What’s more difficult than crossing an 18,000ft pass? It just may be getting to Lukla, the starting point for most Everest region treks. Claimed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, this small airstrip perched on a mountain side is known for its iffy weather, meaning flights are frequently cancelled or delayed.
We were starting the 20-day 3 Passes trek, considered to be one of the most scenic in the region. This loop trail crosses the Komgma La (5535m/18,159ft), Cho La (5368m/17,612ft) and Renjo La (5360m/17,585ft) passes with an option to take an out-and-back-spur to Everest Base Camp.
The day before our flight to Lukla we met our guide, Indra, and a representative from 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking – the company we used to hire a guide and 2 porters. We were told the weather had been rainy the day before and only 2 flights had made it to Lukla. We met travelers later on the trail who reported that the weather had been bad for weeks and some groups had given up flying into Lulka. They either altered their plans all together or did a drive/hike combination that started much lower in the valley and added 4-5 days to the trek.
We were scheduled for the 10:15AM flight, the fourth flight of the day, but Indra suggested we go early on the chance we could get an earlier flight. Arriving at the domestic terminal at 7:30AM the hall was already full with piles of bags waiting to be checked in. Little information was given as the hall continued to fill.
Finally we were told that there was bad weather in Lulka and they were waiting for the clouds to clear, but it wasn’t just the Lukla flights that were delayed. All the domestic flights were stacking up with excuses of air traffic control issues.
After 3 and half hours we were given boarding passes. I assumed this meant we were on our way. We went through a cursory security screening and entered a second hall with even more passengers waiting. Some I had seen leave the first hall 2 hours earlier. Flights were boarding and departing but slowly. The 9:30AM Lukla flight finally left at 1PM. We were next if the weather didn’t do us in. At 2:30 Summit Air cancelled the rest of their Lukla flights for the day. I thought that was it but then they called for the boarding of Tara Air flight 151 to Lukla. Yay, that was us.
The 18 passengers got on a bus and headed to the tarmac where we waited another 45 minutes to board the plane, supposedly because of air traffic control. When we finally boarded the twin engine prop plane we waited another 10 minutes plus with the engines running for the all clear to proceed. With only 1 runway for both domestic and international traffic flights back up in a hurry. Priority I’m sure is given to the international flights.
The day was still cloudy with a mist over the green, steep valleys. A short flight, we were at the Lukla airstrip in just over 30 minutes and soon on the ground.
Our porters, Robin and Pecial, were waiting for us at the airstrip. Already late in the day we went to a local guesthouse for a quick bowl of chicken noodle soup before hitting the trail.
With rain threatening we put on our rain gear and started out at just before 5PM. Indra stopped to do some paper work with the local municipal police before leaving town. We never did need the three passport photos we were told to bring.
The first part of the mud and stone walkway is all downhill. Not what you want to be doing when you have days of climbing ahead of you. In the low light and mist it’s difficult to see more that the outline of the steep green cliffs and clusters of buildings in the valleys below. Nearing 6:00 we stopped at the first village, Chheplung for the night.
The guesthouse was empty except for us. Most trekkers sleep further along the trail in Phakding or Monjo. We will have a long day tomorrow to make up the time lost today.
I won’t describe each guest house as they tend to be more or less the same. The dining room is the nicest and warmest room in the building and generally the only room that is furnished and decorated with some care, and more importantly heated.
Guestrooms are basic and small with a platform bed. Some places have double beds available but more often just two small twin beds. A thin foam mattress with a cover tops the platform. Pillows and blankets are provided but you’re meant to use a sleeping bag. Who knows when the bed covering was last washed? They lay them out in the sun when the weather is good to air them out. No heat and single pane windows make for a cold night and the extra blanket is needed. The rooms are sparsely furnished with some sort of electric lights but no outlets for charging batteries. Bathrooms are generally shared, though we had a private toilet from time to time and even a shower or two.
The menu from guest house to guest house doesn’t change much. Noodle options, rice options, eggs, potatoes, pizza, momos (the local filled pasta dumpling) and lower down on the trail meat is available. None of it is very good, so I’ll skip the usual food photos and comments.
The bed is surprisingly comfortable and we sleep well, thankful to have actually started the trek and ready for our first real day on the trail.
October 5, 2018
For links to all the posts in this series see the 3 Passes Trek page.