“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
After 9 days on the trek walking over 40km and climbing more than 9000 ft to reach to the Everest Base Camp, it is time for us to bid a farewell to the majestic mountains and get ready for our return journey. Due to time constraints, we had per-booked helicopter ride from Gorakshep to Kathmandu via Lukla. Rush and Varun were flying out tonight so we were on a tight schedule. Trekking to Lukla from here is much shorter and comparatively easier as you are going to lower elevations and there are no acclimatization hikes/days on your return trip.
Our guides were coordinating with helicopter company while we were enjoying our last breakfast on the trail. After breakfast we thanked our porters who did an outstanding job throughout the trek. Their humbleness, positive attitude, and smiling faces will always be in my heart. We had paid them some money along the trek so Doctor and Kamlesh did the final accounting to pay the remaining balance topped with generous tips. We also donated some of our gears to them hoping it will be useful to them. One of our guides said that most likely they will not use any of these gears themselves and will probably sale them on their way back. Whatever they decide to do, I think it will be helpful to them one way or the other. Our third porter for the day-packs was feeling under the weather so Doctor gave him some medication before he went back to Lukla.
Since the air is very thin at this elevation the helicopter cannot take full load so they ferried one or two people with some luggage from Gorakshep to a staging area in Pheriche. After we leave Gorakshep,our two guides, Deepak and Tshering will trek back to Lukla and fly to Kathmandu three days later. After spending several days together, they had become a part of our trail family so it was s a bit emotional to say goodby to them. Both of them will be missed very much!
Since Rush and Varun had a flight to catch tonight, they took the first helicopter ride to Pheriche. It’s a very short ride to Pheriche and the chopper came back within minutes with a sherpa and some cargo. It was very interesting to see how these “air taxis” manage cargo boxes to optimize helicopter’s weight carrying capacity and efficiently distribute them at various locations. Don’t be surprise to see a box of “Red Bull” cans or a case of Everest Beer next to your feet when you ride one of these choppers.
Manubhai and Kamlesh were next in line and Doctor and I were the last one to go to Pheriche. The helicopter ride from Gorakshep to Pheriche was very short – I would say less than 10 minutes – mostly over the Khumbu glacier at a very low elevation.
Our stay at Pheriche was very brief. They made three trips to ferry us from Gorakshep so four people from the first two trips waited while the other two arrived. After a brief refueling and cargo management, we left for Lukla.
After three trips back and forth to Gorakshep, we were all at Pheriche divided into to two groups to fly to Lukla after refueling the helicopters. It was interesting to see them refuel the chopper with engine running and blades spinning. Here is a small video compilation of our staging and refueling at Pheriche before going to Lukla.
The helicopter was flying at a low-level and I can see the hikers on the trail we took on our way to Gorakshep. I can also identify some landmarks where we took photos on our way to Gorakshep.
While going over some mountain ridges at a close distance we encountered wind drafts shaking the entire chopper made me scared a few times but I got used to it after a while. One thing that bothered me during all helicopter rides was the door handle on pilot side. There is no locking mechanism – it’s just a simple push lever to open the door (see pictures below). We had our backpacks and duffles in our laps and I was afraid it sliding over the door handle opening the door mid-air. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. The safety measures in these “air taxis” are very lax and you have to be careful.
Our flight from Kathmandu to Phakding was much smoother than the return trip to Lukla. Flying over Tengboche, I spotted our hotel and the famous Buddhist Monastery which looked totally different from this aerial view. Here are two photos comparing both the perspectives.
I also spotted the location where we took jumping jack photos on our way to the base camp. I just can’t believe that our 30 minutes flight covered the distance that took us 9 days to walk! Technology at its best! Here is a compilation of video clips Varun took on his Samsung Note 7 on our way to Lukla from Pheriche.
Here is a photo compilation of various trails we hiked while going to the base camp.
