Mera Peak (17.10.2011)  5

Written by hmsv1 (Hannah Vickers) GSM

Start point Lukla
Endpoint Kongme Dingma
Characteristic Alpine trip
Duration 280h 00min
Map
Ascents Mera Peak Central (6,461m) 28.10.2011

I joined a trip to Mera Peak and Baruntse which was organized by a UK-based company. Since I was travelling from Tromsø, I joined the rest of the group in Kathmandu after having taken a rather long route (Tromsø-Oslo-Bangkok-Kathmandu) with Thai Airways. We were a group of 9 people plus two trip leaders, Mark and Paddy – both of whom turned out to be ultra friendly and had a good sense of humour.

17th October 2011: In Lukla
The first part of the trip was the approach to Mera Peak, which involved an early morning flight into Lukla situated at 2800m. We should have been walking to our next camp at Poyan after arriving in Lukla, but since there was some delay in getting the expedition equipment from Kathmandu to Lukla, we ended up spending a night in Lukla and generally relaxing. What I was most fascinated by was that since the last time I had visited Nepal in 2008, Lukla had expanded somewhat in terms of the number of shops and cafes – now there was even a ‘Starbucks’ (of course not a genuine Starbucks, although you wouldn’t have known from how great the coffee tasted). So, after having a night there, the rest of our kit did catch up with us and we were soon slapping on the sun cream and beginning our way to Poyan.

Lukla airstrip
Lukla airstrip
Modernised Lukla now sports its own Starbucks outlet :-)
Modernised Lukla now sports its own Starbucks outlet :-)
Enjoying caffeinated delights inside Starbucks while waiting for equipment to catch up with us
Enjoying caffeinated delights inside Starbucks while waiting for equipment to catch up with us
All set for the walk from Lukla to Poyan
All set for the walk from Lukla to Poyan

18-20th October 2011: Lukla - Poyan - Pangkongma - Nashing Dingma
It was a fairly nice walk to Poyan although there was nothing special about it; we had to descend a few hundred meters first from Lukla before having lunch and reascending the same amount to reach the camp, which was pretty much set up on a patch of grass outside one of the tea houses. We used one of the tea houses for eating breakfast and the evening dinner, since we had a cook team who were able to use the cooking facilities there, and throughout the trip they did a wonderful job of making a variety of tasty dinners for us.

Lunch stop between Pangkongma and Nashing Dingma
Lunch stop between Pangkongma and Nashing Dingma

The next day of the approach to Mera Peak was the walk from Poyan at 2800m up to Pangkongma through more green, heavily vegetated mountainside. The views on this day hadn’t been quite so memorable, mainly because we were greeted with fog and rain on the last part of the ascent to the camp. The following morning dawned fine and bright though, and we began the ascent up to the Pangkongma La pass soon after breakfast. It was good to have gotten at least some of the climb down amongst the trees early on in the day, since the sunlight made the air feel intensely hot and humid later on in the morning. From the pass we had our first views toward Mera Peak, although it wasn’t obvious which one it was because the top was hidden under clouds. We descended down toward the Hinku Kola river, stopping for lunch along the way in a stone hut – where it was at least cooler and sheltered from the sun inside. The re-ascent up to the next camp at Nashing Dingma was tough because of the heat. It seemed to take forever, but fortunately it didn’t – and we had plenty of time during the remainder of the afternoon to cool off.

Leaving Pangkongma under blue sunny skies
Leaving Pangkongma under blue sunny skies
Hinku valley
Hinku valley

I think this camp will mostly be remembered for the unusual activities going on; another group of ladies who were on a trip to Mera Peak as well were happily practising yoga before dinner, while I was treated to not only a hair wash with a bucket of hot water, but also a hair cut courtesy of Nicky. I’m not sure where the idea sprang from, but it was more than enjoyable to sit outside the tents and take in the mountain views while a friend was snipping away at my too-long hair. I think the guys in our group got some amusement from all this. Nashing Dingma itself was no more than a few stone buildings, one of which we used to eat dinner in and play cards during the evening. The only problem with this one was the smoke from the fire which flooded the room, and it was strong enough to sting most people’s eyes – otherwise it would have been nice and cosy to sit inside for longer!

21-23 October 2011: Walking to Chalem Charka, Chunbu Khaka and Khote

After spending the night there, we continued onwards and upwards toward Chalem Kharka, which was now 1000m higher at 3600m; sadly this day of hiking can only be remembered for its lack of views as a result of fog which was refusing to budge from over us. More interesting for me was how many cabbages were being grown in the fields we passed (I left Tromsø in the middle of fårikål season)! I think the weather got a few of us feeling a bit bored, and there was not much conversation or talking going on apart from during the lunch stop, when the guys took up a fist contest with some of our sherpas. The day after started a bit brighter and colder with a temperature inversion and lots of fluffy clouds covering the valley below.

