Everest/First Ascents: Trek to Basecamp

A bumpy plane ride takes our climbers to Lukla Airport—stage two for any Everest climb

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This spring, superstar mountaineers Ed Viesturs, Dave Hahn, and Peter Whittaker will tackle Everest as the First Ascent team. Joined by some of climbing’s best and brightest young talent, this Eddie Bauer-sponsored group of all-stars will chronicle their trek to the top of the world right here on BACKPACKER.com with daily blog updates, videos, photos, and more.

In this second blog and video entry, Hahn, Viesturs, Whittaker, and climber Melissa Arnot land in Lukla airport, gateway to the roof of the world.

It was an early morning, hustling out of hotels and bustling onto buses for the short pre-dawn ride to the airport. After a moderate amount of hurry-up-and-wait we hurried out to board a pair of Twin Otters primed for flight. There was a haze lying over Kathmandu that we quickly busted through to find generally clear skies and big mountains spread across the horizon.

I had a window seat next to the port propeller and during the fifty minute flight to Lukla my eyes were mostly pressed against that window. It was only ten months since I’d left these same mountains on this same aircraft… so how could I possibly have forgotten just how spectacular and formidable these peaks could appear on a clear morning? It was as if I was seeing Ghari Shankar and Menlungtse and a thousand others for the very first time… and just like that very first time eighteen years ago, I was humbled to look out at all the impossible ridges, sheer faces and jagged summits that I will never be bold enough to attempt.

Finally, the plane turned just enough for me to get a clear view of Everest lording over everything and about thirty miles distant. I turned in my cramped seat in an effort to get Erica and Ed Dohring to recognize the dark pyramid now dominating the horizon. The engine kind of messed with their view so I went back to enjoying it for myself… picking out the South Summit and noting how little snow seemed to be covering the rock of the Southwest Face. I smiled at the obvious lack of wind aloft and granted myself a clichéd climber’s observation that it was “too bad we weren’t going for the summit today” Of course, then remembering that temps at 29,000 ft in the last days of March were likely around -50° F while with patience we could be in line for a balmy -15° F in the latter half of May.

Our Yeti Air Twin Otter started diving down into a steep sided valley and I lost the view of the big hill while focusing on the small ones not so far from our wingtips. Now in the lower Khumbu Valley, it was easy to pick out terraced fields and small farms as the plane lined up for a Lukla landing. The pilot greased it, somehow matching the plane’s steep descent to the opposite slant of the small runway.

Within minutes we were out and walking toward a nearby teahouse to regroup as the planes sped noisily away. We sat and ordered a breakfast while discussing the best ways to keep fifteen people looking out for one another on the trails. All were relaxed, as we knew the walk to Phak Ding would be short and relatively easy. In fact, we would lose about 700 ft of vertical over the course of the morning. The trail took us past blossoming cherry and apple trees, past a few flowering dogwoods and a selection of well-tended vegetable gardens.

Things were easy enough that the gang could spread out and pursue their own interests. Ed Viesturs, typically, wasted little time in getting the day’s work done. Walking a more moderate pace with Erica and her Dad, I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack along with Peter Whittaker and Melissa. Our camera teams had various projects along the way, including some vegetable mo mo’s that beckoned seductively from one café menu along the track.

Eventually, we were back to a full compliment of climbers, cameramen and trekkers hunkered down for the evening in our teahouse along the rushing river and protected from steadily falling rain (the good flying weather was merely temporary) in the suburbs of Phak Ding.

—Dave Hahn

The content of this blog has been provided by Born Out There, the First Ascents blog. For more on the expedition, go to http://blog.firstascent.com. And for more climber footage, watch our video interview with Viesturs, Hahn, Whittaker, and more.

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