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Mera Peak 6476m/21,246ft Five Lakes Expedition 

The snow squeaks coldly beneath our crampons, the air is bitingly fresh and the subtle colours of dawn envelope us. Himalayan ice castles crowd the horizon and a dusky valley flanks us. The summit is tantalisingly close but already the sensation is glorious. It is a privilege to experience the full grandeur of the majestic Himalaya, and to be able to say "I did it!".

Our aim is to climb Mera Peak, but getting there is all part of the fun. We take an adventurous, well-rounded route in for a trekking experience as good as it gets.

The Philosophy

We want to gives ourselves the best shot at the summit we can. This means a sound acclimatization program, not just to beat altitude sickness, but to give us time to gain strength at altitude, a usually neglected factor. With our longer walk in route you get fit and acclimatized meaning a much higher chance of success.

The region

The Everest region or Khumbu, as it is locally known, is a famous and busy destination for trekkers and climbers. It is north of Lukla. In contrast the Mera or Hinku-Hongu valleys are east of Lukla in an isolated region with only a few grazing areas, and no real villages, although it is often busy with climbers. The scale is breath-taking. Magnificent 6500m mountains with sheer faces and splendid summits dominate classic U-shaped valleys 3000m below. Welcome to the real Himalaya!

The environment

Although it was Everest Base Camp that received much publicity about rubbish, it is the Mera region that does have a real problem. Trekking crews and the simple porters lodges are not under anyone's scrutiny so there is a serious environmental problem, especially in the Thang Nak (Tagnag) region. In 1992 the region was integrated into the Makalu-Barun National Park, but they have yet to begin managing the region: their first priority has been corruption and the trail to Makalu Base Camp. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), who we pay a peak fee to, have mounted annual clean-up expeditions then in 1997 Makalu-Barun, got together with the NMA and the Lukla-based Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee to mount a clean up, and more importantly, an education and environmental awareness campaign. It doesn't seem to have had much impact, though. Is there rubbish everywhere? No, but some of the camping sites are messy. We promise to leave them tidier than we found them...

Acclimatization

We are serious about acclimatization; have a close look at our itinerary. We normally take a portable pressure chamber (Gamow, PAC bag). 

Our Itinerary

Kathmandu is a living museum. We begin by spending two full days here settling and sightseeing.

Our Mera expedition begins with a flight sweeping across the Himalaya to Lukla. This village is the gateway to the Everest region, a cultural introduction to this famous Sherpa area. We take an adventurous and cultural route into the Hinku that sees few trekkers. Our trail drops well south of Lukla, turning off the Jiri trail a day and a half later. Now on the even less trekked Salpa-Arun route, we climb a couple of modest passes before leaving it, and all villages behind. We swing north on minor grazing trails to the holy lakes of Panch Pokhari then traverse along until meeting the valley floor. High in the broad alpine valley glaciers bulldoze in as grass gives way to rock and ice.

From Hongu Ledge Camp and as well from the summit of Mera, we have one of the most spectacular views seen in the Himalaya. This breathtaking mountain panorama includes in less than five of the world's fourteen eight thousand metre peaks; Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, Everest and Cho Oyu, plus a host of mountains over seven thousand metres including Gauri Shankar and Melungtse to the west, Chamlang and Baruntse to the east, and Nuptse and Ama Dablam to the north.

Our itinerary has been carefully planned, allowing maximum time for acclimatization. As a result we have a very high success rate. However don't underestimate how challenging climbing at 6000+m is. Achieve a lifetime ambition, come stand on the summit of a high Himalayan peak with us.

Detailed itinerary

Early arrival

Providing you have sent us your arrival details, you should be met at the airport and escorted to the hotel.

Day 1 - Arrive Kathmandu 1350m

Arrive in Kathmandu. You’ll be met at the airport by one of our local staff, so look out for a Project Himalaya sign with your name on it. Normally we met you at the hotel and then introduce you to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu.

Thamel is a mass of energy and chaos with a myriad banners, signs, pumping music shops, bakeries, internet cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and eccentrically clad backpackers. Over dinner we check your insurance details and equipment – and get to know each other over a beer.

Day 2 - Kathmandu 1350m

Today we’ll explore the sights of Kathmandu and the valley (opens in a new window) with a good local guide. We match the sightseeing itinerary to what people haven't seen before; many trekkers are already familiar with Kathmandu. In the late afternoon we can sort out any equipment that you need.

Trek day 1 - fly to Lukla sleep Surkie

We take the spectacular 50 minute flight to Lukla 2850m. This is a growing Sherpa town with plenty of lodges, and so is a gentle introduction to rural Nepal. The crew have a big job today is organising the loads and the porters. So we have plenty of time for a look around before dropping down to Surkie, only an hour or so below Lukla. Despite being so close there are few trekkers here.

2 - to Puiyan 2780m

Our first real day of trekking is a relaxing easy day with plenty of time to soak up the rustic atmosphere. The walk is through pleasant forest as we traverse the side of the deep Dudh Kosi valley. If our domestic flight was delayed, we can still arrive in Lukla today and, if the crew are organized, reach Puiyan or close by.

