Weather is the ruler of life and activity in the Everest region. On April 18, weather caused catastrophe on Everest. An avalanche on the Khumbu Icefields killed 16 sherpas, the worst disaster ever on Everest. More than 4,000 climbers have summited Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary
and Tenzing Norgay
first did in 1953. The ripples of this year’s horrific event will affect thousands of sherpas, porters and more who were to make the majority of their earnings for the year during the short climbing season. All expeditions to summit Everest were cancelled for this season.
There are many treks in the Everest area besides actually trying to summit Everest. Just getting to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet is an arduous 8-12 day bucket list adventure for many. Ours was not nearly so ambitious; we would spend just 5 days in the region, hiking up to the famed Namche Bazar
at 11,320 feet and a few other villages up to 12,500 feet.
Fog and clouds delayed our departure from Kathmandu to Lukla. Though we had an appointment for later in the week at the US Embassy (oops, used up all our passport pages), we decided to go wait in line while we hoped for the weather to clear. We weren’t allowed to take a picture of the US Embassy, even from across the street. The inside looked like any DMV in Dallas (with a switch of nationality of the waiting patrons). Of course, by the time we emerged with fat enhanced passports in hand, our nervous guide, Lhakpa, said the last flight had taken off for Lukla. Hurrying the driver toward the airport, he assured us he still thought we could get there. Huh?
Turns out, Yeti Airlines, Tara Airlines, Thamserku (our trekking company) and the Yeti Mountain Homes (Lodges) we were booked in are all owned by the same company. All smiles and high-fives, his associates were waiting to rush us through security at the airport. Lhakpa led us out to the Tara Air ‘cargo’ plane that would carry us to Lukla. This was actually a 14-seat passenger plane, but for this trip, it had 12 seats full of beer and rice… and us. Funny.
The real adventure though started as we neared Lukla, as thrilling a plane ride as we’ve ever had. We passed so close to mountains we felt we could touch them, and landed on a 1500 foot uphill landing strip hewn out of the rock mountainside at 9,400 feet. Welcome to Tenzing-Hillary Airport.
Since we’ve now landed and taken off successfully, I’ll share these videos
. And our video of the downhill takeoffs
The hiking and the terrain in the Mt. Everest region was much different than the Annapurna area. The rugged cliffs, giant fir trees, milky blue glacial rivers and looming peaks all around were much more reminiscent of the Canadian Rockies (except the looming peaks here were 20,000-28,000 feet high).
At some point the trails may well have been nicely paved stone walkways like the Annapurna area, but constant streams of mules, oxen and yaks carrying goods from Lukla upwards (no roads at all up here) have made them treacherously uneven, especially when slippery with mud. This area was also MUCH more crowded, the trails an almost constant highway of hikers, porters, and animals. There’s just one thing you need to know about oxen trains and that is, “Get out of the way.” Each sharp-horned behemoth is loaded with 150 to 200 pounds of duffel bags, stoves, tables, chairs, you name it. The advice given: “Make sure you’re on the inside of the trail” when a beast train passes you. The choice between the oxen’s horns and the steep mountain slope was a no-win situation.
Given the higher altitudes, the temperatures were much colder than either Kathmandu or the Annapurnas. Thank goodness for electric heating pads on the mattresses and, since they didn’t reach the full length of the bed, for the trick of putting a bottle full of hot water down by my toes at night (learned that on the Kilimanjaro Trek). Where are those heated Japanese toilet seats when you really need them?
Every time we stopped for a break, a meal or arrival at a lodge, we were offered hot lemonade and hot tea. Hot water (never cold) was always served with our meals. Most of the lodges kept the guest ‘lounge’ nice and cozy with a wood burning stove. The Lukla lodge was by far our least favorite because they didn’t do this (spoiled, I know). We stayed there once on arrival and once on our way out, and for most of our time there, you could find me reading in bed, warmed by the heating pad. Even there, though, we felt lucky to be staying in Yeti Mountain Homes
; they are by far the nicest accommodations anywhere in the Everest region.
We crossed several high suspension bridges, often narrowly passing porters carrying huge loads or even animal trains. At one point a runaway yak, somehow escaped from his owner with no load at all, ran towards us all by his lonesome and luckily passed without incident. He was “Freeeee!!!!” At least for a moment.
