Ascent of Mera
asked me a while ago if I would do a report on my recent
trip to Nepal. But when the earthquake hit six days
after my return, climbing a mountain suddenly seemed
so inconsequential. So I declined.
three months on, it seems a bit more relevant. Whilst
food aid and rebuilding continue to be important, it’s
also vital that tourists return.
income from trekking and climbing are vital to the people
living in the mountains, and much of the country will
be open for business in the autumn season. A
recent report on the KE website summarises the latest position with the trails
and in Khatmandu itself"
was my third trip to Nepal. I first went in 1977 when
Liz and I were one of the early ‘pioneers’ of trekking
to Everest Base Camp. Oh how innocent we were with our
3-season sleeping bags and imitation down jackets!
had always wanted to return, so in 2011 I went to the
Annapurna region to try and climb the 5,633 metre high
peak of Tharpu Chuli (see BB1136).
The people and country were as delightful as they had
been 34 years previously.
unsuccessful that trip showed me it was possible for
a fell-walker to get to the top of a Himalayan peak.
I had summit fever and wanted to climb one before age
finally catches up with me. This time I decided to try
Mera Peak. Although at 6,434 metres it was much higher
than Tharpu Chuli, it was said to be affected less by
24+ hours travelling to Khatmandu via Abu Dhabi I got
4 hours sleep then flew to Lukla with our leader, Ade
Summers, and the other eleven people on the trip. There
we met up with our Sherpa team lead by Phanden. He was
Sirdar on my Tharpa Chuli trip and remarkably still
the first of many cups of tea we discussed our first
problem. The route in two days time was to take us over
the 4,610m high Zatrwa La pass. But there was a lot more
snow than usual and Phanden said the pass was currently
unsafe for the porters. So we had to go around and as
a consequence use up our contingency days.
the next 5 days we travelled through rhododendron forest
on tracks the locals describe as ‘Nepali flat’, but
which in fact means steep ups followed by steep downs
and then up again! On the fourth day we got our first
view of Mera Peak – it looked massive!
rejoined our original route at Kothe having covered
23 miles and 15,000ft of ascent whilst only being 2000ft
higher than we were at Lukla!
view of Mera
Khote we started to gain altitude at last. The next
day took us over the 4000 metre mark to Tangnag where
we had our first rest day. Rest days in the Himalayas
are not actually a rest and on ours we did some practice
a roped team up a fairly steep ridge to aid acclimatisation.
had seen high cirrus cloud forming through the day and
when I looked up Ade asked “Are you thinking what I’m
thinking?” to which I replied “Snow?”
enough late in the afternoon it began to snow. We had
already had reports from another group who had turned
back on their summit attempt because of the amount of
snow, and further deposits could potentially stop us
On the way to Tangnag
the next day dawned clear and we pressed on to Khare
at 5045 metres and our Base Camp. We had another ‘rest’
day there and final preparations were made for our summit
push (doesn’t that sound like a proper expedition!).
of our group, Ronnie and Caroline, decided to arrange
a helicopter out at this point as Ronnie had been unwell
for several days. It cost them a few thousand pounds
for the trip back to Khatmandu, so not an option you
With Ronnie’s departure I was now the old man of the
and Caroline leave us
route to the summit uses the Mera Glacier most of the
way. To get on the glacier we had to climb the icefall.
The Sherpas fixed ropes up this and we jumared up them.
As my turn came I confidently bashed my axe into the
for it to bounce straight out. Ice that’s been crushed
in a glacier for tens of years is somewhat harder than
the frozen water ice we normally encounter!
On the way to the ice fall
on top of the icefall we roped up. The ‘rope teams’
had been determined at Base Camp and I was pleased to
find I was in the lead group with Phanden; Geoff and
John. The fresh snow had covered the trail, and conditions
close to white-out, so it needed cautious leading by
Phanden to ensure we avoided the many crevasses. After
about 6 hours of pretty hard work we arrived at our
camp on the Mera La at 5415 metres (17,765ft). The afternoon
was spent drinking tea, eating, and resting.
coming to the top of the fixed ropes
conditions on the glacier
slept fitfully that night, but waking to a cup of tea
and a clear blue sky in a stunning location was wonderful.
