EBC Day 1 – Surviving the World’s Deadliest Flight

Today’s the day! I’m embarking on one of the most popular, yet difficult treks there is. The Everest Base Camp Trek. I checked out my hostel in the morning, hoping to dump my bag and head into the busy, dusty streets again to purchase some last minute trek necessities. Once I found the hotel where I would be meeting my group, oh how my morning changed! 

We were booked into Fuji Hotel, which is on the outskirts of Thamel, in a quite street away from the chaos. As I approached the hotel, with sweat starting to drip down the side of my face I went to open the large wooden doors when they magically opened for me. I was welcomed by the flow of cool air and a doorman smiling at me. “Namaste” he said as he held the door open for me “Welcome to Fuji Hotel”

He took my bag, offered me a seat and asked if I was with G Adventures. Slightly dazed by the lovely welcome and the heat I stuttered a yes and he handed me a cool drink. “Your room is ready, when you ready please follow me” I got up, ready to throw my backpack back on when a porter appeared out of nowhere to take it. I  followed them to the elevator where they took me to the top floor and to my room. I wanted to double check that they had the right person, this treatment was a far cry from hostel life. He opened the door and in there was the backpacker version of nirvana. A comfy double bed with squashy pillows sat before me, a TV in the corner and an ensuite all to myself. Did they have the right Jess?

Thanking the porter profusely I fell onto the bed as soon as the door was shut! Out went all my intentions of achieving anything today. I’d only been back in hostel life for less than a week but this small slice of luxury felt like a huge win! I turned up the air conditioning, did some hand washing and settled back into my bed for a bit of Netflix and nap. After a couple of hours of slothing about in my double bed (it really was a great bed) I found some motivation to face the real world and pick up all the last minute items I’d put off.

It didn’t take long to barter and bargain my way to a new bag, scarf and beanie. The Nepalese are a really lovely breed of humans, I felt bad trying to squindle a massive bargain. A new cashmere scarf for $12AUD wasn’t too bad though! I grabbed a late lunch at a small curry house before heading back to my little oasis at Fuji Hotel.

That night I met up with the rest of the group doing the EBC. There were 15 of us in total. Four Americans, four Germans, two Brits, two Scots and three of us Aussies. We had dinner and a debrief at KTwo Steakhouse (who claimed they were ‘probably the best steakhouse in Kathmandu’) before catching some zzz’s to be ready in the morning.

We had to leave at the delightful hour of 4:45am, it was surprisingly light at this hour and the usually crowded streets were desolate and calm. We were driven to the airport and sent through the hilariously dodgy check-in and security process. We were driven onto the tarmac to the sticky-tape plane that would be flying us up to Lukla. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla has been nicknamed ‘the world’s deadliest airport’ in recent years due to the steep incline, shortness of the runway and the amount of deadly plane crashes that have occurred. At 500m long, the runway slopes down the mountain edge which was flattened by locals performing a traditional foot-stomping dance for two days. This was of course encouraged (and commissioned) by Sir Edmund Hillary who supplied them with the local liquor to enhance the festivities. At the end of the runway sits a perilous 3km drop in the crevices of the mountains. So basically if the pilot miscalculates the landing, we were done for. Our whole group knew about the dangers of flying to Lukla, yet we all stood on the Tarmac and waited patiently for the stewards to pack the plane. Adventurous you could call us.. or plan stupid. 

Finally we were ready to board and the lone air hostess welcomed us on to the narrow tin can of a machine. With only 14 people allowed per plane, we were split up into two groups. Thankfully I was in the bigger group so if we went down at least it would be with my new trip friends! We were told that the left hand side was the best for views so I was quick to get in line and scored the second row seat on the left hand side. Our carry on luggage didn’t fit under our seats so we tucked them at our ankles and strapped ourselves in. The air hostess gave us a very brief safety briefing. So brief that she just pointed to our tattered safety card s tucked into the seat in front of us and told us to read. She then shuffled the three steps to the end of the plane and buckled herself in. I guess it’s every man for themself here. The two pilots went through their checking off procedure and I was calmed by the professionalism of the pair. The co-pilot donned Top Gun style aviators and a suave haircut whilst the head pilot expertly adjusted mirrors, knobs and switches. Soon the engine rumbled loudly and the propellors whirred dangerously close to my window and we were off down the runway. 

