The following is a continuation of Mera Peak Expedition — Khare to Mera High Camp.
We were awakened at 6am with the announcement that the skies were clear and we would see if we could reach High Camp. After breakfast and bag packing/water bottle thawing, we set out on the same route that turned us back just the day before. This time, with Khare full of frustrated climbers who had waited out yesterday’s storm and also those who had descended to get out of the storm.
There was a complete traffic jam on the first climbs from camp. This caused delays on the trail that would sometimes cause more standing than moving, as the snowfall made stepping off the beaten path a potentially treacherous choice.
Tell him, “Gordy broke his leg”
At one point, we passed a few porters and came upon a British climber lying on his side in the snow. He didn’t seem to be in pain, but was not moving and had several others around him. We asked if we could help and was told to, “Find Ian and tell him Gordy broke his leg.” Not knowing Ian and being on a steep section above 5,000 m., this was no easy request. we started out as quickly as I we could, asking every Westerner, “Are you Ian?”
There were many negative responses, many climbing groups passed and lots of vertical ascent before another Brit finally responded, “Yes, I’m Ian.” When we breathlessly gave him the news, he immediately thanked us and made his way down the mountain. We saw Ian much later in the day and were told that Gordy actually had a dislocated knee and was helicoptered out to Kathmandu hours earlier. Helicopters are a great business to be in in Nepal, as a one-hour ride is $2500 and we saw two come and go in the three days we were in Khare.
Haves and have nots
There was less fresh snow than the day before and porters seemed better prepared. Sure, there were still tennis shoes, but some cleverly wrapped with rope to create a “tire chain” effect and others with stretch rubber devices that had small teeth to grip the snow. Our guides, DB and Buddi, both were well-prepared with warm clothing, ice axes and plastic thermal boots. This was likely a necessity for their role in the Expedition but also possibly a reflection of their ‘full time guide’ status within Adventure Geo Treks.
We continued upward, passing the point where we turned around the day before at 5300 m (17,390 ft). This time, however, we could clearly see the layout of the mountain and where the path forward led. Groups that set out much earlier were already small dots in a line far in the distance, making their way to High Camp. The day was still very sunny but there were clouds making their way up from the far side of the mountain and also from the valley back in the direction of Khare.
We also noticed gigantic crevasses all around that the trail carefully navigated. We had been told that there were no crevasses, but this was obviously poor information. You could drive a Winnebago into the ones we saw. If we had continued up the day before, the odds that we would have walked into a crevasse in the near white out condition on the Mera Glacier would have been very high. It was remarkable that the groups at High Camp successfully navigated their way down safely.
One foot in front of the other
We passed Base Camp just below Mera La at 5400 m (17,716 ft) and continued climbing. It was our personal goal to reach 5500 m (18,000 ft) so that we could have a nice round number as our personal best altitude. Along the way, we picked up Ursi and Dennis and encouraged them higher and to join in our goal, which they gladly did.
It was a game of check-the-altimeter-and-find-the-next-rise as we waited for the number to be met. We would take turns leading as a way to pull the other person along, one person putting one foot in front of the other, the other person just watching the boots of the person in front.
This is a technique that has helped us up many mountains, but we had never been as high as that day. It was remarkable how fifty meters seemed like an enormous goal when so high in altitude. Sometimes you have to just create mental games of counting steps, making short-term commitments to a particular landmark, or putting your focus on your breathing.
We finally stopped, breathless and tired at 5502 (18,000 ft). It was time to eat our food, take in an amazing view and then head back down the significant distance to camp. From our vantage point, we could clearly see Chamlang, Makalu and Lhotse. It was disappointed that we needed to be higher to see Everest, as it was blocked by a nearby high peak.
It was tantalizing to see High Camp in the distance and to be able to make out the peak pyramid so easily on the horizon. Preparation, travel, and a great deal of work went into reaching this particular point, and only our schedule prevented us from attaining the summit. It was a very difficult choice but we were well aware that what seems like a kilometer can be hours at that altitude. These were hours we didn’t have.
It was still outstanding to reach this height and to be so close to High Camp, which we could make out clearly in the distance. We met some climbers returning who reported that High Camp snow, even after a windy night, was still hip-deep (to a Westerner) and that those setting out from High Camp to the Summit had to turn around due to the exhaustion of breaking a new path in even deeper snow. We made the right call.
With out flight out of Lukla looming on Wednesday, we needed to get back down to Khare and be able to head out by the next day. Clouds were moving in quickly and by the time we reached the foot of the Mera Glacier, the peak was obscured and it was beginning to snow again. We love adventure but we’re against taking foolish risks. Seeing the weather change gave us strong reassurances that our decision was a wise one. We made it our goal to quickly descend below the crevasse fields at the foot of the glacier.
On the way down we met up with an Iranian team that included a medical doctor, Sina Nedaei, with whom we shared hours of conversation about politics and the relationship between the US and Iran. We wished them well as they continued up and we went down, knowing they were more likely to reach the summit with a larger window of days for the weather to improve. It was a great reminder of how adventure and sport transcend politics and how much the two teams were alike despite what you read in the news.
The path down was much more slippery from the many feet that packed the snow as trekkers, guides and porters made their way up. The many Nike and Converse shoes that were worn on the way up polished the snow on and around the rocks in a way that hiking boots and crampons never would, and we felt very fortunate to make it to Khare without any significant falls.
As a last reminder of the danger of climbing so high in fresh snow, we were treated to several avalanches on the way down. The sound and the obvious power were very sobering and we watched them in silence.
We were exhausted on our arrival. Skipping dinner, we were ready to sleep as soon as the sun set at 5:30 pm.