Everest Base Camp Trek

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June 13, 2014: Kathmandu

Arrived in Kathmandu from Bangkok at 1pm. At 2pm I checked into the Khagsar Guest House in Thamel. After inspecting the room, I went downstairs and met the manager, Raj. I asked him what I should do in Nepal and he said go to Everest. I said, okay. After checking all the paperwork, I paid him the $1300 for the 2 week trek which was all inclusive- about average for Everest. He said to come back in a few hours and meet the guide.
After wandering Kathmandu and checking out a sunset at the monkey temple, I returned to meet Rewati, my 24 year old guide. We went over the packing list. He said to meet him in the lobby at 5am tomorrow to catch the 6:15 am flight.

June 14, 2014: Kathmandu to Lukla to Phakding

I woke up at 4am to catch the 6:15 flight to Lukla, the start of the Everest base camp trek and the site of the world’s most dangerous airport. After meeting Rewati at 5, we found a cab to take us to the airport. Even though all the shops were closed, there were an amazing number of people on the alleys that they call streets. There are no driving rules in Nepal, our driver basically ran into crowds of people, honked and hoped they moved out of the way- they always somehow dodged our car at the last possible second.

After getting to the airport 1 hour before the flight, we found the airport closed. People were waiting outside and there was a monkey stealing peoples breakfast. Eventually the airport opened up and we checked in and went through the “security”, a cursory pat-down search.

At 6:15, we were told that the weather in Lukla was too cloudy and the plane couldn’t land. The plane was delayed until 7:30. At 7:30, the plane was delayed another hour. This trend continued every hour until 11:30 when they finally determined that it was good enough to fly to Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport. The wait was miserable because we had no idea if the plane would even take off today. I had told Rewati that if we didn’t make it to Lukla today, we were going to do a different trek. We were very lucky, as there are often days or weeks when planes can’t land in Lukla.

The plane was tiny, seating only about 16 people. The flight attendant gave us cotton balls for the noise, and a caramel candy. 30 seconds later, we were in the air.

The flight took 25 exhilarating minutes. The pilot turned around in the open cockpit and told us we were going to land. However, the plane never started to descend. Suddenly, the runway appeared in the middle of the clouds and we cruised flat into Lukla. The runway was so short that I thought the plane was going to crash into the mountain. It’s also on a major slope- the top of the runway is 35 ft higher than the bottom. This is the only such commercial runway in the world. 2 minutes after getting off the plane, it was already full of passengers and on it’s way back to Kathmandu. Seeing the plane taking off from Lukla was terrifying because it looked like the plane was going into then ground and then after it took off, the pilot had to quickly dodge the huge mountain across the valley.

Rewati and I then grabbed lunch. I got chow mein and he got dahl bat (lentils, rice, and vegetable curry). At lunch, I met the other people on the plane who were all far more interesting than myself (which is what I want). There were two Australian miners, there was a guy traveling around the world in 11 months, and there was a Spanish guy cycling around the world over 2 1/2 years. Everyone was very nice and fun to talk to.

We the trekked for 3 hours to the town of Phakding, about 300 feet lower than Lukla. The trek was along the side of a huge gorge on a stone/dirt road. Lots of cows, Sherpas carrying 200 pound packs, Sanskrit writing on rocks, shops, and temples. There’s a lot of weird superstitions about trekking here but I’ll get to that on another day.

Spirits are high, although I feel out of shape. The legs may hurt a lot, but I am going to make it to base camp!

Lukla runway
Lukla runway
Watching the World Cup underneath a picture of the Virgin Mary and a poster of  Singapore...
Watching the World Cup underneath a picture of the Virgin Mary and a poster of Singapore…

June 15, 2014: Phakding to Namche Bazaar

We got up at 3:45 to watch the World Cup match between Japan and Ivory Coast. It is amazing that there is TV up here! Actually, there is perfect cell service as well as wifi in many places in the Khumbu/Mt. Everest region. We watched the game with the Sherpa tea house staff, my guide, and the two other guests in the hotel. They are Bill, the English/Canadian recent university grad traveling around the world in 10 months and Rami from Egypt working in Kuwait. Our guides were all friends, so the 6 of us essentially joined up for the day. While we all walked separately with our respective guides, we all ate meals together and waited for each other at the various military checkpoints.