3 - to Pangkongma 2850m/Shubuche

This is real middle hills country. We leave the Jiri-Namche trail behind as we climb up to the small Sherpa village of Pangkongma/Pangum. This is now the Salpa-Arun trail, which heads, via Bung, to Tumlingtar and Hille. It is an longer alternative to flying into Lukla or walking in from Jiri. Less than 1000 trekkers use it a year.

4 - to Naji Dingma 2650m

The Pangum La (pass) 3173m/10,410ft is close by. From the top we might be able to see Naji Dingma, also comparatively close by. The only problem is the valley in-between, the bridge across is 1300m below... From the small Sherpa village of Shubuche the descent is very steep: seeing is believing.

5 - to Surkie Danda 3950m

The Surkie La 3085m/10,121ft is close by but the last section of the pass is steep. On the other side is some ancient rhododendron forest. Here we leave the 'main' trekking trail and head up the ridge to some grazing areas. Where we camp depends mainly on water. We might feel the sudden jump in altitude, despite sleeping between 2600-3000m for 5 days.

6 - Chanbu Kharka 4200m

This will be a tough day and we might feel the altitude. Panch Pokhari means Five Lakes and although it is an isolated region, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, two festivals a year are held up at these holy lakes. We camp at Chanbu Kharka the last plcae to camp for some time. It is a short days walk.

7 - to Kothe 3700m

This is another potentially tough day - pity the porters. From the lakes we wind our way through difficult country to gain the more gentle floor of the valley. We should be coping well with the altitude now.

8 - to Thang Nak (Tagnag) 4350m

What mountains! Thang Nak 14,271ft, sits in a wide U-shaped valley, dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. There is a simple settlement here where the crew can restock some supplies.

9 - Thang Nak 4350m

A well-deserved rest day, that will further aid our acclimatization. Options include:
a walk to the beautiful moraine-dammed lake, the Sabai Tsho, which is hidden behind the Sabai Glacier
climbing up onto an out laying peak of Kusum Kanguru, where we can reach an altitude of nearly 5,000 metres
eating and relaxing

10 - to Dig Kharka 4720m

It is only a half day walk to the broad basin of Dig Kharka, where stay the night to acclimatize.

11 - to Khare 5025m/16,486ft

Dig Kharka to Khare is only a few hours walk. So while the crew set off to set up camp we have the opportunity of exploring the Hinku Nup Glacier, which leads north toward Kang Taiga. At Khare there are numerous sites for the camp, with the most popular being, at upper end of the Khare by a group of boulders and far too much rubbish. Here the huge north face of Mera and the peaks of the Hinku Shar Glacier dominate. From just above our camp we can clearly see the Mera La.

12 - Khare

A rest and acclimatization day with more exploration opportunities. On the West side of the Hinku Nup Glaciers is a 5500m peak with stunning views of Mera La and Mera Peak. This would make a good objective today. The sherpas may carry loads to the Mera La.

13 - to Mera La 5400m/Hongu Ledge 5800m

A 2 hour walk across the rocks and scree leads to the first snow and ice, the tongue of the glacier flowing down from the Mera La. Plastic boots and crampons are the order of the day as we climb up onto the glaciated terrain which leads to the Mera La Pass.
We will discuss in detail our plan for climbing the mountain, taking into account people's fitness and general conditions. One option is to establish a camp on the cold and windy Mera La. From there we can climb to the summit, or perhaps more likely, we will use this for further acclimatization, then follow tomorrows plan. Another is simply to head straight to the Hongu Ledge and make a summit attempt tomorrow. We will take a limited number of well-equipped crew onto the glacier.

14 - to Hongu Ledge 5800m/19,028ft (high camp)

We establish high camp on the Hongu Ledge, at 5800m/19,028ft. Although this is a short day, we must prepare everything for tomorrow.

15 - Hongu Ledge/Mera La

This is the big day! We attempt the summit. Several false summits finally lead to a view of the central summit, which is climbed from its left side. The view from the summit is one of the best in the entire Himalaya. No less than 5 of the world's fourteen 8,000 metre peaks can be seen.
If all goes well, we will leave at first light and, depending on conditions, return to Hongu Ledge perhaps by lunch time. Then we have the option of staying put (unlikely!) or descending the mountain and seeing how far down we can get today. Some teams have made it as far as Khare on summit day. Descending feels like floating on air.

16 - spare day

A spare day for all those just in cases. Again, with the amount of time we have, if all has gone close to plan, we will be able to walk out at a leisurely pace, perhaps even do some exploring en route.

17 - Khare/Dig Kharka/Thang Nak

Today we should be off the mountain, at Khare at the minimum.

18 - Dupishung/Thang Nak

We cruise down the valley to camp in one of the kharkas.

19 - Tuli Kharka

We ascend through lush forest on the West side of the Hinku Valley, climbing beyond the tree-line to the open alpine meadows and the flat, boulder strewn site that is Tuli Kharka.
From Dupishung there is an alternative pass, the Zatr Teng or Chilli La, 4943m, to Lukla. This is steep and unsuitable for fully-loaded porters, but by taking the minimum of equipment, we could cross it. We will discuss.

