A Himalayan Aerial Adventure To Mt. Everest
(Part Two of Two Parts...click here to go to Part One)

Story by: Larry Mayran

The Himalayan Mountains make up the roof of the world.

It was early morning when we arrived at Tribuyan airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu in Nepal. I had booked an adventurous flight to the Himalayas where the highest mountains in the world dwell in majestic splendor with Mt. Everest at 29,028 feet towering over all. I have rarely been this nervous about any flight.  Not in the sense of fear, but more like wondering if it would be successful in terms of actually seeing the Himalayas and the summit of Everest. With dense cloud formations boiling up around the Himalayas a good percentage of the daily flights had to be aborted because the aircraft climbing to 29,000+ feet emerges into thick clouds with no visibility. But small consolation. The airline gives you your money back if you can’t wait another day to book a flight. Unfortunately I did not have another day to spare. It was now or never.           

Aerial view of the Himalayas with Mt. Everest, 29,028 ft. center right,

Captain R.P. Rana our Nepalese pilot greeted us warmly. He looked like a WW II fighter pilot with his “50 mission” crush cap slanted at a cocky angle. My confidence began soaring. At least we had an experienced looking pilot in command. We all belted up tightly while the sound of the engines warming up became more pronounced. Then Captain Rana gunned the twin engine turboprop and down the runway we roared. Off on a once in a lifetime trip to the Himalayas with twelve other passengers aboard. Gathering speed the aircraft suddenly lurched and with brakes screaming ground to a halt. “What happened?’ “Nothing to worry about” our stewardess said in near perfect English, “Just a deer ran out onto the runway and Capt. had to brake to avoid hitting it.”  “Is our flight over?” “Oh no sir, this happens all the time. Animals run across the tarmac. Captain Rana will turn the plane around and off we go again” she said pleasantly.

Mt. Everest, 29,028 center, Nuptse  25,801, left and Lhotse, 27,940, right

Flights to the Himalayas and Mt. Everest (called Sagarmatha by the Nepalese meaning ‘The Head touching the sky’) were restricted to one a day back then and cost $25. (Today numerous flights are scheduled daily from three different airlines costing $160-$300).

Captain Rana repeated the takeoff process and this time we cleared the runway smoothly and off we flew to the eastern Himalayas. Since early age I was a mountaineering buff, more the armchair type than actual climbing. I subscribed to National Geographic, the American Alpine Journal and read countless books on the world’s tallest peaks, especially the climbing attempts on Mt Everest. Still fresh in my memory was reading about the early climbing efforts of Mallery and Irvine on the 1924 British expedition. Mallery and Irvine climbing strongly with primitive oxygen tanks strapped to their backs disappeared into the mists at 28,000 ft.  No one knew whether they had reached the summit. The camera that Mallery brought with him and could have determined whether they had summited was also never found. Mallory's ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered in May 1999 by an expedition that had set out to search for the climbers' remains. Whether Mallory and Irvine reached the summit before they fell and died  still remains a subject of speculation.

Wide angle aerial view of the Himalayas with tallest mountains marked.

Climbing progressively to 10,000 feet, then 20,000, the view out my window seat was total whiteout. Nothing but massive clouds stacked up and around us. My heart sank. Was this going to be just another exercise in futility? Still climbing and more clouds. Suddenly we burst out into brilliant sunshine, the clouds mostly below us. And there emerging in a blinding flash of dazzling white was the towering snow draped peak of Mt. Everest. A long plume of snow flew horizontally from the summit, driven by powerful winds. Flanking Everest were the great snow covered peaks of Lhoitse, 27,940, Nuptse, 25, 801, Ama Dablan, 22,349, Pumori, 23,494 and Manaslu at 26,781.  And perhaps 10 other 20,000- 25,000 ft. tall peaks presented themselves in their full snowcapped glory. I stood up, festooned with cameras and stepped into the aisle. The emotion was just too much for me. I choked back tears, and just stood there unable to move. Seeing my dilemma the stewardess came up touching me gently on my arm. “Mr. Mustache,” she said (I had quite a large mustache back then as today), “You didn’t come all this way from America and with all those cameras just to stand here and cry. Come with me and she led me to the pilot’s compartment. She spoke softly in Nepalese to the co-pilot who got up from his seat and beckoned me to sit and photograph the incredible scene from the pilot’s window. I shot hundreds of images of Mt. Everest and the other prodigious massifs’ as Captain Rana piloted the aircraft along the full range of the Himalayas. Adding to the passenger’s aerial adventure Captain Rana wove the aircraft skillfully between swirling storm clouds, and let the wings skim close to the summit ridges of the world's highest mountains.

Manaslu 8th highest Himalayan Mountain at  26,201 feet.
Looking down from 30,000 feet at eternal snow covered Himalayan Mountains

The flight went on for what seemed like hours. Actually the Himalaya part lasted about 30-40 minutes. Without question it was one of the more extraordinary experiences of my life. Even today when talking about my flight to Mt. Everest and the Himalayas, the emotions of that day remain strongly and I still have to choke back the tears.

The flight back to Kathmandu and Tribhuyan airport was uneventful save for the passengers joyful chattering. We all were presented with certificate’s certifying our successful flight. From this moment on we’ve all earned bragging rights for getting as close to the highest spot on earth as you can without actually climbing it.

I think most visitors would agree that there are few places on earth that have more fascination than Nepal, and the Himalayas. In Kathmandu the rich profile from the past with the creations of its artisans have left a legacy for all time. The warm smiles and earnestness of its people whose simple but colorful lifestyle are guided by two of the world’s oldest religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. There  is even a bit of Shangri-La it its scenic wonders. In all a lasting and emotional experience.


(Part Two of Two Parts...click here to go to Part One)

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