Luke AdamsHigh Peaks and Passes of Nepal Luke Adams June 21, 2016 Central, Climb, Snow Sports, Travel 1 Comment My first overseas trip had been a trek in Nepal in 1985. We walked from Jiri to Island Peak via Namche Bazaar, Gokyo Lakes and Mt Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately, a bout of Giardia hit on the climb of Island Peak and I came down disappointed. Exactly 30 years later I was looking through a World Expeditions brochure when I saw an interesting new trek / climbing tour. The opportunity to climb Mera Peak, trek the remote Hunku Valley, cross the high pass Amphu Labtsa and finally return to Island Peak was too good to pass up. I was able to convince self-proclaimed ‘International Mountaineer’, Adelaide rock climbing guidebook co-author and all round nice guy Paul B to join the trip. Paul and I flew to Kathmandu in early April 2016. We were met at the airport by World Expeditions staff and driven to the Radison Hotel. Driving through Kathmandu is never less than interesting, particularly at peak-hour which seemed to be most of the time. We met our Nepalese trip leaders Balram and Bym and the other eight team members. The trip was split into two parts: all ten members would attempt Mera Peak and then five of us would continue on to Amphu Labtsa and Island Peak. The next adventure was to catch a flight to Lukla, the gateway to the Khumbu region. There we met the porters, their sirdar, the kitchen staff and the climbing guides. Six smallish toilet rolls were issued to each team member which led to some concern and people ‘doing the math’. A flurry of porters preparing duffel bags, general chaos and people going in all directions segued quickly into ten trekkers descending away from Lukla and starting a 14-day acclimatisation walk to Mera Peak. Rhododendron early on in the trip With Balram calling the shots, a daily routine was imposed. We would wake around 6.30 when hot black tea was delivered to the tent followed by warm water for ‘washy-washy’. We would then empty the tent and pack the duffel bags ready for collection by the porters. Breakfast was served while the tents were packed. We’d be on the trail by about 8, walk for 3 or 4 hours, enjoy a leisurely lunch and then get back on the trail for another 2 or 3 hours. Balram was happy if we made it to the next camp by 4pm in time for afternoon tea – biscuits and a hot drink. Camp was usually well established by the time we arrived, including the orange sleeping tents, the blue dining tent and the popular green toilet tent. Evening washy-washy would be followed by dinner at 7pm. From Lukla we followed the trail south then east for four days, rising from 2700m to 3600m at the small village of Chalem Kharka. This part of the trail was an ancient Hindu route and passed sacred lakes with strange metal tridents. We started to gain altitude each day, sometimes ascending 1000m before sleeping somewhat lower. We joined the main trekking route to the village of Kharte, the last outpost before Mera Peak. There we had a training day where the trekkers were introduced to the joys of harnesses, mountain boots, crampons, and how to move up and down fixed ropes. On the morning we left Kharte, a lama conducted a Buddhist Puja ceremony to bestow good fortune on what lay ahead. The next destination was the Mera La (la = pass) camp at 5300m, a cold and windy spot. The following morning we continued on to a high camp at 5700m perched on a small, rocky, exposed outcrop. Everyone had an early night as we needed to be up at 1am for breakfast. Unfortunately the wind increased that evening and some members of the party didn’t get a lot of sleep as their tents disintegrated around them. Paul, John (a dentist from Hobart), and I roped up with our climbing guide, Mr Luxmi. Our colleagues were attached similarly to other guides and we set off for the summit around 2:30am. However, the first thing I did after leaving camp was to fall 2m into a crevasse! Paul executed what he described as a ‘heroic’ belay, Luxmi helped secure the rope and I managed to escape from the cold dark void. The incident could have been a lot worse. Hindu Holy Lake The wind made the pre-dawn hours bitterly cold. We had to go into ‘ignore the suffering’ mode and continue to head upwards. At first light we realized the other parties had turned around and were heading down, a result of the intense cold and the altitude. We pressed on, sometimes only taking 10–20 steps before needing to stop and get our breath back. We reached the saddle between the Central and South summits by about 9am, dumped our packs and had some water and chocolate. A short climb brought us to a small (8m) vertical ice cliff with the summit just metres above. I belayed Luxmi, he fixed a rope and we jumared up. We were standing on the summit of Mera Peak (6461m) on Anzac Day and taking in the view of the highest mountains on the planet. We shook hands, snapped photos, and just enjoyed the moment. It was still quite cold so within 15 minutes we headed down and were back at the high camp 2½ hours later. Balram and the porters were waiting with hot soup and warm orange cordial. Back down at Mera La we said goodbye to John as he was one of our five comrades heading back to Lukla. Paul and I continued towards the Hunku Valley to catch up with Neville, Jacqui and Elsje. We arrived at camp at 5pm after a truly massive day. We had dinner, including celebratory summit cake, and then an early night. Nothing but rest had been scheduled for the following day which was lucky because Paul woke looking like he’d been punched in the right eye. Apparently a lens of his dark mountain glasses had fallen out on the descent from Mera and he had snow blindness. Neville was a doctor (a neurosurgeon from Perth) so applying ice-cold drops to