This is part of a blog series called “Cool Things I’ve Done on Vacation”, an exploration of the greatest moments I and other travelers have had while traveling the world.
This is a guest post by Mar Pages, an ultra-frequent traveler, serial expat, and owner of the travel blog, Once in a Lifetime Journey.
Visiting Everest Base Camp
The sightseeing flight was just not enough. Yes, we flew over the Himalayas. Yes, it was at sunrise so the orange hues of the sun reflected on the snow-capped mountains. But I just did not get enough of the views and I wanted to get closer. Not to mention that the windows were so scratched, the landscapes looked distorted.
So I visited and called every single helicopter company in Kathmandu airport asking for quotes for a trip to Everest Base Camp. After all, these companies’ main role was devoted to the evacuation of climbers who contracted altitude sickness on their way up and whose only cure was to descend. Fast. So they were well versed on the trip and, since the 2014 avalanche that killed many had just taken place, nobody was allowed to attempt the summit and the Base Camp area was almost void of any climbers.
I thought their “workload” would be subdued and they would be more open to discussing on price. I was up against a $10,000 bill for the emergency evacuation for the trip, an amount that was far from my well-stretched-out budget. So I persevered and eventually got the price down to what I was convinced was the lowest I would get. I only had one more day so I couldn’t play war of attrition. I had to decide. There and then, I went with the lowest quote.
Take off was just after sunrise, at around 7am. We were scheduled to fly to Lukhla, the famously scary landing strip (it does not even qualify as an airport in my mind), though it was tamed when arriving on a helicopter that does not need to attempt landing between the mountain wall and the abyss. From there, we would drop petrol to be lighter and carry on towards Base Camp.
At landing, the skeleton of the last plane to crash at Lukhla was visible by the side of the strip. I was pleased we were on a helicopter instead, as the airport was truly terrifying. A quick stopover and we were soon on our way to Base Camp.
The views were amazing. It was the beginning of May and the snow had started to melt. We flew low, as the helicopter was struggling to catch altitude at such levels. The glaciers and trekking route climbers use to reach Base Camp were very close and clearly visible. The route did not look tough, for the difficulty of reaching Base Camp lies in the altitude and the length, usually requiring 9 to 14 days of daily trekking to complete. We passed the world’s highest temple, various huts for climbers to take rest in and even a few tiny villages. Finally, right in front of us, towering and majestic, Everest stood.
We arrived at Base Camp, flew in a full circle over it, quickly, as the pilot, who since Lukhla was breathing through an oxygen tank, was afraid one of us, or him, would catch altitude sickness and collapse. There was also the risk of the helicopter collapsing, as that height was well at the limit of its capacity. We finally landed above the Camp, on a mountain slope just next to it.
The stop was short and sweet. We were there for only a minute or two, enough to take two photos. Just two magical photos. And to feel the fresh and cold air on our cheeks. The temperature, warm with the summer sun in Kathmandu, had dropped to zero at Base Camp so we had to wrap ourselves with a jacket the hotel had lent us. But it was oh so worth it.
After the quick photo op we flew back down to Everest Hotel, the highest hotel in the world and a beautiful spot at that.
There, we enjoyed a high-altitude hot breakfast consisting of eggs, coffee, fruit and bread with the most incredible views of Everest in front of us. We were still at 3,500 meters high, but the risk of altitude sickness was much lower and I did not feel dizzy or confused in any way. As we were savouring our incredible breakfast, our pilot had to leave for an emergency evacuation. There were only a handful of tents still pitched at Camp, and one of the climbers had suddenly succumbed to the dreaded disease and had to be taken down to Lukhla, so we had the privilege of enjoying an even more leisurely break to admire the stunning scenery with blue skies and perfect silhouettes.
To say this was magical would be an understatement. This remains one of the most incredible experiences of my life.