With dawn approaching, it was eerily quiet in our room. When I peered out our window, I could see why - the entire valley was fogged in.
That means no flights in and out of Lukla until the fog lifts. While this is a regular occurrence, it means the hundreds of people wanting to depart from (and arrive into) Lukla are stranded. The only option is to try to get your way onto a helicopter (at anywhere between $300-$500 per person), seats of which are in high demand.
The rest of our team managed to grab seats on a helicopter, but had to land below Lukla because of the fog. They hiked almost two hours to get to Lukla and arrived around 5:00 this afternoon.
In the meantime, we have taken the day off, getting some rest, playing cards and wandering around Lukla aimlessly.
Last nights dinner consisted of Yak burgers and fries - surprisingly delicious. We shared our fries with a group of South African high school students (29 strong) and their chaperones, who had just returned from Everest Base Camp.
We are supposed to chopper into the Hinku Valley tomorrow, but with the weather we will have to be flexible.
We spent our first night in Lukla wandering around town - actually that would be late afternoon, as none of us can stay awake past 8:00 pm.
We had a happy hour drink at the Irish pub, which was formerly a Starbucks - their coffee mugs still have the Starbucks logo on it. Copyright laws don’t seem to mean much here, although I understand the Venti Yak milk Latte is excellent at the Lukla location.
This morning we set off on a five hour hike and made it to 3,500 metres or 11,400 feet. This will be the elevation the helicopters will drop us to on Saturday, so we have a good head start on the rest of the team, who are scheduled to arrive tomorrow.
Speaking of helicopters, our lodge is adjacent to the helipad (our room is less than 100 feet from the landing area) so we are bombarded with periodic noise when the helicopters come and go.
We also got to see an aborted take off from the runway this morning. Apparently the co-pilot, who was inexperienced, panicked and started steering the plane into the mountain. The pilot managed to stop the plane short of the end of the runway. When we returned from our hike, the plane and its passengers had left, so alls well that ends well. Except for the co-pilot, who has been grounded for a month.
Tomorrow we meet our team and lead guide, Kevin. So far our local guide, Pinjo, has been great.
We were up at 5:00 am this morning for our flight to Lukla. After spending an hour in the waiting area watching Bollywood dance movies (I think Dante needs to add these movies as another circle of hell), we were driven in a bus to the tarmac.
Along the way, our luggage was hitched to the bus in what looked like a large shopping cart (an interesting but effective way to make sure your luggage doesn’t go on another flight) and after driving around the whole airport twice, we reached our airplane, a Dornier 220.
We waited another 40 minutes in the plane before taking off - a scant 25 minutes later we were on approach to Lukla. Please google Lukla airport to see what the runway actually looks like (or see below) - it is on the side of a cliff in a small valley. The airplane can’t descend quickly enough to land directly in such a tight valley, so the pilot has to make a tight turn to lose enough altitude to make the landing.
Anyway, we hit the ground running and made a rather quick stop (the runway is steeply uphill).
We were met by one of our guides and checked into our accommodation (aptly named Paradise Lodge) and shortly thereafter went on a three hour acclimatization hike - maximum height 10,500 feet.
We will be in Lukla for another 2 days, acclimatizing and waiting for the rest of the team to arrive on Friday.
Today was spent preparing for tomorrow’s flight out to Lukla, as well as a healthy dose of sightseeing.
We started our morning at the Monkey Temple, which was true to its name - we saw a couple hundred monkeys during our visit. More interesting, though, was the temple complex itself - we walked up 360 stairs to the top of a hill where a beautiful view of the city unfolded beneath us. Worshippers and tourists alike crowded the complex, and after an hour we descended back into Kathmandu.
Next stop was Durbar Square, which is the religious, cultural and historical centre of Kathmandu. We spent an hour and a half touring the complex and were lucky enough to see the Living Goddess, Karuna, come to the window and grace us with her presence. She became a goddess only 11 days ago, so this was one of her first public appearances. Durbar Square was one of the hardest hit areas during the big earthquake of 2015, and many of the temples here were destroyed.
