EVEREST BASE CAMP TREK DIARY DAY 1
LUKLA TO PHAKDING
Starting Point: Lukla (2,860m/9,380ft)
Finishing Point: Phakding (2,800m/9,200ft)
Trekking Time: 2.5 Hours
Accomodation: Yeti Mountain Home
Day 1 of our trek to Everest Base Camp (Lukla to Phakding) kicks off in Lukla – a small Himalayan village known for having the world most dangerous airport. You know, the one that is simple landing strip on a mountain cliff? Our trip got delayed by a day as we were unable to depart Kathmandu due to bad weather. In fact, no flights took off that day and all were rescheduled for the following day. This is quite common for flights in and out of Lukla – so be sure to give yourself some room on both sides of your trip for flexibility. You can always tell the people who haven’t built in extra time – they are the ones looking for others to join in splitting the cost of a helicopter to get to Lukla.
Our delay wasn’t such a bad thing as we had extra time and Rob had just developed a bad case food poisoning. Last thing anyone would want in this situation is to be on a shaky plane with no bathroom as it navigates landing on a little mountain airstrip. The following day we arrived at the Kathmandu airport hoping for better luck – along with the throngs of other climbers who were in the same boat. As it was the cusp of the summit season, the waiting area was full of backpacks, trekking gear and hopeful mountaineers anxiously awaiting to kick off thier journeys. It was in that moment that I realized the enormity of what we were about to do.
Enjoying the buzz, we too patiently waited. Our fearless guide Prem spent a lot of time connecting with his mates who worked at the airport assessing whether flights would be given the clear. There were some clouds being reported, but it was thought they would eventually get out of our way and open up. Standing behind the check-in counter, Prem gave us a big smile across the room. And with that – we knew that flights had been given the go ahead and we were finally heading into the Himalayas.
We hopped onto the 15-seater plane, grabbed seats on the front left-hand side (to see the Himalayan mountain range as we flew in) and away we went. Unfortunately, with the exception of one three second glimpse, there wasn’t much to see as the mountains were shrouded in clouds. I spent the flight watching the flight path on the radar as we made our way to Tenzing-Norgay Airport. The sheer amount of warm colors on the screen were a clear sign of what we couldn’t see hiding behind the clouds – the world’s highest mountains.
After about 40 minutes in the air, Lukla’s famous landing strip was in view. The sloped runway is just under 500 meters long and is renowned for being perched on a mountain ridge with a 2,800m (9,200ft) drop. From our seat on the plane it was plain as day and made my heart pound out of my chest as we neared. The sound of the old plane hitting and zipping up the runway made it a case of the bark being bigger than the bite. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, we were off ushered off the plane and it was already in the air heading back to Kathmandu with trekkers who had finished their climb. Talk about not wasting time. The name of the game was getting as many people to and from the trekking region before the weather-window of opportunity closed.
Tenzing Norgay Airport, named after the first Nepalese Sherpa who summited Mt. Everest in 1953, was buzzing. Teams of trekkers and summiteers were meeting up with their teams, unpacking what they needed for day one’s trek and hitting the trail. It was here that we first met up with our Sherpa – Pasang. Like many Sherpas in the region, Pasang is a silent hero who helps to make treks and summit attempts to Everest possible. Admittedly we didn’t have too much gear to carry, but considering the devastation in the 2015 and 2016 trekking seasons, we felt it important to support the region and people in it as much as we could. Providing trekking support services is a key way those in the Khumbu support their families.
Kitted out and ready to go – we made our way through the town of Lukla and headed onto the main Everest Base Camp Trek trail. I was grinning from ear to ear. Rob, on the other hand, was still battling a funny tummy and just wanted to get to the next toilet. And just like that we were trekking in the Himalayas.
Our trek from Lukla to Phakding was relatively short and instead of gaining elevation, most of our trek was downhill. We trekked through the forested valley along the Dudh Kosi River through 4 villages Chheplung, Nachipang, Koshiguan, and Ghat. You could tell the villages were gearing up for the season as they all had their snack stands, western drinks and knock-off climbing gear. I was surprised to see all of these comforts from home deep in the Himalayas.
We didnt have amazing weather our first day on the trail. I suppose it’s better to have low visibility when you are still under the tree line. It’s when you start getting to the vistas of the mountains where you hope for crystal clear days. It gave us an opportunity to observe the tired trekkers making their way back to Lukla. The looks on some of their faces were almost enough to make you question what you are about to get into. Some even mumbled “good luck” as they passed by.
As the trek winds its way through the valley, you pass a series of prayer wheels, stupas and engraved mani stones. The engravings read “Om Mani Padme Hum.” This Buddhist chant is tough to directly translate, but encapsulates the essence of Buddhist teachings. Admire them, but be sure to navigate clockwise around them.
After just under two hours of trekking (which included our first suspension bridge crossing over the Thado Koshi Khola!) we arrived at our tea house – Yeti Mountain Home – Phakding (2,610m). Yeti Mountain Home are a chain of tea houses that are considered to be luxury. There are a few of these sprinkled along the main EBC Trek trail. While we were not following the standard trail the whole of our journey, we took advantage of them when we were. Upon arrival, we were greeted with hot towels and a cup of hot lemon. The lovely staff gave us a pair of crocs to wear as house shoes and we were escorted to our rooms. Our rooms were super cute, had private bathrooms (with hot showers – whoop) and electric blankets in the beds. Not at all what I expected and pleasantly surprised.
Before dinner I took a little stroll around the Tea House. I found a small pathway that led to an old, rusty suspension bridge that swayed over the Dudh Kosi River. I walked halfway across the bridge and admired the rushing, milky waters that originated from the peak of Mt. Everest herself.
We had only just begun our journey to Everest Base Camp. It was in that moment that I felt like the waters below were Sagarmatha giving us her blessing to delve further into the region to see her in all her glory.
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Check out the day as recorded by Strava. See the trails taken, overall elevation gains, trekking times and how fast (or slow) we made it from Point A to Point B.