JANUARY 2013 NEWSPAPER COLUMN

After several hours of waiting in the domestic airport of Kathmandu for the weather to clear, we have almost made it onto the plane. Our luggage is currently on the plane and the plane is on the tarmac. However, just as we are about to board the plane, they have closed the mountain airport in Lukla. We are sent back to the departure area and keep ourselves busy with some snacking, reading, journaling and writing blogs to send when we get some internet access in either Lukla or Namche. Dal, our guide, has been receiving phone calls all morning from our Sherpas in Lukla wondering if we have left yet. Our guides in Namche are asking the same questions and giving us the weather update from higher up the mountain. It's raining pretty heavily and I’m afraid my dollar store poncho may not cut it on the hike. I may be buying some new rain gear in Lukla or Namche. We’re hoping that the bad weather clears out and we have sunny skies for the rest of the hike.

Ultimately there is no flight for us today; first it was cloudy in Kathmandu, then foggy in Lukla, then a thunder storm and strong winds in Lukla which soon rolled into Kathmandu. At about 3:30 pm we grabbed our duffel bags and headed to a hotel in Kathmandu amidst a thunder and lightning storm.

It is a nice hotel and after a late lunch/dinner we are going to walk around, maybe do a little shopping in the Thamel district. After all the rain today, I decided to splurge and spend a whole $12 on a new North Face rain shell. More likely it will be a Noth Face shell, given how much knock off clothing is here. After an update on flight times and a snack, it’s off to bed as it's been a long and draining day. We are off to the airport at 5:15 am tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed for good weather. I am sure we will get out this time and the group is as anxious to get going as I am.

5:29 am on day 2 of trying to get to Lukla and we are on our way to the airport again. It stormed most of the night but it is clear now and we hope the good weather continues. As soon as the sun rises, we still have our fingers crossed that we will be on our way to Lukla.

Our luck holds and the flight out of Kathmandu to Lukla got off the ground on time. The runway at Lukla Airport is something you have to see to believe as it's very short. Scratch that, it's extremely short. When you're landing, it's on a sharp upward angle and the runway ends abruptly against the sheer face of the mountain. When you're taking off, it's a steep downward angle ending at a cliff with a fall of several thousand feet. You really have to see it and it is one of those life experiences that you will always talk about. The group was amazed at how short the landing strip is yet how smooth the landing was. We were at the airport for all of five minutes before we head to a tea house with a sunny terrace and hot tea while our porters load up with our gear. Now the ascent begins.

Our first morning on the trail is a beautiful, clear and sunny day. Everyone is enjoying the views of the snow topped mountains and guest houses along the way to Phakding. A couple more hours of hiking and we'll be stopping for a well deserved lunch and spending the night there as well.

After our morning hike, we had a lazy afternoon; some of our group took advantage of the free time to relax around the fire before dinner. A few ambitious group members ventured out into the rain to look around. They were impressed with the next suspension bridge we would all have to cross the next day. It's much livelier here in Phakding now than when I was last here this past December. The December low season is much quieter but it's interesting that the temperature hasn't changed much over the last five months.

After dinner, we lounge around the hot stove until the fire burns out; which is our cue for bedtime. We head to our cold rooms and hop into our sleeping bags for the night. Our first day of hiking has gone well however, tomorrow is the first real test of our mettle and determination to make it all the way to Base Camp. Join us for the next installment and see if we all make it to Namche Bazaar or if some of us succumb to altitude sickness.

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