Posts Tagged ‘Lukla’

EBC trek 31 March

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

We had breakfast at 06:30 and then twiddled our thumbs until 08:30 waiting for a phone call to confirm we were actually on a flight today. Then it was a five minute walk to Lukla airport, check-in and sit around waiting for our flight to show up.

As the morning crept by loads of Tara Air and Sita Air flights came and went. Agni Air flights were conspicuous by their absence. I watched about five loads of the more affluent tourists arriving by helicopter (I heard the going rate is US$800 one way from Kathmandu to Lukla compared to about US$120 by plane) and took lots of photos of the planes and choppers.

It was cold in the departure hall at Lukla and rather warmer outside on the apron. We waited outside for most of the time except when chased back inside by the blue fatigues clad, gun-toting Nepali police officers. The cloud cover built up as the morning progressed and I worried that we might not get out today. Agni Air seemed to be operating only one plane and by 10:30 had flown only two return flights. Tara Air had flown almost a dozen in that time, and Sita Air about half a dozen. The moral of the story seems to be book with Tara Air or Sita Air if you have the choice.

Eventually at about 11:30 a different Agni Air plane turned up. Our plane at last! It wasn’t full, and for the return flight there were only four passengers. They can’t have made any money on that particular flight.

Kathmandu was hot and sunny and the traffic back to the hotel seemed a lot heavier than on my previous taxi rides. The first thing I did back at the hotel was take a long, hot, steamy, hot, very welcome, hot, much needed, hot, refreshing, hot shower. Having not showered in over a week (squat toilets I can cope with, freezing cold showers in cold mountain air I’ll just pass on) there wasn’t really much doubt about what would happen first.

Hints and tips if you’re thinking of doing a similar trek

  • Hire any bulky gear like down jacket and sleeping bag in Kathmandu.
  • Don’t bother with a (silk) sleeping bag liner;  the damn things are hard to get into, hard to get out off and get all tangled up in the night. I gave up using mine after two nights. Just sleep in your clothes.
  • One change of clothes is all you need.
  • You will smell, so will everyone else. Don’t worry about it. Even after a week I wasn’t that smelly.
  • You can do laundry any afternoon if you really want to. Stuff might be dry the next day, or just frozen. Best to do it in the morning on rest days. That way it has all day to dry in the sunshine.
  • One pair of boots, one pair of flip flops/sandals are all you need.
  • Make sure you have plenty of slack days in your itinerary. Flight delays are possible at either end of your trek and bad weather is always possible in the mountains. For a nominal two week trek I suggest allowing three weeks.
  • Bring hand gel and travel wipes, you can buy toilet rolls everywhere.
  • Get some diamox before you leave home, or in Kathmandu, or possibly from your guide.
  • Get fit and get some training in before you arrive.
  • Have fun.

Your mileage may vary.

Everest Base Camp trek part 1

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Well the adventure started last Friday. It began with not enough sleep on Thursday night and an easy ride to the airport in the morning. The theme for the first three days was mostly sitting around or sleeping. Starting with sitting around waiting to get on the plane. Five minutes after takeoff I was asleep and stayed that way for five hours. I awoke somewhere above the eastern edge of the Caspian sea and having missed dinner fell asleep again. An hour later hunger forced me out of my seat to raid the “tuckshop” by the galley.

We arrived in Delhi on time at 04:47 local and I did another seven hours sitting around waiting for my flight to Kathmandu, where I arrived in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Getting through Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu was easy since I already had my visa and didn’t need to queue up to get one. Baggage reclaim was a little confusing; 3 conveyors but no indication of which flight’s bags were on which. Close inspection of the baggage tags on actual luggage items found me the right conveyor and my bag came by about a minute later. Mine is usually the last one to appear so this made a nice change.

The company I booked my trek with sent an agent and a taxi to meet me. That first taxi ride made quite an impression. The area around the airport is obviously one of the poorer areas in the city. The traffic is fairly manic. It’s a bit like Buenos Aires – he who honks loudest and longest claims the right of way, at least in his own mind. Nominally they drive on the left but in reality any bit of space will do. Bicycles and mopeds and motorbikes mix it up with cars, trucks and vans. Probably the only thing that prevents total carnage is that the volume of traffic is fairly light. If the number of vehicles doubled I’m sure there would be trouble. Lots of the pedestrians and motorbike riders had red painted faces. Apparently it was a special holiday in Nepal on Saturday and to celebrate people go about with painted faces, crack eggs over each other’s heads and enjoy ridiculously loud music. The clubs on Ibiza could learn a thing or two about LOUD sound systems from these people. Obviously there are no “environmental protection” busy bodies to worry about.

