Lukla (2860m) to Phakding (2650m) – 6km
The day started fairly early with a 5.30am wakeup call for a 6am departure to Kathmandu airport. The usual chaos and waiting around followed, we’re quite used to that now, so we just waited patiently and ate our packed breakfast. A little before 9am we boarded the smallest commercial flight I’ve ever been on – I think it was a twin otter seating 14 in a 1-1 formation! We were lucky to get seats on the left hand side of the plane, so we had great views of the mountains (particularly thanks to the high-wing design).
The flight only took about 40 mins, cruising at around 150 knots/12000 ft before a modest descent to Lukla (2860m/9380 ft). There was no “ladies and gentlemen please prepare for landing” – just noticing the mountain rising up towards before a surge and bump of a sudden landing. The landing point was so close to the end of the runway that there wasn’t even time to see it before we hit the ground – just houses, stone walls and a fence flashing by a few feet below us, then bump, we’re down! The ground run is very short (it needs to be as the runway is only 460m long) and assisted by the fact that the runway has a 12 degree slope (but it looks like more!) so gravity helps slow the aircraft down (in fact it seems like usually they have to put power back on to taxi off the runway in order to stop rolling backwards down the runway!). So, no wonder this place features top of “world’s most extreme airports”.
Because we had a short trek today, we didn’t have to rush anywhere so we stopped at a hotel/lodge in Lukla to sort our bags out and have an early lunch around 11am. Some of the Everest Base Camp (EBC) treks go right through to Namche Bazaar on the first day – an extra 6-7hrs and an 800m climb beyond our gentle 3hr walk this afternoon to Phakding. So we were glad of the easy pace set by our trekking company (Mountain Monarch) and our guides, particularly as Stef still has a cold (she’s taking a nap right now since we checked in to our lodge early). The easy pace is one of the reasons we chose Mountain Monarch – not just for comfort, but for safety, as correctly planned acclimitisation is essential minimise the chances of Acute Mountain Sickness (= severe altitude sickness – which can and does kill people every year in Everest region). It also gives us the best possible chances of reaching our goal – Island Peak Summit at 6189m/20,305ft.
So far the scenery has been very nice, but it’s been more built-up and populated than I expected, with lodges/buildings every few hundred metres along the trail. I expect that to be the case at least until we get beyond Namche. The trail here is very easy to walk, and our guide says it will stay that way until EBC.
The lodge we’re staying at is fine – and better than I expected – flushing sit-down toilet, wooden twin rooms with firm but useable mattress (on which we sleep in sleeping bags). Of course no hot water, but we didn’t expect that. Probably further up the trail the quality will go down (and then we also have the camping around Island Peak). It sounds like all of them are always freezing cold – the only heating is a stove in the communal area in the evenings for dinner, so the rooms are freezing cold – and we’ve not experienced anything yet, with temperatures of -10 to -20C possible at night towards EBC. We have very warm sleeping bags (currently we’re in them, keeping warm before dinner time), but otherwise I think it’s going to be a constant challenge to stay warm in the lodges. I can’t help thinking that a wood-fired central heating system couldn’t add a huge amount to the cost of these places, but it would add to the comfort so much.
Stef is a bit unhappy with this given her cold, hopefully she will cheer up once she’s better. We have a rest day on Thursday in Namche so hopefully that will help!
Crossing the bridge towards our lodge:
View from the lodge dining room: