Lukla Flight Changes

There have been some significant changes since the start of the 2013 trekking season in the way flights to Lukla are being managed. As you might know Lukla is the take-off point for almost all Everest treks.

There used to be three airlines operating daily flights to Lukla, but all except Tara Airlines were forced to discontinue their Lukla flight schedules as of this year. Fortunately Tara Airlines (an affiliate of Yeti Airlines, the largest in Nepal) has always been the most reliable airline flying to Lukla, and we can expect continued good service from them. Unfortunately, however, their new monopoly on this route has given them the freedom to impose some restrictive changes on the flights schedules and passenger rules and regulations.

There are now 35% fewer planes and flights (on average) scheduled into Lukla so this presents more difficulty securing flight reservations, especially for the more reliable early morning flights. Anyone planning to join an Everest trek during the main trekking seasons should confirm their booking as early as possible to insure that space on the Lukla flight will be available. The airline is also now requiring copies of passports to confirm reservations so these need to be sent as soon as you confirm your trek booking.

The other major change has been with the baggage weight limits. Previously, passengers were allowed up to 15 kg (33lbs) of checked luggage. This has now been reduced to a 10 kg/22 lb limit. The carry-on weight limit (5kg/12lb) has not been changed as yet.

There is also the possibility to pay a fee for excess baggage weight, but Tara Air has not confirmed the new guidelines for this. One thing to keep in mind is that Tara is applying these new restrictions to insure that total flight weight limits are not exceeded so that the flights are as safe as possible. This also applies to most flight delays in and out of Lukla, which are almost always because of greater caution and safety guidelines being applied by the airline.

ITrekNepal is addressing these changes as best we possibly can with some specific actions. We have always been very resourceful getting Lukla flight reservations, even under the most demanding conditions. The ITrekNepal operations staff have very close connections with Tara Air and will do whatever is required to secure the best flights for our trekking guests. However, please keep these limitations in mind when you make your trek plans since it may be very difficult to change flight dates at the last minute as we were able to do more easily in the past.

To deal with the luggage weight restrictions we are planning to store more trekking gear (sleeping bags, down jackets, etc.) at Lukla. We will also purchase the extra trek food in Lukla rather than Kathmandu to avoid having to check this as luggage. This will cost us a bit extra but is worth the cost to us so that our guests don’t have to restrict the amount of gear they bring any more than necessary.

We will keep our trekking guests updated about any new developments in this area, and welcome any questions or concerns you might have.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

     Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), often referred to as altitude sickness, is a fairly common and serious risk when trekking at high altitude in Nepal. AMS can develop at altitudes above 2000 meters (6500 ft), and the risk increases significantly as you ascend to higher altitudes.

     The early symptoms of AMS are headache, extreme fatigue, and loss of appetite/nausea. Some people also experience shortness of breath while resting. AMS is a result of the excessive accumulation of fluid in certain parts of the body, specifically the brain and lungs. When mild symptoms occur you must stop immediately at the current altitude until the symptoms have gone away. If symptoms persist after you have rested for a day or two, you must descend to a lower altitude (300 – 500m/1000-1700 ft lower)

     Worsening symptoms of AMS including increasing tiredness, severe headache, vomiting, and loss of coordination.  These are the symptoms of the more severe case of AMS call High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). HACE can lead to unconsciousness and death within 12 hours if the symptoms are ignored. Increasing shortness of breath, coughing, and tiredness are signs of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which can also be rapidly fatal if ignored.

     A person suffering from AMS may not be thinking clearly and may have to be forced to descend.  A person with AMS should not be allowed to descend alone. They should descend to an altitude where they feel their symptoms improve (usually after 300 – 500 meters of descent). Always follow your trek guide’s advice about how to deal with AMS symptoms.

     If you experience any AMS symptoms but are unsure whether it is AMS, always err on the side of caution and stop ascending and consider descending to lower altitude.

     Medications are not a good substitute for proper acclimatization in reducing the risk of AMS. Acclimatization requires a planned, slow ascent of not more than 300 – 500m (1000-1700 ft) per day. If you are acclimatizing properly you can also consider taking Diamox to prevent or alleviate AMS symptoms.

     You should not plan to trek to high altitude (over 3000 meters) if you have heart disease, difficulty breathing at sea level, or are pregnant. Children may be more susceptible to AMS, and because they may not be able to describe their symptoms should be watched very closely.

      Good physical conditioning does not prevent AMS, and persons who have not experienced AMS at high altitudes in the past may still develop symptoms on subsequent treks.

     Sleeping pills, sedatives and alcohol should not be used at high altitudes as they tend to decrease breathing and can lead to AMS. Drinking 3-4 liters of water or other fluids per day to avoid dehydration will help in the acclimatization process. It is also possible to use a Gamow bag to treat the effects of AMS. A Gamow bag, available at the Himalayan Rescue Association’s outposts in Periche (Everest) and Manang (Annapurna), simulates the air pressure of low altitude.

     While it is possible to employ helicopter rescue in case of serious AMS symptoms you should not rely on this, or wait for a helicopter if you experience AMS. Your first recourse should be to descend to lower altitude. However, because it may become necessary to call in a helicopter for evacuation, you should have an insurance policy in effect that covers this (very expensive) service. The helicopter service company requires a financial guarantee to implement a rescue so having this is essential if you are planning to trek at high altitudes, especially at or above 5000m/16,000 ft.

Key facts about AMS:

  • Anyone is susceptible to AMS, regardless of physical fitness or previous high altitude experience.
  • AMS can be deadly so act immediately at the first sign of any symptoms.
  • AMS can start to occur at altitudes as low as 2500 meters (8000 ft)

You can also read more about AMS at this professional site dedicated to the subject:

http://www.altitude.org/altitude_sickness.php

Altitude Comments

Of the main fears of trekking, especially in the Everest region, is the altitude and the problem of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).

The reason I was nervous about this is that there seems to be no pattern as to whom it affects. It does not depend upon the fitness of the trekker or on how many times that person has been to altitudes in the past. This seemingly random process worried me that it would prevent me from fulfilling my ambition of reaching Gokyo Ri and Everest Base Camp.

The best way to avoid the illness, or to reduce your chances of suffering from it, is to ascend gradually building in rest days to the schedule. One group I met was forced to descend after they ascended too quickly and had to abort their attempt for EBC. I was certainly glad that we had taken our ascent slowly and had an acclimitisation day in Namche.

The most common symptom of altitude sickness is a headache. In fact around 4000m it is almost universal to have one. Mine was a very dull and mild headache, not causing any concern for me as I knew to expect one. I would just pop some paracetamol and it cleared overnight. The headache is caused by the body pumping more blood to the head in order to give the brain the oxygen it is used to having at lower altitudes. Therefore deep breathing can help to alleviate it and this perhaps explains why my headache cleared overnight (compounded by the fact that my body became used to the altitude over time).

I also drank plenty of water. As you are exercising in sometimes cold conditions it can slip the mind not do drink. But not only will it help with any headache but it will defend you against the serious problem of dehydration. I aimed to drink at least 3-4 litres a day.

The only other mild symptom you may experience is a loss of appetite. Luckily I was not affected by this and found myself being called upon the finish the others meals – a role I delighted in.

You are rightly advised, if the symptoms progress into a more serious headache, dizziness and nausea, not to ascend any further; if the conditions becomes even more serious you should descend immediately and never alone. It can be a serious threat and so groups should always err on the side of caution. But for the most part it shouldn’t put your trek in jeopardy in any way.