March 20, I woke up at 3:00am. I couldn’t sleep much as I was a bit excited, or maybe it was simply because sleeping at high altitudes makes you stay up if you’re a “sea-level boy” like I am. I like to chop it up to simply being excited, because I was. My backpack was ready from the night before. I sat in my room eating a Cliff Bar I brought with me (one of many) and thought about the day. It was 5:00am when I realized I was daydreaming for the past two hours. I grabbed my backpack and started walking toward the car. It was very dark, and my biggest concern was falling and injuring myself before I even started my trek—yeah, that would suck.
The drive to the airport was less chaotic at 5:00am. There were a few cars on the road, but nothing that caused traffic like in the first day. When we arrived at the airport, there were already about 100-200 people waiting outside. They haven’t opened the gates yet (the gate to enter the airport, that is), so we all stood outside with our backpacks. It was a funny moment because you could not stop but notice how every person who stood there was checking the gear of the person who stood next to them (including me!). Things like the type of shoes, the type of pants, the type of pole, everything! I found it amusing.
Our flight was scheduled to leave to Lukla at 6:00am, and at 5:35am we were still waiting outside the airport. When I looked at my guide to ask him the obvious question (i.e., are we going to miss our flight?), he looked at me with an amused face and told me “welcome to Kathmandu.” At 5:45am the gates opened, and 200 or so people were taking small steps with heavy backpacks and big boots toward the security checkpoint—one Xray machine, two guards, and one metal detector. It was painfully slow. The security involved lots of padding and more padding. The funny part is that we were sitting at the gate by 5:55am, so somehow the system works. When we finally reached the gate we found out that due to bad weather conditions all flights to Lukla were being delayed.
At 10:30am we finally had a short window of 30 minutes to quickly take off and get to Lukla. Things happened very quickly at this point. We were literally pushed into our seats on a small jet-propelled plane, and before we knew what was happening we were in the air. The flight itself was ok until we got closer to Lukla, which is when the bad weather kicked in. The turbulence was very strong, and the plane was shaking side to side, up and down, and every moment felt like our last. On top it, flying close to the mountains didn’t help the anxiety level. Eventually, I decided to keep my eyes at the pilot. I thought to myself that if he gets nervous, then so should I. Our pilot was as relaxed as a day in the beach, so I thought to myself that things will be just fine.
We finally landed and headed toward baggage-claim, which was a small room outside where our planned parked. I was introduced to my porter, and we started our trek toward a town called Phakding. At this point, we were already at 2,800 meters above sea-level, and it is at this point where I realized that breathing is going to be a problem. I lived at sea-level my entire life, so 2,800 meters above sea-level was a bit of a shock to my system. I felt out of breath five minutes into our walk. The walk to Phakding was quite challenging, though it was considered to be the easiest part of the Trek. We were actually going downhill from 2,800 meters above sea-level to 2,600 meters above sea-level, but the lack of oxygen really played a big role in how I felt. My muscles were not as responsive, and every step I made left me out of breath. It planted a lot of doubts in my mind, but being the competitive person I am I was not going to give up so quickly.
When I finally reached the hotel in Phakding I felt a bit shaky and tired. I haven’t eaten much since the morning, and due to the strenuous challenge I went through during the three-hour walk from Lukla, my body was at the point of collapsing (low glycogen levels, hunger, high altitude, burning about 3,500 calories). Bad thoughts were coming to my head as I sat in the dining room hoping to grab something real quick to eat. I had some soup and tea, which wasn’t enough, but I didn’t realize I could have ordered some “real” food such as rice, eggs, etc. I also had some rehydration solution in my bag, so I mixed it with my water, had another Cliff Bar and some nuts and shortly after I started feeling better. The room I stayed in was moldy and had no lights (electricity comes much later in the day). A shower was not an option either. My feet were killing me from the walk, so I changed my shoes and put my Birkenstocks on; it felt really good! Later that night I had a proper meal and felt much better than I felt a few hours earlier.
The walk to Phakding was the easiest part of the trek, but it felt the hardest because I didn’t know what to expect. It messed me up psychologically, but little did I know that the next day is going to be the hardest challenge I have ever taken in my entire life, and it will also be the day that will build or destroy me!
To be continued…