Photo: summit day on Mera Peak
Our Mera Peak Expedition arrived back to Kathmandu as planned on November 18th, we were very lucky to fly out of Lukla on schedule as there was a backlog of over 1,000 people waiting for flights as a result of several days of cloudy weather causing cancellations. In fact we were also lucky to fly into Lukla at the start of the expedition on October 31st, our plane landed at 5.25pm and there were no more flights for four more days. Our pilot must have wished he had stayed in Kathmandu as he was also stuck in Lukla for this period! Take a look at the article on BBC website about the delays in November at Lukla (Tenzing- Hilary airport)
I have led groups to Mera Peak during the month of November since 2007 and usually the weather at this time of year is stable with sunny days however this year the pattern was rather different. We experienced cloud and rain until we reached Kote and then it cleared up with several sunny days while at Tagnag and Khare. On November 12th we trekked to the camp at Mera La and as predicted by our weather forecast there was some cloud in the valleys however we were luckily enough to be above the cloud and basking in the sun at this altitude. As we walked to High Camp on November 13th cloud built up by midday although then dropped off again later in the afternoon to reveal the superb view from High Camp of the surrounding mountains.
At 3am on November 14th our group left High Camp on their summit attempts, it was a clear & starry night and pretty cold especially as there were strong gusts of wind. Although by the time the team arrived at the summit there was little wind and superb views in all directions including five 8,000m peaks: Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga. Nine of our group reached the summit of Mera Peak some climbing Central summit and others climbing to the South summit, so congratulations and well done to everyone!
Unfortunately the day after the summit walking back to Kote we descended into the cloud and there was snow overnight as well as for most of the next day. These conditions made our walk to Thuli Kharka (camp before Zatra La) quite challenging while the group arrived in late afternoon some of our porters arrived in the dark after a long day for them.
On November 17th we crossed Zatra Og and Zatra La passes for our return trek to Lukla. The conditions on descent were pretty good as recent snow was soft with no ice however we decided to fix rope to aid our porters and for group to use as extra security. The snowline was much lower than usual and most people kept their crampons until shortly before Chutanga where we had lunch. Here we met another group heading into Mera Peak and heard more about the number of people waiting for flights to Kathmandu due to the bad weather and in fact this group were fortunate to arrive at Lukla by flying Twin Otter to Lamidanda and then by helicopter to Lukla.
On arrival to Lukla I checked the weather forecast in an internet cafe and unfortunately it did not look too promising for the rest of the week however on the next morning we were woken in our tents by the sound of the large Russian MI17 taking off and on looking out of the tent we could see the weather was clear with blue skies. Our flight to Kathmandu with Tara Airlines took off at 11.30am and three hours later (!) we landed at Kathmandu- usually the flight takes 35 minutes although as Kathmandu airport was busy we circled for a while then we had to divert to Biratnagar for refuelling.
Overall our Mera Peak group was very lucky this year, in spite of the worst weather I had experienced on this trek since 2007 we managed to fly into/ out of Lukla on schedule and also had good conditions on our summit day. In fact only the next day a large group of forty people from Leeds Metropolitan University (undertaking acclimatisation research) went for the summit and only six members of their team reached the top- by reading their dispatches it sounds like they hit bad weather with snow and strong winds.
My view is that November is probably the best month to climb Mera Peak. I have been leading groups at this time for last five years and the vast majority of these days on trek we experienced sunny and stable weather. It is worth pointing out that one can get snow and bad weather at anytime of year however on balance November seems to better than other months. Interestingly in the past we have organised groups to Mera Peak in October and April and both of these trips also hit bad weather on their summit days. There are other factors in choosing the best time of year to climb Mera Peak for example in October it is much busier and can be hard to find enough space for all of the tents at High Camp. By December the days are getting shorter and it is much colder so I would certainly not want to be climbing Mera Peak at that time of year.
The other notable comment to make from this year's expedition to Mera Peak was the number of porters that died while we were there from other groups attempting the mountain. It was very sad to hear of three porters dying near Tagnag and my understanding from speaking to owner of Mera Guest House was that the cause of all of these deaths was severe altitude sickness. It seems that in at least one of these deaths the porter was sent down alone while the rest of the group carried on to cross Amphu Laptsa (of course you should send a sick porter down with another porter).
From meeting other groups along the way on Mera Peak it is clear that most of them are ascending way too fast and not spending enough to acclimatise to high altitude. Of course what most people in these groups did not consider is the effect of rapid ascent on their trek crew, it may well be fine for members of the group who are probably anyway taking diamox and also not carrying much weight however it certainly is not fair on the porters carrying heavy loads.
Our approach at The Mountain Company has always been to design our itineraries to allow for adequate time for natural acclimatisation, for example our Mera Peak itinerary from arrival to Kathmandu is 22 days which is 2 or 3 days longer than several other UK based operators. By having these extra days means you have a far higher chance of summitting Mera Peak and also more likely to enjoy it at the same time! We also include one contingency day in our Mera Peak itinerary so provides a buffer in case of any delays along the way.
As always I would like to thanks our Nepalese trek crew who did a great job this year under challenging conditions. Danyibad to Lhakpa Rita Sherpa (Sirdar) and to our Sherpas: Nima Tendi Sherpa, Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa, Sonam Sherpa and Lhakpa Gyaljen Sherpa. Of course thanks to Saila Tamang our cook who along with the rest of the kitchen crew provided tasty food throughout the expedition.
The Mountain Company is planning to organise two Mera Peak Expeditions in 2012, the first one is in Spring from April 15th to May 6th followed by our Autumn departure from November 4th to 25th. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.