How to get to Mount Everest Base Camp (Day 1)
Choices in starting an Everest base camp trek
There are actually several ways to reach Everest Base camp. Because there are in fact two base camps!
- North Everest Base camp located in Tibet. Tibet permit and a permit from the Chinese government needed. Can be reached by jeep during the summer seasons.
- South Everest Base camp – Located in Nepal. Permit needed, and bought on the way. Yes, this is the popular one.
I’m in Nepal, so let’s talk about getting to Mount Everest South Base Camp.
There are two ways to get to Lukla, which is the starting point for the trek.
Take a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, and trek 6-8 days to Lukla
Fly for 30 minutes from Kathmandu to Lukla
Why fly to Lukla instead of trek?
If given the opportunity to choose between overland travel or a flight, I’ll choose overland. The only other time I would not choose this is if I’ve been to a country before. Or, if it involves crazy overcrowded boats.
Now I have another exception.
If the flight is the kind of crazy flight that you can only see in an adventure movie or crazy comedy
Flying from Kathmandu to Lukla is one of those flights. And, possibly one of the best parts of this infamous trek.
Let’s start easily though, and get the ticket first.
How to buy an airplane ticket to Lukla for the Everest Base Camp Trek
If you are booking a tour from overseas. Skip ahead. You’re paying a premium and your tour company should have done all this for you. If you are doing this yourself, read on.
- If you have time look for the weather reports. At certain times of the year Lukla flights are often cancelled due to fog or snow.
- Next get some cash. Flight prices vary, but generally, minus “agent fees” go for around $125-150 one way.
- Don’t bother trying to book these online, or at the airline offices. Yeti, Sita, Shangrila Air and Gorkah (plus a few new ones all the time) all fly there. Buy from an agent, it’s just the way it’s done. And, it’s very easy.
- There are no individual weight limits on these flights. For groups yes. You can go with more than what you can carry, unless you are bringing some porters to carry everything for you.
- If you are buying a ticket for your guide and porters remember they get a super discount on the airfare, so don’t get cheated by paying the same amount as your fare!
- Unless you are really stuck for time, buy your return ticket on the way back. Many people can book ahead for you so long as you pay ahead eg. from Lukla.
Tip: Go into a booking agent when you arrive in Lukla, and book a ticket, pay nothing. Take his number and call a day or two before you get back to Lukla. Yes, there are phones all along the Everest base camp trek, though the price of a call goes up the remoter you are.
Preparing for the flight to Lukla
Everything at this airport is up for grabs. It’s a bit of a free for all with some resemblance of order. Keep your wits about you and think of it all as a big adventure. You will enjoy it more this way rather than stressing out.
Meanwhile, here are some tips:
- Departures take place from the Kathmandu Domestic Airport which is beside Tribhuvan International Airport. Get there early, about one hour or ninety minutes before hand.
- Security is light. There are no restrictions on what you can bring on-board, weapons aside.
- Checking in can be chaotic. Get your bags checked in and then taken away from you. No you cannot take a big bag or even daypack on-board with you. And, even if you could it’s too cramped inside. So hand everything bar your camera, passport and money over. Get a ticket for the bag and move over to physically check yourself in.
- Pay a departure tax. Prices generally change at random, but pay it and collect your tax ticket.
- Hand all your tickets over bar luggage ticket and get your boarding pass.
- Wait in departures until your flight is called. Listen carefully as the speakers don’t work well. More often then not it will just be a man who mumbles something about a next flight. There are no seat numbers only plane numbers. Don’t rush, you won’t have to sit on anyones lap.
Tip: If you are really into dirty windscreen photo shots of the Himalayas then get a seat to the left when leaving from Lukla.
What’s the flight like from Kathmandu to Lukla
Fantastically crazy – like that little plane from Indiana Jones only smaller.
- It will be cramped on-board. The odd chicken may appear, not to mention some other livestock. You may also be sitting above a seat that’s got several bags of rice or crates of beer under it.
- A nice lady will hand out cotton wool for your ears and possibly a sweet for you. Take them both.
- The two propeller engines will start and the noise will continue to rise along with your heartbeat, put the cotton wool in your ears.
- At a deafening whine the cabin will begin to shake and the noise will get even louder as you rev up to take off.
- The plane will lurch forward at a quick pace and within seconds you will be airborne and you’ll be glad of it!
- If the weather is good your flight will be a noisy 30 minute flight with lots of smiles all around.
- If you encounter even the briefest of breezes the plane will bounce you around like a match in a box. You will then suddenly realize how thin the airplane walls are and wonder where “that” cold breeze is coming from.
- Then you will see breathtaking mountains that will take your mind off things until …
- The plane will make a sharp turn right and the engines may or may not go silent.
- You will then remember you are about to land on one of the shortest runways on the world perched on the edge of a cliff at an angle. Good luck!
Landing at Lukla Airport
Officially named after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing, Lukla has also been called one of the most extreme airports in the world. Thin air, highly changeable weather and a very short sloping runway make it one of the most challenging to say the least.
There have been several incidents at this airport. Including fatalities in 2010. That said, the pilots are very skilled. And … well, it’s all a part of the experience.
After the engines rev low to a near stop the plane literally glides onto the sloped landing strip at a rising angle. You land with a strange bang with the nose of the plane pointing up. The brakes jam on hard and you come to a very sudden stop.
There’s usually a little cheer at this point and a lot of exhaling.
Collect your bags outside. Congratulations you made it on your first step to Everest base camp!
If you want to see a video of planes landing at Lukla, and the flight itself. I’ll be posting them here at the end of the trek.
The Everest Base Camp Trek Starts!
I’ll now be documenting my trek to Everest Base Camp. And, I will be doing so in the form of my daily journals. Raw, personal, and old school. Please keep that in mind when reading them.
I’ve spread them out over a few weeks with a lot of photographs. You’ll get to experience what it’s like trekking to Everest Base Camp in the middle of a very cold winter at its most extreme; when most people don’t go.
Snow at this time of year is unpredictable. It also blocks the mountain passes and can turn you back. I planned on visiting Gokyo and Everest Base Camp in the off-peak winter season. I didn’t make one.
Something went terribly wrong on the first day that jeopardized the whole trek. What went wrong? Who did I go with? How cold did it get? Did I turn back? You’ll read it all here over the next few weeks!
Meanwhile bookmark, this page, stumble it, tweet it or email it to a friend because it’s a useful resource for anyone planning to fly to Lukla for the Everest Base Camp Trek!
Everest Base Camp trek Day 1 part II (Let’s trek: The Journals – Boy did I just make a big mistake)
Note this is not live, the trek took place in December/January
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