Tuesday, December 20, 2011


To get into the mountains from Kathmandu, you can fly or drive and walk.  Most people fly.  The drive to Jiri and walk from there adds an extra six days to each end of your trip, and most westerners don't have that time.  Our trip was organised to maximise time between 3000m and 5000m for race acclimatisation.  So we flew.

The Kathmandu - Lukla flights were suspended for a week because of bad weather not long before we went out to Nepal, so we were hoping that it would improve.  The weather was good enough to clear the backlog, but fog was still plaguing both airports.

The day we were meant to fly Kathmandu airport was fog bound.  We arrived at the airport at 6am and waited until 2pm for the flights to be cancelled.  They don't fly after 3pm anyway, because it gets cold and dark before a round trip can be completed.  We spent an extra night in Kathmandu and tried again the next morning.  We were lucky, the fog lifted after we'd waited just over an hour.

Once the flights are running, everything is done at a run.  Hurry to the bus, hurry from the bus to the plane, plane's taxiing almost as the last person sits down.  Hand luggage goes on your knee, there's no lockers and under seat storage is forbidden.

We flew with Agni Air in little twin engine short take off and landing planes (Dornier Do228), six flights in total for our group and all the kit.  The route climbed up over a mountain pass and then along the valleys level with mountain tops.

The reason for needing short take off and landing (STOL) planes becomes clear if you google Lukla Airport.  It has been named World's Most Extreme Airport by several TV shows and numerous You Tube clips.  The runway is short and steep.  There is a cliff at one end and a retaining wall holding up half the town at the other.  The approach is directly towards the mountainside.

The planes land, stick the props in reverse and make (what feels like a) handbrake turn on to the apron, following the yellow lines.  It's then hurry, hurry again as the plane has to get back to Kathmandu for the next load.

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