Day 17 October 24
The air at base camp seemed so warm and rich compared to our high camp. It is amazing what a few thousand feet of descent will do.
After a great celebration dinner and cake we all went to bed early. The soldier team, anxious for their summit, were all gone to their tents by 7:30pm. The civilian team lasted a little longer, but by 8:15 I was closing the place down.
I am very tired, just the short walk to my tent takes my breath away. Shaun was already sleeping when I crawled into our tent. It took some time to get organized and into my sleeping bag, but sleep came quickly once I was zipped into the warmth of my bag.
Last night was a tough night. The air was warm and rich, but I woke in the middle of the night having a difficult time breathing. Very quickly I had developed a head cold. My sinuses were stuffed solid and I felt like crap. Perhaps it was the beginning of this cold that made the summit so difficult for me.
We woke at 6am and started to pack our bags. Tea at 6:30 and then we made the short walk to below base camp to wait for the helicopters.
99% of people walk out of the valley, but because of business commitments on behalf of some of the civilian team, we had booked a helicopter.
We sat and waited in the cold wind for the choppers to arrive. When the choppers were 30 minutes late we started to worry that they were not coming. The sky appeared clear where we were, but maybe lower in the valley it was bad? Then we heard the dull "thwack, thwack, thwack" of the rotors biting into the thin air. In the distance two black dots appeared. The dots grew larger as they approached us. They roared over our heads, banked and descended for a landing.
As the choppers landed they sent up a huge cloud of dust and sand. At this height the pilots never shut the engines down, they just throttle down and feather the blades. Over the roar of the engines we spoke with the pilot and he indicated that 4 people were to go into one chopper and three into the other with our bags split between the two.
I loaded into the back seat, buckled up, and piled a duffl
e bag and backpacks on top of me. The pilot and co-pilot spoke back and forth and then the engine started to scream and the throttle was jacked up. The blades feathered in to bite the air and the chopper slowly broke its bond with the earth. The pilot angled us down hill and we quickly picked up air speed. Soon we were flying 130 knots only 200-300 feet above the ground. It was interesting to watch the altimeter drop even though our relative distance to the ground did not change.
It was amazing to fly over Chukkung and then Dingboche and to look down upon these small villages we had recently stayed at. Just above Dingboche there is a huge glacial lake that is held in place by a wall of glacial debris. From the air it is possible to see just how big this lake is. This lake threatens the town of Dingboche just below and scientists have placed it on the top of the watch list. The fear is that this lake will one day break through its walls and erase Dingboche from the earth. The scientists don't know what will set off the flood or when, but they are sure it will happen one day.
As we were flying it became clear that the pilot that was flying the chopper was a student. The other pilot was telling him where to go and pointing this way and that. Both were wearing oxygen, but our bags had cut off the flow for the senior pilot. He fiddled with and pulled on the oxygen line for a while and then just gave up and took it off. As we were descending quickly I know this would not be an issue.
We banked left at Namche and entered the Dudh Koshi valley. Soon were were soaring over Monjo and Phadking and before we knew it we were making our approach to the Lukla airport. It had taken us 9 minutes to fly what took us 10 days to walk.
We touched down at Lukla and got out of the helicopter. The pilot told us that we would take off in about 15 minutes for the final leg of our journey to Kathmandu.
A ground crew descended upon the chopped with big white jugs of fuel. They put a funnel into the gas tank and started the re-fueling process. As we waited for the choppers to be ready we were saw two planes coming in for a landing at the airport. This was exciting as we were standing right on the ride of the runway and we would have a close up view as these planes landed at one of the most dangerous runways in the world.
The planes made a very steep approach and then pulled up at the last minute as the runway is uphill. The physics of this landing make it difficult and dangerous, but both planes landed without incident.
Fueled up we boarded our helicopters and we were soon in the air. The flight back to Kathmandu was longer and filled with stunning views. We soared over homes and farms cut into the steep mountain side. Every meter of usable ground had been terraced to make it useful for cultivation. Off to the right side of the chopper the Himalayas sprang into view. What an amazing way to end a fantastic trip.
About 45 minutes after our take off from Lukla we were touching down at the Kathmandu airport. We loaded into a van that took us to the airport exit where we were met by Sagar from High Altitude Dreams our logistics operator.
We transferred into another van and headed to the Hyatt. The streets seemed overly quiet and we were told that most businesses are currently closed for a Hindu holiday. This made the drive to the hotel fast and easy.
Being back at the Hyatt is an oasis of calm and luxury in the otherwise crazy world of Kathmandu.