Day 5, Lukla, Nepal

Day 5, May 3rd,2018, Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding, ~4.2 miles hiking

Views of Lukla during helicopter landing at Lukla Airport, Nepal.

My roommate Sari and I are up and showered by 4:15 in the morning. I got a little more sleep than she as I had pre-weighed my gear for the trek at home, but she was struggling until late to get it down to the 33 pound limit. The single runway airstrip at Lukla is a mere 1,729 feet long, one of the shortest in the world, so only small, 16-passenger planes and helicopters have space to land up there and there’s a strict weight limit in order to facilitate safe landings.

We meet the gang downstairs at 4:30 and pile together our yellow duffel bags filled with nighttime needs like seeping bags, toiletries and extra clothes. Porters will carry these bags for us from village to village when we're on the mountain. We’ll carry our daypacks ourselves and have filled them with the essentials — cameras, extra layers, sunscreen, water, snacks and toilet paper.

We arrive at the Kathmandu airport at 5am and wait alongside other groups of trekkers and a handful of locals for it to open. Because the weather in Lukla is unpredictable and it’s raining here in Kathmandu, our flights may or may not be able to take off due to visibility issues. Sure enough, 6 am (our scheduled departure time) comes and goes. Then 7, 8, 9... At 10:20 we get word that conditions in Lukla have improved and it’s go-time! It’s a mad dash through the gate and onto the mini-bus that takes us over to the small planes. We’re all excited, taking pictures out the windows, feeling euphoric that we’re actually moving. We’re about to de-board the bus when the attendant tells us there’s been a change in the conditions again and we return to the terminal to wait it out some more. Dang.

We find a table and William buys a deck of cards. I try to teach everyone how to play Euchre and we get off a few good tricks before everyone’s brains are too numb to keep playing. Our local guide Abhaya keeps checking with the airline on the flight status. There’s talk of arranging for a helicopter instead as it’s still safe for them to fly in these conditions and our hope is resurrected! We head to the check in counter to switch our checked bags from the airline to the helicopter company. But what? Now the original flight might be able to take off after all? We wait some more for them to straighten it out and resign ourselves to catnaps while we wait some more.

At 2:30 pm, 9 1/2 hours after our arrival, we finally head back to the counter to get ourselves and our gear weighed for proper weight distribution in the chopper. We get back on the shuttle bus and we’re off to the chopper field!

It’s a tight fit inside the cab as we wait for the go ahead from radio control. When we finally take off, it’s absolutely amazing! A 45-minute flight takes us over ridgelines with terraced farms and deep valleys with rushing glacial rivers. When the clouds part we get small glimpses of sheer vertical mountain walls covered in snow. We are getting close!

We land in Lukla and there are throngs of tired trekkers awaiting departure. Since we couldn’t get in, they couldn’t get out. The chopper doesn’t even stop the rotor, but loads up the next group of passengers and they’re off as quickly as we landed. Today’s weather delays means that all the rooms in Lukla are booked, so even though it’s 5pm, we still have to walk 3 hours to get to our original destination if we want beds for the night.

We head to a teahouse for a quick caffeine boost and to rearrange our gear from duffel bags to daypacks. Before we can even calculate how many hours we’ve been awake, we’re walking through town. As over-tired as we all are, it feels so much better to be moving our bodies than sitting on our butts in the airport. We pass through the gate at the edge of Lukla and are officially on the road to Everest!

We get almost two hours of walking in before we have to break out our headlamps and finish the final bit in the dark. We catch glimpses of small homestead farms, teahouses and lunch places that cater to the throngs of trekkers that pass through. By this hour, most of the porters carrying goods on their backs from town to town have finished their work for the night. We cross a bouncy suspension bridge over what I assume is a pretty deep gorge, but it’s hard to say how far down in the dark.

We arrive at Royal Sherpa Resort in Phakding, plunk down our gear, eat a quick dinner and then it’s off to sleep. We are spent.