Post written December 19: Today is the day. The day we left the big and noisy city of Kathmandu to the mountain town of Lukla. After a night of running around getting supplies and packing our bags for the trek, we had little sleep before awaking for our 5:30 am departure time. Usually I would say “gah” to waking up so early. Maybe it was inherent excitement. Maybe my system was becoming foiled by the different foods, which is why I really needed to use the bathroom. Either way, at 4:30 am, I was wide awake and ready to go.
Soon enough, we had eaten a packed breakfast and were transported to the airport to board the plane to Lukla. The morning sunrise was unreal. I can’t even describe the depth of the hills and mountains in the horizon, or the huge peaks in the distance lit up by the orange glow. It was absolutely gorgeous and a glimpse of the amazement to come. Dan and I may have squeeed at that point.
Then it was off to the most dangerous airport in the world, the Tenzig-Hillary airport. With clouds covering the valleys, lush green hills, and snowcapped peaks, it was easily one of the most incredible plane rides. And then landing on the tiny 500 metre runway strip flanked by a mountain and cliff made me giddy with excitement! I can’t even say I was nervous, as I’ve heard that the Nepali pilots flying into Lukla are some of the best in the world. After the smooth landing, I definitely believe that! After a quick breakfast, it was a two hour trek to Phakding (2653 metres), walking through villages, admiring the scenery, and just taking it all in. At 11:45 am, we were cozy in the hotel lodge eating lunch. What a crazy day!
Dan and I talked about how surprised we were about a few things. Perhaps if I did some research I wouldn’t have been so shocked… but alas…
- The first leg of the trek isn’t very steep. In fact, we descended in altitude 200 metres. Tomorrow’s trek to Namche Bazaar is 6 hours at a much steeper (and ascending) incline, making it the most difficult day. Today’s short 2 hour walk wasn’t difficult. But oh was the scenery amazing, which wasn’t a surprise.
- The teahouse lodges: Since I never seem to research my destinations beforehand, I wasn’t sure what the state of the accommodations would be. The only real trek I’ve been on is the Inca Trail where camping is what you do. Let’s contrast that with my home for the night: the Snowland Lodge. 24 hour wifi service. Illy coffee. A menu with Nepali and other dishes. Four-walled lodges with beds, pillows and a toilet. Yes, there is no heating and it will be frigidly cold in the middle of the night, but things are more upscale than I thought. For example, there’s quite the seductive Bollywood movie playing on a flat screen TV in the common area as I write this.
- Meals and snacks: Everything is available! As we passed small lodges and villages, all the amenities are available. Forgot toilet paper? Purchase it along the way! Need Coke or Fanta? Just buy it! And with Nepal Eco Adventures, the meals (save drinks) are included. I ate an entire dish of egg chow mien for lunch and it was delicious. And as I’m writing this, I’m drinking English Breakfast tea which cost me 90 rupees (roughly .90 cents).
- Coffee: Coffee is plentiful and available. As a lover of coffee, I thought it would be nice to have a quick black coffee regularly, but was fully prepared to go without for 12 days. At the lodge, they have a state of the art espresso machine! Lattes, cappucinos, americanos… all available at about 300 rupees each.
- Wifi and Cell service: I was chatting with the assistant guide who has been talking on his phone throughout the morning. He mentioned that cell service is available at any point during the trek… even at Everest Base Camp (EBC). This was a shock to me. I’m used to hiking in Alberta where cell service is generally not available. Sometimes at the summit you’ll get a faint bar of connectivity. But here, the EBC trek is so popular with tourists galore. Injuries and emergencies are possible. So the telecommunications company, Ncell, installed enough cell towers to cover the areas leading up to EBC. Cell service and wi-fi? No problem!
- I’m reminded again how strong the porters are in these high altitude regions. The weight they can carry really puts me to shame. They do more work in one step than I do with my whole workout routine.
- The Off-Season: to my surprise, there are far less tourists here than I thought… and believe me, this is great! Apparently in the height of the tourist season from September to November, the trail is packed with hordes of tourists, porters, yaks and guides. There are suspension bridges to cross, and there are times where a 30 minute traffic jam is the norm. We’ve only seen a handful of individuals making their way to EBC. In fact, this is the last week that Nepal Eco Adventures will be guiding a tour to EBC until things pick back in up in the spring. It may be a cold trek, but trekking for hours in a relatively noise free environment is quite incredible.