Mera Peak day 12 – the summit

We were woken up at 1am. I was not that keen on getting up, I think I was in a period of proper sleep, which I had been in and out of for the last 7 hours. How did I feel? Ok I think. No headache. After sitting and staring for a while I found some inner strength and I managed to rally myself and get a bit organised. It was really cold last night so I had most of my clothes on already, the inside of the tent and my bag was covered in a layer of ice. I asked Pemba if I needed my big down jacket, he said I would be fine with my small down jacket and my waterproof / wind proof shell, so I left it behind (that turned out to be a huge mistake!). I got all the important things into my bag, jelly babies and chocolate. 

We were given black tea and porridge for breakfast, I managed about 4 or 5 spoonfuls, the mix of nerves and altitude is not doing a lot for my appetite. They gave us a packed lunch of a Mars bar, a small pack of cookies and a boiled egg. I politely declined the egg. 

Putting on my harness, plastic boots and crampons in the cold and dark made my fingers cold before we had even started which wasn’t good. A couple of the group decided to stay behind and not attempt the summit after a difficult day for them yesterday, Martin T also decided to stay behind, he hasn’t really slept at all for the last 3 nights and has been unwell with altitude sickness so he just didn’t have the strength which was a real shame. 

We went off in two teams. Stuart, Martin P and myself in the lead team. How I’ve managed to find myself in the speedy group always amazes me! Then behind us were Chets, Nigel, Jane and Nik. We were roped together with a Sherpa at the front and a Sherpa at the back of each team. 

We started off at 2:30am and I hated it. I had a bit of a freak out about being roped together. I was at the back of my group so I felt like I was holding them all back. After the first few steps and my lungs we screaming from the cold air. It was pitch black and I wanted to stay as close to Martin as possible because I felt safer but we were encouraged to stay the ropes length apart (about 3 meters). I was really struggling to breathe. It was ridiculously cold and it just became colder and colder. My toes and fingers started out cold and never warmed up, instead the cold just seeped into the rest of my body. I was cursing Pemba for saying I didn’t need my big down jacket. All our clothes had a layer of frost covering them. 

I could only communicate in wails and  grunts. When asked if I was ok a grunt was generally an affirmative. A wail generally meant I really needed to stop. Dendy was the Sherpa behind me. He was beyond amazing. He re-tied my boots for me when I said they were loose. Martin gave me some hand warmers and Dendy put them in my gloves for me. He fed me hot water, wiped my nose, tried to warm up my hands, he gave me his extra jacket, he kept me from getting my crampons tangled in the ropes, he undid my Mars bar and got my sunglasses out and put them on my face. Most of these thing he did because I didn’t want to take off my gloves. 

The walk was steep. If I could have seen it in the light I would have been quite intimidated by it. Being at the back though I had a good idea of how steep and how high the climbs were because with around 3m of rope between each of us I had a 9m vantage point and could see the headlight of our lead Sherpa. 

The snot was uncontrollable. So much snot. I ended up leaning over and just blowing it out onto the snow. It was too sore to wipe and everything I have has already has a snot trail. 

My toes were so so cold. I was convincing myself I was getting frostbite. Martin asked Dendy what temperature frostbite sets is. -25 he said. We accepted that as being far colder than it was so no chance of any frostbite. As he fed me hot water and put my hands inside his jacket to try to warm them up I had an overwhelming urge to cry. I made a few wailing noises but ultimately thought that crying would be of absolutely no benefit at all in this situation. It would just create more snot. I was too cold so Dandy gave me his extra down jacket. I don’t think I would have made it if he hadn’t done that. 

I warmed up a little and we eventually found our rhythm. Slow steps, regular stops to catch our breath, not much slack on the rope. We were still making good time, we could see the other group a ways behind us. We were judging the time by how much longer there was until the sun came up, the guys were reassuring me – only an hour and a quarter, only an hour, only 30 minutes. This won’t last forever I told myself. I will be warm again. Just one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it. I never had a real thought of I wasn’t going to make it. I did vocalise once that I was struggling and I might not do it, but I think that was more of a tactic to hear the others say yes you will! The first goal was to keep walking until the sun rose and it was the most majestic sunrise, you could gradually see all the huge mountains we were surrounded by. The higher the sun came up it cast the most beautiful light on the mountains, including Everest which seemed to light up first when the sun came up properly. These are memories that will remain forever in my head as there was no way I was taking off my gloves to take a picture!

These are some pictures taken by my mates: 

   
 

As the sun came up Dendy pointed out all the mountains we could see around us. Everest, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Nuptse Lhotse, Makalu, Chamlang, Kangchenjunga…what a view!

