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Here is a quick photo guide to climbing Mera Peak, updated 2016.
There are now lodges at every place up to and including Khare, open during the main seasons from early March into late May, and late September to early December. These are useful but plan carefully during the peak October and November season as lodges will completely fill.
Mera Peak has three summits, the highest north summit at 6476m/21,247ft while the central summit at 6461m/21,198ft is the only one climbed. The south summit is minor. These names are generally accepted although debatable as the true summit is more accurately labeled the west summit, and the central summit better called the east summit.
Shameless ad: We organize some great treks and peak climbs in Nepal and Ladakh, and occasionally in Tibet.
Jamie wrote "Trekking in the Everest Region" (currently in its 5th edition) and runs Project Himalaya, this site.
I also recommend my friend Mark Horrell's Mera Peak discussion.
Why is this picture useful? Read on! Day two of the trek and picture of us, 4 'members' and the core crew: sirdar (top: main guide), one sherpa (general helper), 3 kitchen boy-sherpas, one "stove boy" and our cook. Nice small team? Hang on, none of the porters are here, and we had 14 of them to start with. Moral: an expedition involves a lot of people!
Trekking isn't all mountains. You have to get there first! There are many possible routes into and out of the Mera area, each with advantages and disadvantages. The critical factor is to plan a sensible acclimatization program. Despite what you would think, Nepali agencies often forget this or simply don't care.
A 17 or 18 day trip, including the flight days is simply too quick, look for something longer, perhaps with a longer trek in.
Our porters may have been pint-sized, but they were tough and strong. Since it was a winter high altitude trek the trekking company provided the red pants and the lined rain jackets for them. Only a few companies do this.
The core crew cooked our meals, and meals for themselves on kerosene stoves. The porters cooked for themselves with supplies they carried themselves. This is standard practice BUT in high altitude or National Park areas the company must provide kerosene and a stove for them to cook with. Most companies DON'T do this, instead the porters cook on wood (usually dead) or at high altitude either carry wood up or more usually tear up juniper and other ecologically fragile items. Ask a trekking company what their policy is, and if it is sound, ensure they stick to it!
Approaching Thangnak the views open out. In the background is the stupendous Peak 43, (6769m) sometimes called Charpati. It is a feature of the skyline for much of the trek. Here Thangnak lodge owners (the two woman) are taking supplies up. Loads are mostly carried in woven bamboo baskets (a doko) using a head strap to support the weight.
Trek porters carry heavy loads with ease but if you try merely lifting a load you'll find there is quite an art to it. A standard load is 30kgs, and any of their personal gear is on top of this. Generally loads start out at 35-40kgs and get lighter during the trek. This is one reason why most trekking days are not too long.
Thangnak (Tagnag) used to be a high altitude grazing area. Now there is a collection of simple buildings- simple shops and lodges mostly used by the crew to restock and stay. Normally trekkers camp. Behind (west) is Kusum Kangguru, a 6300m technical peak that is also one of the so called 'trekking peaks'. This class of peaks is better thought of as "limited bureaucracy peaks" since all are real mountains, some very challenging climbs.
Most teams plan an acclimatization day at Thangnak. There are several side trips possible. If you climb the hill behind (the hill in the left of the Thangnak picture above) this is what you see - the stupendous West face of Mera. This face has been climbed! Acclimatizing sensibly is extremely important. If you feel good, attempt a side trip. If you don't feel so good, staying put and relaxing is best. Drinking copious amounts of fluids - especially water - aids acclimatization, do read about Diamox and also have Ibuprofen and Paracetemol handy for headaches.
From Thangnak many teams move to Khare, at nearly 5000m. At least one rest day (two is better) is needed before moving higher. Some expeditions camp just over the Mera La at approx 5400m - where we are camped here. It is rocky although there are grass camp sites further down.
This is high camp at 5800m. There are several 'sites', this is the rock ledge that is very sheltered and so sherpas are fond of it. Be warned that the rocks above don't just look precarious. They often fall making camping there UNSAFE. The alternative is to camp on the glacier, and then you can pick an altitude that will be kind to your body yet be not too far from the summit. Most people have trouble sleeping at this altitude and most teams plan only a single night here.
Looking south from the Mera La towards the summit. The distant point between two humps isn't the central summit, but it is close to this. The true summit is accessed from near the central summit. The route is not visible here.
An often talked about obstacle is the last section to the central summit - here. This is steep enough that most people feel more comfortable with a 50m section of rope fixed. The central summit is by far the most commonly climbed summit. The west summit is marginally high and another half kilometre away, beyond most people at this stage.
From the summit no less than five of the world's 14x 8000m mountains are visible. The panorama is superb, one of the best in the Himalaya. Even from high camp the view is fantastic, reward enough in case you don't make the summit.
Pasang, myself and Lhakpa made it to the summit. Al, Peter and Rob didn't make it partly because we attempted the summit from the Mera La since it was felt bad weather might be moving in, a very long climb. It didn't. On our second attempt only I summitted. The success rate, despite the assurances local and overseas companies give, is somewhere less than 50%. With a fast itinerary (ie not enough time for acclimatization), less than 75% of climbers even make it above Khare, 5000m.
And looking south...
Heading down, taken from 20 minutes below high camp. Curving left is the route to Khare. Going down feels like you are floating on air! From the summit most teams plan to descend to Khare, which is a long tough day, but at least you should sleep OK at the lower altitude.
The crew work hard in difficult, sometimes very challenging conditions. They are aware of hygiene and it is not so usual for anyone to get sick from the trekking food. Most people get sick from the dirty water in Kathmandu, and sometimes this is only apparent a week after leaving Kathmandu. Buy Norfloxacin/ Ciprofloxacin and Tiniba in Kathmandu and read the guide books for their usage.
Mostly the crew cook wholesome three course meals, even at 5000+ metres. This takes time, and is another reason the trekking days are not too long. The staff earn around $7-$10 a day, peanuts for what they do so they appreciate being tipped at the end of a trek!
If the crew was good, tip with what you feel comfortable with. If you are unsure then 2500rs (approx US$30) is appropriate for the sherpas and kitchen staff. The sirdar and cook should get more, the porters slightly less. Remember that money will be taken back to their wives and families, it certainly won't be wasted. Consider it direct Third World Aid.