the next part of the series, read Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 3.
Related Articles & Web Sites
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 1. (Adventure of a Lifetime) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 2. (Starting Point Surprise) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 3. (Onward and Upward) Article
Everest Base Camp Trek: A Photo Journal, Part 4. Article
Sherpa Mountain Adventures Website