A misty morning greeted up as we woke in the hotel in Katmandu, the view across the runway was restricted and all flights were suspended until the mist lifted. Two twin otter planes waited on the tarmac and in a steady procession we walked out to the planes and our kit was loaded on board. The anticipation was building, but first we had to land at one of the worlds most dangerous air strips, Lukla. Nestled on the side of a mountain the runway perches almost inaccessible by aeroplane, it looked like you had one shot at landing. We made our decent and from the window we could see a lot of snow, the local people had cleared the runway only a day earlier. The skill of the pilot brought the plane into the approach and it was very clear to see this runway didn’t have the luxury of a mile or so of tarmac, a brick wall stood over ten feet high.
Plane leaving us in Lukla
We were all welcomed into a tea room and we gathered around a wood burning stove which for the next few weeks would be the center of our group. A television normally demands the attention in an evening now there was people jostling not for a view but the nearest to the stove. This became more so the higher up the trail we went and as the fuel changed from wood to yak dung. The Kw output of yak dung isn’t high in a large tea room at Gorak Shep I can tell you. Anyway, we had the first days trekking to do from Lukla to Phakding for our first overnight camp then up to Namche Bazar.
Snow and ice were a hazard through the first days trekking, steep slopes and stone steps were not easy to negotiate but we got in a stride as we passed by houses and farms in the valley. The trail crosses from one side of the river to the other using metal suspension bridges, below you the cold water from the glaciers higher up the hills churned and evidence of old wooden bridges long collapsed lay in ruins used by the earlier mountaineers.
Prayer flags were seen all along the trail, they are almost hypnotic blowing in the breeze the five colours fluttering from bridges, tea houses and the trees around some ones home. The rectangular pieces of cloth represent the five elements and the five pure lights. The come in an order left to right Blue (Sky and space), White (Air and wind), Red (Fire), Green (Water) and yellow (Earth). The flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. The mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all-pervading space.
As we neared Phakding our blue tents could be seen across the river, erected by the porters who would each day take them down and leap-frog past us during the day and have them ready at the next camp. The snow had now gone on this section of the trail, and our camp was in the garden of a tea house where evening meal was served.
Hydration is important especially at altitude, every evening we had our water bottles filled with boiling water. A tip given to us, was slide a bottle into a hiking sock to make a hot water bottle for the evening, next day this would be our purified drinking water.
It was here we entered Sagarmatha National Park, we showed our permits and continued to our next nights camp at Namche Bazar.
The day ahead was similar terrain, dropping down through valleys to the river edge then follow-up stream towards Monjo. Here the porters had made our lunch or hot orange juice, potatoes and other foods with slow release energy.
After Lunch we left the river and followed the path steeply up the valley and crossed a high bridge to a trail that would take us to Namche Bazar. A bustling town in a bowl on the side of the mountain. Nothing quite prepares you for Namche, it has everything from bars, schools and hospitals. Internet cafe and phones, the last opportunity to call home and speak to loved ones. There are shops selling camping and climbing gear, I think most items were counterfeit though.
The terraces o farm land lead up from the bazaar to the next village on our trek and would be the destination of an acclimatization walk the next day. Our camp for the evening would again be the gardens of a tea house but due to the amount of snow and the time the porters had to clear the ground we were put up in the small guest rooms. I would miss my tent, but I would be back in it soon. In the grounds of the tea house was an old russian helicopter that had landed and never used again.
The next day we would get our first view of Everest from the trail and the first view of a mountain that would stay with us for several day Ama Dablam.