Boarding the most dangerous flight in the world

In Travel by LauraLeave a Comment

The conscious decision to avoid nearly all Everest Base Camp-related research was strategic. I didn’t want to be talked out of it.

Brief searches around the idea in years prior made the challenge sound epic and the experience sound amazingly rewarding. Beyond a gear list and the trek itinerary, the promise of a challenge and experience was all I knew or expected.

With my whole heart, I feel like Googling your entire trip before you take it is kind of like skipping to the last chapter of a book. If you know what will happen around each twist and turn, are you living in the moment or are you living in the anticipation of something else? I opt for the never-knowing-what-comes-next route.

“The landing is basically vertical,” someone in the introduction meeting announced across the table. This was news to me. Aside from that tidbit, when I woke up on our first official hike day, I was completely blind to what would come next.

The flight into Lukla has been dubbed the “most dangerous flight in the world.” My inner marketer says this is just hype for the adrenaline junkies. None-the-less, the whispers and gasps that had gathered around the table at our introduction meeting were enough to keep me tossing and turning for most of the early morning. By the time the alarm sounded at 4 am – I had been lying awake for nearly and hour.

In the sparse light of the hotel, we weighed our duffels, then dropped our remaining luggage with the desk for storage. The entire crew swiftly loaded into two vans that propelled us to an airport. I remember the drive seeming to be long. Lights flashed through the darkness in the windows. Naturally, the heavy stop and go of the large vehicle was enough to activate my notorious motion sickness before the day even truly started.

A long line of hikers stretched from the first security checkpoint to the entrance and then into the parking lot. Our group claimed a place in line and acted quick to follow our guide’s instructions – moving through bag scans, metal detectors, bag scales and more.

The interior looked like a warehouse-turned-airport with trade show-sized booths of small domestic airlines around its perimeter. Lakpa and Dawa shuffled our team and bags from one space to another as the airline and security crews shouted out in Nepalese.

With the weight of our collective duffels and day packs accepted, we were each handed a ticket and moved to a corral of chairs with a small snack shop in one corner and a set of doors on the opposite end. Our holding time was indefinite. Having not had breakfast before the chaos of the early morning, many of us jumped at the chance of coffee.

As Dawa had promised – we didn’t wait long. His strategy for beating the other trekking groups to the punch by arriving early had worked.

From the corral, we were escorted onto the tarmac and loaded into a bus as the morning sun began to light the land. Exhaust filled the air and, once again, I was grateful for my hiking mask to filter each breath.

We were quickly growing accustomed to sitting and waiting almost too long. But, as the anticipation grew to be too much, we started our drive. The bus cruised over the blacktop. Along the way, we watched plane by plane pass in the window – each being prepped for its morning journey. At some point, one of us mentioned that the planes were getting smaller.

This was about the same moment that we started cracking jokes about the size and reliability of all things in sight. Sometimes, you laugh before anyone can notice that your are abso-fucking-lutely terrified.

Reality really sunk in as our bus turned parallel with our plane. We joked and laughed more. We snapped photos. In tandem with the “holy shit, we’re actually going to do this” adrenaline, I panicked.

While boarding, a lovely woman greeted us. To this day, I find it comical that we had a stewardess in a plane in which the tallest of us – Keith – was best served by crawling into his seat. She was, without a doubt, a rockstar.

In cute amazement, we continued snapping photos on the inside – working in tandem to break the ice with new friends and expel the anxious energy we were harboring. We took in the plane’s age and scale. Suddenly, the emphasis on our individual duffel weights was more clear. Mentally, I rolled through the list of must-have items that maybe I could have left behind to lighten the load.

In a plane of this scale, you’re part of the checks and pre-flight prep. You hear the entire cockpit conversation. You question the impact of education versus experience down to nature versus nurture. You sit, quietly, and hold your breath in hopes that the extra air helps the whole damn thing float. As we taxied to the take-off path, that was all the logic I could manage.