We arrived at Lukla in about 40 minutes or less and landed at a small two tier lot right next to the runway separated by a small barbed wire fence. We can see the flights landing and taking off literally from the edge of the runway. Lukla Airport is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world and I can see why. The short runway begins over a cliff and ends at a wall before the tall mountain. Pilots only have one chance to successfully land and reduce the speed before the wall so the plane can make a right hand turn into the airport terminal.
The helicopter landing area is right next to the Lukla Airport runway separated by a small barbed wired fence. There is a small building with the caretaker’s home office and some cargo storage rooms – very basic facility with no amenities.
While waiting for our helicopter ride to Kathmandu, we saw many airplanes taking off and landing as the weather was consistently good. Here are two of my favorite video clips from the side of the runway showing planes landing and taking off at Lukla airport.
Tara airlines plane taking off from Tenzing-Hillary Airport (also known as Lukla Airport)
Landing at Lukla Airport is considered one of the most dangerous by many experienced travelers. This airport lacks sophisticated technology assisted landing so it all depends on the pilot’s visibility during landing time. The airport is located on the mountain ridge and the plane has to rapidly descend before landing on a short-sloped runway. This landing approach is one of the steepest in the world and this airport has seen many accidents in the last three decades. Here is a video I took during one of the many landings we witnessed while waiting for our helicopter ride to Kathmandu.
I had forgotten my camera case with extra batteries and memory cards in the helicopter when we flew from Kathmandu to Phakding and was told that it will be at Lukla so I inquired at a small office/home of the caretaker at Lukla helicopter “lot”. As expected, no one there knew anything about it. My last hope is to connect with Mingma when we arrive at Kathmandu. Doctor and I had made several calls to him so I was hopeful that I will find it before leaving Nepal.
After all of our team arrived at Lukla, we had to wait for our final flight to Kathmandu. This time, all in a single helicopter, a bigger one. As always, there are no fixed times for any flight in this part of the world. It’s all weather dependent. Fortunately, the weather was much predictable today and we were told that it will be an hour or so before we get our turn to fly to Kathmandu. So, we decided to celebrate the end of our EBC trek at a nice restaurant just around the corner from the Helicopter “lot”.
Of course, no celebration is complete without some adult beverages. What could be a better choice than “Everest Beer” with some Popcorn! While waiting for our lunch, we had a couple of rounds of Beer after 9 days of self-imposed sobriety. Before even we could finish our lunch, we learned that our helicopter has arrived so we hurriedly completed remaining meal and got ready to fly to Kathmandu.
The flight from Kathmandu was at much higher elevation and smooth. I see familiar landscape and within 30 minutes we were at Kathmandu Airport. I can’t believe we are back to Kathmandu after a successful expedition to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. It’s a great feeling to accomplish something after several months of planning and preparation. Our entire trip (except my Kala Pattar hike) went as planned and I believe it was a cumulative result of all the efforts we put in to train ourselves, research and gather right gears, arrange all the trek logistics in advance, and most importantly our friendly and supportive group dynamic.
Upon arrival, we were greeted at the tarmac by the “immigration guy” who checked our passports and handed us a clipboard with one page arrival/immigration form to fill out. I was surprised as we were not arriving by an airplane from an international flight but he was a nice and friendly guy and we all obliged to this formality.
Back to our hotel in Thamel, we check into our rooms and collect our extra luggage from the hotel lock room so we can have a change of clean clothes. After an extended shower, clean shave, and fresh street clothes, we head out to celebrate.
About 6 hours ago, we were seating at the most remote of all EBC trek places and now we are back to hustle and bustle of Thamel.Walking on the Thamel street was completely effortless, like walking on the clouds. It felt like my legs were mechanically moving without my involvement – very strange! I guess they were so used to screaming at higher elevation, dropping 14000 feet in six hours made them sing and dance!
Rush and Varun were able to change their flights to the next morning so we all decided to go our for a celebration.
Day 9.5: Gorakshep to Kathmandu (Via Pheriche & Lukla) Photo Album