The First Trek to Lawudo (Part 1)
From 1969: Kopan’s Beginning by Adele Hulse, Big Love author:
Lama Zopa Rinpoche had not returned to his birthplace since leaving for Tibet as a young child. Spring was perfect weather for trekking, and he wanted to go home to Lawudo. Word was sent ahead, and a trekking party was formed. It included Thubten Yeshe, Zopa Rinpoche, Max (who once again paid for the lamas’ expenses), Zina, Jacqueline Fagan (a New Zealander who had been at Villa Altomont), and Judy and Chip Weitzner. Judy, Chip, and Max were on their spring break from school. There was also a German photographer named Lorenz Prinz, who always wore a jaunty beret, and his female assistant, Christina. Prinz was completing a book of photographs of the Himalayas. He had experience with trekking in Nepal and helped us to organize eveything, even managing to hire the airplane belonging to the King of Nepal. He also told the Injis what clothes to bring.
Judy Weitzner later recalled, “Trekking was really something in 1969. We had to scrounge and scramble to come up with the right equiptment and food; in those days Kathmandu wasn’t full of trekking equiptment and used gear from many mountaineering expeditions as it is today. On the morning of 5 April 1969 we all turned up at the airport; Max showed up in those long brocade chuba, a silk blouse, and flowers stuck in the beautiful long wig she’d put on over her afro. She was always equipped for fashion but seldom for function! I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Max, we’ll be walking in the mountains for days.’ She pulled up her skirts and pointed to a pair of Nepalese army boots, her only gesture to actual hiking gear.
“Zina was in charge of equipping the lamas for the trek, but they showed up in flip-flop sandals and their robes- no boots, no jackets, no hats. I was mad at Zina for not taking more care, but they seemed content with what they had. We waited awhile for the pilot, but when one finally arrived, he announced that he was a replacement for the regular pilot, who was sick. The new pilot said that he had never flown their route before but was willing to give it a try.
“We literally tied outselves into our seats with ropes. Unfortunately, I already knew from a Canadian consultant to Royal Nepal Airplines that the landing strip at Lukla was 300 feet too short for the king’s plane, but I figured that they’d never jeopardize an entire airplane just for some charter money. I was wrong! It was the first time the lamas had flown anywhere. They sat at the back and smiled, while their malas clicked non-stop. It was the most harrowing flight I have ever been on. We were in abject terror, almost touching the mountains in one moment then dropping like a stone when we hit air pockets. Christina, Prinz’s assistant, fainted dead away. At Lukla the pilot had to climb high and then spiral down to approach the runway, which was clearly too short. So we were rushing headlong toward this sheer mountain face when the pilot suddently spun the plan around in a U-turn, bringing it to a dead stop facing the way we had come. We all piled out of the plane onto the ground as quickly as possible!
“Some Sherpas approached and Prinz hired them to carry some of the gear. We paid them the going rate, which was about $3 a day in those days. We regrouped at a tea house in Lukla then started a very pleasant, fairly flat walk up the mountain valley, following the trail of the Dudh Kosi River. I was lulled into thinking that trekking wasn’t really so tough after all. We spent the night in a Sherpa home of some relatives of one of our guides. They seemed to have cousins, aunts, and brothers in every village!
“In the morning Max wanted a bath. There was neither sufficient hot water nor a bathtub available for bathing. The family was put to work hauling water, heating it over a fire, then filling the largest washtub they owned for Max.”