World’s Scariest Airport

Lukla, Nepal (map)

We are not rock climbers or mountaineers so when we watch movies about Mount Everest it has that same effect as watching a movie about astronauts going to the moon.  But when I first heard a friend of my father in-law, Jay, attempted to hike with his family to Everest Base Camp (EBC) the familiar thought crept back in my mind from when I had first heard about people cycling across the USA; people do that?!?

The seed was planted.

Arriving in Kathmandu our first goal was to go shopping to replace our stolen hiking shoes from South Africa and pick up some rental sleeping bags for the cold nights in the overnight Tea Houses on the hike.  What we didn’t expect while preparing for the trek was the news we heard from other recently returned EBC hikers; of the first two groups we talked to in our hotel both had someone in their party helicoptered down for medical reasons.  This was going to be harder than we thought.  In light of the recent news we opted for something that we (mostly I) are usually pretty much against; purchasing an evacuation insurance plan and hiring a porter-guide (Kishor) to assist us on the trek.

With everything set to go we just had to take the first and hardest step, boarding the small 18 person propeller plane to take us to what some call the most dangerous airport in the world; Lukla Airport.  Jay who I mentioned before is also a private pilot and in his mind this was one of the coolest landings in the world.  If  you have seen the old movie Air America with Mel Gibson you may recall them landing uphill on the side of a mountain, yeah it’s like that but paved.  As you’re flying and looking out the front window all you see is the side of a mountain, then at the last minute the pilot seems to slow down and pull up at the same time and out of nowhere a runway appears.  It took a while to get off the plane as everyone was filing out and kissing the ground in succession.

Hard part over, now for the easy part. All we have to do is hike 16 days in a valley to a point higher than we have ever been before carrying 10-35 lbs on our backs 🙂

Day 1 – Lukla (9,186 ft) to Phakding (8,700 ft) – 4.6 miles – 2 hours 20 minutes

The first day of hiking started with an easy downhill descent which our guide sheet told us would be about a 3-4 hour walk.  Fresh off the plane and about 30 minutes into the hike all we could keep thinking was how great it was to be out of cities and into a world without cars or any motorized vehicles on the ground kicking up pollution.  After leaving India I had picked up an upper respiratory infection that left me with a tightness of chest, stiff body, and a fear that I had made a huge mistake putting the India visit before the Everest hike.  But now surrounded by this beautiful valley all we could do was grin ear to ear and frequently drunk smile at each other while saying things like “We are hiking to Everest!” and “It’s Nepal baby!”.

The short day flew by and before we knew it we had arrived at our lunch, dinner, and overnight spot.  Before leaving we had heard that the locals would pretty much only eat one meal called Dal Bhat, which consists of a plate of white rice and three sides – lentil dal soup, lentil cracker, and curry vegetables.  In asking Kishor about it he had only one response “Dal Bhat power 24 hour” and throughout the full 16 day trip we never saw him eat anything other than Dal Bhat.  Rule of thumb for travellers, don’t fare too far from what the locals eat or you might not like the after effects.

More pictures from Day 1 of the hike in the slideshow below (not visible in email subscription).

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