Apr 10, 2013

An up-close & personal tour of every air pocket between Kathmandu & Lukla: Flying into the most dangerous airport in the world

 At 2860m Tenzing-Hillary Airport (better known as Lukla airport) bears the infamous title of being the ‘most dangerous airport in the world’. At the end of the short and abrupt runway (angled at a ‘gentle’ 30 degree upward slope) is a very large and very solid unforgiving mountain and the dangers in landing are often compounded by hazardous weather. The airport is ‘overlooked’ by the mountain village of Lukla which is the starting point of most treks and expeditions into the Khumbu region of Nepal. 

This morning at 5am I found myself fitting in a last minute packing job, strategically cramming in all the ‘non-essentials’ that I’d responsibly decided that I wouldn’t need (e.g. the electric blue nail polish, scented candles…). At 5.45 I found myself in the lobby ready for the days adventures to begin..!

The theme of the day seems to have been ‘hurry up and wait’ – a part of life that you learn to quickly accept here in Nepal. Today was no different…  At 6am we rushed from our hotels to get into line at Kathmandu’s domestic terminal and then proceeded to wait; weighed our bags on an old grain-scale… and then proceeded to wait; we rushed to get through ‘security’ and then proceeded to wait; rushed to the transit bus and then proceeded to wait for our slightly rusted twin prop plane… The flight was a slightly harrowing one and the pilot kindly gave us a ‘tour’ of every air-pocked between Kathmandu and Lukla. Had the flight been in a helicopter it would have been fairly ‘normal’ however I had to remind myself that twin-prop planes generally don’t really fare well in dealing with vertical movement and 20m ‘drops’...!! I closed my eyes and cranked my ipod up a little louder to drown out the sputtering of the engines and the gasps of my fellow passengers.

Seeing the small runway in Lukla reminded me however that I was now officially in ‘expedition mode’. My main focus for the coming weeks is to embrace the steady pace of expedition life where days and moments and memories are taken and enjoyed one step and one day at a time.  It was a brilliantly clear day with the sun peeking over the panorama of snow-capped mountains and the farmers making their way into the terraced fields.

The walk up to the village of Monjo (our stop for the night) was relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable – bumping into both Ian Ridley from my Everest 2010 team and Jon Gupta, a friend from the UK enroute..!  It isn’t a surprise to see familiar faces as the well-trodden trail is bustling with trekkers and the air is filled with the sound of the steady clink of their poles on the stone steps. The sound of chimes and prayer wheels turning in the wind fill the air with a familiar ‘mountain melody’. The colourful spring blossoms add vibrance against the clear blue sky and cold grey mountains casting their shadows over the land.

I’m soooo happy to be back and excited to use these days to get to know our fantastic little team, all of our mutual acquaintances and exchange stories over bottomless cups of hot tea..!
Rene and Anthony enjoying the walk
Bumping into former team mate & friend, Ian Ridley on the trail


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