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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Trip report for Mera Peak (Nepal) led by Roland Hunter in November 2012

Photo: Chris on Mera Peak summit!
This year is the seventh expedition I have led to Mera Peak since 2005 and as ever I was looking forward to this trip to the highest trekking peak in Nepal with I think one of the best views anywhere in Himalaya. I was hoping the weather would be better than last year's Mera Peak trip [see TMC Mera Peak 2011 Trip Report] and luckily this year we had stable and settled weather throughout the expedition. This is the normal weather conditions expected in Nepal during November when usually a blocking high pressure sits over the Himalaya resulting in sunny conditions. Whereas last year's weather was rather unusual as a cyclonic system drifted into the Himalaya causing a lot of rain and cloudy weather.

There were thirteen people in our Mera Peak group from a number of countries UK, USA, Canada, UK and Ireland including three repeat trekkers who joined our Lunana Snowman trek in Bhutan last year.  I led this trip along with Sirdar Domi Sherpa and climbing sherpas Karna Tamang (double Everest summiteer), Sonam and Dorje. We had our regular cook, Saila Tamang, and his amazing kitchen crew along with us, as ever we were given very tasty food throughout. The meal in Khare Base Camp of pizza and apple pie was particularly memorable and certainly went down very well with the group before heading up the mountain for the summit push. There is certainly alot of truth in the saying that an army marches on its stomach…

Photo: Sirdar Domi Sherpa and climbing Sherpa Karna Tamang
We flew to Lukla on November 5th arriving around 10.30am and after a cup of tea in Numbur Lodge we started trekking to Puiyan village where we spent our first night. Everyone enjoyed the walk in to Mera Peak via Pangom village to Nashing Dingma, Chalem Kharka, Chunbu Kharka. The big change I noticed compared to two years ago (we did not pass this way last year due to poor weather as we walked from Shibuche village direct to Kote on east side of Hinku river) was the improvement in trail from Chunbu Kharka to Kote. This trail has been widened and constructed so is now far easier to follow for the group and crew, it is good to see that proceeds from our permit to enter Makalu Barun National Park are being well invested in upgrading the trails.

On November 12th we walked up to Tagnag at 4,350m and as usual the group enjoyed this day as for first time one feels approaching the mountains close up rather than getting more distant views like earlier from Pangom La. The views of Kyashar and Kusum Kanguru on this section of the trail are superb. It was good to be back in Tagnag and as usual we stayed at Mera Peak Guesthouse owned by the friendly and hospitable Lhakpa Gyalgen Sherpa and his wife Pema. I have got to know Lhakpa over the years so it was good to see him again and catch up. He has made some improvements to his lodge by extending the dining room so I certainly think this is best place to stay in Tagnag.

As per our itinerary we have a spare summit day and after discussion with the group we decided to use this by having an extra night in Tagnag so we stayed here for three nights, from experience this is well worth doing as aids acclimatisation and really helps people higher up on the mountain (whereas most other groups spend only one or two nights in Tagnag). On November 13th we went for a day walk up the grassy ridge behind Tagnag where we reached a high point of 5,100m, this is great for acclimatising following the rule of “climb high, sleep low”.

On next day 14th we had a training day where we showed people how to ascend and descend multiple anchor fixed ropes using jumars and abseil/ rappel devices which is a skill required for the steeper last section to climb to Central summit of Mera Peak. In the evening we had a visit from a group of villagers from lower down the valley celebrating the festival of Tihar [for more information on Tihar], after giving kata scarves to the group they started dancing to celebrate the festival and encouraged us to join them.

On 15th we trekked up to Khare Base Camp and then on 16th we walked up to glacier for more training on using crampons and ice axe.  This year the conditions were dryer with the snowline much higher than usual, last year we did our mountaineering training above the teashop at 5,200m (now abandoned) whereas this year we had to walk up to below the glacier.

While we were on our way to this point we heard the dreaded sound of rockfall and luckily we were far enough away not to be directly affected however we saw a lot of rock fall down onto the standard glacial route to Mera La just above Japanese Camp (see photo below). On closer inspection I noticed this section of glacier was covered in rock debris so there must have been a large rockfall event since last year that has destabilised the whole ridge above. I decided it would not be safe to follow the old route so myself and the Sherpas had a discussion and it quickly became apparent the only safe option was the route below Japanese camp onto the glacier that leads directly to the Mera La.

Photo: previous standard route to Mera La with high risk of rockfall
While the group did their mountaineering training with Domi I headed off with the climbing Sherpas to take a look at this new route, I had noticed in previous years there were some tracks on this glacier however I had never seen or heard of any groups using this way in the past so I was not sure if was viable. From Japanese Camp there is a 150m descent on loose scree and rock to the glacier and then a moderate angled snow slope to Mera La.

