My First Mera Peak Experience

I have lived all my life in the plains, and did not have any experience of high altitude trekking until I was well into my twenties. That is, when I finally realized my first Mera Peak Climbing experience. Of course during my teen years, I had gone hiking with my father in low hills a few hundred miles from my hometown, but that was it. The lure of getting high up in those distant mountains remained over the years. Sitting in my office chair at a high rise building, I often contemplated over the idea. I also did a lot of research about the possibility until I came across Mera Peak in Nepal. After months of planning and preparation for this most sought-after trip, I was all pumped up to conquer the highest trekking peak of Nepal at 6461m.

I arrived in Kathmandu towards the end of September 2012. It was the beginning of trekking season in Nepal, and I was a bit concerned about the trails being overcrowded. But with an assurance from my trekking agency about autumn being one of the best times of the year for peak climbing, I set forth on my journey to Mera Peak. My trekking agency provided a guided tour of this ancient city, including a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the evening I wandered around the famous Thamel area, a tourist hotspot and the scene of nightlife in Kathmandu.

The following day, I took a morning flight to Lukla, the entrance to the Everest region. The notorious narrow airstrip of Lukla is still at the back of my head, and I cannot help the feeling of slight discomfort whenever I think about it. All went well and I had a safe landing in Lukla that day. I met my guide, Lakpa at the airport, along with our team of porters and the rest of the staff. After breakfast, we began our trek towards Paiya, the first stop on our trek. The route we are taking is a bit longer than the classical route through the Zatrwa La Pass, but on the bright side the longer route allows for an interesting walk through Everest countryside and also lets you get properly acclimatized to the high altitude.

Saying goodbye to my tea-house
Saying goodbye to my tea-house

Over the next several days we take shelter at various settlements along the way. Relishing the Himalayan view, we pass through beautiful valleys and rivers, forest trails and picturesque villages. Teahouses on this route are rudimentary at best and not so developed compared to the treks on Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit. Many of the families move to lower altitudes during the off season to escape the bitter weather. Here I had a preview of the hardships of life high on the mountains in this remote corner of the world.

Day Nine of my trek took us to Khare, and on the way I could see Mera Peak in full blown splendour. The Peak consists of three summits: South, Central and North. South summit is relatively easier walk to the top, the Central or the Main summit is where we are heading for and most expedition to Mera leads here, the North summit is a bit higher but only a few attempt  this one because of the potential dangers from avalanche and crevasses .  A pre-climb training and further acclimatization day at Khare further bolstered my confidence.

Next day I was on a boulder-studded trail on my way to the Mera Peak Base Camp. A gradual climb further along a rocky trail took us to the Mera La pass, past which we finally reached the Mera High Camp at 5800m. Luckily for us, the path was free of snow, and made our progress easier. Things can get a bit tricky if one has to deal with fresh snow along the route. At the High Camp, without further delay I snuggled into my sleeping bag to keep myself warm and take some well deserved rest for the summit day.

Mera Peak Base Camp

On our summit day, I was woken up by Lakpa around 2 am, and we began our day with tea and breakfast. We then had our harness, crampons and headlamp put on for the journey ahead. We tied a rope between each other so we can belay along the ridge. Lakpa lead the way and I trailed. The weather was clear as predicted at this time of the year, and I was hopeful of a non-eventful smooth ascent to the summit. As we were heading up, however, there was some fresh snowfall, and this made our steps forward a bit tougher. Luckily, the snow was shallow and things didn’t go as bad as I thought it would be.

We continued our way up when the first ray of the sun hit the nearby peaks and turned their snowy summit reddish, in all their glory. Weather was magnificent and the morning view even better. We continued our walk along the ridge until we hit a steep ice wall, no more than ten meters high. This was our last obstacle before we reached the summit. Lakpa fixed the rope and I followed. After clearing the hurdle, we took a short walk and we were already on the summit, the subject of our trip!

In this moment of victory, I felt my energy level rejuvenated, and all the pain and hardships of an uphill climb forgotten. From atop the summit, a breathtaking view of the Everest was there to relish. Five of the tallest peaks on the planet came into view: Mt. Everest (8,848m), Cho-Oyu (8,210m), Lhotse (8,516m), Makalu (8,463m), and Kanchenjunga (8,586m). I took plenty of summit shots, feeling a sense of pride within and trying to absorb my accomplishment.

As a boy, I had always fancied documentaries on national geographic and discovery channel about the Himalayas, mountaineering and reaching far-off lands. And here I was on the top at last, in this vast wilderness, blanketed white by the freshly fallen snow. Home seemed very far at that moment. I had come a long way indeed.

Majestic view of the Himalayas from Mera Peak
Majestic view of the Himalayas from Mera Peak

Finally, it was time to get off the summit. We retraced our way down to High Camp, where we took a brief rest and had a quick meal before descending to Khare. We reached Khare without incident of any sort. However, I felt very tired and crept into my sleeping bag for a hard-earned rest. As I closed my eyes, I thought about the entire events that transpired in the last twelve hours.

My journey back took me from Khare to Kothe. From here on we took a different route to Lukla, which was via Zatrwa La pass at 4600m. It was pretty much downhill from then on. Enjoying the beautiful sceneries along the trek, we reached Lukla, stayed there overnight and flew back to Kathmandu the next morning. Later that evening, Himalayan Glacier hosted a farewell dinner party to celebrate our successful ascent, and congratulations were passed around.

My trip had finally come to an end, and as I boarded the plane I could not help but feel the adventure that I was a part of on this wonderful trip. There is much to tell my folks back home about my feat and moments that I would cherish for the rest of my life.

Stephen Santiago

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