Camp at Chalem Kharka
Camp at Chalem Kharka
Fist fight between Paddy and one of the Sherpas
Fist fight between Paddy and one of the Sherpas

The route from Chalem Kharka to our next camp at Chunbu Khaka at a height of 4200m took us up over a mountain pass where we saw absolutely nothing but fog and light snow, and from there we descended down past a lake to a very neatly-built tea house. Fortunately the snow and fog didn’t linger all the afternoon and we were eventually rewarded with some views of the massive mountains surrounding us. The camp felt a lot more secluded than the others, mainly because there was only our group staying there, unlike most of our other camps where there had always been several other hiking groups staying at the same camp. I quite liked the quietness.

The next few days were a bit of a treat in terms of weather. Just sunshine, the odd few scattered clouds and lots of blue sky! As a result the views became steadily better and better as we got nearer and nearer to Mera Peak. The day of trekking from Chunbu Khaka to Khote was particularly beautiful, especially after several days of fog, precipitation and wind. The route ascended quite quickly up the mountainside above the camp, and then traversed around for some distance before we descended down into the Hinku valley and stopped for a lunch stop among the trees. It was warm, relaxing and felt like a proper holiday. It was only an hour or two from our lunch stop to Khote, following the river up the valley for a short while. By then it was early afternoon and even warmer.

25th October 2011: Tagnang to Khare
From Tagnang we walked to Khare. The day was more memorable than some because not all of us including myself, were feeling in particularly top form. The initial rise from Tagnang up some moraine was not all that bad, and thereafter there was quite a long stretch of easy flat ground with walking alongside a river beneath the huge massif of Mera Peak. It was incredible to be now so close to the mountain and get an idea of how massive it really was. Just before the last 200m of height we had to gain, we took a pleasant break sunbathing in the sun and eating some much-needed snacks.

Perhaps it was so relaxed that none of us really wanted to get up and continue up to the next camp site again! I felt a bit of a headache for the last hour, which was not too much of a surprise since we were now approaching 4850m once we’d reached Khare. We set up the tents after lunch, and then had a short session setting up some fixed ropes and practising using the ascenders. It was feeling noticeably colder up here compared with our lower camps in the valley and a few of us spent a lot of time inside one of the tea houses where there was a nice warm stove to keep us feeling cosy.

Walking along the river between Tagnang and Khare
Walking along the river between Tagnang and Khare
There it is! The big and impressive Mera massif
There it is! The big and impressive Mera massif

There was some talk about having a rest day instead of walking up to the Mera La the day after, but it turned out that depended on people speaking up and requesting it. And no one did! So it was onwards and upwards to Mera Peak base camp at 5300m instead. Actually it wasn’t all that bad; people were a bit quiet for the first hour or so until we had reached the glacier where we stopped to put on harnesses, helmets and crampons. But after that the views became so stunning that any thoughts of how tired or worn out we were feeling disappeared. I think there was a bit more excitement now we had finally touched some snow! It was a steady and comfortable pace, and we arrived at the base camp at the Mera La in the afternoon. We didn’t do an awful lot after setting up our tents. We didn’t have a common tent for eating in now we were here, so I ate dinner inside my tent with Mary and for the rest of the evening we either listened to music/read/chatted.

Getting our kit on for walking on the glacier
Getting our kit on for walking on the glacier
Shortly after starting the ascent on the glacier to Mera Peak base camp
Shortly after starting the ascent on the glacier to Mera Peak base camp
At the col above base camp
At the col above base camp
The views started becoming quite scenic....
The views started becoming quite scenic....
Mera Peak base camp
Mera Peak base camp
Mera Peak base camp
Mera Peak base camp

27th October 2011: From Mera La to high camp
It was quite a late and laid-back start with breakfast in the gorgeous sunshine. Despite putting a lot of suncream all over me, I am fairly certain I got a bit of a sun overdose between the two camps. We were roped up into three groups which meant that the pace could only be as fast as the slowest person. The time went by slower than I would have liked and by the time we’d slogged our way up the ridge to the high camp, I had acquired a splitting headache and sore throat. Not really the best feeling before the summit day. It could have been the altitude but I was more convinced that it was too much sun. Maybe I was in denial and blaming the sun was easier than believing I had caught some bug or wasn’t coping with the altitude. Unfortunately, even though I dosed myself up quite heavily on some medicines and throat sweets in the evening, it didn’t really get better overnight and when we got up early the next day, I was feeling worse than the previous day. It was like I had pins in my throat every time I swallowed. Ugh.

