Mera Peak Expedition: What, Where and Why with 4 Weeks to Go…

12 03 2013

In April we (myself, Naomi, Tom and Fiona) are heading off to Nepal to Climb Mera Peak. This Blog post is designed to tell you about Mera Peak, what we are likely to expect, why we are going and what are doing leading up to going!

What is Mera Peak?


Mera Peak stands at a whopping 6476m high in the Khumbu region of Nepal. It is regarded as the highest peak in Nepal that requires just basic Glacier Skills in order to get to the summit. It is also regarded as one of the finest viewpoints in the country as from the summit you can see 5 of the world’s 8000m peaks; Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga. A great fact page abput the peak can be found here.

Mera1

Why are we going?

Well this is the funny bit, it is technically mine and Naomi’s honeymoon! Back in 2011 I proposed to Naomi in Nepal at an Everest Viewpoint. It was on this trip that we had said it would be amazing to head back to Nepal for the honeymoon and to tackle a big peak at the same time. We got married in July 2012 and opted to put the trip back to the first trekking season of 2013 to allow ourselves the opportunity to save and prepare for the trip. Now I am sure a lot of you are thinking that I have sandbagged Naomi into climbing a mountain on our Honeymoon, a trip which is traditionally restful, but it was actually Naomi’s idea! (so Ner!) You may also be wondering why Tom and Fiona are coming on our Honeymoon. Well for starters Tom was my best man at our wedding, but we also wanted to share this experience with them. We both enjoy the time we spend with them and thought that they would be the perfect people to be sharing this expedition with.

While planning the trip we changed between climbing Mera Peak and another mountain called Island Peak but eventually landed on Mera Peak for the following reasons. Mera is higher by a few hundred metres but is technically easier (which will suit Naomi a bit better). The trek in to Mera will not cover any of the ground we covered on our last expedition whereas walking to Island would, and finally we will be camping! I think Naomi is still getting her head around this, but this gives the whole trip a more satisfying feel, it will feel more like an expedition!

 

The Itinerary

Below is a table outlining our Itinerary. As you can see we will not be reaching the summit until the 11th day (of 16) of our Trek. The trek in allows us plenty of time to acclimatise and more importantly enjoy the fantastic surroundings.

Arrive in Kathmandu
Fly to Lukla then trek to Paiya (2840m/9315ft)
Trek to Pangonma(2870m/9414ft)
Trek to Nigmsa (2550m/8364ft)
Trek to Chetra Khola (2940m/9643ft),
Trek to Kothe(3520m/11546ft)
Rest day in Kothe(3520m/11546ft)
Trek to Thangnak(4120m/13514ft)
Trek to Khare Base Camp(5050m/16564ft)
Rest day for acclimatization(5050m/16564ft)
Climb to High Camp(5730m/18795ft)
Summit Mera then trek back to Khare(6654m/21825ft)
Contingency day (5730m/18795ft)
Trek to Kothe(3520m/11546ft)
Trek to Thuli Kharka(4200m/13776ft)
Trek to Lukla(2840m/9315ft)
Fly to Kathmandu(1300m/4264ft)
Kathmandu

Although there are only 4 of us on the trek we have got a rather large team supporting us. We will lactually have 1 Climbing Guide, about 7 Porters, 1 Cook and a Cook Helper. Because of this we will only be carrying our daypacks and will have our camps established for us by the porters….so there is a degree of luxury to be had on this honeymoon!

What have we been doing to prepare?

I can only really speak for myself and Naomi on this but I am sure Tom and Fiona have been preparing physically in their own ways.
Spending so much time in the hill has got me pretty fit but recently I have been getting out on the Bike and also been on a couple of runs. With 4 weeks to go hopefully I’ll be able to up the tempo to get one last fitness boost.

Naomi used to struggle with getting herself motivated to exercise. I did her head in for a while by banging on about how hard Mera was going to be physically. My main concern was that there will be factors such as Altitude Sickness and not getting enough nutrition trying to stop us from reaching the summit, we can’t allow something like fitness which we can control be the factor that stops us. Since January Naomi has been hammering the Gym attending Spinning and Circuit classes and she is now feeling like she is getting there with her fitness.

I told Naomi last week that we should stop exercising a week before we fly to Nepal in order to give our bodies a chance to rest. Naomi wasn’t best pleased at this as she wants as much time as possible to keep on getting fit. Our aim in this last week is actually to put on a bit of fat in reserve for when we will start to lose it while on the exped. Naomi wasn’t quite so put out when she realised that instead of exercising she could effectively eat as much cake as she liked, for a week! haha

We have of course been preparing our kit for the expedition. We already have most of it so we are sorting out the final few smaller bits of kit that will make our lives that little bit more comfortable.