Today was considered the hardest day of the whole trek because we have to climb 800 meters (2,600 ft). So basically I had to climb a Colorado ski mountain with 25 pounds on my back while not acclimated to the altitude.

The trail here was unlike anything I have ever seen. Rather than a dirt trail, it is mostly stone, with stone steps everywhere. Additionally, there are a lot of things on the trail- every few hundred meters there would be either a restaurant or a tea house with a generic (for the scenery) name such as the Everest View Cafe or the River Side Lodge. There are also a lot of houses where Sherpas live and farm.

Because the Sherpas are Buddhist there are loads of Buddhist stupas along the way. When passing a stupa, you have you walk around it clockwise. There are also these giant metal wheels with Sanskrit writing on them called mani. At the bottom of the wheel there is a handle. Anyone who passes is supposed to turn the wheel clockwise for good luck/soul purification. As someone not wanting to mess with the mountain gods, I spun every wheel. There are also many Tibetan prayer flags and giant prayer poles with the flags. There are also giant rocks with Sanskrit writing on them. In short, there is always something to see on the trail.

The hike to Namche took 6 hours. The first 3 hours were mostly flat and only climbed 200 meters. The trail hugged the side of the gorge over the roaring river. Occasionally, we had to cross the river on very scary metal cable bridges. While they wobbled quite a bit when we walked on them, they were certainly sturdy. Right before lunch we officially entered Sagarmatha National Park, home of Mount Everest and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After lunch, we had 3 hours to get to Namche Bazaar and the trail climbed 600 meters. The trail was relatively flat until we reached the Hillary Bridge which was the craziest bridge I have ever seen. They recently built a new rope bridge above an older one about 350 ft above the raging river. The six of us were all astonished that this bridge was built.

After the bridge, it was nonstop switchbacks for 2 hours or so. Not fun at all. Eventually we made it to Namche Bazaar.

That night, the clouds rolled in and we lost power. Actually the entire country has power cuts for around 9 hours a day. The 5 of us (excluding my guide) all played Uno. We all planned on watching the World Cup game that night, but the hotel didn’t have enough power to run the TV. Maybe tomorrow we will get electricity.

Mani stone
Mani stone
Typical view at the lower elevations
Typical view at the lower elevations
The crazy bridge- crossed the top one
The crazy bridge- crossed the top one
Team International at the top of the bridge
Team International at the top of the bridge

June 16, 2014: Rest Day in Namche Bazaar

The day began with perfectly clear skies. This was the acclimatization day, so we are spending another night in Namche Bazaar. Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, had a population of about 1,000 people. Since virtually every tourist in the Khumbu passed through here, you could find everything here: massages, mountaineering shops, a post office, ATM, Irish pub, wifi, you name it.

It looked a lot like the Israeli city of Tzfat except it’s in the middle of the Himalayas. Just like Tzfat, it was built into the hillside and there were staircases to get around everywhere. Also the buildings were made of a similar looking stone.

We decided to hike up to the local museum to catch a view of Everest and the surrounding mountains. They were absolutely beautiful but 5 minutes later they disappeared in the clouds. We then walked up to the Namche Airport, the highest airport in the world. There, we watched the clouds roll in from Lukla and in 10 minutes, the whole place was covered in clouds. I then began to earnestly think about my escape plan- how to get out of the Khumbu. The whole way down, I discussed with my guide on the merits of different escape strategies.

There were 4 way to get out of Khumbu. The first was to take the plane out, which I was now learning takes perfect weather, a rarity in the mountains in monsoon season. The second option was to take a helicopter from Lukla. It takes 5-6 people and costs a total of $3,000 so $500-600 per person. The helicopter can land in Lukla in cloudy weather but not a major rainstorm. I would be willing to pay, but I would need to convince at least 4-5 more people to take this option and every day there are less and less people on the mountain. The third option was to walk down. It takes another 3 hard days on the trail past the airport to Saleri then 12 hours on a jeep or 7 hard days to Jiri. The roads are apparently very risky if the rain hits since they are unpaved. The final option is a rescue helicopter. For this option, I would have to feign altitude sickness and the chopper would pick me and my guide up at base camp and take me directly to Kathmandu. We would then go to a hospital there where the guide and the trip organizer would write paperwork saying that I did indeed have altitude sickness. My insurance should cover this but I think it should be only used for last resort as I still have 2 more months of traveling. Taking the rescue chopper seems like a bad idea. I don’t want to cheat out the insurance company- could come back to bite me in the future. Right now (3pm) I think the best option would be to get down the mountain as soon as I can, cut my losses and hope for a plane flight out of Lukla.

