Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.
Before we leave for our two week trek to the base camp of Mt. Everest, we turn on the news and learn an airplane had crashed into the side of a mountain in Nepal. Sadly all lives were lost. My trusting wife Carol asks, “Isn’t that where we’re going?”
Yup, and landing at Tenzing-Hillary Airport, or Lukla airport, one of the most dangerous runways in the world. Look it up on YouTube.
We meet up with our fellow trekkers in Kathmandu and head for the commercial airport searching for Yeti Airlines – what other name would it be? – which will take us to Lukla, the dropoff point for trekkers going to base camp. In Kathmandu, we wait all day for the winds to die down at Lukla, and we’re then told, “Not today,” it is too dangerous.
The next afternoon we can take off, and 45 bouncing minutes later we see Lukla below. The pilot turns to us though the doorless cockpit and says in broken English: “Not today, too windy, back to Kathmandu.”
On the third day, ours is to be the first plane to take off for Lukla “if the wind dies down.” Eventually, we load our Twin-Otter and away we go down the runway. The plane sounds awfully sluggish, but after three days of delay we all feel: “Let’s git’r done.” It doesn’t even bother me to see duct tape and a prayer flag in the cockpit. The only worry now is to land safely.
Fifty minutes later we see the runway below, created by Sir Edmond Hillary to bring tourism to this impoverished area of Himalayas. The 460-metre long runway (about 1,509 feet) slopes uphill and ends at a stone wall cut into the side of the mountain. (Taking off will be no better: The downhill runway ends at the lip of a very deep valley – with an updraft I hope.)
We start our descent; the plane shakes and wobbles all over the place and white knuckles grab anything that can be gripped. The co-pilot turns dials and pulls levers like his life depends on it.
I would rather not see what happens in the cockpit on a windy day landing at the most dangerous airstrip in the world. The pilot yells over his shoulder that he will attempt a landing. Attempt!
Over his head I see the uphill runway and the mountain wall quickly approaching our windshield. The sound of rubber hitting Earth has everyone cheering, and then silence as we wait to see if we can stop before the mountain stops us.
We do, we cheer, we change our underwear – and now we’ve got two weeks to think about the takeoff.
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Lukla. This version has been corrected.