After a couple of days in Kathmandu, I was so happy to leave that I wasn’t even annoyed in the slightest by the 4:30 am wake-up requirement to get to the airport. Myself, Ian, and Deepak our guide all headed out in a taxi, and I got my first glimpse of how nice the city can be before it really wakes up. The temples were silent and empty of tourists, with only a few early morning worshipers there to add some real atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t extend to the airport itself which was jammed with trekkers all vying to get on a flight out to Lukla. There are about four airlines flying the route, and on good weather days, there can be up to 50 daily flights! This isn’t the absolute peak of high season so we didn’t have to deal with that many people thankfully. The airport in Lukla is tiny, and the landing strip is usable only by small planes holding about 20 passengers each. One end of the runway ends at a rock face, and the other is a 2000 foot drop off of a cliff. Not much room for error, but luckily there hasn’t been a crash since 2008!
The flight into the Solu Kumbu valley is spectacular, with views of Himalayan peaks in all directions, including above the aircraft. The pilots fly a complicated path into the valley, swooping down between peaks so close that you can see people in villages above you on the mountain. Landing was interesting, with the pilot slowing down as much as he could, then hitting the brakes as hard as possible before we collided with the cliff face.
We stopped for breakfast at a restaurant just outside the airport where we met our 2nd guide and our porter. After my first of many servings of scrambled eggs on toast, we started our first days walk towards the town of Phakding. The overcast day was nice and cool, and as we followed the valley of the Dudh Kosi river. We got our first looks at village life, and the way that everything is supplied in the valley. There are absolutely no roads or motorized transport in the Kumbu area, so everything must be carried in by either Yak or human porters. We’d pause often for yak trains coming down, and would have to huddle against the wall of the trail to avoid being accidentally knocked off into the river below.
It was a nice easy four hour stroll to Phakding, and when we got there I was still full of energy and eager to keep moving. I’d noticed a sign pointing to the Pema Chholing monastery high up on the valley face, and got our assistant guide to join me on another couple hours walk. The trek was rewarding but tough, and the monastery up there was tended by one solitary monk who for a small donation let us in to wander around and take photos. This was the quiet temple experience I’d been expecting but not finding in Kathmandu, and I was very glad that I took the time to make the extra excursion.
Dark comes quickly to the valley, and bedtime was beckoning…we’d be up early again tomorrow for our next leg of the journey.
Max elevation: 9377 ft
Total climbing: 2530 ft
Total Time: 05:36:46