After thinking about it for another few hours, I decided to continue the trek but finish 3 days faster than planned. Talking with all the people here: fellow trekkers, guides, shopkeepers, and even a passing lama, they all said I might as well finish the trek because it’s so difficult to get here and the weather up higher is good. Decided with the guide that I’m going to skip the final acclimatization day and get back down the mountain 2 days faster. Today was extremely stressful but now I’m fully committed to the cause.

That night, Rami the Egyptian living in Kuwait, Bill the British/Canadian, all the Sherpas and I played an epic game of Uno. It lasted over an hour. At one point, one of the Sherpa guides actually had over half the deck. We were all relieved when Rami finally won the game.

Namche Bazaar!!
Incredible sherpas
Incredible sherpas
Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar before the clouds
Bull in Namche
Bull in Namche

June 17, 2014: Namche Bazaar to Panboche

Now that I had no regretful thoughts, the hiking became a lot easier. I felt more confident and less worried about the future flight out of Lukla. I could really enjoy the scenery.

Past Namche Bazaar, the scenery began to change. The trail changed from a stone road to an actual dirt trail like I was expecting- the staircases are stone. We moved out of the pine forest and into more shrubbery- a super green chaparral. The gorge was just as steep and we started the day about 2000 ft above the river. Eventually, the trail climbed downhill, the river climbed uphill and they met at a point 600 ft lower in elevation than Namche Bazaar.

We then crossed the river and climbed up a steep 1800 feet in just under 2 hours to the town of Tenbouche. We climbed for about 5 hours before getting lunch.

Tenbouche is the home of the largest Tibetan monetary in the Khumbu. Unfortunately, the monks were out playing volleyball, so we couldn’t walk inside.

At lunch, I met a funny Israeli man living in South Africa. He pulled out a bong and started smoking weed. I was surprised, given the altitude, but he said that he won’t travel without his weed. We then talked about his travels and how various countries perceive Israelis (most don’t like them because they argue more than anyone). He says that Israelis just don’t want to get ripped off.

Tenbouche was our original stopping point, but I asked Rewati if we could continue further because I was feeling really good and wanted to make tomorrow easier, since I will no longer have another rest day. He said sure and we kept going.

Along the way we ran into the Spanish man I met on the plane flight. He was biking around the world. We talked about his amazing journey (his favorite countries were Turkey and Iran, while his least favorite was India). He eventually intends to continue through South East Asia then to Australia then to either North or South America depending on the season. He has been traveling for almost a full year and expects to go for another 1-2 more.

Now a group of 4 (the Spanish man also had a guide), we continued up the valley. We were now very close to the tree line and the trees are mere shrubs.

Along the way we passed by a memorial to Tenzing Norgay (the first man along with Hillary to summit Everest).

At around 2:30, we made it to Panboche, which is set in a flat valley with lots of potato crops.

We tried to go to a monetary in town that apparently had the remains of a yeti. Unfortunately it was closed, but we decided to follow some monks up the hill because we thought they were going to bless a stupa. We followed them up to the school, where the whole town had come to watch a Sherpa-made movie on Sherpa culture. Tickets were $2, so we decided to go.

The movie was certainly an experience. Everyone was crammed into this small room that served as the school cafeteria. There were about 200 Sherpas, my Spanish friend, and me (the guides weren’t interested in the movie). While we didn’t understand anything in the movie, we both found it funny (lots of slapstick jokes) and we were able to see what a Sherpa wedding, funeral, and romance look like. All the actors in the film were local and many were in the audience. The production value wasn’t top notch, but the content was great. All the Sherpas found the movie hilarious, especially the sex scene. I was a little surprised that there were so many children watching the film.

