Possible travel disturbances en route Everest base camp trek and options
For Everest Base Camp Trek, Lukla has been the primarily chosen starting point. Lukla Airport (also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport), a STOL airport (Short Take-off and Landing) also hosts the mountaineers planning to ascend the summit of Mount Everest. Tenzing-Hillary airport in itself is an attraction due to the geographical location of the airport. For the takeoff and landing of aircraft, the challenge is that pilots have to land by Line of Sight.
Situated on top of hills, at an altitude of 2800 meters and surrounded by mountains, Lukla has a fairly unpredictable weather that can change in few hours. Even in the best seasons where the weather is supposed to be clear, no one can fully guarantee fair weather and regular flights. Clouds and fog may gush out of the deep valley ahead of the airstrip obstructing pilot’s line of sight. This is the prime reason behind the cancellation of flights to and from Lukla airport.
Flights to and from Lukla
Lukla Airport is one of the busiest small airports in Nepal hosting 12 or more flights to and from Kathmandu in the peak season for Everest Base Camp Trek. With an average duration of 30 minutes, these flights start as early as 6 am in the morning when the clouds are clear and less air turbulence for the Twin Otters. Increased flow of tourists for the Everest Base Camp Trek, in the peak season, may result in afternoon flights to and from Lukla Airport.
Getting stranded at the Lukla Airport
Trekkers like you going for Everest Base Camp Trek generally overlook this possibility of flight delay by opting tight schedule. If you aren’t prepared for the flight delays with extra layover days, you may run into some problems resulting in increased cost for the trekking expedition. Some infamous incidents have taken place in the past incase of the trekkers going for the Everest Base Camp Trek. The case (in 2011) of 2000 tourists being stranded at Lukla Airport for several days, however is a rare case. If you are left stranded at Lukla Airport, you have to bear the cost of extra food and lodging, flight re-booking and change in travel plans. All you have in your control is either waiting for the next flight to/from Lukla or find other viable options for getting out of Lukla.
So, are there any options available to trekkers like you? If you are one of the trekkers who opted for the Everest Base Camp Trek and if you get stranded at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport, following are some of the options available to you.
1. You have to trek two days down to Phaplu village (2200m/ 7040 ft.) where another airport exists and catch a flight back to the Kathmandu from Phaplu Airport.
• The airport in Phaplu does not, generally, have daily flights to and from Kathmandu so the frequency of the flights may not match your urgency to get out of Khumbu (Everest) region. However, this is one of the most feasible options available to the trekkers like you returning from Everest Base Camp Trek or to other tourists in the region.
2. You can trek 1.5 hours downhill to the Surke Village (2500m/ 8202 ft). There is a helicopter pad in this village from where you can take on helicopter flight at the fee of around $500 to $600 per person for a flight back to Kathmandu.
• At times, the weather in the region may be such that the helicopters may not be able to provide the facility. You should have your schedule flexible enough to accommodate the delay.
3. Reach Shivalaya or to Jiri after a 6-7 days trek and take bus to Kathmandu.
• You have this option as the cheaper one in case you choose to avoid the costly helicopter ride back to the Kathmandu valley and have the stamina enough to go for another short trek. However, you should have enough time to complete the trek to Jiri so as to catch bus to Kathmandu without any major physical discomfort.
4. Helicopters sometime may operate between Lukla and Phaplu when the flight from Lukla isn’t possible. Trekkers opting this option trek from Phaplu to Shivalaya or Jiri to catch a bus to Kathmandu or you may also go for journey from Salleri to Kathmandu by private vehicles such as Jeep, if available. However, the cost for such helicopter operation between Lukla and Phaplu depends on the weather and presumably demand for it.
When you prepare for the Everest Base Camp Trek, be prepared for such travel disturbances that may come in front of you in the form of delayed flight. In dealing with such problems, you may find following tips handy:
a) Do not panic.
b) Get a flexible schedule for the trekking expedition like that of Everest Base Camp Trek
c) Carry extra cash for situation like these.
d) Get travel insurance from a reliable insurance company that covers costs resulting out of the delayed flight
Getting mentally prepared for the possible consequences and being knowledgeable about the possible options arms trekkers like you with choices should you get stranded at Lukla Airport. Heeding to these choices and tips shall help in reducing discomforts to the trekkers going for popular expeditions like Everest Base Camp Trek in Khumbu (Everest) region.