We are now packing up, as we must divide our trekking gear from our climbing gear. Our climbing gear will go directly to base camp, while the trekking gear will accompany us up the valley.
Tomorrow’s flight for Lukla will leave around 7:00 am, so we must leave the hotel at 5:45, at which point our holiday ends and the expedition begins!
After 37 hours, 11 time zones and 4 airports, we have finally arrived in Nepal!
Our intrepid group of three managed to meet in the Istanbul airport, where we connected to Kathmandu, our final destination.
We have spent the whole day in the bustling Thamel area, buying and renting the last of our equipment and trying to escape the omnipresent jet lag.
A couple more hours and we are free to sleep - tomorrow we will try to see some of the tourists sights of Kathmandu before leaving for Lukla on Wednesday.
With three of us leaving in just 5 days, we are busy packing and preparing for whatever mother nature will throw at us.
The monsoon season has just ended, so we are hoping for clear skies and not too much snow for our trip. Temperatures range from a high of around 30c in Kathmandu, to as low as -25c near the summit, which means layered clothing will be important all the way up the valley. Up until the last couple of days we will be hiking, which means little to no snow (hopefully), and no technical climbing gear. After that, things get a bit more tricky...
We will turn on our spot on Saturday morning, so you can see our progress at our various stops along the way - the first group gets into Kathmandu on Monday morning (Canadian Thanksgiving). Time change is 10:45 minutes (yes, that is correct) ahead.
Now back to work - our next post will be when we are on the way!
With only two weeks until our departure, we are completing our training regimens and getting our gear organized - this is no small feat, as you can tell from our mandatory gear list.
We are also taking a closer look at our itinerary, to get a better idea of what we will be facing when we get to Nepal.
While Jimmy has spent some time in the region, the rest of us have never been to the Himalayas. Jimmy, David and Mike are all traveling East, meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, before heading to Kathmandu, while Adam will be going westward (likely through Hong Kong). Nepal is literally halfway around the world, with the mileage from Central Canada virtually identical, whether you go east or west.
Kathmandu sits at approximately 4,600 feet, and has a population of 1.4 million (6 million people including suburbia). The population is primarily Buddhist and Hindu, with many temples and religious structures located in and around the city.
Weather in Kathmandu during this time of year is warm, with average daytime highs around 27c (80F) and nighttime lows of 20c (68F). Contrast this with temperatures near the summit of Mera Peak of -25c (-13F), and we will need a wide array of layers over two and a half weeks!
There are two main climbing seasons in the Himalayas - April / May and October/November - these times of year coincide with the beginning and end of the Monsoon season, which runs June to September. It is generally accepted that mid-October is the ideal to time to trek and climb, as skies are clear and the temperatures are still warm.
We will be taking a 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Lukla (9,350 feet), the most dangerous airport in the world (see this video for an idea of what it looks like). Lukla is northeast of Kathmandu and is the jumping off point for many of the great treks and climbs in Nepal (including Mount Everest).
After a couple of days acclimatizing in Lukla, we will board a helicopter and fly over a mountain pass into the Hinku Valley. The Hinku Valley is relatively remote (especially when compared with the neighbouring Khumbu Valley) with small villages and spectacular scenery - these are some of the main reasons we chose this expedition.
The next week will be spent slowly making our way up the valley - near the end of the week, we will put on our harnesses, rope up and climb to Mera Peak base camp at 5,300 metres (17,500 feet). By now the evenings will be well below freezing and our expedition gets a bit tougher.
The final day will see us climb 4-5 hours to High Camp at 5,800 metres (19,000 feet) where we will rest for a few hours before making our push to the summit.
As Flatlanders, hiking or climbing in a mountainous environment is just not an option, so we are often forced to enact some unorthodox methods when training for a climb. Each of our climbs has at least one Blog Post dedicated to our training regimens - this trip will be no exception.
