Ute has arrived from Germany and we are back in Kathmandu, rushing around to get our gear sorted out for the trek. We have to rent expedition grade sleeping bags, thick down jackets, gloves, hats … temperatures up at Base Camp (5700m) are still -15C at night.
What worries me a lot more than the weather is the flight situation into the Lukla airstrip. It’s “only” at an elevation of 2900m, yet they’ve had fresh snow in the last few days and only very few airplanes got in and out during the week. The way the system works is it that you have a ticket for a certain flight at a certain date … there are about three flights scheduled every morning. You then show up at the airport at 5:00am to see if “your” flight goes. Whether flights leave or not depends entirely on whether the airstrip is free of clouds. The only chance of that happening is in the early mornings, around sunrise. Unfortunately, Lukla is also famous for being maybe the most dangerous airport in world. Only special STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) airplanes can use it and the pilots only get one single chance for a final approach. There is a rock face right behind the airstrip, allowing no go-around for a second attempt.
If your flight does not go, your name goes in the back of a waiting list, which will slowly be cleared by additional flights that are added during a good weather window. The list can get very very long. You get up in the morning at 4:00am, get a taxi to the airport, wait around, only to find out that you won’t make it that day. The next day you try again … and get more and more frustrated.
Of course the expeditions can’t wait around for days and therefore either “convince” the master of the waiting list by “financial means”to get moved to the front of the line … or charter private helicopters to fly up to altitude. I’ve been following several expedition blogs and they were posting yesterday that they just couldn’t wait any longer and chartered two military helicopters to bring them up to Lukla. That means that the waiting list must already be quite long 😦