I’ve been to a lot of places by a lot of different means of transport, but taking a helicopter to Mount Everest has to be way up there in the top three.
If you are checking the internet for this trip, it is referred to as the Everest Base Camp Heli Tour or even Everest for Breakfast tour. Now that is enticing.
This tour runs all year round, although monsoon might not be the best time to go, and in the winter, finding others to make up your group might be harder. Let me explain: the majority of people take this trip by purchasing a seat on a group helicopter. Obviously, you then need another 4 or 5 people to make it viable for the helicopter company and cost-effective for you. On the other hand, I was also told that you could reserve the whole helicopter for your use, which comes in at around USD 4,000. But as a seat costs USD 1,000 (it varies, so check first), if you are traveling with friends, it might be worth looking at this option.
A Bit About Mount Everest
Mount Everest is, as you know, the highest mountain in the world at 8,848m. It sits on the border between Nepal and China. Both countries have Everest Base Camps, and both have climbing routes to the top. But most people know of the Nepal side with its fabulous trekking trails and long history of climbing expeditions. The Everest Region (Nepal side) is also known as the Khumbu by the locals and Sagarmatha National Park, for which we had to buy an entrance ticket before leaving Kathmandu (our travel agent did that).
Many friends have raved about trekking in Nepal. Others have reported it can be quite daunting in terms of the required stamina and fitness level. There are areas of Nepal where you can trek with much less achy muscles, but Everest isn’t one of them. Keeping this in mind, the idea of helicopter tours to the region seems very good. I was reliably told of one 84-year-old man who did this helicopter tour last year to fulfill a lifetime dream.
You might think USD 1,000 is quite a lot of money for a 4 to 5-hour trip, especially if you compare it to helicopter tours in other countries. For example, you can fly over the Grand Canyon in the USA for around USD 300. But looking at the small print, that trip over the Grand Canyon only takes 45 minutes, whereas it takes 45 minutes to fly from Kathmandu to the Everest Region alone. Then the actual tour is on top of that.
My Experience on EBC Helicopter Tour
I was picked up from my hotel around 5 am and taken to the domestic airport in Kathmandu. There I met the others on the tour and the pilot. There is no guide on this trip, so the pilot acts as a guide, pointing out various landmarks and naming some of the mountains. We fly over the hills, farms, and empty-looking lands for around 45 minutes until we landed at Lukla.
Lukla is the first town most people arriving to trek around Everest see. It has had an airport for several decades, from when Sir Edmund Hillary established it to make it easier for locals to bring goods in and send produce to market lower down. Naturally, climbers, and later trekkers, took full advantage of the airport, and it's now the way almost every foreigner arrives in the region.
At Lukla, we stopped to refuel, so I was able to get out of the helicopter and grab a few pictures and videos of the comings and goings of porters and tourists.
I learned when booking that the name Everest Base Camp Helicopter Tour is misleading. The helicopter doesn’t land at base camp. This is because it is too difficult to land there. Instead, we landed on a flat, rocky ridge called Kalapattar. I was blown away by the views from here. Everest is just there – right in front of you. Other mountains encircle you, and the atmosphere is like nothing I have experienced before. I don’t have the words to explain how beautiful the experience was. It’s not often I am lost for words!
I was still in a daze when we boarded the heli again to land a few minutes later at Everest View Hotel, which had – yes, stunning views of Everest! I couldn’t believe I was sitting on the terrace with the Himalayas in front of me, hot tea in my hands, and my camera on record.
I was still in a daze when we landed back in Kathmandu. Had I just had breakfast while being a stone’s throw from Mount Everest? Had I stood on top of a 5,600m ridge surrounded by the Himalayas? Yes, and yes!
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