Title photo above by Tom Richardson. The spectacular South Face of Mera Peak.
These notes have been prepared for Needle Sports by KE Adventure Travel who have led many clients to the summit of Mera Peak. They are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of mountaineering and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to climb mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way.
Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead.
Q: Where is Mera Peak?
A: Mera Peak (6476m) is located in the Everest region of the Nepal Himalaya. It is probably the highest point in the Nepal Himalaya, which is accessible using no more than basic glacier skills. The view from the summit is acknowledged to be one of the finest in the entire Nepal Himalaya, encompassing five of the World's 8000-metre peaks, Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kanchenjunga.
Q: How do I get there?
A: Mera Peak is the highest point on the watershed between the Hongu and Hinku valleys and although the mountain can be accessed from Tumlingtar in the east, it is most readily approached from the west by flying from Kathmandu into the high airstrip at Lukla in the valley of the Dudh Khosi. From here there are 2 ways to access the relatively uninhabited Hinku Valley. KE Adventure Travel has found that starting directly from Lukla with a crossing of the Zatra La, a high pass between the Dudh Kosi and the Hinku, is the preferred route as it offers excellent acclimatisation prior to encountering the higher altitudes later in the trip. A longer and more circuitous approach route via the lower Pangkongma La is also possible, but with over 18 years of successful expeditions to Mera Peak, we at KE Adventure Travel prefer the Zatra La route for the benefits it brings to our clients.
Put yourself in the picture! Chris Bryan at Mera High Camp 5800m prior to climbing Mera Peak.(Tim Nicholl)
Q: How hard is it?
A: Mera Peak is not a technically difficult peak. If would be given an Alpine grade of F. The majority of the route up the mountain is on snow slopes of up to 30 degrees. However, in normal conditions the final 40-metre ascent to the central summit is a 45 - 50 degree slope on which a rope is fixed for guided groups. However, the thing that most people find difficult is not the terrain, but the altitude and the cold.
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: There are two main seasons for climbing Mera Peak. The first is the Spring season from mid March until the monsoon arrives sometime towards the end of May. The other main season is Autumn, from the end of September through to December. Although climbing Mera Peak is possible in January and February and often has very stable weather, it is too cold for most commercial groups.
Q: How should I prepare myself for this mountain?
A: It is important to have a good level of mountain fitness before attempting Mera Peak. Regular days out in the hills and mountains is the best training you can do for a trip like this. Summit day on most itineraries will be around 12 hours long and involves 600 metres of ascent, followed by 1500 metres of descent. This is following a walk in of around 8 days. Previous experience of using ice axe and crampons and of trekking at altitude, is useful but not essential if you are travelling with a commercial group.
Approaching the Mera La en route to Mera Peak. (Tim Nicholl)
Q: So what kind of gear do I need?
A: Mera Peak is a non-technical mountain, but involves moving on glaciated terrain for the time you are on the mountain, and usually a fixed rope for the final 40 metre ascent to the summit. Therefore, you will need ice axe, crampons, harness, and karabiners for travelling on this terrain. If travelling with a KE Adventure Travel group, a jumar (handled ascender) is provided for ascending fixed lines, as well as climbing ropes and fixed lines. Warm double boots, as well as good warm clothing are essential, as it can get very cold on summit day. Category 4 sunglasses are necessary for the combination of sun and snow at altitude. You'll also need a sleeping bag rated to at least –20ºC.
Q: What kind of clothing?
A: For the trek in to Mera Peak, temperatures will fluctuate from below zero between early evening and early morning, to comfortably warm in the day if the sun is out. Generally, for the trek in you'd be wearing a long sleeved base layer, fleece top, windproof top, comfortable quick drying trekking trousers, good quality trekking socks, and comfortable trekking boots. Plus hat, gloves, and waterproofs for when the sun goes in or weather changes for the worst. Merino wool base layers work really well on these trips as you can wear them for extended periods without them smelling too much! A down jacket is essential for when the sun goes down and the temperature drops below zero.
On Mera Peak itself temperatures can get very cold, especially if it's windy. So, for summit day you would be looking at wearing a lot of layers as this gives you more options. Essential items are long sleeved thermal base layer and long johns, fleece mid layers, an insulated jacket (preferably down), warm insulated gloves or mitts with thin inner glove, windproof shell jacket and trousers for windy conditions, and a hat/balaclava. It is recommended to carry a spare pair of gloves and sunglasses.
High on Mera Peak. (Sergei Gutiev)
Q: What about food and water?
A: On a commercial trip such as with KE Adventure Travel, you will be fed and watered really well by the Nepali cook team. On trek you will have substantial breakfast, cooked lunches most days and a 3 course dinner, as well as trail snacks. On Mera Peak itself, meals provided will be simple and substantial such as porridge, noodle soup and ‘Sherpa stew'. Drinking water is boiled, and there is an endless supply of tea, coffee and hot juice provided. Drinking lots is essential for good acclimatisation, and performing well at altitude.
