My last 24 hours at Everest Base Camp were a blur. After guardedly muscling my way down the Khumbu icefall for the last time, I immediately began thinking about what it would take to get back home. I knew that once I began the trek out, each step I took would finally be one step closer to home.
I had anticipated a three-day, 36 mile walk/limp through springtime valleys, getting progressively greener as I descended. Everest veterans had described seeing newborn yaks and beautiful rhododendrons on their prior post-climb descents, so despite a gait somewhat like Frankenstein's I was sort of looking forward to the long way home.
A friend and fellow climber had developed a medical condition necessitating evacuation, however. As he was unable to make the long trek out, physicians at the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) clinic at base camp ("Everest ER") requested a helicopter evacuation for him.
My friend appointed me his "personal physician," and since there was an extra seat in the French-built Cheetah helicopter (flown by the Nepalese Air Force), I was told to finish packing in 15 minutes (!) and start hiking towards Gorak Shep, where they thought the aircraft might be able to duck in under the weather.
Image below: My E-ticket ride home: a French-built Cheetah helicopter, piloted by the Nepalese Air Force. An hour and a half flight from the vicinity of EBC all the way to Katmandu, vice a 3-day, 36 mile trek!
The weather was much less than ideal, but our ride from The Mountain to Katmandu was one I'll never forget: skimming treetops by just a few feet, with enormous valleys opening up beneath us. Most of the Himalayan giants were shrouded in clouds during the flight, but looking down at the raging rivers, tiny villages and tenuous suspension bridges made it seem like we were airborn for just a few minutes...
If all goes well, my duffel bags will arrive in Katmandu from the mountains this afternoon --- thanks to two very strong porters, who carried them all the way from base camp to the Lukla airport --- and I'll be on my way back to Houston tomorrow afternoon (via Bangkok, Los Angeles and Dallas). I can feel the jet lag setting in already!