After waiting around all day yesterday, it's time to return to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport for a second attempt at boarding a plane to Lukla (where I hope to begin the Three Passes Trek).
I took advantage of my extra afternoon in Kathmandu to get myself a TIMS Card from the Kathmandu's Nepal Tourism Board (map) where they also provided me with free passport photos (to be affixed to the TIMS Card) – nice crew they've got there.
What's a TIMS Card? It's a kind of ID card that you are required to have when trekking (anywhere) in Nepal. I suspect its primary purpose is to identify bodies – or maybe it's just for generating revenue?
Note: you can also get a TIMS Card once on the trail at the first checkpoint you pass in Chhumuwa – just before reaching Monjo (they cost 2,000 rupees, aka ~$20).
It's just after five (in the morning) and my plan is to share a cab to the airport with Pavel and Olga (my Russian friends from yesterday's adventures). The problem? My cab is late.
Eventually the cabby who, according to him, has been “nearly here” for the past twenty minutes (reception was on the phone with him), shows up and we drive to where I'm supposed to be meeting my aforementioned friends. They're not there and I assume they've made their own way to the port of air.
I pull up in front of the terminal as a frantic Pavel emerges to find me arguing with the cabby over price (tardiness cannot be tolerated); apparently, we're about to board.
Swallowing my pride, I pay the full fare and run to the check-in counter where I drop my bag and grab my boarding pass. We pass through the security doorway as an announcement lets us know that all flights to Lukla are now boarding.
We follow a flock of disoriented trekkers out the departure door as we are hurriedly shepherded onto buses. However, as Pavel, Olga, and I compare our boarding passes to everyone else's we realize that we've been directed to the wrong bus (more likely we've done something wrong, but that's the cost of not traveling with a guide). The atmosphere is one of overwhelming urgency as we jump off the bus and rush to another across the tarmac.
Fairly certain we've found our people at this point.
Despite being on the “first” Yeti Airlines flight, we sit in our bus prison and watch other planes to Lukla board and take off; tensions are high. Everyone is nervous the weather window will pass and we'll miss today's opportunity to escape Kathmandu.
After nearly an hour we're hurried off the bus and onto a small propeller plane. I hang back as my fellow passengers all walk-rush to the plane as they all poorly feign any specific motivation for being the first on (they want the seats closest to the cockpit – and on the left). I get the seat all the way in the back next to the flight attendant and am able to stretch out as we taxi down the runway and take to the sky.
Flying in planes isn't one of my favorite things to do (it's right up there with wiping with leaves), and following a fairly violent ride, we drop out of the air and onto the Lukla runway with a huge thump. Moments later we're stopped and are directed to collect our luggage from an adjacent building.
Time to start walking.
On my trip to Everest Base Camp, I hiked to Phakding (8,563 ft / 2,610 m) from Lukla, but this time I've decided to stick with my new friends and accompany them past Phakding and to the village of Monjo (9,301 ft / 2,835 m). Regardless of where I spend tonight, my second and third nights will be in Namche Bazaar (11,286 ft / 3,440 m) to ensure ample acclimatization for the journey ahead.
As we hike, I discover that Pavel is afraid of heights (there are a number of long and high suspension bridges to be crossed on the way up the valley) and that the owner of the lodge in Phakding where I spent the night last year remembers me. How do I know this second piece of trivia to be true? Because he accurately identified me as “that guy who slept outside” when I went to talk with him.
Past Phakding we receive a dusting of snow from the goddess Chione, but it's not enough to send us running for shelter. Note: winter weather in the Himalaya is typically quite dry.
Passing through a village too small to appear on my map, I'm approached by a group of kids who show interest in my camera. I've found kids in the Himalaya to be quite interested in trekkers and they continually surprise me with their curiosity and English ability (especially coming from Japan – where I'm attempting to force English down (and then out) the throats of kids two or three times older than these critters).
To satisfy their photographic interests, I promise to forever cement them in memory and in the annals of the internet with a photo – they happily accept the proposition.
Five hours and thirty minutes after leaving Lukla, we make it to our home for the night in Monjo, Mount Kailash Lodge. There isn't anything particularly challenging during this first day of hiking, and the elevation has yet to be an issue. In fact, Monjo isn't even as high as Lukla (you hike downhill from Lukla before beginning the climb up the valley).
Inside, we find a large group of Italian hikers and a family from Montana all huddled around the stove. The wifi isn't working today because of the weather (probably a good thing), but power for charging devices is free (at many places you need to pay if you want to charge).
We promptly order some lemon tea, and in honor of our first night in the Himalaya, we opt for a dal bhat dinner (vegetables, steamed rice, and lentil soup – aka dal). The best part about dal bhat? You get (free) refills.
As I sit to inhale my meal, I realize this is the first thing I've eaten today (save some snacks at the airport). I'll need to do a better job of keeping myself fueled in the days to come (because you don't mess with altitude).
The light outside fades behind the mountains and we're joined by Jaz from England (who used to live in Fukui – where I live in Japan – and now lives in Thailand). He entertains us with tales from past Nepalese expeditions and gives some recommendations for hikes to do on our upcoming Namche Bazaar acclimatization day (he's been here quite a few times).
Eight o'clock and it's time for bed – a successful first day back in the Himalaya.
- Start: Lukla (9,380 ft / 2,860 m)
- End: Monjo (9,301 ft / 2,835 m)
- Distance: 7.8 mi / 12.63 km
- Sleeping elevation change: -79 ft / -25 m
- Day's elevation change: +2,985 ft / +910 m
- Total time: 5:31:45
- Moving time: 4:24:29
Note: Monjo is sometimes spelled Manjo (because the Sherpa language is unwritten).