During the movie, I started to get a bad headache- the theater was over 12,000 ft high. I wasn’t sure whether it was a dehydration headache of the onset of altitude sickness. I decided to put the preventative measures into full force. I ate the entire dinner (a huge bowl of noodles), increased my daily intake of water from 3 liters to 6 liters and started taking the diamox. I went to bed at 6pm.

On the trail
On the trail
Highest slide in the world
Highest slide in the world?
Movie selfie
Movie selfie

June 18, 2014: Panboche to Dinboche

The altitude-prevention strategy worked! I woke up at 6am after 12 hours of sleep feeling fantastic. The mountains were clear and I could see Everest cloud-free for the first time. We were so close!

At around 7:30, the clouds rolled in and the mountains all disappeared. That is the nature of the Himalayas- ever changing weather.

It occurred to me today that I have been wearing the same outfit for the past 5 days and haven’t showered. I probably smell horrible, but everyone else here does too. Also, there’s no showers up here. Guess I’ll take one in Lukla or Kathmandu.

Because we were skipping the acclimatization day, I wanted to get to Dinboche as soon as possible. The hike was only 3 hours (shortened by hiking more yesterday). The hike was now completely above the tree-line. The only plants were mosses and small bushes. The water in the raging river looked incredibly pure.

Just like most days, we had to end the day with a steep climb into the town. We actually hiked really fast, getting into Dinboche (13,800 ft) at around 9:30 am. We were going to hang out here the rest of the day and acclimatize for tomorrow’s hike up to Lobuche. I was feeling great, although I was pissing like a racehorse. Hopefully this will all translate into an easy last 2 days of climbing.

Prices up here are starting to get more expensive. This is because everything- yes everything- is carried up from Lukla by Sherpas. This includes all the food, bottles water, construction materials. Things up here are about double the prices in Namche Bazaar- charging phones which cost $1.50/hour in Namche cost $3/hour here! Meals cost over $5 compared to $2 in Lukla. Bottled water is $2.50 compared to 30 cents in Kathmandu. Still not crazy by American standards, but it makes things difficult to budget. Luckily, most everything was pre-paid.

I expected my friends from Namche Bazaar to be in Dinboche tonight, but they didn’t make it. Perhaps they felt sick or decided to go further. The other people in my hotel last night also decided to go further. As a result, i am the only tourist in the entire town with 20 hotels. The hotel staff of 4 was catering to me, which sounds nice but there really isn’t anything to do up here. Like absolutely nothing. No shops, no card games. The only thing we did all day was sit by the fire and talk. Unfortunately their English wasn’t great so we didn’t talk about much. I was able to listen to some Nepali music and eat Tibetan bread- kind of like a soft gooey pie crust. I also napped a bit and read the book Shantaram. The whole hotel staff awkwardly watched me eat my chow mein for dinner.

I was very glad that I’m not spending the rest day here tomorrow since I might die from boredom. Hopefully, there will be at least one other tourist in Lobuche tomorrow.

Everest and Lhotse
Everest and Lhotse

June 19, 2014: Dinbouche to Gorek Shep

We awoke to discover that we were in the shadow of Lhotse, the 4th tallest mountain in the world. All the clouds were gone and the mountains were all out. It was beautiful. The goal today was to hike to Lobuche, 4 hours away.

The trail eased it’s way up a grassy plain. We passed wild yaks grazing. A medium sized dog started following us. I really enjoyed this section of the trail, it was peaceful and felt more naturey than other parts of the trek since it was actually a spur of the main trekking route. The plain was about 600 ft above the river while the main route followed the river.

After about 2 hours, we reached the town of Thukla and began a steep climb up to Thukla pass. The climb took about an hour and was strewn with rocks. On the way up, we met a nice Australian man who was on his way down. He just spent 5 months at a yoga ashram in India (a surprisingly popular story of tourists in Nepal). He was then headed to Canada then Chile then most likely back to India. All the people on this trek were the coolest!

