If one assumes a humble attitude, one’s own good qualities will increase
Day 2 – The Start of the EBC Trek
Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and is home to one million Nepali. It only sits at 4,600’/ 1,400m, but we’re cold and stay cold all night. The hotel is nice, but there is no heat and there isn’t much insulation in these buildings. We spend some time getting ready and separating our trekking gear into what we’ll carry in our own packs, what will be carried by the porters, and what we’ll be locked up at the hotel in Kathmandu until the end of our trip. The way that the trek will work is that we’ll have one guide for the two of us and we’ll have two porters that will each carry one bag. This allows us and the guide to trek with day-packs and then each porter will have a larger trekking bag that they’ll take carry each day. The trekking bag they’re carrying holds sleeping bags, down parkas, oxygen, first aid supplies and any other personal items that we don’t need during the day. We chose this particular local guiding service because of their policy of having one porter per trekker. They call it “responsible trekking” and we like it because it employs more people and you don’t have the porters carrying huge loads every day.
The start of our journey is to head back to the Kathmandu airport and take a 30-minute flight to Lukla, which serves as the gateway to the Everest region. We meet early that morning in the hotel courtyard at the agreed up on time and we see our guide with a driver of a very small car. We somehow manage to fit the four of us, two large trekking bags, three day-packs, and our to-go breakfast boxes (that the hotel prepared for us) and we are off to the airport.
At the airport, we park near the smaller domestic terminal and unload our bags and head towards the entrance. I spot something in the corner of my eye that I could’ve sworn had a tail. I keep an eye out to see what that was as we organize our gear and, a minute later, I see a monkey come down from a tree and run across the parking lot. Just a few seconds after that, a second one runs after the first, surely engaged in some kind of mischief.
Inside the terminal, we go through a quick security screening and then head to our airline desk to check baggage. What ensues is a long-winded negotiation around our baggage, how much they weigh, and how much to be charged. The conversation takes place entirely in Nepali and lasts for minutes, so we stand by with curious looks on our faces. Especially with this mountain flight to Lukla, the pilots’ normal balance and weight calculations are even more critical. That reality, combined with the fact that more weight means more fuel used, has the airlines quite focused on how much you’re bringing on board and to make sure they charge you the appropriate extra fee. Lukla is a high airport at 9,334′ / 2,845m (72% of the oxygen available at sea level) and the terrain is very mountainous. The hazardous terrain and the short length of the only runway means that the pilots have to nail the landing and takeoffs with dismal prospects if anything goes wrong.
I heard stories and saw pictures of Lukla flights in the past. Our own experience was actually much more exciting than I imagined. After we landed on the noticeably pitched (12% grade) runway, the pilots reversed the engines and started braking heavily immediately. Only special short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft can land at Lukla. Even so, I saw that we still only had maybe 50 feet before we were at the end of the runway (that ends at a stone wall). The pilots taxied off the runway and entered a small area that has 4 aprons for aircraft to park. This is how it usually goes in Lukla, a series of flights all follow each other between Kathmandu and Lukla. The airport can accommodate 4 out at a time and flying is only done during daylight and in good weather. The airport routinely closes due to wind, rain, and clouds.
Once at Lukla, we are right in the midst of the impressive mountains everywhere we look. We walk just a few steps from the airport and arrive at a teahouse for lunch. We also meet our porters here or as our guide calls them “the boys”. One is an 18-yearold that lives several days of walking away in the lower lands and the other is an older man (actually a grandfather!) that also lives a few days journey away from Lukla. That’s how Lukla is, a gateway and meetup town that has served this Everest region and it’s explorers for decades.
The weather is sunny and mild, so we have lunch out in the grassy yard of the teahouse before we head out of Lukla. The first day of trekking will take us from Lukla at 9,380’ / 2,860m to the village of Phakding at 8,562’ / 2,610 m, an elevation loss of about 820’ / 250m. The expectation is that this first day of trekking is an easy one, but we soon find out that the trails in this region have lots of ups and down and you’re always working to cover any distance. Our guide calls this “Nepali flat”, meaning reset your expectations of flat while you’re here!
This day’s trek is pleasant with nice views and a good introduction to the countryside in this Solukhumbu District of Nepal. Our guide, who is from Lukla, pointed out the places that they would play as children and the Hillary school where he received his education. On this first day on the trail, we saw dogs, horses, and yaks. Actually, at lower elevations the yaks you see are actually dzos, a hybrid of cattle and yaks. Yaks are more prevalent at higher altitudes and well-built for the cold with their dense wool and special physiology to deal with lack of oxygen of higher elevations.
We arrive at Phakding by mid-afternoon after making our way along the river valley for a few hours. Along the way, we passed the first suspension bridge of the trek. Multiple metal cables that span across rivers or gorges create these bridges. Perforated metal sections set the walkway and then some fencing along the sides protect against falls. Overall, they appear very safe, but can be still be unnerving, especially when they sway in the wind and bounce with walking.