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My Everest 3 Passes: Part 1 - Flight to Lukla, the Most Dangerous Airport in the World

Day 1 - Kathmandu ▸ Lukla ▸ Phakding

Flight: 135km, Trek: 7.5km
Elevation: Kathmandu 1,400m, Lukla 2,781m, Phakding 2,614m

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After a night stay at the Kathmandu Prince Hotel, with the confirmation of a total luggage limit of 15kgs per person, some of us abandoned a portion of our luggage and left it with the hotel. Probably 2-3 kg worth was abandoned by me, including extra heat packs and many trail protein bars. Yet I still had the biggest and heaviest luggages by a long shot.. With both my duffle and backpack together, my bags were definitely not totalling under 15kgs. What they actually ended up doing at the airport was first weighting the bags individually, but added them all together to see if they fitted under the group limit. Lucky for me all my teammates had very light bags, enabling me to get my heavy luggages on board~

 Yes, that giant  golden North Face duffle  is mine...

Yes, that giant golden North Face duffle is mine...

In our group there are a total of 6 of us, LiChen, Bo, Kilik, LongShen, and me. Wait... That's actually only the 5 of us! This is because our 6th member Ray had some passport trouble. He forgot to renew his passport ahead of time and realized his passport had less than 6 months of validity only by the time he got to his departure airport. He was able to get his passport renewed express, however will have his arrival to Kathmandu delayed by 1 day.  If you have read my preface article, you'd see that on day 3 we have an acclimatization day. On that day we will be returning to the same village we started in. The plan then is to have Ray miss the acclimatization opportunity, but use that time to catch up to the rest of us.

 Travelling from Kathmandu Prince Hotel to  Tribhuvan International  Airport, with only the 5 of us.

Travelling from Kathmandu Prince Hotel to Tribhuvan International Airport, with only the 5 of us.

The Kathmandu airport was more barren than I remembered it to be, probably due to the rushed nature of exiting the airport when arriving from Kunming 2 days ago. The most frustrating part was the lack of accurate departure schedule for flights to Lukla. We waited at the boarding area for over an hour without having a boarding time.

 Photo by Kilik

Photo by Kilik

The plane was as expected - small. Aside from rental Cessna rides I have taken piloted by friends, or those planes used for skydiving, this is the smallest plane I have rode in for a commercial passenger flight. Somehow through the entire flight I felt like we were supposed to open the hatch and do some skydiving!

 This photo was actually taken after the trek, when leaving through Lukla. But placing it here just to group all the Lukla airport photos together.

This photo was actually taken after the trek, when leaving through Lukla. But placing it here just to group all the Lukla airport photos together.

The flight headed east from Kathmandu to Lukla, with the Himalayan mountains towards the north. Quickly scrambling onto the plane and grabbing a left hand side seat enables inflight entertainment consisting of Himalayan mountain range views

The airport we were to arrive at is considered all over the internet as the most dangerous airport in the world. If one searches the term "Lukla Airport", there'll be dozens of blogs and articles reinforcing it's danger. However if one looks into accident records, there seem to have only been 5 accidents ever around the airport, with the last one in 2008. This is a good enough statistics to put me at ease~ You can see the actual accident history of the airport in the link below.

Lukla Airport profile - Aviation Safety Network

The Lukla Tenzing-Hillary Airport is indeed one of the higher altitude airports in the world (placed 25th highest), with one of the shortest runways (placed 3rd shortest). There is no runoff of any sort, allowing for no mistake on take-offs and landings. One end of the runway is a rock wall with buildings on top of it, while the other end is a cliff with a sheer drop off into the river valley below. Visually it is a very frightening scene. As such, the Lukla airport is frequently subject to closure. The airport operates only during daylight hours, weather permitting. This is one of the reasons why flights to and from the Lukla airport almost never have accurate boarding or arrival times.

 This photo was actually taken after the trek, when leaving through Lukla. But placing it here just to group all the Lukla airport photos together.

This photo was actually taken after the trek, when leaving through Lukla. But placing it here just to group all the Lukla airport photos together.

This airport is also scarily busy. See 3 helicopters arrive and 2 planes depart within a mere 5 minutes span in the video below.

*This video was actually taken after the trek, when leaving through Lukla.

Just before we started trekking, we had to reorganize our luggage according to what we needed for our day of hiking, and what we should leave with our porters to carry. Unfortunatley my hydration bladder got pierced during the flight, probably by my hiking poles as they were all stuffed into the North Face duffle bag. Fortunately I was prepared. With both tape, superglue, a sharp knife, and some quick field work, my hydration bladder was quickly back in operational status.

After getting our luggage organized, we hurried through the village of Lukla to try to get to our stop for the night.

 The village of Lukla

The village of Lukla

The trail thus far was much more developed than I thought. Villages and buildings were quite numerous, with many restaurants, cafes, shops and guesthouses. 

 One of the many villages scattered throughout the Khumbu region. 
 LiChen, Bo and Me.  Photo by Kilik

LiChen, Bo and Me. Photo by Kilik

After lunch, we continued hiking towards Phakding (yes, pronounced f_ckding...), our destination of the day and where we were to spend our first night of the journey. However it didn't take long before the sky opened up and started pouring. My trusty Arcteryx Alpha AR Jacket and the easy to put on Full-zip Marmot Pre-Cip Pants did prove to be quite bomb proof. We still eventually stopped to take cover. And when the rain did not seem to have any intention of stopping anytime soon, we ran into a teahouse to rest and take cover.

 Hiding from the rain

Hiding from the rain

The rain later did slow significantly and we were able to reach Phakding. But in my mind I was dreading whether this type of weather will be the standard affair for the rest of the trip. We can only hope that the turning of the prayer wheels along the way will give us good weather and safe passage for the remainder of our Himalayan adventure.

 
 

To Be Continued...