Kathmandu to Namche
The Global Mountain Adventures (GMA) team, along with Sherpa Shangrila Sirdar, Tshering, and Expedition Cook, Deepak, flew from KTM (4200’) to Lukla (9200’), Oct. 5, and trekked with our 3 porters, to Phakding, where we slept in the Sunrise Guest House along the Dudh Koshi River.
The flight lived up to our expectations. We spent all of 5 minutes on the tarmac boarding, loading gear and taking our seats before our intrepid pilots fired up the Twin Otter Props and blasted off. Rising rapidly through the clouds and over terraced ridges, we began to glimpse the fluted faces, sheer rock, and angular ridgelines of the snowy Himalayan giants. Cotton balls issued by the stewardess, who vaulted over packs and large Russians, dulled the propeller scream.
We climbed to 10 K, and swooped low over a Cloud Forest and high pass on the trail from Jiri that I hiked in ’89 on my previous visit to the Khumbu. 35 minutes of scenic flying was a nice option compared to the 1-day bus ride and 5-days trekking it took me then to reach Lukla.
Landing on the STOL strip was even more mind-boggling in person than on You Tube. The postage-stamp size strip is at least paved now, but it is pasted on to a hillside high above the Dudh Koshi Gorge, and it gains probably 300’ in its 300 yards of length. I said, “Where the hell are we landing?” “There it is,” Mike pointed out the left side, but I couldn’t see it until we banked hard right and it was fully in our face. As we came in hot, the row of trekking lodges backed against a wall of Himalayan foothills advanced toward us at a frightening rate. Somehow, we slowed enough to make a hard right and taxi safely to a stop. Westerners headed immediately to the bathrooms to clean their shorts, and our team embraced, grateful to be alive, and breathing in the clean, thin air.
|Lukla Landing Strip|
Tsering led us to a beautiful stone and wood lodge where we sipped lemon tea while he sorted out the porter loads. Kuhlman, the senior porter, carried “only” my 66-lb. North Face duffel containing the expedition food and hardware. The two youngsters strapped two 20-kilo duffels each to their backs and headed out. We did the same, and our jaws dropped in amazement, while the cameras came out at, every turn of the busy stone path. Picturesque fields grew cabbage, corn, apples, squash, beans and more. Children played while women picked beans and dried hay. Yaks, donkeys, and porters carrying all manner of heavy awkward loads. After our first Military Checkpoint, where our climbing / trekking permit was scrupulously examined and our names copied into the ledger, we made a strenuous and slippery detour around a massive landslide. The summer Monsoons had apparently included an excessively wet storm-cycle, that had triggered many dirt and rock avalanches. Sadly, they decimated portions of the trail and local villages, including one where 6 people were buried alive. Steve put a few rupees in a box, where the sign said, “Please help me rebuild my home,” an all-too-honest request.
A 2-hour lunch with plates of potatoes, cheese and eggs, momos, noodles and Ginger tea on a sunny terrace provided rest and rejuvenation. Not long after we dropped to the river and crossed our first of numerous impressively engineered suspension bridges to reach our destination for the night.
A high-spirited 4 year-old Sherpa girl delighted us with her youthful exuberance for portering, the primary job of most young men in the region. She lashed a granite rock to her back and danced around, pretending to be our youngest load hauler. We washed up, dined and crashed early, having slept poorly the previous night.
Today the trekking got more serious with a steep climb to Namche Bazaar, 11,270’. Surrounded by towering peaks, this Tibetan/Nepali trading post is the epicenter of the region. Although still wonderfully quaint, the gateway to Everest, Ama Dablam, Island Peak and the upper Khumbu has evolved immensely since ’89. It now caters almost entirely to tourists, and sports a Pizza Hut, dozens of 4-story hotels, and internet access!
Now we are relaxing, marevelling at the views and taking showers after an awesome feed of local Pizza and Apple Pie. Tomorrow we’ll take a rest day and visit the museum and other sights before a longer trek to Pangboche, 12,900, via the famous monastery at Thengboche, on Oct. 8.