Paul’s eye was straightforward though quite painful. Paul with Snow Blindness in one eye The next day the five of us plus our Nepalese minders continued up the Hunku Valley towards Amphu Labtsa. This beautiful and remote valley is surrounded by spectacular peaks such as Baruntse (7162m). We walked past high alpine lakes and scree ridges to the final camp before the pass. Jacqui was feeling ill with a tummy bug, a bad chest and altitude sickness and, facing a hard ascent to the pass, decided to call for help. Paul, Elsje and I were sad to see Jacqui and husband Neville fly off in a little red helicopter as we climbed onwards. The Amphu Labtsa pass (5845m) was the crux of the trip in respect of everyone having to get over it including the porters, the kitchen staff, the climbing guides and us. The loads were hauled up the steeper sections then lowered down the other side. We reached the top of the pass at noon and stopped to enjoy a fine view of the eastern Khumbu before abseiling and scrambling down. Our climbing guides Luxmi and Raj were amazing, tirelessly roping and hauling and ensuring everyone was kept safe over the pass. It was a long descent beside the Imja Tsho (a glacial lake) to our camp at 4900m and another welcome rest day. The weather was starting to change to a pre-monsoon pattern of beautiful blue sky mornings, cloud build-up in the early afternoon and snow in the late afternoon and evening. Finally, the time had come for a re-match with Island Peak. We left the tents at 10am and made good time to a high camp at 5500m. But just as we arrived, it began to snow quite heavily. We discussed our chances of making a summit bid the next morning – it didn’t look good with the first 500m of the climb a scramble over loose rocks. Balram and the guides said they would make a decision later that night as to whether we would go or not. Paul crossing on a ladder on Island Peak At 2am I stuck my head out the tent to see a cold but clear night sky. The guides were up and getting ready so we were going! A quick breakfast and cup of tea and Paul and I were away (Elsje decided staying warm in her tent was the better option). We carefully moved up snow-covered rock for 2½ hours to the point where the ridgeline met the upper glacier. Here we swapped our walking boots and poles for mountain boots, crampons and ice axes. We roped together and worked up steep sections of snow and around crevasses, clipping into fixed ropes left by other groups. Where the crevasses were too wide to jump across, a ladder or two had been installed to span the gap. Wobbling across these in crampons while holding loosely tied ropes was intimidating but exhilarating. Next we came to a steep wall below the summit ridge. The way was marked with 200m of fixed line attached to the wall with ice screws. This proved to be the crux of the route, front-pointing up vertical sections of mixed rock and blue ice with an ice axe in one hand and a jumar in the other. Getting the crampons to dig in and not skate off sapped our energy. Paul and I agreed that we didn’t expect to find climbing so technical and energetic on a so-called ‘trekking’ peak. Paul & Luke on the summit of Island Peak Two hours of ascending the fixed lines led to the ridge and then on to the compact summit (6189m). It was fantastic to make the top and soak in the views of Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. We spent 30 minutes on the summit for photos and a rest. The descent began with several abseils down to the glacier and a traverse across to the scary ladders. Once off the ice we had lunch and swapped mountain boots for walking boots. We were back at what remained of the high camp at 3pm, just as it began to snow heavily. Two more hours of descending then walking across the base of the mountain saw two very tired climbers arrive back at the tent. We took a welcome snooze until dinner time. The next morning, with all objectives ticked and little uphill walking remaining, we left Island Peak in good spirits and descended to Dingboche. This town is on the main trekking route to Everest base camp and is a popular place to stay. Internet was available at the coffee shops so I could call home and have the best coffee of the whole trip at the same time. World Expeditions have permanent campsites dotted along the Everest trek for environmental reasons and we were able to use them on the 3½ day walk down the valley to Lukla. Along the way we visited the iconic Tengboche monastery and of course Namche Bazaar, the Zermatt of the Khumbu. There were a few anxious hours in Lukla, particularly for Elsje, as the planes weren’t coming in due to cloud and she was due to fly home from Kathmandu the next day. Fortunately we managed to get out late in the afternoon. Arriving back to the craziness of Kathmandu was a shock to the system. My first shower in a month, a shave and a haircut (not to mention a few cold beers) helped me integrate with the real world again. It was certainly an eventful trip. Both Paul and I lost about 10% of our body weight over the 27 days, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was one of the harder trips I’ve completed but the beauty of the land, the friendliness of the people and getting up two fantastic peaks made it all worthwhile. Mera Peak Summit Team One Response Ian J Lord June 22, 2016 Hi Luke, Enjoyed reading your adventure in the Himalaya, it brought back memories of my trek and climb of Mera Peak, great walk in and perfect day on the summit 2007. I have been back a few times since challenging myself to go a bit higher or a bit more technical. If finances work out I shall attempt Barantse next yr. A couple of us were thinking about Larapinta aswell. Anyway a great read cheers. Ian Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.