It’s an early start today as I’m picked up from the hotel at 5.20am this morning by the Elite Exped team to head to the airport for our heli flight upto Namche Bazaar at an elevation of 3,440m/11,300ft high up in the Kumbu Valley. I meet up with TJ in the hotel who is also climbing with Elite and we have five minutes to chat before we’re in the Elite Exped 4x4 and off. The airport is fairly busy as trekkers and hikers arrive for flights up into the mountains but we’re soon through security and in the mini-bus to take us to the helicopter zone.
We meet Bimal, our pilot for today and take a few photos by the heli whilst the ground staff refuel and pack our bags into the heli removing some of the rear seats to cram our gear in. Time for a quick coffee before we’re scheduled to leave which is a bonus and then our slot is available to go, I manage to get the front seat and the others squeeze into the back seat which looks barely big enough for one but three of them are in it, Bimal tells me we are overloaded so will need to stop at Lukla on the way to take off some fuel so we can fly up higher into the mountains. The weather isn’t great though with low cloud hanging over Kathmandu and our flight route but we take off, out over Kathmandu up into the mountains. There’s always an excitement flying into the mountains in a helicopter, you see so much more than a fixed wing flight and I can’t help smiling as we take off and the adrenaline starts pumping! Bimal flies low and close to the mountains trying to get the best visibility and then announces ‘need to go lower as can’t see shit’ which is comforting! We fly up over the mountains at there lowest points, watching out for power cables strung across the valley before we go low again and its not long before Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla is in sight and we’re dropping down onto the new helicopter landing aprons to unload some fuel, it doesn’t take long and we’re airborne again for the five minute flight to Namche and then on the helipad sticking out from the mountain side, our bags are offloaded and we wave off Bimal and Mingma David as they take our summit gear bags upto Everest base camp in the heli.
TJ and I make our way down to the Khumbu Lodge, our home for the next two days and grab some breakfast and then find out the town is super busy with hikers and trekkers and the hotel is full so they move us up the valley a little to an apartment overlooking Namche - an upgrade of sorts!
Namche, the gateway to the Himalayas is a horseshoe village high up in the Khumbu region and a popular place for tourists and trekkers, the junctions of trekking trails across the whole region and the centre point hub of Sherpa activity in the mountains. We will stay here two days to acclimatise better, with a hike up to the Everest View Hotel tomorrow, before heading further up the trail towards Everest Base Camp. Its our last chance to get any missing gear or reliable Wi-Fi so I better make the most of that.
I hear that the icefall doctors and rope teams have reached Camp 2 on Everest at around 21,500 ft, they pick the route and fix the lines and ladders (sometimes upto 30 ladders are used to cross crevasse’s) that climbers will use on their summit attempts and look to be making good progress with the weather being normal for this time of year albeit its reported to be -30C on the summit! 204 permits to climb Mt Everest have been issued so far and this is expected to rise to around 300 which is still well below last year’s record breaking year of 408 permits issued to foreigners so hopefully queues on the mountain will be minimal.
For now we rest in Namche, get a chance to visit the many cafes and bakeries (my favourite is Sherpa Barista Cafe) and no doubt a visit to the Irish bar later. The once sleepy village and market place now caters for the 1,000’s of tourists that visit each year with pubs turning into nightclubs late in the evening, as many climbing and hiking shops as you could possibly imagine selling every climbers need and even a sculpture park created in the centre, and dogs, a lot of barking dogs, like so many wild dogs running around it could be the start of some sort of Stephen King movie, I hope they sleep tonight so I can!