We had several possible points in our trip for views of Mt. Everest
, but alas, the weather gods were not with us and we never got a glimpse. Too bad… but there’s always next time 🙂
Funny From the Trip:
Conversation with Yeti Mountain Lodge waitress:
Me: “Do you have any tonic, you know, tonic water?” (We hadn’t found any during the entire trek, nor any Diet Coke, Coke Zero or wine.) “Like to make a gin and tonic with, the drink gin and tonic?” Gesturing with my hands the pouring together of gin and tonic into a tumbler.
Her: “Oh yes. I’ll get.” Turning away towards the bar, then instantly turning back. “Except no tonic, only gin.” Ha.
Our transportation to Lukla from Kathmandu. We caught the last plane out – it carried cargo and us.
The pilots and our co-passengers – cases of beer.
Kathmandu, Nepal’s largest city at 2.5 million, from the air.
Flying up the mountain valleys on our approach to Lukla.
The Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla. The runway is 1,509 by 66 feet with a 12% gradient. The elevation of the airport is 9,400 ft. Aircraft can only use runway 06 for landings and runway 24 for takeoffs. There is no prospect of a successful go-around on short final due to the terrain. There is high terrain immediately beyond the northern end of the runway and a steep drop-off at the southern end of the runway into the valley below.
Aircraft parking area at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport is limited.
Watching aircraft land provides local entertainment.
A “six-thousander” (meters) from the streets of Lukla.
Yes, there is a Starbucks in Lukla.
….and the obligatory Irish Pub.
From the deck of the Yeti Mountain Home in Lukla.
Mark getting a haircut at the local Lukla barbershop.
He is really going through with it.
The finished product… won’t need another before we get home!
We begin our trek.
We were glad to be staying in Yeti Mountain Homes (lodges).
We were glad not to be staying in these.
The trail was sometimes very steep…and we had a lot of two-way traffic.
…and sometimes some one-way traffic.
We arrive at Namche Bazar – the traditional launching place for Everest and Everest Base Camp. Bazar means market. People travel from all over Nepal, India and Tibet (China) to sell their wares on Friday and Saturday.
Stone helipad above Namche Bazar. Not much room for error here.
Local school in Namche Bazar. The L-shaped buildings with a big recreational yard, uniforms and soccer goals were very common.
This is a picture of a poster of the region. Namche Bazar is at the bottom toward the left. Mt. Everest is at the top toward the right.
We saw many prayers carved/painted on big rocks.
The Yeti Mountain Home in Thame (elevation 12,500 ft) had a large covered atrium. We appreciated the sunshine. And the pink sandals. Mark had a matching pair but declined to be photographed in such.
Buddhist monastery at Thame – resides at about 13,000 feet elevation.
Our view at Thame…looking up.
Our view at Thame…looking down.
And a close-up.
Shauna loves that, at this altitude, we are back in the land of the blooming rhododendrons.
A statute of Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay (his Sherpa), became the first documented men to summit Mt. Everest. Hillary was on a British expedition, but was actually a Kiwi (born and died in New Zealand). Following his ascent of Everest, Hillary devoted much of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded. Through his efforts, many schools and hospitals were built in Nepal.
Rounding a point returning back to Namche Bazar from Thame. Loving these mountain vistas.
A great view of horseshoe-shaped Namche Bazar from the path above.
These porters were Herculean, often carrying loads of up to 200 lbs, attached by shoulder straps and a strap across the forehead. This guy had shoes on, but we saw many in flip-flops.
Crossing the most famous high suspension bridge. Though a bit scary, the bridge was a welcome respite from the 3,000-foot climb up “Namche Hill”… and I mean straight up.
The high bridge is the one we crossed.
These river valleys reminded us of the Canadian Rockies.
Shauna with our guide, Lhakpa Sona Sherpa.
Dudh Kosi River. Reminded us of a John Denver song.
The mountains seemed to continue forever.
Posing with our guide, Lhakpa Sona Sherpa. We were sorry to see our trek end, but were so happy to have experienced this part of the world.
Trip planned by GeoEx
Local Nepalese trek company: Thamserku Trekking