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Everest Base Camp part II.

Everest Base Camp Trek - GOING DOWN. Return to Lukla in 3 days and pretty complicated "evacuation" from Lukla back to Kathmandu


On our way down we played it tough, and made it from Gorak Shep to Lukla in 3 looooong days, most of the time hiking in fog, sometimes in snow and the last day in day-long light rain. Surprisingly my knees survived this whole thing without any problem. God bless the trekking poles.

At the end I made it from Lukla to Lukla in 11 days, while suggested schedule of Lonely Planet is 16 days. But this was mostly due to no problem with the altitude thanks to my previous acclimatization in Langtang.

And just to make the picture complete, during the trek, when we were not trekking, taking photographs or freezing in our sleeping bags, we were either eating (yak cheese, yummy, apple pies, yummy, fried noodle, please no more, fried rice, not again!, …) or playing “American joker”. My days were additionally filled with frequent visits of toilet, as I didn’t obey good advice of not eating meat above Namche because the meat is carried by porters and can be spoilt, ate few yak steaks and ended vomiting and shitting all the way to Everest Base Camp.
These were the days of our lives :-)

Unlike Langtang, EBC Trek is relatively crowded (but by far less crowded than I was afraid it would be, so this time no uplifting all-alone-in-Himalaya experience, but instead I was blessed with trekking-with-someone-to-talk-to experience :-) Sometimes I was blessed with little bit too much conversation, as Viktor and Hanka soon reached “harmony” level of marriage after 20 years, not to mention that Hanka, who works for firefighters, could with the strength of her voice double as fire siren in Bratislava :-) It was great experience and I’m very glad that they came over to this part of the world and I could be with them!
Thanks Viktor and Hanka (especially Hanka, as it was mostly here idea) for “forcing” me to come to EBC Trek!

By the way, I was deeply disappointed by how few people carried their own backpacks. I fully understand that those few people over 50 or 60 had their bags carried, it’s anyway achievement that they made it here, but all those young and strong people who hired their personal slaves to carry their stuff, that was disappointing to see. Where’s the trekker’s proud? We, who loaded our own backs were like US Marine Corps: “The few, the proud, the Marines”, ehm I mean The Real Trekkers :-)

When we were having a dinner in a guesthouse in Namche, on our way down, two Americans sat next to us and they asked were we had been and how we liked it, so we asked where they were going and they said that they were going first to EBC, so we gave them some very knowledgeable advice about the trek and then they said that from EBC they wanted to continue “as far as we can”, upon which I asked them if they had equipment for trekking on a glacier and they said “Yes” and soon it turned out that these guys were going to the summit of Mt. Everest! They were joining American expedition which was already present in the Base Camp. Heh, in Namche someone just sits next to you and they turn out to be potential Everest summiteers. Nice. It’s good that we gave them our knowledgeable advice about the trek, without us they surely couldn’t make it :-)
Since I had a spare muesli bar (Jirka brought it from Slovakia and gave it to me when I left), which I was originally saving for Cho La Pass and since muesli bars are rarity here, you can only by Mars and Snickers here, I gave this muesli bar to them. As I told them, it’s not every day that I can SPONSOR Mt. Everest expedition :-) Well, in reality Jirka sponsored the expedition. I wish Dave and Craig al the best, they were very sympathetic and easygoing guys!

And now a very special Everest bonus:
In Pheriche there was a memorial for all those who died on Mt. Everest. I scanned the table with names and citizenship of the unfortunate climbers and after finding 5 Slovakians I already got the clue, which later proved to be right by calculating precise statistics:
If not counting Nepali and Indian sherpas, who obviously dominate this sad chart, in absolute terms we occupy 11-12th place (absolute fatality leaders are British, Americans, Japanese and South Koreans), together with Australia, which is quite “impressive” for such a small country as Slovakia, but in relative terms, with 5 deaths with just 5 million people, we are world’s number one in dying on Everest with 1 death per 1 million citizens. Second place goes to New Zealand with same population as Slovakia and 3 deaths.
I guess that this “success” of Slovakia is caused by the fact that we do have mountains, so there is sufficient number of people who get the idea of climbing Mt. Everest, but our mountains peaking at 2500m are obviously no match for the Himalaya and so quite a few overestimated their skills and experience.
For a moment we thought that if we would continue to go further from EBC we would surely die within 2 days and it might count as Everest attempt and thus we would push Slovakia’s fatalities to 8 out of 5 million citizens, making Slovakia impossible to beat for many years to come, but finally we gave up the idea of this fast road to glory.

