Paul Pottinger’s Adventures from the Top of the World

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Great to be Back

Everest 2016  •  March 28

Back to Tribuvahn at first light  The airport was inexplicably virtually empty, a complete change from 24 hours earlier, and a real surprise considering how many flights had been cancelled.  We went straight through security and waited only a few minutes until we hopped into a pickup truck and drove across the airport to the helicopter area.  I was pretty sure our bird was the same one that brought Blake and Sonam down from Camp 1 during the evacuation last year.  A subsequent check of the tail number confirmed my suspicion. It seemed auspicious somehow to return in that chopper.

We are SO HAPPY to finally get to FLY!  (Photo: Kim Hess)
We are SO HAPPY to finally get to FLY! (Photo: Kim Hess)
This is why we love to take choppers!   (Photo: Kim Hess)
This is why we love to take choppers! (Photo: Kim Hess)
The Turkish Airways debacle: A gift that keeps on giving.  At least the engines have been removed.... progress!
The Turkish Airways debacle: A gift that keeps on giving. At least the engines have been removed…. progress!
Excited!  (Photo: Kim Hess)
Excited! (Photo: Kim Hess)
Very, very excited.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Very, very excited. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Our tail numbers today...
Our tail numbers today…
Blake's chariot approaches.  (Photo: Blake Penson)
The same chopper on April 27, 2015. (Photo: Blake Penson)

The weather in Kathmandu was dominated again by terrible air quality, and this dense smog persisted for a surprisingly long time during the 45 minute flight to Lukla.  Last year we had been treated to crystalline skies and the full sweep of the Himalayas.  This time we flew into a thick gloaming of brown soup that forced the pilot to thread a serpentine path between the hills, skimming a very short distance above the trees.  Finally, just before we reached Lukla, the mountains began to reveal themselves.

How the pilot finds his way through this stuff is a mystery to me.
How the pilot finds his way through this stuff is a mystery to me.
This air quality is just heartbreaking.  (Photo: Kim Hess)
This air quality is just heartbreaking. (Photo: Kim Hess)
This Will Be Awesome!  (Photo: Justin Merle)
This Will Be Awesome! (Photo: Justin Merle)
Kim snaps a super selfie.
Kim snaps a super selfie.
Kim's awesome selfie coming to life.
Closeup of Kim’s awesome selfie… it’s an “ussie.”
The terraced farms of the Kathmandu valley rolls by... (Photo: Justin Merle)
The terraced farms of the Kathmandu valley rolls by… (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva and I are having a blast.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Siva and I are having a blast. (Photo: Justin Merle)
We had to keep a low altitude to keep our bearings.
We had to keep a low altitude to keep our bearings.
Loving it up here.
Loving it up here.
Ridgelines coming into view.
Ridgelines coming into view.

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These mountains are so close that we need to look through the ceiling to find their summits.
These mountains are so close that we need to look through the ceiling to find their summits.
Lukla comes into view.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Lukla comes into view. (Photo: Justin Merle)
Final approach to Lukla.  (Photo: Justin Merle)
Final approach to Lukla. (Photo: Justin Merle)

By the time we landed, I was profoundly happy.  Our friends greeted us right at the helicopter, including Tunang, Lakpah, and Mingma Tenzing.  It was wonderful to see our friends again after a year.

Lukla looked almost unchanged from the last time I had seen it on May 5, 2015.  Still bustling, still nestled under impressive peaks on all sides… but, there seemed to be fewer westerners milling about on the streets.  If this turns out to be true—and we are not sure yet—it would be a mixed finding.  On one hand, for selfish reasons, we like having smaller crowds.   But, on the other hand, tourism is the lifeblood of the Khumbu economy, and so we are hopeful that things will pick up… right after we reach EBC.

Lukla!  (Photo: Kim Hess)
Lukla! (Photo: Kim Hess)
Walking down the main drag of Lukla.
Walking down the main drag of Lukla.

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Signs of a healthy building boom in Lukla... building and rebuiliding are both evident here.
Signs of a healthy building boom in Lukla… building and rebuiliding are both evident here.
A stupa in Lukla.  (Photo: Kim Hess)
A stupa in Lukla. (Photo: Kim Hess)
Lots of gear to be had here...
Lots of gear to be had here…
Them's good eatin.
Them’s good eatin.

The beautiful valley was shrouded in mist, which was a huge blessing because it spared us from the sun’s heat.  However, it was a harbinger of some rough weather: Rain, rain, and more rain… and hail.  At one point we were pummeled with hail that stung like crazy, like a being blasted by a swarm of angry bees.  We made it to our lunch spot in Phak Ding and warmed up and tried to dry out a bit.