We were now getting really close to the summit, only about 40 minutes they said. 40 minutes! Well, I can’t feel my feet at all but I am definitely going to make it now. Apart from being ridiculously cold and finding it hard to breathe I wasn’t really feeling any effects of the altitude. The pace was really slow, move one foot, wait a couple of seconds, catch your breath, move the other foot and repeat. The people in front knew when to stop when the rope tightened. When I was ok I would start moving again and so would everyone else. We got to a flatish spot just before the ‘nipple’ as we referred to it and I shovelled down a mars bar which was completely solid but I managed to chew and dribble my way through it like someone who has never eaten before. 

Just before the ascent onto the nipple there was some deep snow. I put my foot in and it would just slide back down to where I started. I was getting increasingly frustrated until Dendy gave me a boost – a shove on the bottom – past the tricky bit. It was now around 6:30am and the sun was up but there was no warmth in it yet and there was an icy wind blowing. We took off our packs and prepared to ascend the 10m or so of rope that the Sherpas had fixed there. 

This photo was taken by the other group of us approaching the summit, waiting for the Sherpas to fix the ropes. 

I thought we still had a long way to go but after I saw Stuart get up the rope and then there he was stood on the top I thought well, I can definitely do this now. The rope was straightforward and the toughest bit was hauling yourself over the edge at the top. We were still roped on at the summit for safety, the top is basically a huge cornice of snow and getting too close to the edge wouldn’t be safe. We were all on the summit at 6:50am. 4 hours and 20 minutes after we set off. Pleased with that. I almost cried. 

     

We took a few photos, I got one with Dendy on his 89th summit of Mera Peak!!
 

Standing looking at Mt Everest and the surrounding mountains was amazing. Everest didn’t look that far away. And standing at the top of Mera peak knowing you are at the same height as camp two in Everest, you would be past the Khumbu ice fall…it doesn’t seem that unachievable…

          

This is one of my favourite photos, I’m on the summit looking back at where we have just come from. All that beauty all around us:

 

We were only up there for about 15 minutes then abseiled back down the rope, on our way down we saw Pemba, Chets Nigel and Sonam approaching the nipple, hugs and congratulations all round as we headed back down and let them get on with their summit attempt. It’s probably a good thing we weren’t all up the there together as there isn’t a lot of room on the top. 

On our way back down we picked up Jane, she had stopped around 100m short of the summit due the extreme cold and exhaustion. She had gone as far as she could – which is still a bloody long way!! We roped up again to descend with Jane as well, I was in the lead this time, it was weird to feel people behind pulling on the rope. We stopped half way, marvelling at the steepness of what we had just ascended in the dark. All of the pain of the previous four hours forgotten already. 

   

I shovelled down a twix and stripped off some layers, the sun finally had some heat in it and in our many layers we were all burning up. Descending in the snow in plastic boots and crampons isn’t the easiest thing but we made made good time and got back to Mera high camp in an hour and a half. A 6 hour ascent and descent was a pretty descent time. I had to take a minute to be a bit proud of myself. This was probably one of the toughest things I have ever done physically and yet it wasn’t that tough on my body at all, the breathing was however! But from struggling so much in the past with altitude and fitness on these kind of adventures to being up there with the top three and finding it tough but not impossible is really pleasing for me. How did it compare to the PCT? Physically tougher but you only have to have around 5 hours of pure mental strength rather than days worth so mentally easier. But they are almost impossible to compare because they are so different. 

Back at high camp Paul Sumita and Martin T were just preparing to set off on the descent to Khare. We got hot squash and noodle soup which I couldn’t eat because it was too spicy. I think the adrenaline was still pumping and I wasn’t feeling that hungry anyway. My feet were finally coming back to life and I had the most intense pins and needles, I hadn’t wanted to undo my crampons and boots but the pain was too much so I had to release them from their confines. My feet were huge. Massively swollen. The others came in after us and Chets might have frostbite on 2 of his fingers. He hadn’t yet looked at his feet. The best thing to do was to descend as quickly as possible it was decided so he and Stuart set off. We asked Dendy what he thought the temperature was earlier, he said around -25! 

    

Jane, Nigel, Martin P and I left about half an hour after they did, and found our own way down until Pemba caught us up. We set off in lovely weather but the cloud soon descended and we had limited visibility (we really were so lucky with our weather window for the summit, we have had terrible weather either side). We caught everyone else up at the fixed rope section near Mera La. 