The plane scuttled down the runway, exerting all the energy it could muster. Like a tired old man trying to get out of his lounge chair, the plane heaved and slowly ascended off the ground. We quickly flew up above Kathmandu and the city turned into Legoland, as the colourful, cube shaped houses became smaller and smaller. 

The flight lasted about 30 minutes, but felt like eternity. Every cloud knocked us sideways and every gush of wind pushed us up and down. Hilariously though, the seatbelt sign was switched off meaning we were free to wander around the cabin. If only we had some space to move! We ducked and dived between humongous mountain ranges, almost skimming the tops of the trees. We flew over tiny villages in the hills, where recieiving mail must be a nightmare. It was a stark contrast to overcrowded Kathmandu. Yet I couldn’t understand why people would want to live such isolated lives in these massive hills. It was a beautiful sight to witness however.

Finally we were getting ready to land. The seatbelt sign was switched back on and we all braced ourselves for the world. The head pilot and Mr. Top Gun directed us towards the runway and as I looked out the front windscreen – yes the plane was that small – I could see the incoming runway that they had to negotiate. It barely looked longer than a cricket pitch and had a worryingly sharp slope to it. We seemed to be getting faster but perhaps it was my racing heart rate that I was feeling. As the bitumen runway came closer and closer, the more I could see my life flash before my eyes. I blinked for a second and the next thing you know we had landed safely and the pilot had slammed on the brakes to avoid running into the rocky mountain face that ended the runway. We taxied to the end and made a sharp right turn in front of the airport entrance. We had survived!

Breathing a sigh of relief we all unbuckled and exited the plane as quickly as possible to kiss the ground below us. The efficiency of the Tenzing-Hillary airport staff was immpeccable. Within five minutes of us leaving our seats, the plane was unpacked, repacked and was jetting off down the runway to take people safely back to Kathmandu. Because of the unpredictable weather, they had to get flights in and out as quickly as possible when there are clear skies.

500m long – lets hope they’re quick off the starting pegs!

We were led to a lodge where we had breakfast and celebratory tea! Our guide Dawa led us through a plan for the next day and soon we were putting on our backpacks and heading out onto the EBC trail. The small village of Lukla was filled with shops selling hiking gear, as well as a ‘Starbucks’ and an Irish Pub. it took all of five minutes to walk through the village and we were on our way to Chomua, where we would stop for the night. 

The hike to Chomua was quite pleasant. We were about 2850m above sea level so it was still relatively easy to hike up and down the ‘Nepali Flat’ – which might i add, is not flat! We passed little villages tucked into the mountains, mainly filled with lodges and guest houses, all quiet because of the off-season. Prayer flags lined the path and huge prayer wheels sat atop of most sets of stairs. A good clock-wise push is supposed to bring good luck to those who do it. Carved into the mountains were Buddhist mantras of compassion. There were several swaying suspension bridges that crossed the gushing glacial river below. It was daunting enough crossing those, yet as we passed herds of donkeys being led across with their backs loaded with goods I felt a little reassured at the sturdiness. 

EBC trail traffic

Chomua Lodge – our home for the night

We reached Chomua in the early afternoon and all headed off for a nap. The early start and excitement of surviving the worlds deadliest flight was a little too much for us all. We met up again for dinner and were introduced to what would become the bane of our existence – the menu. Because of the limited supplies that could be brought up here, every lodge has basically the same menu choices. For Day 1 it was fine, all was exciting and new but please persist with me later on when I go on about the food. I ordered the recommend choice of Dal Bat which was a big plate of rice, lentils, curried veggies, spinach and a pappadum. It was delicious and filling and by the time I’d scooped the last bit of rice into my mouth I was ready to fall into a food coma.

We all headed to bed early, knackered from the day. Tomorrow we hike to Namche Bazar, the biggest village before Base Camp!

J. X

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