It is true what they say – all good things must come to an end. That could never be more true as we woke up on day 15 of our Everest Base Camp Trek
. After some coffee and a light breakfast, we made our way back to the trails for what would be our last day of trekking in the Everest Region
. The stretch of trail from Monjo to Lukla
follows the main Everest Base Camp route we took on Day 1
of our trek. We passed through village of Chumoa
and crossed over the Dudh Kosi River
, which originates from the areas we trekked around near Mt. Everest
As we passed through the small villages of Benkar, Phakding and Chuthawa I was reminded of the constant ascents and descents that greeted us as we started the trails bright-eyed and bushy tailed. In fact, the trails were buzzing with fresh-faced tourists – eagerly making their way through the first stretch of their adventure. I remember seeing the returning flush-faced trekkers on Day 1 and thinking to myself that they looked a bit worse for wear.
Given the curious stares we received as we were making our return, it was clear that we were now those people. It felt like the new arrivals were looking to us to get an indication of what they were about to experience. How was it? Will it get tougher? Did you make it all the way? How’s the weather? While I don’t feel we looked as beaten as some of those we initially saw, it was clear our faces were telling a story.
As we passed the newbies I could only think about smiling and being positive – leaving them excited about their journey and what was to come for them. Days of battering cold winds, constant aching legs, sleepless nights, smelly clothes, and for some, serious bouts of altitude sickness. They will experience it for themselves. My smiles to them hopefully brought excitement and hope that they too can go the distance on this amazing experience.
Their smiles directed at me and the occasional “well done” gave me a sense of achievement and ultimately the last bit of encouragement I needed to push myself up the grueling hills from Monjo to Lukla (2,860m). Each one of these steps was bittersweet as it meant the adventure was coming to an end. And just like that, we reached the Pasang Lhamu Memorial Gate and were back where we started – signifying the end of our Everest Base Camp Trek.
As with our initial flight into Lukla, return trips to and from Kathmandu are only available in the morning (and only depart if there is good weather). We were booked on the first flight out in the morning so we checked into the Yeti Mountain Home for our last night of the trail. With a handful of shops, bars and cafes in Lukla – we had plenty of things to occupy our time. We grabbed a bit to each and reflected on the last two weeks of trekking in one of those most beautiful parts of the world – what an adventure.
As we meandered around town, we found ourselves at the airport watching the flurry of helicopters buzzing on and off Lukla’s famously scary runway. At any one-time there were four or five whirring around us. Most of the choppers were carrying people off the mountain who were experiencing altitude sickness.
When we realised that some of the riders were taking part in scenic flights, the rest was history. Next thing you know we were negotiating rates with one of the workers at the airport to get us onto a private scenic flight. We spent the last couple of weeks navigating these stunning mountains by foot. It was time to retrace our steps by air to see the beauty of Mt. Everest from a different perspective. Note: For those wanting to do the same, be sure to bring your negotiating skills. These guys are skilled and drive a hard bargain. 😊
We had to sit around waiting for the inclement weather near Base Camp to calm before departing Lukla. Most of the chopper pilots had stopped flying due to the changing weather, so the skilled owner of the chopper company agreed to take us on our trip. We sat down with him and shared our trekking route through the region – and stated we wanted to retrace our steps with the chopper. He responded by stating he had never flown this route before, but was game if we were. While it had all the mixings of a mishap, we were most definitely game. We strapped the GoPro to the bottom of the chopper and away we went.
The first couple minutes of the flight were very cloudy and the setting sun in the distance prevented us from seeing much of anything. As it began to clear, we passed through the lower river valley over towns like Namche
and zipped over the Renjo La
and Cho La High Passes
. It really put into perspective how vast the area is and how crazy the terrain was that we traversed over the last fourteen days.
The pilot flew up the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp where we could see the continued action of the season’s build up. That’s where we climbed. That’s where we slept. That’s where we gazed admiring the mountains. This time they were smack dab in our faces.
To my surprise, the pilot navigated his chopper up the Khumbu Icefall and flew us over Camp 1 on Everest. Unlike our views when we were overnighting at Base Camp, Everest wasn’t hiding behind other mountains – it felt so close we could touch it. Then there was the Lhotse face – exposed and waiting for this season’s climbers to traverse it. The experience didn’t seem real.
The chopper left Everest Base Camp behind and made its way over the Khumbu Glacier and back down the Khumbu Valley. On our return to Lukla the pilot circumnavigated the peak of Ama Dablam (6,812m) and got us up close to the other amazing peaks we had admired over the course of trek.
And just like that, our chopper made its way back to Lukla. My adrenaline was pumping – we just flew a chopper as close to the mountains as possible and saw the beautiful region from a new perspective. The 45-minute flight helped tie our experience together and provided some visual context for the enormity of our accomplishment. The chopper ride will be one I will always remember and be thankful for the opportunity to have taken.
That evening we had our final dinner with our guide Prem
and porter Pasung
. We were very thankful for the laughs and support we got from our team while on the mountain. It was great being able to spend a bit more time with them reflecting on the trip we shared together. While we would be going back home, our crew would be taking more eager tourists up and down the mountain this season to sate their sense of adventure.
The following morning, we were booked on one for the first flights out of Lukla. We were blessed with clear weather which meant that we could fly back to Kathmandu with no delays. We boarded the small plane, which proceeded to make its way to the end of the runway. You may recall from Day 1, that the Tenzing-Hillary Airport is known for being one of the most dangerous in the world. The end of the very-short runway is a sheer cliff that plunges into a deep abyss.
To assist the plane in getting the speed required to take off, the runway was created at a 12% gradient. The engines roared and the plane proceeded to plunge itself downhill to the precipitous drop off – and shortly before reaching the edge of the cliff, the pilots did their thing and we were airborne heading back to Kathmandu. I may or may not have needed a change of underwear after that take off.
Simply put – Everest Base Camp Trek was an awesome adventure. I can’t wait to come to back.