After the crazy flight to Lukla I grabbed my bags and headed to the uniquely named Himalayan Hotel. Inside, the rooms and accommodations were more than comfortable, and the dining hall was surprisingly large with beautiful decorations and gabled ceilings. I spent the day sending emails and utilizing the last wifi I’d see for a while- and playing with a Tibetan dog outside who I aptly named Spaz. Every time I came within 20 feet of the mutt, he’d starting whirling in circles and bucking like a crazed bronco, flopping his moppy locks all around and spraying everywhere dirt, slobber, and the occasional flying insect-thingy. I thereby dubbed him Spaz the Rock Star of Lukla, and will petition that he become the official greeter to help transition all the wide-eyed, cotton sucking, tourists exiting the urine planes. Imagine…you get off THAT airplane ride and right in your face- Spaz…….. Perfect.
(Click on pictures to enlarge)
The next morning I woke up around 5am, packed my things and hauled my bags across the courtyard to the airstrip for the helicopter ride to base camp. Along the way I came across one of the pilots who mentioned it would likely be too cloudy to fly, so I stashed my bags in the Fishtail Air supply hut and headed back to the hotel. (Did I just write Air Supply hut? Maybe they can jam with Spaz.) Anyway, after breakfast I decided a run was in order, so I changed into my training gear and headed up the trail toward Mera base camp. It’s great running on trails in the Himalayas because nearly everyone you pass- locals, trekkers, climbers, porters, yaks- all give you the same, blank, “Why in tarnation are you running up here?” look. As I ran past a crowd of gawking trekkers standing near a lodge, I breathlessly quipped, “Are the police still behind me?” As I rounded the next corner through the trees I heard a yell in thick German accent, “Stop running! No one is there!” Sometimes I can’t help myself.
The next morning I once again packed up and headed toward the helicopter pad, pulled my things out of the storage hut, and waited for things to get fired up. Soon both I and my bags were piled into the rear seat of the helicopter and just before lift-off the pilot turned and asked me if I would mind heading straight over the mountains instead of going around them. Of course, I agreed.
Weaving through gaps in the high Himalaya- with Everest and Ama Dablam and Lhotse soaring through the clouds- this was one exciting and beautiful ride. After 40 minutes or so, the pilot pointed into a valley and initiated a cool little death-spiral maneuver to lose altitude. Near a small lake he buzzed a group of tents at mach speed, banked hard right in a 180 degree turn, and then set us down on a flat spot outside camp. I opened the door, threw my bags out, took a few pictures, and then watched as the helicopter took off down the valley. I’m quite certain the grin on my face went from ear to ear.
Makalu base camp is a stark, cold place at nearly 16,000 ft, and it was nearly empty of occupants when I arrived. When I exited my tent on the first morning, the sight of Makalu towering above took my breath away. Rarely does a mountain so dominate a view like this. It was at the same time both incredible and terrible- the latter considering, I’ll have to try to climb this thing, eventually.
More on that soon…Don