Mount Everest Flight from Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM)

Mt. Everest Base Camp

Late April and early May is (pardon the pun) “peak” climbing season in the Himalayas.    On this trip to Nepal, I wanted to visit Mt. Everest base camp to get a close up view of the mountain and see the teams preparing their summit assaults.

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Above is the photo I was aiming for at Everest base camp.  The camp sits on the Khumbu Glacier at an altitude of 17,600, yet still over two miles in vertical distance below the summit.

Being at Everest base camp is relatively safe compared to climbing the mountain.  On April 25, 2015, however, almost exactly one year prior to my flight, a 7.8 magnitude quake devastated wide swaths of Nepal and sent avalanches from Mt. Pumori and other nearby slopes pummeling into Everest base camp killing 19.

Options for Getting to Everest Base Camp

From Nepal there are two ways to reach Everest base camp in Nepal.  (From Tibet, you can also make a 13-hour drive from Lhasa to Everest base camp north.  That camp is used for summit attempts via the north ridge on the Tibet/China side of the mountain.)

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Lhasa

The hard way is to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, Nepal and trek.  The trek requires 10 days minimum round trip, costs several thousand dollars, and requires a high level of physical fitness.

The easy way is to take a helicopter flight from Kathmandu and land at base camp, spend a few minutes there, and return.  The helicopter trip only takes four hours and can cost as “little” as $1,100.  While that’s more money than I would spend for my entire nine-day Nepal adventure for airfare (frequent flier miles), hotels (max $52/ night for three – four star hotels), food, flights to and from Pokhara, Nepal, and a two-day trek with a personal guide on the Annapurna Base Camp Trail, $1,100 would have been worth it to me to bag a once-in-a-lifetime adventure like Everest base camp.Helicopter landing at Everest Base Camp

 

 The flight to Everest

Unfortunately, the tour company could not find other passengers.  That meant the flight would have cost about $5,000 for me alone.  That was way out of my budget.  The next best alternative was a one-hour sightseeing plane flight from Kathmandu that would fly along the south side of the Himalayas up to Everest and back.  This flight cost $203 on Yeti Airlines on a twin-engine, Jetstream 41 turboprop aircraft.

The best time for viewing the mountains is early morning.  Therefore, I was obliged to meet the driver at my hotel at 05:00 for the drive to the airport.  I was staying at the Royal Penguin Hotel in Thamel, the “tourist” district in Kathmandu.

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Thamel district

At that time of the morning the drive takes about 30 minutes.  Later in the day when traffic picks up, the same drive take closer to one hour..

Arriving at the airport, I was surprised to see a substantial line at security, but I still arrived at the gate 45 minutes before the scheduled 06:30 departure.

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Kathmandu domestic terminal gates

Precisely at 06:30, the Yeti Airlines ground staff announced boarding of flight YT301.  Passengers for the flight were escorted to a bus that took us to the plane on the tarmac.

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Boarding the Yeti Airlines Jetstream 41

Seating on the aircraft is in a 1×2 arrangement.  We all had assigned seats.  As requested, I had been assigned seat 6A, an exit-row window seat on the single seat, left side of the plane.  The seats on the right side were double seats.  Only one passenger, though, had been assigned to each row on the right side so everyone had a window seat on this flight.

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Boarding pass for YT 301

The pilots fired up the engines after everyone was on the plane, and we were soon taxiing to the active runway at KTM.  Reaching the end of the taxiway, the pilots revved the engines as part of the normal preflight checks.  I noticed nothing wrong, but the captain announced on the intercom that there was a problem and we were returning to the ramp.

After parking, the pilots shut down the engines and told us that we would be changing planes.  We got off and re-boarded the bus.  They drove us back to the terminal, but we were asked to remain on the bus.  Twenty minutes later, the staff said we were going to get back on the same plane.

Okay.  The problem was never disclosed, but we reboarded and took the same seats.  Ten minutes later and about 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time, the aircraft departed KTM Runway 02.

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Taking off on KTM runway 02 going past the domestic terminal

The pilots made a slight left turn to the north and climbed to our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet.  The flight attendant passed out candy immediately after takeoff.  On the short return flight she offered a soft drink and peanuts.20160421_063726

After flying for only 15 minutes, the first views of the Himalaya Mountains appeared through the clouds and haze.1460812845354

The aircraft followed the spine of the Himalayas that runs in a northeasterly direction here and forms the border between Nepal and Tibet.   Most of the mountains in these photos have summits that are around 23,000 to 26,000 feet  high.  20160416_183202

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Then Mt. Everest came into view.  The airplane was probably 20 plus miles from the mountain, but it was still impressive.  My cell phone camera did not do justice to the power and majesty of the scene.

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In the pictures above, Everest (29,029 feet or 8,848 meters asl) is the tallest peak in the center.  Lhotse (27,940 feet or 8,516 meters) is to the right and Nuptse (25,771 feet or  7,855 meters) is the high ridge to the left.  Everest and the other mountains in the Himalayas are rising by about 5 mm/year as the Indian and Asian tectonic plates collide.

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View of Mt. Everest (center) Lhotse (right) from the plane at 23,000 feet

Mt. Everest, known in Nepalese as Sagarmatha or Chomolangma in Tibetan, is the highest mountain in the world.  It’s summit pierces the jet stream.  Even on clear days winds on Everest can easily exceed 100 miles per hour on its upper slopes.    In the photos above, the plumes of snow billowing from the summits of Everest and Lhotse  evidence strong westerly winds on this day.

While the summit of Everest is the highest point on earth relative to mean sea level, Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii and Denali in Alaska are “taller” mountains when measuring the difference in height from their base to the top.  The base of Mauna Kea is on the ocean floor.

After enjoying the magnificent views, we celebrated with sparkling wine curtesy of Yeti Airlines. 20160416_185111

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The Everest flight was spectacular yet I still wish that I had made it to base camp.   Like many others who venture into the Himalayas, I had to accept a measure of disappointment in being prevented from reaching all of my goals.  My disappointment was assuaged by a successful short trek I later made in the Annapurna region. 

One day I would like to return and reach Everest base camp either from Kathmandu or by the drive from Lhasa, Tibet.  Has anyone made it to Everest base camp or been trekking in Nepal?

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