We suffered a bit of anxiety around the flight out of Lukla, as the day before we were scheduled to depart a number of flights were cancelled due to cloudy weather. As it turned out, the weather was fine and flights left in as regular a manner as can be expected in Nepal.
The takeoff at Lukla airport is a unique experience. As at Ramechhap the pilot sets the brake and revs the engines until the whole plane shakes, but when the brake is released at Lukla the plane rolls forward and then tips down the 12 degree pitch of the declining runway. The plane takes only a few seconds to reach the end of the 540 metre runway where it pulls up sharply into the air.
I was fortunate to have a window seat (inches from the pilot) because the 40 minute flight was very scenic. It was remarkable to see where people are living in this corrugated country.
We have a couple of days in Kathmandu, time enough to do a little Christmas shopping. Kathmandu is a typical city in the developing world, with poor air, too many vehicles, and minimal green space. However, we are enjoying the pleasant temperatures (daily range of 12 to 22 degrees Celsius), and the access to showers, curries and bakeries.
Neither Matthew nor Bruce had been to the “Monkey Temple” so we walked there today. A number of Hindu and Buddhist temples are crowded on the top of the temple hill, and monkeys range freely over the structures and grounds. It is an interesting and pleasant place to visit, and the half hour walk each way gave us a chance to see a portion of the city outside the tourist neighbourhood of Thamel.
General comments regarding the Everest Three Pass trek
The Everest Three Pass trek is not a route that I would recommend to all and sundry. Although it is just a walk, the combination of the steep climbing, frequently rough trail surface and altitude makes it more challenging than most of the other popular trekking routes in Nepal.
The altitude in particular is a factor not to be underestimated. At 5500 metres there is only half as much oxygen as there is at sea level, and you feel that deficiency with every step uphill. On the Annapurna trek we slept above 4000 metres for two nights, but on the Three Pass trek we stayed above that level for 10 nights, including two nights above 5000 metres. We acclimatized without difficulty, but we still suffered from reduced appetite and less than ideal sleep.
It is a remarkable and humbling experience to walk amongst the highest peaks on earth. The air is crystal clear in the fall, and the sheer scale of the landscape is awe inspiring. That said, the areas above 4300 metres are mostly rock and ice scarcely inhabited by man or beast. Towards the end of the trek it was a pleasure to descend to more congenial altitudes to see the forests, animals and villages. If I were to do another trek in this country I might look for one that spent more time at the more culturally interesting mid-elevations, although it is exciting to cross at least one high pass.
In closing I would like to thank Matthew and Bruce for their humour, tenacity and equanimity. We had a great time together, with shared decision making and no conflict. I think the Three Pass trek is an experience we will all vividly remember for the rest of our lives.