Base camp-style breakfast
Base camp-style breakfast
Group picture at the Mera La
Group picture at the Mera La
On the way to high camp from the Mera La
On the way to high camp from the Mera La
Mera high camp. Gorgeous sunset to enjoy before going to sleep!
Mera high camp. Gorgeous sunset to enjoy before going to sleep!

28th October 2011: High camp - Mera Peak summit - Kongme Dingma
We roped up again since it was glacial terrain and plodded very slowly for several hours, and it seemed to take forever until the sun started to rise. I don't remember that it was especially cold, but there was some windchill, and Debbie suffered from very cold feet at some point and was generally feeling a bit disorientated. Mark and Paddy checked her out before suggesting that she head back down to the camp and warm up while the rest of the group carried on (Mark went down with her but later came back up to join the rest of us on the summit). The pace was really slow, and I think one or two of those who I’d been roped up with the previous day were generally feeling very exhausted. Even though I was not feeling in top form with my sore throat, I still think the first few hundred meters of ascent in the dark and cold could have been done a little quicker.

It was a beautiful sunrise though, and at least there were plenty of opportunities to whip out the camera and take photos while we stopped so many times. After having a longer break to eat and drink in the sunshine, it was eventually decided to split the group again and those who were going a bit slower tied onto the rope with one of our sherpas, while four of us went a little way ahead with Paddy. I later regretted being on the faster rope since it felt like we going at three times the previous pace which was a little tiring at over 6000m! It was a relief that we took a looooong break on a plateau just before the final summit dome.

Going slow has its advantages: plenty of time to photograph a sunrise like this!
Going slow has its advantages: plenty of time to photograph a sunrise like this!
The sun begins to peep over the mountains
The sun begins to peep over the mountains
An amazing sight!
An amazing sight!
Last break before the summit
Last break before the summit

There were some fixed ropes here which helped since there was one short and steep section to get onto the summit ridge. All I remember was how hot and tiring it was, but soon it was just an easy walk along the ridge to get to the top. I thought I would have been ecstatic to be standing at nearly 6500m, but for some reason I wasn’t in the most excitable mood. Happy, but definitely not over-the-moon kind of happy. I blame the sore throat and cold-like symptoms. Nevertheless, the views were very good and it was warm enough to at least spend some time on the summit and appreciate the efforts of the 2 weeks it had taken to finally get here! Hugs and smiles all around.

Summit panorama with Gordon standing at the right edge
Summit panorama with Gordon standing at the right edge

On the summit of Mera Peak:

Dawa sherpa, me, Matt and Gordon
Dawa sherpa, me, Matt and Gordon
Fluffy clouds :-)
Fluffy clouds :-)
Descent down the last section before the top
Descent down the last section before the top
Dawa Sherpa. He was tragically killed in an avalanche on Manaslu in 2012.
Dawa Sherpa. He was tragically killed in an avalanche on Manaslu in 2012.

The descent was hard work. It was indescribably hot on the glacier, and it was only on our way back down that I realized just how many crevasses there were. I guess we’d not seen them on the way up when it had been dark in the morning. At one point we stopped so I could take a drink and put away some clothes, but it ended up with me dropping my water flask which rolled down to the edge of one of the crevasses before it stopped. Lucky it didn’t actually fall all the way on and disappear forever but I had more or less concluded it was gone for the rest of the trip. Paddy rather unexpectedly decided he would make an attempt at rescuing the bottle while we held him on a taut rope. Surprisingly he did manage to retrieve it out of the crevasse lip and became my hero for the rest of the day :-)

I don’t know about the others, but I was super tired by the time we arrived back at the high camp. It was early afternoon by then, and some of our cook team had made some lunch of soup and boiled eggs. I was actually glad to have something tasty and easy to swallow, while others had no appetite. I noticed that drinking plain water was not at all appealing, but something sweet or salty worked really well. After the rest of the gang had also arrived back at camp and had some lunch, we continued on down to the Mera La. It was pretty foggy when we descended and didn’t really see the nice views we had had a few days earlier, but we met another British group who were on their way up and it was nice to chat to them again since we’d met them at one of the earlier camps. I would have really liked to sleep again at the Mera La and take a rest as soon as possible, but on the other hand it wasn’t the cleanest place and there was no running water. Our sherpas and cook team wanted to continue down to the next camp at a lower altitude where the facilities were better, so that we did after packing up.

The fog didn’t lift at all, so much of the route down was without any kind of view,and some hard patches of snow on the last bit of descent into camp at Kongme Dingma made it surprisingly slippery for those who were a bit low on concentration. Luckily for us, our great team of porters/sherpas/cooks who had gone ahead of us had already set up the tents and we didn’t have to expend any more energy to do it ourselves. What stars they are :-) Sadly there were quite a few of us who were simply too tired to eat the fantastic dinner which was whipped up for us that evening. The second stage of the trip – the ascent of Baruntse is continued separately…..

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