Today started at 5am - an early wakeup call to head to the airport for the flight to Lukla. We all had a bit of a case of nerves. We have all heard of Lukla - home of the Tenzing-Hillary airport which has been proclaimed "the most dangerous airport in the world". The airport is chaos and thankfully our Sherpa guide is there to help us navigate it. We are not there for long before we are taken out to our plane - a small 10 seaters specially designed to land on the short mountain runway at Lukla.
The flight to Lukla is surprisingly short (35 minutes) and is very smooth - however, we know what lies ahead. The reason Lukla is so dangerous is due to several factors. First, and foremost, once the pilot commits to land there is no room to go around - he must put the plane onto the runway as to turn to either direction would result in a crash into the steeply sloped surrounding hillsides. Second, if the pilot lands short - he will hit the cliff face that slopes up to the edge of the runway. Third, if he lands long then he will crash into the cliff wall at the end of the runway. To top it all off, fourth, there is no control tower at Lukla - pilots land the plane with no radio contact with the ground. The runway appears as a speck in the distance and it seems impossible that we can land there - but we do and thump hard onto the ground. Another quirk of the runway at Lukla - it is sloped steeply upward to assist in slowing down landing planes and speeding up planes that are taking off.
We are stuck waiting in Lukla for several hours - due to the size of the planes our team and baggage is split across three planes. However, eventually we are all gathered and ready to go - a "short" seven hour trek to Mongu where we spend the night. We spend the first half of the trek descending down into the valley that we will eventually climb up at the far end. The trail is surprisingly busy on the road to Namache - a large market town where we will begin the monk EEG project. The trail is busy with trekkers, guides, porters, locals and - yaks and donkeys. There are no roads here so a lot of supplies are brought in by yak and donkey and trekkers do not want to be on the trail when the animals go by. The trail is also quite populated - the gaps between tea houses and towns are quite short and there are actually very few long stretches where one cannot see signs of civilization - but we know this will change when we get higher. After a long, hard climb we reach Monju, where we spend the night in a really nice lodge. A warm shower is had, we unpack, and sit down for our first dinner on the trail.