May 30, 2012
"We made it... but need to change our underwear."
We made the decision to summon a helicopter from Namche to Kathmandu yesterday, the monsoon has arrived and who knows how long we would be held up here in Namche waiting for a twin-otter flight out of Lukla. As well there are reports of bandits on the trail from Lukla to Jiri robbing trekkers and climbers on the three to four day walk out to a bus stop where one can catch a bus to Kathmandu.
So, all sounds good, its coming in this morning to pluck us out at which it did but it dropped just a day's walk down to Lukla. The idea is from here we will get on another helicopter to Kathmandu. We are told 20 minutes, well from 05:30am to 15:00hrs is a very long 20 minutes but it happened.
This time we get only a 1/2 a day walk distance below Lukla and we are in trouble. We end up getting slammed into by very intimidating black cloud that smashed us around pretty good. Our pilot circles around and around trying to spot a location to put it down as we hold on for our lives, the windshield wipers now break which doesn't help the situation but he finds a spot that will have to do and makes a commitment, we are down - phew!... Now what? we end up sitting here for 2 hours inside the chopper being protected from an intense thunder and lightening storm. None of us know where are not even the pilot. Kids come out of the forest checking us out they are intrigued by us and this machine they had not before actually seen up close, they are now laughing and playing in the rain and swimming in a pond that was created by this storm, they provided us good entertainment. Ang Karsung asked the kids if they knew where we were, we kind of get an idea that we are about 6 hours walk from Lamindad airstrip and about 3 hours from Lukla.
So now it's time to get serious again to see if the pilot can get this machine to Kathmandu before it gets dark. The pilot spirals up and up we punch trough more cloud and fog, to only be sent back towards earth again, I really did get the feeling this was it for us, first time in my life I had that gut feeling, it didn't feel good and I'm so glad I was wrong. We head towards a ridge and it doesn't look good so we drop down the other side and get into a tight river valley and follow it for what seems like forever and I ask the pilot if we have enough fuel, he didn't reply "yikes" finally things start to flatten out with exits but we are now way south of Kathmandu and have to get back. As we start flying back towards Kathmandu we are confronted with more visibility problems, the haze from pollution and forest fires. Finally it's now 18:30 hrs, dark and we can see Kathmandu airport and land safely.
I've never been a war zone, but today this felt like if I had it might have been much like this, all my years working in helicopters heli ski guiding and getting around here in the Himalayas, this tops it for close encounters.
Awesome pilot, the first question I asked him before we got in the machine was "are you married and do you have children?" If I didn't get the answer I wanted I wouldn't have been on this adventure today. Going home......
Photo: Peak Freak Guides: Marty Schmidt, Joshua Jarrin and Tim Ripp