Flying to Lukla

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After our day in Kathmandu we were ready to fly into the mountains.

To get to the Everest region in the Himalayas, you have basically two choices: drive to the end of the road to a town called Jiri, and begin walking; or fly into a little village called Lukla which is about a 5-day walk past Jiri.  Lukla is at about 9200 ft elevation in a valley surrounded by peaks that are 20,000 ft. or higher. You get there in a plane that has a maximum flying elevation of about 14,000 ft., and you go across a 13,000 ft. mountain pass to get into the valley. Once you are in the valley, you head up the valley and land on a runway that slopes uphill into the side of the mountain. This is a “one shot” landing — the runway looks impossibly short from the air and there is a big wall at the end of the runway; if you have trouble coming in, there’s no way to touch and go and take off again. The flights only go up in the morning, when the air is colder and denser (which gives better lift), and before the clouds build around the mountains, as they do nearly every afternoon.

The plane holds only 14 people, so we had to go in two loads, including our support staff. We all got up around 5 a.m. to get our huge mound of luggage to the lobby, then five folks left for the early flight. The rest of us ate breakfast and accumulated a bunch of nervous energy as we awaited our turn to go. At 6:30 a.m. we piled into the van and headed to the airport.

The scenery on the flight in is awe-inspiring: countless snow-covered peaks, many with famous profiles. Small villages perched in impossible spots on ridgelines. Terraced fields. Then we are over the pass, and into the valley of the Dudh Kosi river. There is a sharp drop onto the runway — “Quick, hit the brakes before we hit the wall!” — and we’re there.

The flight in is worth the price of the trip all by itself. We cheered as we touched down.

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