Cristiano makes a confident entry.
Cristiano makes a confident entry.
Mingma Tenzing looking back towards Lukla as we descend towards the Dudh Kosi river.
Mingma Tenzing looking back towards Lukla as we descend towards the Dudh Kosi river.
Tunang is one of our awesome sherpa guides.
Tunang is one of our awesome sherpa guides.
This yak looks super chill.
This yak looks super chill.
Siva... Kim... Tunang (AKA Captain Morgan)
Siva… Kim… Tunang (AKA Captain Morgan)
Cristiano and Jerry love it up here.
Cristiano and Jerry love it up here.
Why are these kids so darn adorable?
Why are these kids so darn adorable?
A monastery sits high above the trail.
A monastery sits high above the trail.
Horses feature prominently here... Yaks dominate higher up.
Horses feature prominently here… Yaks dominate higher up.
These blossoms are out in full bloom.
These blossoms are out in full bloom.
Crossing the first bridge of the day.
Crossing the first bridge of the day.
So darn adorable!
So darn adorable!
Rhododendrons galore.
Rhododendrons galore.
Adventure has a new face: Cristiano.
Adventure has a new face: Cristiano.
We share the road with all manner of beasts of burden.
We share the road with all manner of beasts of burden.
Weather closes in on us.
Weather closes in on us.
The gloaming rises up the river... a chilly wind and hailstorm followed soon thereafter.
The gloaming rises up the river… a chilly wind and hailstorm followed soon thereafter.
After a soaking, our team pulls in to Phak Ding for a much needed hot lunch.
After a soaking, our team pulls in to Phak Ding for a much needed hot lunch.
We sent this photo to our buddy Blake... He is our honorary team member in absentia.
We sent this photo to our buddy Blake… He is our honorary team member in absentia.

Phak Ding is the traditional sleeping spot for the first day, but we had started so early that we wanted to make more progress, and headed up valley another two hours to the village of Mono.  Along the way I was impressed by the rebuilding that has happened in the last 11 months.  A few structures were still  ruined, but many others were either repaired or totally replaced. One technique I did not notice the prior year involves timber frame homes clad in thin grey steel: weatherproof, and not at risk of shaking apart in another quake.

A lull between waves of the deluge... (Photo: Kim Hess)
A lull between waves of the deluge… (Photo: Kim Hess)
Kim rocks the Dudh Kosi.
Kim rocks the Dudh Kosi.
This dog became Kim's new pet.  She adopts a new one every day....
This dog became Kim’s new pet. She adopts a new one every day….
These blossom trees rival or surpass those we have in Seattle.
These blossom trees rival or surpass those we have in Seattle.
Justin checks out the section of trail that fell during the quake last year.  (Photo: Kim Hess)
Justin checks out the section of trail that fell during the quake last year. (Photo: Kim Hess)

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Evidence of rebuilding was evident along our trail.
Evidence of rebuilding was evident along our trail.
Foul weather does not hold these stone masons back.
Foul weather does not hold these stone masons back.
Some of the structures are in great shape, built with fine craftsmanship and an eye towards being able to withstand another quake.
Some of the structures are in great shape, built with fine craftsmanship and an eye towards being able to withstand another quake.
Some, not so much.
Some, not so much.
The water gets this beautiful hue due to tiny stone chips shed during glacial grinding of the granite above.
The water gets this beautiful hue due to tiny stone chips shed during glacial grinding of the granite above.
The bridges here are awesome.
The bridges here are awesome.
Cristiano on a bridge below Monjo... the landslide behind him dates to last year's quake.
Cristiano on a bridge below Monjo… the landslide behind him dates to last year’s quake.
Our drenching continues.  (Photo: Kim Hess)
Our drenching continues. (Photo: Kim Hess)
Justin arrives with authority.  (Photo: Kim Hess)
Justin arrives with authority. (Photo: Kim Hess)

By the time we reached Monjo, we were cold, wet, and tired.  And yet… I felt so much stronger and more relaxed than last time.  Let’s see if this trend continues….

Hot tea makes everything better.
Hot tea makes everything better.

Word of the day: Fresh

9 thoughts on “Great to be Back

  1. Great post Paul. That was indeed my rescue bird! What a coincidence.
    Love the Siv and Kimbo photo.
    Keep up the prompt posts Paul, I’m loving it!

  2. Love the beautiful photos and the detailed descriptions of everything. Enjoy every minute of your big adventure and keep us posted so we can share it. Xox

  3. Great update! Really enjoying the photos. Really cool to remember your visit to these same places a year ago and to re-visit them again.

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