Trekkers stranded in Lukla, Nepal again

Bad weather in the Himalayas has left many travelers stranded in a remote village in Nepal this past weekend, stretching supplies and accommodations to the limit. Fortunately, improving conditions allowed for many of them to be evacuated yesterday, with those remaining are expected to return to Kathmandu today.

Last week, heavy fog and rain descended on Lukla, a small village located at 9383 feet in the Himalayas. The village has one of the few airports in the region and serves as the main gateway for adventure travelers and climbers headed to Mt. Everest and other major peaks. That airport is considered to be amongst the most dangerous in the world during the best of conditions, and the heavy fog grounded all incoming and outgoing traffic starting on October 31st. With no planes getting in or out, trekkers completing their hikes were left stranded, and by the weekend, nearly 2000 people were stuck in the mountain town.

The fog and rain finally lifted yesterday, allowing aircraft to start shuttling trekkers out of the mountains at last, but the final groups weren’t expected to be airlifted until today. Other travelers elected to continue their hike on to the village of Jiri, a four day journey that would allow them to return to Kathmandu via bus and thereby avoid any further weather delays.

This is the second year in a row that the weather has left travelers stranded in Lukla. In November of last year thick fog prevented planes from getting in and out of the town as well, forcing the Nepali army to eventually use helicopters to facilitate the evacuation process. Fall in the Himalaya is a popular time for trekking, but the weather can be a bit unpredictable as the region transitions from the summer monsoons to the clear, cold of winter.

Having visited Lukla in the spring of 2010, it boggles my mind to think that there were more than 2000 people stranded there. The town is meant to be a brief stop over for those coming and going from Everest, and really isn’t set-up to accommodate that many visitors at one time. Judging from the reports, it seems everyone made it through just fine, but I’m sure there were some cramped quarters and cozy accommodations for a few days.