This route is objectively quite safe as the route keeps to left side of the glacier avoiding the crevasses so I am not really sure why has not been used in the past. I am pretty certain this will now be the new standard route on Mera Peak and there is no doubt we will send TMC groups this way in the future. It is worth pointing out that it is essential for all of the trek crew including porters to have crampons on this section of the glacier because if they slipped there are several large crevasses located below the trail.

Photo: new route to Mera La (much safer)
Photo: close up of new route
It was great to meet several alpinists along the way, in Tagnag we met two Japanese climbers who had just climbed a route on Kyashar, I have just tried to google their names to find out more information about their climb however unfortunately could not find anything in english so could not provide any further details. In Khare Base Camp I met British climbers Nick Bullock and Andy Houseman who had just come back from Chamlang, please take a look at their blogs for more information- Nick's blog and Andy's blog

On the next day the group and crew walked up to Mera La without any issues using the new route although this section was very hot being on a sunny day however once on Mera La it was nice to get some breeze and it felt much cooler. After a night at Mera La we walked up to High Camp in good time and when up there everyone was feeling excited for the summit attempt staring in early hours of the morning.

Photo: Crispin and Roland at Mera La (Mt Chamlang to left)
For the summit push we left High Camp at 2am on a clear starry and very beautiful night, it was quite windy and cold which are pretty normal conditions on Mera Peak and the three rope groups made steady progress upwards. Soon after leaving High Camp I was quite surprised about the number of open crevasses this year with the trail winding around them. Then about half up the “whale back” feature there is now a large crevasse splitting this slope which is new compared to last year although can be crossed by a reasonable looking snow bridge. Although if this crevasses opens up further it might be necessary in the future to use ladders to cross over, lets wait to see what it looks like next year...

Photo: Domi's rope group on summit day
After this large crevasse one approaches a section of the slope exposed to the wind where we were buffeted by strong gusts. By this point two rope groups had moved ahead making good progress towards the summit (we had arranged in advance for Domi and Karna to leader these faster groups) and in the end everyone successfully climbed to Central summit of Mera Peak. At this point I dropped back to assist the slower rope group who made steady progress and reached the Col below the Central summit- due to the time and high winds we decided to make this their high point for the day. The views throughout our summit day were sensational and the skies were completely clear apart from the chateracteristic plume coming off Everest summit and sometimes a lenticular cloud off Makalu.

Photo: Kiwi Andy climbing the ropes to the summit of Mera Peak
Congratulations to this group with everyone making high camp at 5,800m thereby setting their own altitude records and nine of us went on to summit Mera Peak.

I would like to thank our Nepali trek crew who as ever did a great job from our Sirdar Domi down to all the porters who worked hard throughout the trek, and of course thanks to Saila and his team for the excellent food.

I have copied below several testimonials from the group with their feedback and comments on their experiences:

"I have been on three treks with the Mountain Company in the last four years, including the “Snowman” in Bhutan in 2011, and Mera Peak in 2012. These last two trips were also done with Roland as the trip leader.

As a leader, Roland is extremely well organized, and tireless in his day to day management. I have seen Roland deal with several difficult situations, and even more difficult people. I have been impressed by his enthusiasm, and have never seen him raise his voice, or even speak badly of someone.

His enthusiasm is probably his only significant flaw. Mere mortals need to have him be clear about what he means by a “rest day”. Truthfully, I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another Mountain Company trip, and have great faith in Roland himself." Dan Gray (Canada)

"If you are considering a first time mountaineering expedition to Mera Peak, there is no better company to help you reach your goal than Roland Hunter and his Mountain Company. From start to finish, the entire trip ran flawlessly, thanks to Roland's enthusiasm, professionalism and attention to every detail, no matter how personal or seemingly intricate.

I have trekked in Asia for several decades now, and I can attest to the fact that Roland Hunter's Mountain Company is the most professional and capable among all others - and that includes trekking companies twice the size. Roland truly cares about your personal well-being and your dreams of summiting, while taking your capabilities and yes, limitations, into consideration. I have never received such personal attention from an expedition leader, and always with gentle encouragement, ability to listen, accommodate, compromise and also making sure that all trip members are safe, happy and moving toward their intended goal.

Roland is a master of motivation, a diplomat and a powerhouse climber, all rolled into one kind, funny and patient individual. His leadership and management of the entire team dedicated to helping us participants "get to the top" are simply perfection. If you go, you won't just have a great time - you will experience a real expedition and what mountaineering in Nepal is all about. Thank you Roland - you and your amazing dream team made ascending Mera Peak into a beautiful reality" Christine Milrod (USA)

In 2013 we are planning on organising two expeditions to climb Mera Peak, first one in April and second trip in November led by Chris Horobin. Please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company