Today was a short one in Lakeland terms – 1½
miles and 1,361 ft of ascent. But it took us just over
4 hours and I felt shattered
at the end of it. After a couple of hours we stopped
being hemmed in by surrounding peaks and dramatic views
opened up. We could see five of the six highest peaks
in the world, including Everest. It was pretty impressive!
the way to High Camp
view on the way
The view on the way
day ended at our High Camp (5,780m / 18,963ft). This
was one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever camped.
Our tent was perched pretty uncomfortably on large boulders
on the edge of an icefall. Not a place to move about
had eaten well up to today but it was remarkable how
my appetite suddenly disappeared. It was a real, but
necessary, struggle to force down bowls of soup and
too soon it was 2am and the sherpas woke us with our
morning tea, soon followed by porridge. Then the process
of getting ready started. Doing anything at nearly 6,000m
is hard. Each breath only gives you about 38% of the
at sea level. It took me almost an hour and a half to
pack my sleeping bag; put on my down jacket, climbing
harness and my outer boots; and roll up my sleeping
mat. We were ready to go at 4am. It was cold, about
altitude makes this seem so much lower.
A 4 a.m. start!
climbed steadily, headtorches lighting our way. Geoff’s
hands were getting really cold and we stopped a few
times while Phanden massaged life back into them; as
well as to check John’s feet which were also chilling.
Apart from this
we were going well and pulled away from our other teams.
arrived and it warmed up a bit, but there was still
a cold wind blowing. It was hard going. I was gasping
for breath and it was a real effort to take each step.
But I have learnt over the years how to ignore the brain
telling me to
stop and rest, so I pushed on until someone else called
starts to arrive
a longer rest!
having his hands warmed up
weather was deteriorating and so Phanden lead us towards
the easier, and therefore quicker, South West summit,
rather than the more technical Central one. Finally
at 08:15 we stood on the 6,434 m (21,108 ft) summit of Mera
Group hugs took place (which, for a Yorkshireman, is
well out of my comfort zone!) and photos were taken.
The views were stunning, but we could see the bad weather
summit comes into view
team on top of Mera Peak
had 15 minutes on top before setting off to tackle the
1,500m of descent to Base Camp. The adrenalin that had
got John to the summit suddenly stopped working and
his legs turned to jelly. A few additional rests were
needed to keep
him going. Eventually we caught up with the rest of
our team. One had turned round early and the other six
turned back just after reaching 6,000m.
tents had gone when we reached High Camp but the cook
team was still there providing litres of life-giving
hot juice. After a rest we pressed on past the Mera
La camp; prusiked down the ice fall and arrived at Base
Camp at 15:30,
after an extremely hard 11½ hour day.
the way down
the first time on the trip I decided to sleep in a tea-house
rather than camp so I could sort my gear out. Next morning
John opened the shutters and said “it’s snowing”. I
looked out to see 2 feet of fresh snow outside. We were
nowhere that morning!
I decided not to camp!
the time waiting for the snow to stop
was a real problem. The Zatrwa La pass would be impossible
but we had used all our contingency days. It stopped
snowing so we made the treacherous descent to Tangnag.
Next day was clearer and we pressed on to Kothe.
it’s a lot lower there, helicopters can take 4 people
instead of just the 2 if we were higher up. And it’s
cheaper - £250 each. The porters would be leaving
us so we had the traditional last night party. Our redundant
items of clothing
and equipment were raffled off and we drank chang and
raksi before slipping away to bed.
our way down
the way to Khote
Chang is served
morning it was the heli-ride, done under Nepalese rules
of course. As well as the 4 of us and the pilot, our
cook was squeezed in and luggage was crammed on top
of us up to chin level. Health and Safety – no chance!
beer with Ed to celebrate
we got there in one piece and a few beers were had in
a Scottish bar in Lukla before flying back to Khatmandu
the next day. This left me with a day sightseeing. Great
at the time but a bit disturbing seeing places on the
news a few
days later that I had been stood next to and were now
just piles of rubble.
tower on the left of the picture is now flattened
the statistically minded it took us 15 days to get from
Lukla to the top of Mera Peak and back; in the process
covering 61 miles with 32,915 feet of ascent.
it was BRILLIANT!
a movie and more photos click on Flikr