You can read all of my posts about the Everest Base Camp trek here!
We woke up bright and early to finalise packing our bags, ready to meet our guide Deepak at 5am outside the Hotel Shanker. Excited and nervous, we all squeezed tightly into a ute and headed off to the Kathmandu airport for our 6am flight to Lukla.
It was still dark outside as we grabbed our bags from the ute and headed over to join the long line up of people waiting for the airport to open. Finally, an air raid siren sounded and the queue started moving – the airport was open! Up til then I had been worried that perhaps our flight would be cancelled as a large storm had swept through Kathmandu the previous afternoon, but the airport being open was a good start!
We shuffled our way through security, trying to slot our bags through the scanners in amongst what seemed to be hundreds of boxes of cargo. Once our bags had been scanned we followed Deepak over to our airline’s check-in counter to have our bags weighed, as well as the always humiliating public weigh-in of ourselves to check our weights for the plane!
When Deepak signalled that we were good to go and handed us our boarding passes, we headed through security (including 2 separate pat-downs!) to wait at the gate for our flight. Once we snagged some prime seats, we opened up the breakfast boxes that the Hotel Shanker had provided for us. We were stoked to see that they were filled to the brim with all manner of food – sandwiches and toast, muffins and croissants, fruit, boiled eggs and juice. I ate some for breakfast and stowed the rest in my day pack for later on.
And then the long wait commenced. Our flight departure time came and went, being delayed due to poor weather in Lukla, which being the world’s most dangerous airport you don’t want to mess with! Deepak told us just to keep waiting and he would continue checking with the airline as to when the flights would be leaving. Hours passed (I was pretty glad I packed my e-reader in my day pack!), and Deepak finally said that we would make a decision at 12pm as to what we would do. Let me tell you, Kathmandu’s domestic terminal is not the most exciting place to spend hours and hours of your day!
12pm came and an announcement was made that there would be no flights to Lukla that day due to bad weather. I was bitterly disappointed, although I had been prepared for this (it’s always wise to build buffer days into your itinerary to allow for flights being delayed into and out of Lukla as it’s quite common), I just wanted to get my trek underway! The thought of going back to the hotel and then doing the same thing again tomorrow was not very appealing.
But there was hope. Deepak offered to see if he could organise us a helicopter so we could still start our trek that day. Obviously there were lots of trekkers also stuck in Lukla for the same reason, so Deepak said that we should be able to get a helicopter for a lower than normal price as they would be guaranteed a paying return trip. I was hoping that it would be much lower as I’d heard of people being charged US$1000 per person – way out of my budget! He went off to the airline to find out the price (conveniently, the airline we were booked on also had helicopters too), and came back to tell us that we could all get a helicopter up into the Everest region for US$325 per person. After a quick conference with everyone, we agreed to this as we were all keen to get our trek underway.
Then started our next wait of the day, hanging around for another couple of hours before a helicopter was available to take us. I was glad I’d saved some rations from my breakfast box, as the shops in the airport did not have a lot of choice for food and drink! Finally we were escorted back through security again, and into a car to take us to our helicopter at the far end of the airport.
I was so excited, as not only was our trek finally getting underway, but this was also my first ride in a helicopter. I was not disappointed! The scenery was spectacular, despite the heavy clouds over the mountains meaning that we couldn’t see any of the large peaks.
Finally at around 3:30pm, we landed in a small clearing some way below Lukla. As our porters were scheduled to meet us in Lukla, we had to carry our own bags to start off with while they walked down to meet us halfway. I was lucky enough hat Deepak grabbed my bag – I’m not sure that I would have made it otherwise!
So, we started the long slow trek into Phakding. It was a pretty tough initiation into trekking in the Everest region, as the poor weather had made everything muddy and the rocks super slippery. Add to that, we were tired from waiting around all day and hadn’t had a lot to eat, and we were not feeling the best! We struggled along for about an hour before Deepak directed us to leave our bags at a small house where our porters would soon pick them up from.
With all of our loads lightened, making it a little easier going, we continued along the way. The path that we were following was the tail end of the route into the Everest region from Jiri, and we were going around Lukla this time to head straight for Phakding.
Soon the previously misty rain worsened into a much heavier downpour, which had us all scrambling for our rain jackets. As the path got darker with nightfall approaching, and more slippery with the heavy rain, I started struggling more and more. There were several times I just wanted to stop and say to everyone “I’m sorry guys, I’ve made a terrible mistake, I can’t do this.” But I kept pressing on, dead on my feet, as all I had to eat that day was the contents from the hotel breakfast box.
Having never trekked in this sort of rocky terrain before, particularly in the rain, I started slipping and sliding, making poor choices of which rock to step onto next. Deepak noticed I was doing it tough and was soon by my side, pointing out the next rock I should move to with his torch to help me along.
After what seemed like the longest day of my life, we arrived at the outskirts of Phakding, and continued the last gruelling climb to our teahouse for the night, the Beer Garden Lodge, finally arriving at 8pm. We sat in the dining room, cold and wet, but unable to change as our porters had not yet caught up with us with our bags. We ordered our dinner and sat mulling over the day and trying to besociable with the other trekkers in the room despite our exhausted state.
Ash soon realised that his pant leg was not just soaked from the rain and puddles, but a decent amount of blood as well! We soon worked out that somewhere along the way he had picked up a leech, which had dropped off earlier leaving him to continue bleeding. We spent some time doctoring that up, and all carefully checking our own bodies to make sure we hadn’t been targeted as well!
Our meals arrived and I forced down some fried rice even though all I wanted to do was fall into bed. When our bags finally arrived, we raced off to our rooms which were cosy and even had a private bathroom inside – pure luxury! We were quickly off to bed to sleep and recover from our long day. On only the first day of the trek, we were already at an elevation of 2610m, almost 400m higher than the peak of the largest mountain in Australia!