At the top of the pass, we reached the memorials to all those who perished on Mount Everest- about 10% of all climbers. Since rescue efforts are impossible on the mountain due to the elevation, most of the bodies are still on the mountain- frozen beneath the Khumbu Icefall. There were about 150 memorials, some commemorating multiple people such as the one to all Kazakhs who died on the mountain. The most memorable was to Scott Fischer, a guide on the 1996 Everest expedition, one of the worst disasters in mountaineering history. He died just feet from his tent returning from the summit while trying to help the clients. There was a white-out so nobody could see anything at High Camp. Is isn’t known whether Scott froze to death while trying to find his tent, the wind blowing his body over the cliff or whether he fell over the cliff. The Jon Krakauer book, Into Thin Air chronicled this expedition and was one of my favorite books. I regard Scott as one of my mountaineering heroes for sacrificing his life to save others.

I thought a lot about the climbers on the Alpine Ascents expedition, who just one month ago (May 2014) passed by these memorials, never to return. I went on a Mount Rainier expedition with Alpine Ascents and had been following the Everest team’s progress on Facebook. There was no memorial yet for those climbers who died in the Icefall while returning to Base Camp after setting up the High Camp to prepare for their first summit attempt.

The other memorial that struck me was of Trevor Stokol from Dallas Texas. His memorial has a Jewish star on it. I decided to place a rock on the white stupa.

30 minutes later at around 11:30AM, we made it to Lobuche. We ate lunch there- Dahl Bat as always. I told Rewati I was feeling really good and could definitely keep hiking. So instead of checking into the hotel, we decided to continue on to Gorek Shep, the final town before Everest.

The hike took 3 hours. I really struggled in this section because of the altitude. Gorek Shep was at 5,100 meters or just over 16,000 ft. I have never been this high before so I walked slowly.

The trail here was rocky and boulder strewn. We kept climbing up and down over 100 ft tall piles of rocks. We walked above a giant river of scree, which I eventually realized was the Khumbu Glacier itself. Unlike the beautiful glaciers of Alaska, this glacier (and most of the others in the area) were brown and covered with rocks and dirt from monsoons over the years. While most of the trek through the Himalayas has been beautiful, this area looked like a wasteland.

Eventually the clouds parted and I could see up ahead. The valley was surrounded by the most beautiful steep white peaks I’ve ever seen. Rewati pointed out all the landmarks: the crest of the Himalayas just 3 miles ahead, the deadly Khumbu icefall which served as the icy tomb of some of the greatest mountaineers,  and the summit of Mount Everest peaking out through the clouds. The summit was only another 13,000 vertical ft up from us.

Just as Rewati was pointing out the landmarks, we watched a giant avalanche cascade down the Icefall. Rewati told me that the avalanche occurred in the exact same spot as the one that killed the Alpine Ascents group in May. Rewati was there at Base Camp that day and remembered the somber mood. I decided then and there that I will never climb Mount Everest. After seeing the icefall for myself and seeing the memorials of all those who died on the mountain, I cannot believe people still climb it every year.

The final 20 minutes of the hike was an agonizing struggle across one of the side glaciers. While it looked like giant piles of dirt, we occasionally felt/heard a rumbling and I wondered if I was about to fall into a crevasse.

Eventually we made it to Gorek Shep, not really a town but a collection of buildings in the middle of the wasteland. We settled in and started to rest up for tomorrow’s adventures: climbing the Kala Patthar and Everest Base Camp.

At around 4:30, Rewati summoned me to the kitchen. One of the local Sherpas has fallen onto a rock and was injured. I gave him some of my pain medicine.

Down valley
Down valley
Up Valley
Up Valley
RIP Scott Fischer
RIP Scott Fischer
On the way to Gorek Shep
On the way to Gorek Shep
Wasteland near Gorek Shep
Wasteland near Gorek Shep

June 20, 2014: Kala Patthar, Everest Base Camp, Pheriche

Today’s the big day! We started at 5AM to climb Kala Patthar, the 17,000 ft dirt peak. I woke up at 4 to the sound of rain. There were clouds everywhere so it looked like we weren’t going to climb the mountain and see Everest at all. Luckily the clouds magically cleared right at 5, so Rewati and I began the climb.

