Flying into Lukla & starting the trek.
Mar 20 Kathmandu – Lukla (2804m) – Phakding (2623m).
Although it’s been a fascinating brief visit in Kathmandu, I can understand why most people don’t want to stay too long. The longing for the peace and fresh air of the mountains beckons against the noise and fumes of the city.
It’s an early start with a wake up call of 04:30 and although I’ve had an average of 4hrs sleep for the past 4 days, for some strange reason I don’t feel tired, though I’m hoping the exercise and fresh air will finally allow a good sleep. The flight to Lukla is as exciting as expected in the twin rotor, sixteen seater plane. These airplanes are not for the faint-hearted and look as if they’ve never been maintained. Our confidence isn’t helped by the sight of the two pilots in the cramped cockpit trying to remove what looks alarmingly like an important piece of equipment with a penknife! Fortunately it turns out one is the technician and after a short delay we are soon airborne. There is some cloud and mist and I am concerned that the mountains will not reveal themselves today, but shortly after take-off the clouds part to reveal breathtaking views, reminiscent of the Alps but on a much grander scale.
We fly so close to some of the lower range hills you feel you can almost reach out and touch them. Any apprehension is removed by the splendour of the views, but I am soon reminded of the age & condition of the plane when I notice a hole in the outside window the thickness of a pencil that has been covered with duct tape!. Within half an hour the flight soon comes to an end and only on disembarking do I realise how small the Lukla landing strip is; cut into the hillside that ends abruptly into a wall. No margin for error.
It’s warm enough for a T-shirt though out of the sun the cold air is soon noticeable. One thing that is also apparent is the immediate feeling of altitude. You can feel it straight away as breathing becomes noticeably deeper, almost as if some invisible force is pressing against your chest. After a brief rest stop, sorting out gear, meeting the porters and other logistics we set off at midday and I think we’re all really keen to be on the move.
It’s a great start to the trek, the weather is sunny with a cool breeze and it’s mostly downhill to Phakding from Lukla. I didn’t know what to expect but I am pleasantly surprised by the width and maintenance of the trail. There are also many more rest stop, tea and guest houses than I expected. They appear from the outside to be well built & constructed of the local stone with imported timber. It appears it would be far easier to undertake a self-reliant trek through here than I previously imagined. There certainly was no shortage of places to stay and find refreshment en route today. Some of the finer stone buildings you would not see of better construction in the Lake District and I was told they are about £2 per night!
Now we are in the mountains, this is where we meet the true Sherpa people and I am utterly amazed to see the loads that they carry at almost jogging pace at times. With their minimal footwear, they put us to shame & I feel slightly embarrassed every time we, or they pass with their huge loads. Our Sherpa are carrying three bags, a total of 30 Kg, but Su our guide tells me they regularly carry 50-60 Kg or even more.
We arrive at Phakding at 3:30. All our tents have been pre-erected and our bags are already there also. We are camped in a nice spot by the river and I can hear the fast flowing tumultuous flow from the snowy mountains – fantastic. Hot tea or coffee is served at 4:30 followed by dinner in the mess tent at 6:30 (vegetable soup, chicken curry & rice, vegetables & lentils). All good enough and plentiful. By 8:15 everyone is in their tents and it is during this period I take time out to write my diary and generally relax and fill my head with the thoughts of what we have encountered so far and the days ahead. It’s not long however before I’m soon asleep. Trekking involves early starts and we’re expecting wake-up calls at 06:15 followed by breakfast and an 08:00 start. It’s a particularly long day of seven hours to Namche tomorrow, mostly uphill. I’m excited by the prospect of yet again visiting a place of which I’ve read so much about.
Mar 21 Phakding (2623m) to Namche Bazaar (3440m)
I’m awoken at 06:30 by one of the Sherpa bringing a bowl of warm water in which to wash followed by a large mug of coffee. I slept reasonably well despite constantly moving during the night due to the cramped quarters of the sleeping bag. By all accounts I felt quite good as most of my hiking companions declared over breakfast that they hadn’t slept well. After a wash and breakfast of rice pudding (yes that’s correct, rice pudding for breakfast), toast and tea we were off by 08:30.
We left the remainder of the Sherpa to load up the yak and follow on. For the first few hours the track winds past the Dudh Kosh river, a pleasant hike albeit along a dusty, dry track. Fortunately, it was slightly cloudy as I found the sun a bit too intense yesterday, so the cool shade of the cloud and valley was welcome. Lunch again was good. I’m amazed by what the Sherpa cooks are able to produce for more than a dozen people over basic cooking equipment in the field. After lunch we’re soon on the move again on one of the hardest parts of the trek as it’s all the way uphill to Namche. I was glad that I had actually put in some training before embarking on this trek but still felt I could have been a lot fitter that I was. I thought I did fairly well considering the altitude and the continual three hour uphill climb, though I wouldn’t have wanted to do more on the second day. One thing for certain though was the effect of altitude. In particular the constant dryness of my throat was evident but not a real problem.
We are being told to drink plenty of liquid and are provided with at least 1 litre of water after breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to numerous mugs of tea, coffee or chocolate.
Eventually we reached Namche Bazaar, a U-shaped scar cut into the mountain which unfortunately shows evidence of the vast numbers of people who now pass through given the amount of discarded rubbish in evidence. This was a little disappointing but I’m excited to be in Namche and looking forward to the day tomorrow.