An Eye-to-Eye Moment With Mount Everest

ABOARD AGNI AIR FLIGHT 601 — Shortly before 7:30 a.m., about two dozen passengers boarded our Agni Air flight to view Mount Everest from the air — very likely the closest I or anyone else here would come to the tallest mountain on Earth.

25704873601_c74bcbd6a4_nWith just a slight bit of trepidation, I waited my turn to climb aboard, stopping briefly to snap a photo of myself in front of the plane. (My morbid side thought about the aspect of making the image for posterity.)

I wasn’t thrilled to have been seated at a window overlooking the port wing and part of the propeller, but with the airplane’s size, I could imagine that every window had at least slight obstructions, even if it was only the hazy glass.

We launched smoothly and without incident, climbing quickly to a cruising altitude around 30,000 feet as we headed into the heart of the Himalayas. The rising sun had begun to burn off some of the cloud cover, making the skies bluer as we approached the mountain they call Sagarmāthā in Nepal and Chomolungma in Tibet, elevation 29,029 feet, or 8,848 meters, above sea level.

The Himalayas — from the Sanskrit words “hima,” meaning snow, and “alaya” for abode — appeared as jewels scattered across the horizon, snow-capped and jagged. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the impressive mountain range:

The Himalayas themselves stretch uninterruptedly for about 1,550 miles (2,500 km) from west to east between Nanga Parbat (26,660 feet [8,126 metres]), in the Pakistani-administered portion of theKashmir region, and Namjagbarwa (Namcha Barwa) Peak (25,445 feet [7,756 metres]), in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Between those western and eastern extremities lie the two Himalayan countries of Nepal and Bhutan. The Himalayas are bordered to the northwest by the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kushand the Karakoram and to the north by the high and vast Plateau of Tibet. The width of the Himalayas from south to north varies between 125 and 250 miles (200 and 400 km). Their total area amounts to about 230,000 square miles (595,000 square km).

Our guide pointed out the peaks that were coming into view, along with their elevations, but there was one mountain on which I was focused, the one about which I had heard about as a kid and read more about as an adult.

Although what I saw didn’t much resemble the up-close cinematography of the IMAX footage from the May 1996 climbing disaster events recounted in Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air,” the majestic Mount Everest did make an impression.

We came even closer to the famous peaks as our turboprop circled around and headed westward before heading back to Tribhuvan International Airport. While flying can sometimes seem like a chore, our one-hour flight to the Himalayas and back felt as if it had taken a scant 15 minutes — too fast by one measure — but it was also good to set foot back on solid ground.

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The Himalayas, with Mount Everest in the middle, as seen from a turboprop plane. At top, Mount Everest dominates the skyline. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)
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A closer view as our plane looped around.
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A fellow passenger capturing video of Mount Everest.
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The cockpit of Agni Air Flight 601 as it banked to starboard.
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A Buddha Air turboprop awaits passengers at Kathmandu’s airport.
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A diagram of the Himalayas was part of my airline ticket.
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