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My Personal Aim

As well as reaching the summit with Naomi, and seeing the fantastic view I personally have another objective for wanting to reach the summit of Mera Peak. I am using it as a tester to see how I operate above 6000m as hopefully in a few years I will return to Nepal to climb Ama Dablam. Ama Dablam is only a little higher at 6856m, but it is a very serious mountain. What it lacks in height compared to something like Everest, it more than makes up with the skills required to climb it, and it is actually regarded as being technically harder than Everest. This is currently my biggest goal, the top of my bucket list, my number 1, I feel like I just have to climb it and Mera is a stepping stone for me being able to achieve this.

Our Expedition is being run by our international partner Basanta Trekking & Adventures. The expedition is also being supported by Lake District OutdoorBerghaus & EDZ Performance Layering 





Winter Mountain Leader Training Course – January 2013

11 01 2013

The next step in my career as a Mountain Leader is to complete my Winter Mountain Leader Award. The Winter Mountain Leader (WML) allows you to safely lead groups in the mountains of UK and Ireland in Winter conditions, including the use of Ice Axes and Crampons. As with all UK mountain qualifications the WML is gained by attending a Training Course, and after further consolidation (which can be anything from a month to a few years) a 5 day Assessment course is completed – and hopefully passed! Here is my day by day account of my 6 day Training Course undertaken with Pete Hill, MIC.

Day 1: Teaching Self Arrest and Cutting Steps, Coire Laogh Mor.

After meeting Pete at our Bunkhouse at 9am we made our way around to the ciste car park just below popular Ski Centre on Cairn Gorm. The Ski Centre car park was to be our start point for every day of the course as it gave us a nice 600m height gain to get up onto what was left of the snow clinging on in the higher Corries.

We bimbled up the fell side from the car park into Coire Laogh Mor which was to be our playground for the day. The aim of the day was to break down the teaching process of Self Arrest (How to stop yourself with, or without an axe when sliding down a slope). The first portion of the day pretty much consisted of sliding down slopes, which was wicked fun! I had the biggest grin on my face each and every time I through myself down the slope! We tried numerous different techniques, one of which included sliding down on your back head first – A video of me doing it can be seen here.

The second half of the day was spent learning how to cut various types of steps into the snowpack. As we walked out some moody cloud was coming in from the west which created some dramatic scenes.

Day 2: Security on Steep Ground, Choire Chas Headwall.

Just like in the Summer Mountain Leader Award, the use of a rope should be reserved for an emergency situation (apart from when confidence roping), but knowing a variety of steep ground methods is crucial. We made our way up from the Ski Centre past the ‘Ski’ slopes to the steeper headwall of Choire Chas. Throughout the course of the day we covered numerous methods on how to belay a client up or down a slope. The day included much more digging than day 1, but fortunately for us the snow was quite soft.

Day 3: Emergency Shelters, Coire an t-Sneachda.

Our venue for the day was to be famous Coire an t-Sneachda. When in full winter condition this Coire would be littered with climbers tackling some of the best winter routes in the UK. It was my first time in the Coire, and even though it wasn’t under a full blanket of snow and Ice, it was still impressive to see.

Our main objective of the day was to learn about Emergency Snow Shelters and Snowpack tests. If you are caught out in a storm or have an injured member in your group, knowing how to get yourselves, and/or them, out of the elements will almost certainly save your lives. We learnt about the Seat and Coffin shelters before having a go at it ourselves. I opted to dig myself a Sit Shelter, but unfortunately I ended up making more of a Chaise Longue, which when rated by my peers scored a very generous 2 out of 10! With an expediton in a Snowhole looming just 2 days later, I hoped my digging skills would improve!

We finished the day learning about how to assess the snowpack through various methods. We were all told to dig a Reusch Block and then test it to see how solid the Snow was. Here is a video of the block being tested – Kind of…

Day 4: Navigation. Coire an Lochain around to Cairn Lochan, Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and down Fiacaill a Choire Chas.

Unlike the Summer Mountain Leader training course Navigation did not have much emphasis on this course as you are already expected to know it, as we did. We did have a day focussing on navigation in the winter environment, and although we didn’t get to experience a full winter white-out it was a great learning experience. For most of the day we were up in the mist locating from point to point. Just before making our way up to Cairn Lochan the clouds above us parted and the sun came blasting through. This then led to some incredible views across the Lairig Ghru to Braeriach.

