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Mount Everest Stranded Trekkers Left As Fog Clears

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MOUNT EVEREST STRANDED TREKKERS
n this picture taken on Novmeber 5, 2011 tourists wait to be rescued by private helicopter from the village of Surke near Lukla, some 160 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu. | Getty

KATMANDU, Nepal -- More than 2,000 foreign trekkers stranded up to a week began leaving the Mount Everest region Monday as fog lifted and flights resumed at the area's only airport.

As the visitors waited for the weather to clear, hotels in the village of Lukla were full and food supplies were running low. People slept in tents and hotel dining rooms. Some even walked down from Lukla to the nearest highway.

Trekkers on the first flights Monday were happy to reach Katmandu, Nepal's capital.

"It has been misty and cloudy for the whole week, but everyone has been fantastic keeping us fed and giving water," said Megan Freese, a travel manager from Hampshire county in southern England. "We are OK, we have made it back now."

By the weekend, more than 2,000 foreigners were stranded in Lukla since flights were grounded Oct. 31.

The village sits at an altitude of 9,200 feet (2,800 meters), and its Tenzing-Hillary Airport is the gateway for trekkers and mountaineers heading to Everest and surrounding mountains.

Autumn is prime trekking season in the Everest region, and the visitors were on the "Everest base camp trek," in which they travel by foot from Lukla for a week to reach Mount Everest's base camp at 17,400 feet (5,300 meters).

Mountaineering in Nepal is most popular in May, so the recent weather did not affect climbers.

The Lukla airport, carved on a mountainside, has one short runway and limited parking for planes. In good weather, it is still limited to small planes that carry 18 passengers.

Some 20 flights took off from Lukla airport Monday morning and more were expected throughout the day, area police Chief Ramesh Khadka said.

The trekkers, from a variety of nations, had no major health problems during their delay, he said. "Most of them were worried about expired visas, missing their scheduled flights and not making it back to their jobs on time but no other major problems," Khadka said.

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