Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Trip report for Mera Peak (Nepal) led by Chris Horobin November 2013

Photo: Mera Peak summit in November 2013
As discussed in our Trip Report for Kanchenjunga to Makalu GHT trek I led in October, the weather was very unstable in Nepal in early Autumn with a lot of precipitation and snow at higher altitudes. Luckily by the time our Mera Peak group arrived to Nepal in November, the weather had settled with high pressure system over the Himalaya resulting in sunny days as one would normally expect at this time of year. However this group had the added challenge of large amounts of snow and very low temperatures throughout the trip.

For our November 2013 expedition to Mera Peak, we had a full group of fourteen people and as usual this was an international mix with people coming from UK, Australia, Canada, USA and Italy. The leader Chris Horobin had been to Mera Peak on three previous expeditions and therefore is very familiar with the route on this mountain. This is the second time Chris has worked for The Mountain Company; in August 2012 he led a successful trek to K2 BaseCamp & Gondogoro La in Pakistan. Our sirdar for this expedition was Domi Sherpa who had been with me on our 2012 Mera Peak Expedition. Our regular cook, Saila Tamang, was in charge of the kitchen and his team would no doubt  provide a range of tasty meals to the group throughout the expedition.

After the flight to Lukla airport on November 4th, the group started their trek into Mera Peak Base Camp following the longer trail rather than taking the short cut option over the Zatra La pass (4,700m). We have never organised this expedition by going over Zatra La direct from Lukla as this is simply too risky in terms of lack of acclimatisation. Also when approached from Lukla side this pass is quite steep and holds its snow & ice for longer due to its northerly aspect, therefore in practice many groups are unable to cross the Zatra La as planned.

Instead for The Mountain Company’s Mera Peak itinerary we take ten days to walk to Base Camp following the long trail through Pangom village and past Panch Pokhari holy lakes. Not only is this a beautiful walk through a less travelled region of Nepal, but also involves long days with significant ascent and descent. This trek into Base Camp will improve everyone’s fitness level before arriving to Mera Peak (as well as of course helping the acclimatisation process) and thereby increasing their chances of summit success.

On arriving to the camp at Tagnag (4,400m) there was still snow on the slopes only 200m above the village. This was leftover from the heavy snowfalls experienced in October. In the past I have led six expeditions to Mera Peak and have never seen snow this low in altitude as the snowline is usually near the glacier on the way to Mera La. Throughout this trip I gather it was very cold with much lower temperatures than normal at this time of year.

Our Mera Peak itinerary has two nights at Tagnag to help the acclimatisation process and on the extra day Chris organised a training day to show the group how to use fixed ropes. At Mera Peak Base Camp (Khare) Chris and Domi held another training day, this time for winter skills to show the group how to use crampons and ice axes practicing on the snow slopes nearby. This training is essential for people who have joined this expedition with no prior mountaineering experience and also a good refresher for those who already have learnt these technical skills from past expeditions.

On November 15th the group headed up to Mera La (5,300m) and due to the low snowline this was far more challenging than usual, especially walking along the ridge to access the glacier. Once onto the glacier it is a flat walk around to Mera La before descending to the camp on east side of this pass. On the next day the group continued up the glacier to High Camp (5,800m). This section of the mountain is exposed to the wind and I gather was a very cold day for everyone. The view from High Camp is superb as one can see Makalu and Kanchenjunga to the east, Everest and Lhotse to the north and Cho Oyu to the north west. The mountain vista from High Camp and above is no doubt one of the most impressive viewpoints in the Himalaya.

The summit day on Mera Peak starts early and this year the group left High Camp at 2am. It is always a cold few hours as everyone is walking in the dark and by the far the best way of staying warm is to keep moving. The roped groups made good progress and summited Mera Peak between 9am and 10am. I gather it was a clear and sunny day although very cold with strong wind. After enjoying the views from the top it is a quick descent to High Camp for hot juice and noodle soup before continuing down to Base Camp. This year the group arrived down at Khare between 3pm and 4pm after a long but incredibly satisfying day. Well done and congratulations to the summitters!

It takes a further three days to walk out from Base Camp to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu. On the third day one crosses Zatra La pass and as mentioned the descent on Lukla side is steep and can be icey. Our Sherpa crew went ahead that morning to fix some rope to safeguard the descent for the group and porters.

In summary, this year there is no doubt that the conditions were very tough on Mera Peak with a low snowline making the trail up and down to Mera La far more challenging than normal. The temperatures were cold throughout the expedition and in particular when accounting for the wind chill factor on the mountain. Therefore it is essential that you bring clothes and equipment that can cope with these low temperatures. I heard from Chris that the estimated wind chill factor on summit day was down to -35 Degrees Celsius.

Mera Peak is not a technical climbing expedition however it is a tough objective for anyone. Right from the start there are long walking days with significant ascent and descent. Once onto the mountain you are walking at high altitude where any physically exertion is always really hard work. For many people who have already completed the classic circuit treks in Nepal there is no doubt that Mera Peak is significantly more difficult. For that reason we have given Mera Peak our highest trip grade of "Challenging/ Mountaineering": to view all of our grading definitions.

We have received some great feedback from the group and have copied two of the testimonials below:

“Absolutely awesome trip! No complaints whatsoever. Great group! Chris was a fantastic leader and I would go on another trip with him in a heartbeat. Very experienced leader with a fantastic attitude. Domi Sherpa was extremely competent. Our safety and comfort was always his top priority. One of the nicest persons I have ever met! The kitchen crew did a fantastic job of keeping us very well fed and the food was great. All the other support staff were very friendly and fulfilled their duties to a very high standard. Thanks for organising a great trip!” Patrick

“This was a fantastic trip and experience which I will never forget and has inspired me to get in to climbing in the near future. Chris was an excellent leader who is highly experienced and has a great attitude who was firm but very fair when it was needed. I would not hesitate to use him again for a similar or more technical trek / climb.” Anthony

I would like to thank Chris and Domi who did a good job leading this group and of course the rest of our amazing Nepali trek crew. I would also like to thank Choire, Chris's son, who helped out during the mountaineering training days as well as volunteering to escort one of the group back down early on summit day, sacrificing his own summit in the process.

For a more detailed description of this Mera Peak Expedition please take a look at Chris Horobin’s blog

The Mountain Company is planning to organise Mera Peak Expedition in April and November 2014, please get in touch soon if you would like to join one of these groups.

Roland Hunter

No comments:

The Mountain Company