20 - Lukla

Today, Lukla. From Tuli Kharka we climb then traverse across a couple of passes before the long descent. We stay in a lodge and there's a hot shower and a cold beer waiting for you!

fly Lukla to Kathmandu

We say goodbye to the mountains and take a small plane to Kathmandu in the morning. Occasionally flights are delayed by bad weather, but this is rare. The hotel has a great laundry service and lots of hot water. Although the people of Kathmandu are not Christian, they turn Christmas into a festival for the foreigners. Thamel is decked out and special Christmas dinners are the rage. We know you won't think twice, in the face of a five course meal!

Kathmandu

Christmas Day! Tonight a feast and some toasts! Otherwise it is a free day for washing, shopping and a last look around Kathmandu.

Farewell - the expedition ends

We take you to the airport for your flight home.

We hope you had a fantastic holiday!

Facilities

While trekking we camp, looked after a dedicated trekking crew. You carry a daypack and porters carry the rest; all the supplies, camping equipment and your kit. This is a real expedition. We stop frequently for snacks, photos and breathers. The leader is Jamie McGuinness, author of "Trekking in the Everest Region", and Pasang is the sirdar and climbing Sherpa. He has summitted Cho Oyu and many other Himalayan peaks.

Fitness

This is a demanding trek and so you should be reasonably fit, or know that you can get fit quickly. It isn't possible nor necessary to get truly trekking fit before the trek but over the course of the first seven to ten days you'll be amazed at how your fitness improves.

Climbing experience

On the climbing side, no experience is necessary, however you must be familiar with alpine environments and must understand the risks that camping and climbing above the snowline pose. Our route on Mera Peak is up mostly moderate but crevassed snow slopes. We have one minor icefall to negotiate, and conditions here vary from year to year. We will use ropes where there is a risk of hidden crevasses. If you have any doubts, please discuss with us.

Our experience

The logistics of this trek are handled by Suman Pandey, of Explore Himalaya. He has organized in excess of 15 Mera expeditions and our team of sherpas has climbed the mountain many times before. Jamie McGuinness has climbed the mountain twice previously and explored in the region extensively, including crossing the Mera La and Amphu Labtsa.

Acclimatization

The higher you go the less air there is. So your body needs time to adjust - time to acclimatize. The guidelines for safe acclimatization are, from 2000m and higher, to sleep approximately 300m higher each night, or climb (in sleeping elevation) approximately 1000m over 4 days. So it is a lengthy process. Some people can acclimatize slightly quicker than this rate, meaning that they don't develop serious altitude sickness symptoms, others develop mild but annoying symptoms, and a few people can develop life-threatening acute mountain sickness (AMS) over several days. Descent to a lower altitude offers immediate relief. Trekking the standard route to Mera Peak involves flying to 2850m, and by the second or third night, sleeping at 4300m, which knocks all but sherpas around. Most companies run a similarly rapid ascent to Khare and then higher, and this is where perhaps up to 75% of climbers drop out. Take some extra days and 95% of people can cope with these rarefied altitudes. On the commercial Everest expeditions normally most members of the team make it to 8000m! It just takes time to acclimatize. We take the time.

At 3200m/10,500ft, equivalent to the top of the first few passes we cross, there is approximately 66% of the oxygen (and nitrogen) compared with sea level, at Khare, 5000m/16,400ft,  there is 53%, and at Hongu ledge at 5800m/19,000ft there's 49%, and on the summit at 6476m/21,246ft, there's only 44%! Amazingly enough, your body can cope with this.

Cost

For the price and trip dates please refer to Our treks. The cost includes all airport transfers in Kathmandu, sightseeing tour of Kathmandu, all guiding and portering, all accommodation and meals while trekking, all group transportation including the return Lukla flight and all local taxes, climbing permit fees, trekking permit fees and entrance fees.

Not included: international airfares (around US$1300 from the US, around NZD2000 from NZ), meals in Kathmandu, equipment rental, alcohol, laundry, tipping and other items of a personal nature.
Climbing equipment not included: plastic boots, crampons and ice axe. These can be rented in Kathmandu.

Climbing equipment: please discuss with us. We have a limited number of ice-axes, crampons, harnesses, prusiks, locking carabiners, descenders available.

Notes

Mera Peak falls under the trekking peaks system for permits to climb it. Trekking peaks is a misleading term. All these peaks are real mountains and all require real mountaineering techniques for safe climbing. Some of the peaks are, in good conditions, relatively straightforward (ie Mera). However after a heavy snowfall or other unusual conditions they are as merciless as any other mountain on the planet.

We care for our porters and staff

For this trek we rely on porters to carry sometimes heavy loads, and our staff work in sometimes challenging conditions but we truly care about them. We ensure that all porters going above the tree line are given wool sox, spare shoes (usually given at the beginning of the trip), wool gloves, wool hat, jacket and pant set, sunglasses, have adequate shelter and all have access to our medical knowledge and supplies. Jamie was a representative of the International Porters Protection Group (IPPG) and runs this trek according to the letter and spirit of their guidelines. Sure, this costs a little more, but my - our - conscience is clear. We care. More (opens in a new window)...

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