Monday, April 23, 2018

EBC - The First Leg

Lukla 2855 metres to Phakding 2625 metres. Shangrila Lodge

Today we trek. This trip was planned, evolved, changed and finalized as the exciting monster that lays before me. However it all starts with "The EBC Trek" and in order to slay the monster we have to reach the summit of the mountain.

Yesterday we moved our gear from the Trekkers Home to the Fuji Hotel, the Kathmandu base for our trip. We checked in and at 6:00 pm met up with the 13 other team members and our primary guide, Shankar. The meeting was an overview of the itinerary and what we could expect on the trip. Much of the focus was on High Altitude Sickness and the symptoms and dangers. Meeting time was 6:00 am to get to the airport for our flight to Lukla, the actual starting point of the hike. Caitlyn and I did not join the group for a "hello" dinner. I have a friend and former hiking guide from Quetzel trekkers in town so we met up with her and her boy friend. Halle and boyfriend were in Nepal working and preparing for the Annapurna Trek so as things go, we found ourselves on a rooftop patio drinking cold beer and eating a great meal while talking about our guiding past and looking over the night view of Thamel.

Here is the deal with the Lukla Airport in Nepal.  It has earned the reputation as the most dangerous and deadly airport on the planet. It is only 9100 feet long and is carved into the mountain sitting on a 12 degree slop. One end is a 2000 foot drop, the top end a sharp wall or hair pin turn. There are many articles and videos about it you can have a watch. Yes it was as scary as you can imagine.

Arriving in Lukla and after a quick breakfast we were ready to go. 15 over zealous trekkers, 1 wary guide and 2 young ready to help assistant guides. We were going to crush this trek. Little did we know that the trek had other ideas. Today was going to be an easy 3 hour trek to our first tea house in Phakdang where we would have our first sleep on the trek.

The first thing you notice when you walk out of the tiny Tenzing - Hillary airport, named after the first two trekkers to summit the Everest Peak, was the oxygen, or lack there of. It was not huge but you sensed it. We were also reminded to "Slow down! The mountain will not move" by our guide Shankar. The point being we needed to slow down everything. Our walking, talking, breathing, eating, whatever. The oxygen will keep getting thinner and we needed to prepare. The second thing you notice are the stunning peaks, deep river cut valleys and blue skies...oh and poop. There is poop everywhere.

Everything was shiny and new and we were a band of chattering chipmunks along the trail. Our assistant guides were Lopsang and Ganash. They were young and eager to please. They had been porters on previous treks so they were not without trail experience. This was their first customer service roll as assistant guides. They were funny and accommodating and when pushed they lost their reserved shell. I immediately liked them, as did everyone.

We were also introduced to our young, and I mean young porters. These 5 superstars were responsible for carrying our extra bags throughout the hike. Each carried 3 of the large sacks totally 30 to 40 kilos. I have been with porters on Machu Picchu and if you do not notice immediate that these are the true rock stars of the trail and deserve every ounce of your respect then go home, you do not belong on the trail. If you had the chance to buy them a Mars or Snickers along the way it will be greeted with warmth and appreciation.

The day was cool but we started shedding layers quickly. We reached our first suspension bridge and it was like a Christmas gift after a long nights anticipated sleep. There were lots of photos and childish giggles as we wobbled along the bridge looking at the drop below. I stopped giggling about half way and started to hang on a bit tighter when the wind picked up. Nobody notice, thankfully. There was our first of what would be many traffic jams on the trail, this one being donkeys

We trekked along dusty trails into sweet smelling pine forests. There were small villages with smiling faces and lazy dogs and Nepali flat stretches (a little bit up, a little bit down) passing religions monuments of all shapes and sizes. We were hugging a glacier river which we would eventually cross and recross along the way.

The Our first Tea house in Phakding. After dinner we wandered the village of for about 15 minutes realizing only then that is was tiny and more importantly that we were all fairly tired. Our bodies were starting to talk to us and it was time to listen.

This was a great start. Eighteen strangers were now becoming friends. It was a very "inclusive group", a rarity in these situations. I went to bed happy. That would be the last time that happened.

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