However, after reading this post, I think you will agree that our preparations for this trip rank as one of our most creative (and bizarre). Since we are spread out over the globe, please cue the Disney track "It's a small world after all" and we will begin our tour.
Our first stop, Houston, Texas.
Jimmy usually trains in a more conventional fashion, but the massive flooding in the Houston area now has Jimmy tearing up carpet and lifting all of his personal belongings to higher ground. After over a foot of water in his house, Jimmy never thought that swimming would be part of his training plan, but water has become an important part of his daily routine.
In all seriousness, we were glad to hear Jimmy, Regena and their families were safe, and we wish them a quick recovery from the floods that ravaged the Houston area.
Next Stop, Steinbach, Manitoba Canada.
No, it's not a scene out of ET, the Extra Terrestrial, it's a Hypoxia Chamber, or altitude tent. A generator attached to the hose that runs into the tent pumps oxygen depleted air into the tent, which simulates the conditions at altitude. This allows the user to acclimatize to high altitude without going up a mountain!
These tents have been used for over a decade - however, they have seen a marked increase in use by athletes and mountaineers over the past couple of years. One of the most notable clients was Michael Phelps, the 23 time Olympic gold medal swimmer.
David started sleeping in the tent about three weeks ago, and has worked his way up to 16,000 feet. At sea level, the oxygen content in the atmosphere is about 21%, while at David's current altitude, the oxygen content is 11.4%, which is just about half the oxygen. By the time David reaches 22,000 feet just before his trip, the oxygen level will be only 9%.
Besides his regular workout routine, David is using the Hypoxia generator with a mask in his cardio workouts twice a week. He will run on the treadmill at moderate speed for an hour at a time at increasing altitudes to try and acclimatize his body further.
For an interesting look at Hypoxia tents and their usage, click gearjunkie.com/hypoxico-altitude-tents for a great article.
Our two original band members - circa 2013
Our little group goes back to 2009, when Adam and David were neighbors in Steinbach. For the uninitiated, Steinbach, a small prairie town in Canada, is probably the flattest place on earth, and the most unlikely place for mountaineering passions to germinate. We often joke that Steinbach is so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days!
David and Adam were out on the front lawn one day, and soon discovered that they were both going to Kilimanjaro to hike to the roof of Africa. Since that time, David and Adam have traveled to three different continents to walk, hike, and climb in some of the most beautiful corners of the world.
The last time David and Adam were together was in 2014, when they climbed Mount Elbrus, in Southern Russia. Since then, they have been active in their solo careers, with those adventures documented on this website.
Jimmy Collier - Mountain Man Extraodinaire!
That trip to Kiliminjaro in 2010 was not only the start of our climbing trips abroad, it also brought us Jimmy Collier, our next Flatlander.
Jimmy hails from near Galveston, Texas, which is at sea level (and is just as flat as our Canadian prairies). Jimmy joined us on our Aconcagua trip in 2013, where he was stuck inside a two-man tent for over forty hours with David and Adam... Needless to say we know more about each other than we care to!
Along with his wife Regena, Jimmy even took time out in the summer of 2013 to visit us in Canada! Jimmy has experience in Nepal, having trekked to Everest Base Camp a couple of years ago, so we will be relying on his expertise (and famous Texas Ranger tracking skills).
Mike Fast - Grizzled Outdoorsman!
Our last, and newest member of the Flatlander team is Mike Fast. Mike has spent a lot of time in the mountains, having lived in Canmore, Alberta for several years.
Mike is an accomplished skier (judging from the picture, maybe he should stick to snow skiing!), and also loves dirt bike racing. This will be his first foray into high altitude (14,000 feet plus), but he has been training hard and is excited to cut his teeth in the mecca of climbing!
He has provisional membership as a Flatlander - the moment he sets foot in Nepal, he will become a full-fledged member of this exclusive group.