Since we originally planned that the hike would take longer and we would go via Cho La Pass and Gokyo sideway we ended up in Lukla 5 days earlier than what we thought before the trek, and so we had to change our tickets to Kathmandu. This is nothing unusual, almost everybody changes their tickets because it’s always difficult to predict when you come back. We managed to change our tickets from 26-Apr to 21-Apr, but due to this change we were not signed up for the early morning flight when the weather is best. As on the day when we arrived back to Lukla was raining the whole day and the fog was very thick we were in serious doubts that we would fly the next day as scheduled. When we woke up the sound of the airplanes landing and taking off turned us into optimism, we got the airport, checked our luggage, got the “boarding ticket” and went to the “departure hall”, i.e. small room at around 8:00am. Check the photos to see how precisely formal and complete boarding tickets we got. Also the security process was cool and super secure:
Officer: “Do you have scissors or matches?”
Me: “No”
Officer: “OK, go”
The baggage we checked-in was also controlled. In traditional Nepalese way: the security officer open the backpack, touched the first thing that he saw, and then decided that the scanning was complete and gave it up, so luckily we did not have to unpack and repack our bags.
So we were already in the departure hall, saw the flight before ours one successfully departing and then… nothing. The weather was worsening, no more planes were landing and we waited there for more some 2 hours when a guy from the air carrier company entered the room and said, that the flights were suspended, but not finally cancelled yet and that because it’s cold in the departure hall (which it was!) we can go and wait to some restaurant near the airport and they will let us know when the flights are finally cancelled or restarted, at latest until 14:00. So we went to a bakery and waited there and soon some guy approached us with a sexy offer – fly to Kathmandu by a helicopter. The cost of the helicopter flight was 200 USD and since the flights are delayed by more than 2 hours the air carrier company would fully repay our original flight, i.e. 140 USD and thus flying by the helicopter would cost us only 60 USD extra. Helicopters can still fly when the weather is already too bad for the airplanes that’s why he could take us to Kathmandu by the helicopter. After some evaluation we decided to go for it, and that for 2 reasons: for all us it would be the first time we would fly with the helicopter and because weather in Lukla can be bad enough to suspend all flights for man days we were afraid that we would get stuck in Lukla. So we went to the air carried office and asked to be off loaded from the flight and get the confirmation necessary for repayment of our ticket cost in the office in Kathmandu and few other travelers decided to join us and did the same. BUT… this is Asia. Nothing is ever as you expect it. So soon it turned out that the promised helicopter is not in Lukla but in Kathmandu and first it must fly some people from Kathmandu to Lukla. At first at 14:00, then 15:00, then 16:00 and before 17:00 the “trustworthy” helicopter guy told us that due to bad weather in Kathmandu the helicopter would not arrive. So we went to the air carrier company’s office to asked to be again registered for the flight tomorrow just to find out that our tickers were irreversibly cancelled and thus now we were without any means of transport back to Kathmandu and the nearest road from Lukla was 6 days of walking(!), with ascent and descent 1000m every single day! FUCK! Since the flights to/from Lukla are usually sold out many days in advance we were really afraid that we were terminally fucked. We hurried to a guesthouse which sold airplane tickets and luckily it turned out that there were tickets available for the next day, but only for a late fight, which had little chance of really taking off considering the weather. But, there was one more option, for 10USD extra we could buy a flight with a small private 8 seat plane which was scheduled to leave early in the morning. We opted for this and so did the other travelers who ended up in the same situation thanks to the fuck up with the helicopter. Next day we went to the airport early, maybe 2 regular planes managed to take off and then as we were waiting for our flight the weather was again rapidly worsening, but we couldn’t take off, because we found out that to make things worse Kathmandu airport got closed due to bad weather in Kathmandu. So we were watching the descending fog ruining our chance to fly out, while Kathmandu was closed, but the representative of our small and flexible charter flight came up with ingenious idea: we would fly out of Lukla before the weather shuts it down, they would take us to some airport down away from the mountains, halfway to Kathmandu where we would wait until Kathmandu opens and then fly the second leg of the journey. And this is exactly what we did – the toy-like 8 seat plane took away from Lukla and after some drifting in the winds through the valley we landed in field airport, i.e. with unpaved runway, which was called Ramechapp, in the middle of nowhere. The only things around the “airport” were few houses, cows, chickens, goats and kids playing cricket. When we landed the pilot wanted to fly back to Lukla to get some more passengers, but soon he returned because as expected Lukla shut down. In Ramechapp, accompanied by the animals we waited for some2-3 hours, listening to interesting stories of our pilot and then finally we got the clearance from Kathmandu and flew there. As we were approaching Kathmandu I got bit nervous, because the visibility was very bad and the miniature thing which was carrying us had almost no equipment for navigation, so the pilot had to rely completely on his vision – it was funny to see how the airplane was maneuvering between the clouds. But overall the both flights – Lukla-Ramechapp and Ramechapp-Kathmandu were very cheerful (everyone us disguising his nervousness about flying in such a mini plane in such bad conditions and difficult terrain by humor) and finally we landed in Kathmandu. Although originally it seemed that we were pretty fucked after the cancellation of our tickets and of the helicopter flight at the end it turned out great - and we were incredibly lucky: we were one of the very few people who managed to escape from Lukla during this day and all the other people who were supposed to fly with us got stuck in Lukla and maybe spent there few days until there were seats and flights available for them. So the Universe took good care of us, and turned approaching catastrophe into glorious victory!

This was the end of EBC Trek. Amen.

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak