When I made the decision to trek to Everest Base Camp to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2013 I don’t really think that I thought it through, it was one of those ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments.
As it turned out it was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding things I’ve ever done and it challenged me in ways that I certainly hadn’t anticipated, but initially I didn’t realise what I would be in for.
Then I did some research and, talking to myself as much as anyone else, it was a case of, remind me again why I’m doing this.
I think I made my first mistake in planning the trip when I delved into the Wikipedia site on the airport at Lukla. Not a good idea as it turns out. Sometimes I just don’t know when to stop, because then I made my second mistake, I watched U Tube footage of a plane taking off from Lukla airport. Google maps showing the terrain really didn’t help either. Lukla is the starting point of several treks in the region and to get there requires a short flight from Kathmandu in a Twin Otter aircraft. World expeditions, in their blurb, describe it as ‘a memorable flight with amazing views’.
I didn’t doubt it for one minute.
Notice the mountains in the picture? Well the pilot, of a tiny aircraft, needs to navigate his way around those mountains, banking and descending through several layers of cloud and mist, apparently without the help of landing aids, using just his own keen sense of sight (one would hope that it’s keen anyway). Then he has to pull the aircraft to a halt within 460 metres – hopefully with a bit of room to spare. And then, to get out of there he has to gun his engines and race back down the 12 degree gradient hoping like hell to take off before reaching the 700 metre drop at the end of the runway.
Did it help that only the most experienced pilots in Nepal fly to Lukla? Probably, just a bit.
Lukla is the highest airport with scheduled flights in the world and acknowledged as one of the most dangerous, and I was going visiting.
But, on a positive note, considering there are around 50 flights a day in and out of Lukla in the high season and accidents are rare, it’s probably no more dangerous than driving to work.