The following is a continuation of Mera Peak Expedition: Heading back down the Hinku Valley.
Sun! Though it froze overnight, the sun rising in the morning was an excellent sign that maybe today would be warmer and less foggy. We also found out that the animals we called yaks, which we thought looked a little less shaggy than what we’ve seen in previous treks, were dzo’s and not yaks. This animal is a cross between the lowland cow and the upland yak and is best suited to the altitude where we camped.
Back on the trail
Our hike began immediately after breakfast with a climb of the canyon that we now could see with the fog burned off. We had camped in a large rock bowl and in a very small village that was dirty and far less interesting than where we had been for the past nearly three weeks. Before the day was over, we would cross three passes in total, two making up the Zetra La, the primary pass connecting the valleys of the upper Hinku Khola and the Dudh Khosi.
Just over the pass, the hill was icy where it faced north and didn’t receive sun so our guides began cutting steps in the snow with their ice axes. As much as we appreciated their efforts, we found it easier to walk off trail in the snow instead as it provided much better footing than even the steps they were cutting. This descent would last all day, and the icy part would last until lunch as we dropped from nearly 4600 m (15,091 ft) down to 3300 m (10,827 ft) at the village of Thukding, one of several on this day’s hike that existed just for trekkers as both tea houses and campsites. There was no doubt in our minds that villages on the main trekking routes have become dependent on trekking and are not self-sustaining nor culturally intact the way we found Basa to be.
End in sight
We could see Lukla at one point far down below and we stopped for the night about an hour and a half from this climbing mecca. This would be our last campsite of the trek and for the first time since our way up to Mera, we set up the shower tent and were able to take a warm shower, which felt divine.
Wednesday, October 26
This day started like every other on the trek, but it was to end at the Sunrise Hotel in Lukla, a very different outcome from previous days. We packed quickly if not haphazardly, less concerned about having the right gear available since we would travel only an hour and a half. We had a great moment of comic relief as Joel tested out the porter role by carrying the typical load. We were all surprised at how difficult it was for Joel, one of stronger trekkers. It was a great moment of appreciation for the strength and toughness our Nepali team.
It was very strange to hike out of a very cold and primitive Nepal into a semi-modern city. The trail widened as we neared Lukla, and even before we could clearly make out buildings, we could hear airplanes and helicopters landing at the very busy airport.
Just before entering the town, we passed a beautiful new gompa (monestary) directly across the street from a very new-looking hospital. Soon after, we were walking around the end of the Lukla Airport, a small facility with ramp space for four small planes and a runway that started down the mountain, progressed uphill, and actually had about a 25 degree slope at the very top where the aircraft turned to enter the ramp/terminal area. Watching planes coming and braking fast to make the turn and avoid the dead end into the mountain was a spectator sport for tourists and locals alike. For tragic reasons that were apparent to us, Lukla is known as the most dangerous airport in the world.
Our hotel was about a hundred meters from the far side of the runway on what appeared to be the only major street in Lukla. There were many decent-looking hotels, a Starbucks Lukla (the mountain logo gave it away as a fake) and many shops selling trekking clothing and gear. The street was paved with large, uneven stones and pedestrians had to keep their wits about them as periodic teams of water buffalos would pass through with loads of supplies on their backs. It was strange to see animals being used as beasts of burden after weeks of only seeing human effort applied to moving goods.
We had a great opportunity to decompress in the hotel, take hot showers, and catch up on emails at one of the many “free wifi” sites along the street. It was much warmer than high up on the mountains, but in the shade, was still rather cold. It was easy to assume we were much lower in altitude, but Lukla’s 2800 m (9186 ft) was still considerably higher than Kathmandu or our Los Angeles.
We were told that dinner and our trekking party would be at 6pm, and took the time to sort through our gear and decide what would go in “the lottery”. This is a tradition at the end of treks where the customers donate items that are split up into piles of roughly equal value. The porters, cooks and guides then draw numbers and choose their pile accordingly. We donated trekking poles, socks (that were still wet but at least clean), a hat, water bottles, and rope. We had already given gloves to Paddam and held back a headlamp for Makar, a very hard-working cook, and a Nike vest for Kubir, one of the toughest porters.
Dinner was amazing fried chicken and the only downside was that there was only one piece each. We could have eaten Purna’s chicken until we were full. As soon as dinner ended, a cake was introduced and the Adventure Geo Treks staff entered while singing ‘Resham Firiri’ and danced in a circle while stomping and waving their arms in the air.
A few of the staff had already sampled the rahksi and their dancing was even less inhibited than the others. We joined their circle for a fun, intimate moment of trekkers and staff enjoying the end of a hard journey. The lottery was executed and each person made their choice, some after much thought, before the staff tips were handed out. It was fantastic to be able to give back to these beautiful Nepalis who had done extraordinary work under very tough conditions. Rahksi was passed around generously and we were all in the party spirit until the evening ended around 10pm.
Up next: Mera Peak Expedition — Lukla to Kathmandu
Extras: The following two videos are of the public market in Lukla and taking off from the Lukla Airport (video courtesy of Joel Meyers).