Q: Do I need permission?
A: Yes, a permit is required to climb Mera Peak, which is obtained from the Nepal Mountaineering Association. In addition to this you will also need a team of porters to get all your equipment to Mera Basecamp and it is advisable to have a Sirdar and Climbing Sherpas, as well as a cook crew for you and the rest of the staff. The easiest way to organise this is to join a commercial trip, such as with KE Adventure Travel.
Approaching the summit. (Tom Richardson)
Q: Which route do you do?
A: The normal route, which approaches via the Mera La, is the standard route up the mountain that almost everybody follows. There are other routes up Mera Peak, notably on the south face, but these are way more technical, not easily accessed and much more objectively dangerous.
There are three summits on Mera Peak; a lower South Peak and the Central and Northern Summits, which sit side by side.There is a bit of confusion over which is the highest - Central or North. To add to this, different maps give different heights for the summits with some showing the Central as the highest and some showing the North as the highest. In fact it is difficult to tell which is highest as both are very similar in height. However, 99.99% of people who summit Mera will go to the Central Summit as going to the North Summit involves an extra 3 hours of effort and is a little more technical. Despite conflicting information on maps, it is largely accepted that the Central Summit is the official summit.
Q: How long will it take?
A: KE Adventure Travel run a 3 week itinerary which includes a few days in Kathmandu, an 8 day trek to Mera Basecamp, 3 days on Mera Peak, and a 4 day trek out, with a couple of contingency days in case of bad weather or delayed Lukla flights. KE Adventure Travel also run a 4 week itinerary which climbs Mera Peak, and afterwards continues over the Amphu Laptsa pass, with the option of climbing Island Peak before returning to Lukla, making a classic circuit.
Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?
A: On the trek in to Mera Peak in typical conditions, days will be pleasantly warm when the sun is out, but once the sun goes down temperatures will drop below freezing. At the high camp on Mera Peak temperatures can drop to –20C at night so a warm Sleeping Bag and Down Jacket are essential. There are occasionally periods of bad weather and storms (even in the more stable spring and autumn seasons) when rain or snow can fall. For this reason, it's a good idea to have some contingency days built into the itinerary. Mera Peak can get strong winds, which makes it feel very cold.
Nearing Mera Peak Central summit at dawn. (Steve Stout)
Q: What about altitude sickness?
A: Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can affect people when going over 2500 metres in altitude. The human body does adapt to the lower level of oxygen at these higher altitudes (acclimatisation) and by following a few golden rules, you can maximise this acclimatisation process. The most important is to follow a well-planned itinerary that allows you to acclimatise progressively. The KE Adventure Travel itinerary has a few days in which we camp two nights at the same place, then climb high before returning to sleep at a lower altitude. Another golden rule is to move slowly and steadily. Don't over exert yourself If you feel yourself getting out of breath, slow down and rest as much as possible on arrival at camp. It really is a case of the tortoise and the hare at altitude. Finally, drink lots of fluids. If you're not peeing clearly and copiously, you're not drinking enough! If you are suffering from symptoms of AMS, then you need to stop ascending. If the AMS symptoms worsen, then you must descend. On a KE Adventure Travel trip, the leader is experienced in altitude issues, and will keep an eye on all the team members to ensure everybody remains healthy and acclimatised. You should never ignore worsening symptoms of AMS and keep pressing onwards and upwards.
Ascending the fixed line on the final steep slope to Mera Peak Central Summit. Everest and Lhotse are in the background. (Matt Sharman)
Q: What is the biggest problem most people face?
A: The common problems that prevent people from summiting Mera Peak are altitude, poor health, and the weather. Altitude problems can be minimised and prevented by following the golden rules of acclimatisation mentioned above. It is very important to be strict with personal hygiene on trek eg. wash hands after the toilet and before dinner, in order to arrive at Mera Peak healthy. KE cook teams also adhere to strict hygiene guidelines in their food preparation. Unfortunately, the weather is the only factor, which we can't control. Occasionally a storm or dangerous snow conditions prevent an ascent.
Q: Can I do it?
A: Mera Peak is well within the reach of regular hill walkers. Anybody with a good level of fitness and the right attitude should be capable of climbing Mera Peak. It is an ideal introduction to Himalayan mountaineering. Previous experience of trekking at altitudes up to 5000 metres and some basic familiarity with walking on snow slopes wearing crampons is useful (but not essential) if you are with a guided group.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Doing a trip to Mera Peak is not just about the summit. Meeting the Nepalese people and experiencing their culture, making new friends, whilst trekking through the beautiful mountain landscape are as much part of the experience as the summit itself.
Q: How much will it cost me?
A: In 2011 an all-inclusive 3 week trip to Mera Peak with KE Adventure Travel cost £1795 plus flights. The 4 week itinerary to Mera Peak with the Amphu Laptsa and Island Peak cost £2295 plus flights.
On Mera Peak Central Summit with Everest 'smoking' in the background. (Matt Sharman)