After an hour or so sitting around at the hotel the agent returned and led me through the maze of streets in the Thamel district to the company office to pay the balance for my trek and do the paperwork formalities. All trekkers in Nepal need a TIMS pass; authorisation from the government to trek or climb mountains. Afterwards the agent took me to an outdoor gear shop to hire a down jacket and sleeping bag – about US$19 total for both items for 13 nights. Finally he returned me to my hotel. I was too exhausted to go exploring and find somewhere novel for dinner so ate in the hotel. I tried what was billed as a local Nepali dish. It was basically curry and rice.

At six o’clock on Sunday morning my guide arrived with a taxi and we reversed the route back to the airport. Even at this time on a Sunday morning there were people, lots of people out and about, both pedestrians and traffic. I saw a couple of groups practising Tai Chi or something similar on a football pitch sized patch of dirt, street traders selling anything and everything, rickety wood and bamboo scaffolding supporting substantial concrete constructions, cows roaming the streets, kamikaze motorbike riders but again no accidents.

The domestic terminal was very basic and utterly chaotic. I was more than a little pleased to have a local to take care of the checkin formalities. And then it was more waiting. About nine hours in fact, before they announced the cancellation of our flight to Lukla. It had been delayed from 07:30 due to bad weather at Lukla and finally they cancelled it. I had spoken to an English couple early in the afternoon who were at the airport for the third consecutive day, waiting for the weather to clear at Lukla. The time left to them for their trek was rapidly diminishing and they wouldn’t be able to do all of the route they had planned. Thank goodness for my Kindle; I had finished one book, read a whole other one, and started on another while listening to a shouty shouty woman calling dozens of other flights in almost unintelligible English before finally announcing ours was cancelled. So sorry, go away, come back tomorrow.

The taxi ride back to the hotel was a repeat of the others. It’s interesting that motorbike drivers obviously have to wear a helmet, but pillion passengers don’t. I spent a couple of hours wandering the streets and alleys of Thamel. There are outdoor gear shops everywhere. They outnumber the money exchanges about two to one. The prices are very cheap and the knock-off branded goods are supposedly good enough for a couple of seasons use. There is every other kind of shop you can imagine and hundreds of food outlets. You can see some examples in my photostream at Flickr. I headed back to the hotel just as the rain started and as I walked through the lobby a thunderstorm kicked off, causing much flickering of the lights. There are twice daily scheduled power cuts in Kathmandu and the evening one started about ten minutes after the storm. My hotel has it’s own generator which runs during the nightly power outage. Once that kicked in the lights stopped flickering.

I was up in time for breakfast at six o’clock again on Monday and by quarter past was wondering where the guide and taxi had got to. A call to the office revealed they weren’t coming until eight o’clock. Would have been nice if they’d told me that! Again on the way to the airport there were a few near misses and then the sitting around started again.

Fortunately the weather at Lukla was OK today and our flight was only delayed until 10:30. We were on board the 14 seat twin at 10:45 and 30 minutes later landed on the seriously steep uphill runway 06. For any pilots who have flown into Elstree, it’s a good deal steeper than runway 25 there. Takeoffs at Lukla are presumably always on the downhill runway 24 since there’s a great big cliff at the end of 06. That’ll be something to look forward to. Nervous passengers need not apply!

So today I’ve actually been trekking. Not very far and not for very long but trekking nonetheless. It was mostly level today on the way to Phadking but it the difference between the uphill bits and the level/downhill bits was very noticeable. According to our plane’s altimeter Kathmandu is at 4400 feet above sea level. The air is noticeably thinner that at sea level; bags of crisps (chips to the Americans) are blown up to double their size at sea level. The altimeter said Lukla is at 9100 feet above sea level making the air even thinner and walking much more strenuous than most of us are used to. Well today was OK. My guide says tomorrow we have about three hours on the level and two hours of uphill to get to Namche. It was glorious sunny day today, Weather Underground predicted a high of 3 degrees, AccuWeather claimed it would be 29 degrees. How they manage to be so different is a mystery. It felt about 20 degrees. Now the sun has gone down the temperature is dropping rapidly and I’ll soon be testing my rented down jacket on the stroll to the nearest internet cafe.

The going rate for internet access here is 10NPR per minute, roughly £6 per hour. Presumably it will get rarer and more expensive as the trail gets closer to Base Camp. I’m not expecting to be able to get online again after the two night stop at Namche Bazaar tomorrow.

The photos of the trek so far are also at Flickr. Or they will be when I find a fast enough connection to upload them in a reasonable amount of time.