    

We had to fix our own rope there because the one we came up had about 10 knots in it. Our porter who was on the way with all our trekking boots was at the bottom of the rope helping us off as the rope was shorter than the slope. Then it all turned into a bit of a shambles, a large group of people came to the bottom of the slope ready to ascend but instead of fixing their own rope or waiting until the last few in our group had descend, they just started walking up the hill, crossing over our rope with no respect for anyone else. This is how accidents happen, we said it was reminiscent to the Hilary step on Everest, everyone out for themselves. 

We finally got everyone down and walked across the rest of the glacier to get to our boot porter. It was snowing quite heavily now. We got the the rocks, which were a bit different that the last time we were here – everything covered in a layer of snow. We took off the crampons, plastic boots and harnesses and Stuart, Martin and I started the descent lead by Dendy. 

   

It was nice not to have heavy plastic boots on, it was slippy and rocky and there is much more movement in normal trekking boots. We made really good time and got back at 1:30, an 11.5 hour day, we smashed the predicted 14-16 hours. The descent to Khare wasn’t all descent though, there was about half an hour of uphill in the middle which felt almost impossible! I was getting the most intense hunger pains. We stopped at the top of the climb up and ate the jelly babies I had been saving for the journey to the summit but didn’t touch. They fuelled me just about enough to get the rest of the way. We ran into Bobby Bajram, so pleased he made it this far! 

We got to a lodge and had a welcome hot chocolate and chatted to some Brits making a summit attempt in the next few days. We went back to our lodge and waited for the rest of our group who came in around an hour behind us. We assessed the damage of our weather beaten faces. My nose was so sore from being so runny with cracks all around the edges, and my lips were cracked and sore and probably a little burnt. 

Bobby came to visit and asked us all about the summit, I’ve no doubt he will make it. He has the mental determination that’s needed for these types of challenges. Bobby made a good point, he has a huge team of people around him because of all his medical issues he wouldn’t be able to do this alone and nor would we. I had great support for the Sherpas porters and my team mates to achieve this. 

Our dinner came and despite being hungrier that I’ve ever felt just a few hours ago I only managed about two thirds of it. 

We gave Dendy and the other porters we picked up and are leaving in Khare their tips and gave him a big cheer. I got to do the honours because he helped me out so much which was nice. Always smiling. I think he is off to do it all over again tomorrow!  

 
 

It had been a long long day so we went to bed around 6:30pm relieved and happy to have made it to the top. 

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18 thoughts on “Mera Peak day 12 – the summit

  1. Thanks so much for making the time, often under difficult conditions, to share your unique Mera Peak climbing adventure as well as your journey along the PCT. Your crisp and candid writing style as well as great photos of the Mera Peak ascent made this reader feel as if I was there with you. Hopefully by now you have fully recovered and are preparing for yet another adventure. I wish you well and envy your passion and desire to live life to the fullest!

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    1. Thanks for following along Marc, I’m back in ‘normal’ life now, but making plans to get away again as soon as I can. Thanks for the nice comments, sorry I’ve been rubbish with replying!

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  2. Alex, you are amazing. I tell everyone I know about you and your accomplishments. What a fantastic year for you. You will remember and reflect on these two treks everyday in some way or another for your whole life. Thanks for taking us along. XOXO

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  3. Excellent blog !! We enjoyed it very much and nominate it for outdoor blog of the year. Your accurate description of the altitude, cold, large groups, 3rd world toilets, food and lodging made us realize what a monumental challenge it must have been. Congratulations and best of luck to you in your future adventures.

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  4. First of all, congratulations! I stumbled across your blog while exploring PCT blogs, preparing for my thru-hike still a year and a half away. I can’t tell you how fantastic it has been to be reading about your Mera Peak adventure. I’ve been cheering you on from afar, and so happy that you made it! Again, congrats!!!

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  5. Oh wow, this is amazing and I’m off there is a few weeks so I’m definitely taking the ultra thick down jacket and no longer regretting the super big boots I’ve purchased. Well done for making the summit, gosh I hope I make it too you’re pictures look amazing!!!

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  6. Well, I wasn’t following you at the time, but thoroughly enjoyed catching up now on what you were doing post PCT.

    Well done, but frankly a crazy thing to do! But we all do crazy things in life. 🙂 This is not my cup of tea, but enjoyed experiencing it a bit via your words as that is the closest I will ever get to such summits. I keep threatening my wife that I might do Mt Baker one day, but is a one overnight easy trip to only 10,500 feet. Still the daisy chain of 10 to 12 people is a bit off putting for me.

    Looks like Mera should follow the Forest Service rules about packing your poop off the approach routes and summit. Not an appealing prospect, but better than camping amongst the piles!

    Further to my comment on an earlier blog post about 5°C and relative temperature. -25° C, now that’s cold!

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