Day Fifteen to Day Sixteen
Our last two days of trekking were amazing in that we covered what felt like a ridiculous amount of distance in a much shorter time than it had taken coming the other way.
Of course they had been easing us into things at the start of the trip and there is a significant 'up' portion that you climb up to Namche that is a lot less strenuous when it is a 'down' from Namche, though your legs get a good work out keeping you braced safely as you go down the slope.
We had known we weren't here in the busy season but this was even more apparent at this point.
Coming up there had been constant foot traffic and numerous jopkyo and donkey trains every hour.
Coming down we only saw a handful and most of the foot traffic was incoming hikers who didn't realise how chilly it was going to get.
We'd had to carefully cross patches of ice that hadn't been there when we'd come up, caused by little streams that run down the mountain trickling across the paths, and that was more than a bit nerve-wracking next to the long drop at the edge of the path.
Arriving back in Lukla it felt like we'd been away for much longer than the two weeks we'd been walking.
We woke up bright and early for a quick breakfast and hustled down to the tiny airport to wait for our plane back to Kathmandu.
The thing about the plane back to Kathmandu, of course, is that the weather has to be good for the small planes to be able to fly.
The weather has to be good at Kathmandu, at Lukla and at a particular pass in between before the plane can leave Kathmandu and arrive at Lukla to pick us up.
There was a bit of cloud in Kathmandu and the wind never really settled down.
We waited at the airport until about 11:00am and then went to wait in a little restaurant next to the terminal, staring morosely at the sky.
This put us in a suddenly tenuous position as our international flight back to Melbourne via Bangkok left at 1:30pm the next day and if we missed it, given the time of year, there was no guarantee we'd be able to get another flight in time to get back for Christmas.
Flights weren't officially cancelled until 12:00pm and until then we wouldn't be able to get the travel insurance pay for the only other way to get back to Kathmandu - a helicopter - so until then we twiddled our thumbs and hoped.
Once the official word came through our guide got on the phone to arrange two helicopters to come pick us up.
Unfortunately a lot of other people had had the same idea and many of them weren't fussed about travel insurance or didn't have any to fuss about.
For the rest of the day we watched helicopters come in and leave and knew we were moving up the queue but we didn't get to the front of it until 4:00pm which is when the helicopters stop flying because visibility isn't high enough.
So after getting up at 5:00am we wandered back to the lodge we had stayed at the night before, to stay another night and to try keep from being too nervous about the idea of missing flights.
We were up earlier than we needed to be, made sure that we were as organised as we could be and that we were wearing the cleanest clothes we had left as we were now going to be getting onto an international flight after two weeks of trekking.
Two weeks of trekking with minimal showers outside of camp showers (ie, a cloth and a bowl of warm water) and most of us not having washed our hair for the full two weeks because we didn't want to catch a chill on the trek.
The night at the hotel would have been nice, especially the shower part, but at this point we were just hoping that the helicopters would turn up and get us to the airport in time.
The helicopters landed at about 8:00am, had to refuel, de-ice their windscreens, and load our bags up before we could look at leaving.
The helicopter flight was a hell of a thing. Not much turbulence but you were a lot closer again to the treetops and mountains than even the small aircraft flight had been.
I got to sit up front and watching the countryside with its small towns go by, the terraced hills and mountains slowly giving way to flatter ground and larger communities until we reached Kathmandu was almost worth the hurry and bother of having missed out on the scheduled flight the day before.
When we landed someone from the hotel met us with the luggage we'd left in storage and there was a flurry of activity as we hurriedly packed our kit bag contents into our regular bags, made sure we hadn't left anything pointy or inappropriate in our carry on luggage, shed layers we didn't need any more and tried to ensure we were as un-stinky as possible.
Once we'd managed to get ourselves sorted it was time to head straight into the airport to go through about six levels of security checks, check-in for our flight and board the plane.
And in that sudden hurry, without a chance for a last look around or much in the way of reflecting, we were leaving Nepal.
It was definitely the most demanding trip I've been on in my life.
Having the usual comforts unavailable doesn't usually faze me but when one of those comforts is the comforting idea that if something goes wrong you can quickly access medical care, you get a bit nervous.
If someone had been seriously sick or injured their only real option would have been being airlifted to Kathmandu hospital by a rescue helicopter.
Nepal is still a developing country with very little in the way of medical care available, especially in the rural regions.
You usually saw at least one rescue helicopter passing overhead a day and while it was reassuring to see that they were operating dependably, it also drove home the fact that you needed to be careful, that what you were doing really was dangerous.
It's also remarkable how taxing you can find the cold if you're not used to it, especially when you're tired and constantly on watch for something that could constitute an altitude sickness symptom.
One of the tricky things about this trip has been successfully explaining it to people now that it's done.
It was amazing, one of the most rewarding things I've done but the tricky or difficult bits are a lot easier to explain or imagine so some of my friends seem convinced that I had a terrible time.
It's a lot harder explaining a moment of wonder or the constant 'holy shit, look at where I am!' jolts your brain got every time you looked around.
I am so glad that I went and if anyone else is considering such a trip and would like to hit me up for advice, feel free.