Day 5 and 6: Snowholing Expedition and Night Navigation

This is one of the most anticipated parts of the course. Most people had not even dug a snowhole before, let alone slept in one overnight. With our big expedition packs on we made our way up from the Ski centre to the Ptarmigan Station. From there we dropped down into Ciste Mhearad  where we would dig our holes for the night. After having been briefed on the best method on how to dig a Snowhole the night before we got straight to it. We dug away clearing away loads of snow, and 2.5 hours later we had an impressive cave for the night. The BBC were also in the Ciste filming som footage for an upcoming Winter Watch programme!  After a short break inside we had our head torches on and were on our way out to do some night navigation. This was one of my favourite bits of the course as for some reason I have a strange, masochistic liking to Night Nav. During this session I managed to bag myself another Munro as we made our way up to the summit of Cairn Gorm. A few hours passed with us wandering about the mountainside in the drizzly mist and then we returned to our Snowholes. We had a brief discussion before entering them for the night about what to happen if they were to ‘slump’ in the night. Despite having this slightly concerning conversation before heading to bed I still got a very healthy 9 hours sleep! It was a great experience spending the night out in the snowhole, one that wasn’t actually as cold as I would have expected. We woke to a stable snowhole, and after having some breakfast left the Snowholes for a little bit more group work before descending back to the Ski Centre for the final time.

With the course over we all had a debrief with Pete, and now it is over to be to get out practising for my assessment which I plan to take in 2014.





Tryfan via The North Ridge in Winter

3 12 2012

Day 2 of our Winter Walking Weekend in Wales came around and we were about to hit a personal favourite of both of us, Tryfan. Tryfan stands out of the ground like a huge Sharks Fin, and it can simply be described as a scramblers heaven!

We parked up at about 9.00am below Millstone Buttress and eagerly left the van up the good stepped path. Not before long the good path led to the start of some more involved scrambling. I cannot really describe our route up to the summit in too much detail, apart from the fact that we climbed up icy steps, between thin flakes and through some snow filled gullies. We mixed the route up with some tricky sections, made tricker by a thin layer of ice on most rocks.

We reached the summit and were greeted by a lovely spot of sunshine. The views were fantastic and the weather was actually quite warm (relatively speaking for winter). We enjoyed our lunch and the company of some other mountaineers on the summit before leaving the summit via the south ridge. There was far more snow on this side of the mountain and we both had a laugh jumping into it and sliding down it. We cut off the main path and contoured our way around the western side of Tryfan and before we knew it we were back at the van. We made it up and over the mountain in just under 4 hours, but what a wicked 4 hours it was! Tryfan is a must do, especially in Winter!





Snowdon via Crib Goch in Winter

3 12 2012

A free weekend popped up in my Diary and I was determined to use it to it’s full potential! I dropped kelvyn a message on Facebook and within a few minutes we had a basic plan botched together. As we got closer to the weekend and had a better idea of conditions we opted to head south to Wales to tackle one of the UK’s gnaliest Ridges, and possibly Wales’s Best Mountain, Tryfan.

I left my house at 5.45am on Saturday morning and made my way to Kelvyn’s by Tebay, and from there we made the journey to Snowdonia.

We hopped out of the van at about 10.30 and started to make our way up towards Pen-Y-Pass from our free parking spot (a rareity in any national Park these days, and one that we managed to fluke due to a broken ticket machine). We reached Pen-Y-Pass in good time and left the car park on the good track that eventually leads onto the start of the well worn Pyg Track. Where the stile marks the start of the Pyg Track we broke off rightwards to start our climb up towards Crib Goch. Crib Goch is a huge Knife Edged arete with stupidly steep sides, which over the years has claimed many lives. The scramble up to the ridge was superb, and as we got higher we reached more and more ice and snow, which will be sure to add the spice to Crib Goch!

We chose not to put on our crampons as despite the ice, there was still loads of Rock poking through for us to get a grip on. Soon enough we were on the ridge and for the first time I was staring at Crib Goch. Kelvyn has traveresed Crib Goch many times, but I had not yet had the chance, until this moment. We carefully made our way across the edge, and aiming to coninue my honest blogging, I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t a tad bit gripped in places! We made our way across narrow edges (which Striding Edge has nothing on!), down Pinnacles and up little rock faces. The sense of exposure was huge, and the consequences of even the smallest slip were obvious.  It was a great experience and one that did end just that little bit too soon.

From the col we climbed again onto another fine ridge. Although Crib Goch was over the scrambling certainly wasn’t. We stopped along this ridge for a bite to eat, during which we were joined by a rather large, but friendly Seagull! We cracked on again up into the mist where we were also met by some stronger winds and some snow. We reached the snow blasted Trig Point of Garnedd Ugain, and after a brief stop we pressed on towards the summit of Snowdon. We passed the marker to denote the top of the Pyg Track and from this point onwards we saw far more people. We trudged through the thickening snow up the summit ridge and out of the whiteout appeared the summit platform. We got to the summit and admired the fine views….not, and then took shelter next to the stations walls.

After a cup of soup we started to make our way off of the summit and back towards the Pyg Track. As we descended down the track our views were incredible, a real reward for what we had achieved so far. We cut off of the Pyg Track to join the Miners Track which led us easily back to Pen-Y-Pass, and then back to the van, both ready to head to the pub for a pint!