May 2 2011

Let the Adventure begin!

All of my wedding couples have received their packages. Now it is time for a little recreation before the summer gets into full swing.

On March 31st 2011, I left for a trek from Lukla, Nepal to Mt Everest Base Camp. The trip was the brain child of Ed Saiauskie, a friend and neighbor. One night in Oct I found myself in the local watering hole and overheard Ed say he was looking for someone to trek to Mt Everest Base Camp with him. Well the time from Oct till March flew by. Before I knew it I was on a tiny American Airlines jet bound for Chicago. From Chicago we flew over the North Pole to Delhi, India. And here is where the trip got very interesting.

We had a long layover in Delhi so we booked a room at the Radisson. What we didn’t do was get a Visa for India. Sure enough, we needed a visa to get our luggage out of the In Transit area of the airport and to our hotel. Since that didn’t happen, we were also separated from our luggage. Luggage that contained all of our hiking gear (Sleeping bags, boots, clothes, etc.).

The In transit are of the Delhi airport is a spartan operation and not terribly well staffed. If you find yourself trapped there stay away from Arti. She was ZERO help. Look instead for Umang Gupta. He was a great help. Not only had we lost our luggage but Ed’s reservations for the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu had been lost. Umang managed to restore Ed’s plane seat. Our luggage was a different story. One last word about the Delhi airport, if you have to spend any time there you may want to bring insect repellant. The mosquitos were particularly voracious the night we spent there.

We finally arrived at the Kathmandu airport sans luggage on Saturday morning. The next day and a half was spent trying to find/retrieve our bags. We were to hit the trail on Monday. The bags didn’t arrive on Saturday. Late Sunday afternoon we went to the airport to greet the last flight from Delhi prior to our trip leaving. Fortunately, our bags arrived in Kathmandu and all seemed right in the world once again.

We met our fellow travelers on Sunday night for dinner in the hotel Manang.

Hotel Manang, Kathmandu, Nepal

Our digs in Kathmandu

The Trek began in ernest on Monday morning. The domestic departure terminal in Kathmandu is, shall we say, different than what we Westerners are used to. More like a busy bus station than an airport.

Kathmandu Airport - Domestic departures

The first flight to Lukla turned around at about the halfway mark. The winds at Lukla made an approach too dangerous so we had to go back to Kathmandu. When we returned to Kathmandu airport we were directed to the airport Restaurant (imagine a very small grade school lunchroom and you’ll get the picture). We all ordered breakfast of one ilk or another. About 30 minutes later before the breakfast was served, an official burst into the room, said the winds at Lukla were down and we had to leave immediately. That request was no problem for us but the restaurant owner felt differently. After some quick haggling by our guides we pretty much threw money onto the table and ran out the door. The kitchen put what they had prepared into aluminum foil and those foil pouches wer placed in a plastic shopping bag. Once on the plane the food was distributed. Some of it wasn’t bad. I passed on the runny scrambled eggs but tried Emma’s Chop Suey (or was it Chow Mein) and it was not too bad. Oddly, there was a stewardess for a 16 passanger plane. She greeted you and distributed cotton balls and candy.

As we approached Lukla, we started to fly over some foothills. These hills caused updrafts which made the ride a litttle bouncy. Those not used to small aircraft we a bit concerned. But I think they only thought they were going to die once. As we approached the runway the left wing dipped sharply. No one hit their head on the ceiling but it was a pretty abrupt shift. Needless to say, we did land safely and did not become an ugly statistic (Google – “Lukla world’s most dangerous airport”).

Lulka Airport

Approach to Lukla Airport

After leaving the terminal, the trek began immediately. Considering that Ed and I had left on Thurs. and it was now almost noon on Monday, we were very glad to finally be started. After passing through Lukla, we came to a gate where we paused for a photo op. By the way, it takes forever to pose 14 people and take pictures with 14 different cameras!

Lukla gateway

Gateway leaving Lukla en route to Mt Everest Base Camp

It was to be all down hill to Phakding where we would spend our first night. The travel guide lists it as about a 240 meter descent. One thing they never tell you about trekking in Nepal. The net change of elevation for a day only represents about 1/2 to 1/3 of the acual vertical distance you will have to hike. Why? Think mountains and valleys. Even if you can see your destination and it looks just sligthly lower than your current location, more than likely it is on another mountain. To get there you will have to descend to the intersection point of those two mountins. This is typically a glacial river concected by a cable bridge.

Cable bridge in Nepal

Typical cable bridge

Overall the first day wasn’t too bad. The tea house was a dry but cold place. Often they would start a stove in the dining area in the evening but never in the morning. Oddly even when the heat was going, no one ever closed the doors. As precious as fuel is in these remote areas, I couldn’t understand the open door policy. Our rooms were small but that was good because by morning they were definately warmer than the hallways and outside. Never discount the value of body heat.

Phakding teahouse

Phakding tea house

Well, that pretty much brings us to Day 2. I will pick that up later.