Kala Patthar was basically a giant dirt mound surrounded by snowy peaks. The climb was supposed to take 2 hours but it took me only 1 hour 10 minutes. When pushed to climb mountains, I really was able to tap into that extra gear I picked up in high school cross country. The rain fell as snow at the top of the peak so we had to be extra careful at the final boulder scramble to the top. From the 18,000 ft summit, we watched the sun rise over Everest. We also got an amazing view of Everest (the best without actually climbing it) and saw many of the other mountains. One of the mountains in this grand theater of the Himalayas was actually in Tibet, only 3 miles away. We really have climbed a long way. Unfortunately for pictures, the sun rose right near Mount Everest so it was very difficult to get a nice photo with the mountain. Luckily, I worked out a nice backlit shot that turned out pretty epic.

Instead of going back to Gorek Shep, Rewati proposed taking a shortcut directly to base camp. This would save us about 2 hours of walking. Since most people climb Kala Patthar and Base Camp on separate days, the “trail” was more of an organized boulder scramble down the mountain and across the Khumbu glacier. This was tough- really tough because every step had to be carefully calculated. I had to judge whether a rock was stable and then aggressively stride across it to the next rock all while maintaining balance. Luckily, I had developed these boulder-hopping skills on that 9-day trip to the eastern shore of Superior back in middle school, so I did fine. That said, boulder hopping up and down a moving glacier was no easy task. Occasionally, we would hear rumbling and some of the rocks would shift and fall into one of the many glacial lakes. We tried to stay away from those areas.

Eventually we found the main trail to base camp and followed it across the glacier to Base Camp. The Base Camp location changes every year due to shifting ice, but it was truly an honor to stand more or less where many of the world’s greatest mountaineers have stood including Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Since it was not the climbing season, there wasn’t anything there except a bunch of Tibetan prayer flags and a banner reading Everest Base Camp. I took a few photos with the banner. The funny thing about Base Camp was that you couldn’t actually see Everest from it. The mountain was hidden behind another mountain. What you can see was the legendary Khumbu Icefall. The majority of deaths on Everest occur here and it’s easy to see why. Unlike the  Khumbu Glacier, the Icefall is steep and has numerous 20-30 ft crevasses, which must be crossed with ladders and rope. Additionally, the location of these crevasses are always changing due to the constant shifting of the ice and due to many avalanches including the May 2014 avalanche. After seeing it firsthand, I can’t believe that anybody would ever climb this mountain. It’s much steeper than I had imagined it to be.

We departed Base Camp at around 8:30 am just as the clouds were ascending on the site. It took only an hour to get back to Gorek Shep, where we ate breakfast.

After breakfast, we started the 50-mile climb down to Lukla. At Lobuche, I ran into everyone I originally started the trek with including the Australian miners, the Spanish biker, the Canadian/British man, and the Egyptian. They were shocked at my process and were eager to hear of my success. I said my goodbyes and joked that I hoped I would never see them again (as this would mean I would be stuck in Lukla for at least 3 days).

Finally we made it to Periche, located just below Dinbouche. There, I met a very wise German couple. We talked about dreams and passions, which they think are Western ideas. Nepalese people are too busy feeding themselves and their families to follow their dreams.

Top of Kala Patthar
Top of Kala Patthar
The epic Everest shot
The epic Everest shot
At Base Camp
At Base Camp
View from the glacier
View from the glacier

June 21, 2014: Pheriche- Namche Bazaar

Nothing really interesting happened today. We has to walk 7 hours downhill. My knees started to hurt towards the end. I tried to go to a couple monasteries, but they were all closed because it is the off-season and tourists won’t give them much money. The monks disappointed me a lot on this trip. It seemed that they are just as money-motivated as everyone else. Shouldn’t a monastery be open all year round so the monks can pray and learn? Apparently not.

Once we got to Namche, it started to rain. It rained so much that the wifi didn’t work :(. I was really looking forward to planning the rest of my trip and contacting family. Guess I would have to wait until tomorrow.


June 22, 2014: Namche to Lukla

Another long day on the trail. Stopped at Phakding for lunch. Picked up my belt along the way (no more fixing my pants!!). Got to foggy Lukla around 1:30. Apparently flights have been grounded here for the last 3 days due to weather. Hoping it would clear up tomorrow- the forecast looked good. Excited to have wifi again and to shower and to not have to wear the exact same outfit for 9 days. Woo! But hopefully I can get out of here soon.

June 23, 2014: Stuck in Lukla

The weather turned out to be incredibly foggy, so the flight didn’t go out. After discussing various plans, I realized that I couldn’t really trust Rewati. He seemed to be really shady with all of our dealings. We agreed to do a helicopter and he immediately asked me to pay him the $500 instead of paying the company when we leave. He also would not let me talk to the man who booked the trek for me. He might be trustworthy (he has been so far), but I didn’t like the way he handled all these dealings. It just didn’t feel right.

As a result, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I first walked throughout town to see how to get out of here. I ended up running into a man named Pembah Sherpa the former mayor of Lukla who invited me to his house for coffee. I accepted. He claimed to own 6 properties in Lukla. As we walked through town together, everybody stopped what they were doing and said hello to us. Eventually we went to his home, which was very simple but he has 20 people working with his animals in the back. Sherpas can’t have big homes up here- wouldn’t look good and would cost a fortune. After talking for awhile, he told me that his daughter and son-in-law work for a helicopter company. I then convinced 2 fellow travelers (Sakib from the UK and Christian from Australka) to come with me to investigate. The son-in-law was very professional and said to first try for the flight and then if the flight doesn’t work, talk to him and book the chopper. He said only to pay him after the helicopter was on its way. That’s how you do business and that’s what ultimately earned my trust.

We found the 6 required people for the helicopter. I then told my guide the plans and he seemed okay with them. That night, the KatmanCrew (minus 2) got dinner at the fake Starbucks in town. At dinner, I talked about anthropology and eventually some people said I was a “quick study”. Sakib talked about the Iseaeli/Palestinian conflict from a pro-Palestinian side, which was really interesting to hear, given my Jewish background. Anyways, our group for tomorrow consists of 2 from Singapore, 1 Pakistani/Brit, 1 Australian, 1 of the Indians (who is TBD), and me. I’m nervous about all of this, but it feels good to be making my own decisions for once.

I told everyone that we would try for the flight until 8am at which point we would immediately try to get on the first chopper out. Everyone seemed to be okay with the plan.

June 24, 2014: Lukla- Kathmandu

Our group of 5 (wasn’t sure about the Indian) for the helicopter added a 6th, Dickson from Georgia. Unfortunately, about 2 hours later, he then called up his insurance and he was able to go for free and bring along a friend. We eventually decided that Sakib would go (since they were both paying for the flight with insurance-a popular strategy- they both had to go to the hospital where they would get checked up for altitude sickness) and 2 of the Indians would go with us.

With just about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to walk to the helicopter, one of the Indians bailed. Luckily, someone talked to a porter and we replaced her with an Israeli girl. The six are set! The final group is Christian from Australia, the two Singaporeans, the Israeli, and Abishek from Nepal.

Eventually, it was time to pay up. I paid the $500 in cash- didn’t want to risk any credit card problems and it required the pilot to hold onto my credit card until Kathmandu. I’d rather have the 5% money changing fee than risk anything happening to my credit card. About half the group paid in cash.

We then had to walk to the helipad. Turned out it was about an hour and a half walk down the canyon near the river. We went down about 3,000 ft on a dangerously steep and slick trail. People fell but we all eventually made it. As reward for organizing the whole thing and because this was my first real helicopter ride, I got to sit in front as co-pilot (I get to wear the headset).

Just like that, we took off and soared through the steep green canyons of the Himalayas. After about 45 minutes, we finally made it back to Kathmandu! We all had a huge group hug before heading out. Apparently, Christian’s credit card had problems and was arrested.

A few hours later, I ran into Christian on the street. Turns out he had to use his iPhone AND Passport as collateral, but he’ll be okay. We got dinner. I ordered an Everest beer and steak. The other problem is the two people who took the medical helicopter were stuck in the hospital- a Nepalese hospital. We decided to celebrate/drink heavily tomorrow once everyone has sorted out all the plane refunds and medical/travel insurance issues. Raj, the organizer of the trek decided to give me the next 5 nights free in the hotel and take me out to dinner tomorrow.

The copter
The copter
Ready to take off!
Ready to take off!


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