Best laid plans….
Not only did we not leave for the summit at 2.45am as planned but we spent all evening trying our hardest to weigh down the tents to prevent us sliding off the ledges. Around 8pm the wind picked up and was gusting at around 70-80mph, it was scary to hear it coming towards us like a steam train as it headed up the valley and across the glacier. I’ve been in tents in high wind before and even had them collapse on me, but never in such an isolated and precarious spot.
Our three team tents had been secured to the ledges by rocks pinning down the corners and the guy lines. During the night our tent had come unpinned at one corner and we had slide about a foot towards the edge of the ledge. Sharing a tent with our leader Natalie sounds like a good idea initially, to not have to be on my own and share body warmth in the cold and have conversation too. But Natalie as leader felt obliged to go and check the other team tents throughout the night, so at certain points I went from being cuddled in my sleeping bag to keep warm, to doing my best star-shaped ballast impression as I tried to prevent the tent from blowing away Wizard of Oz style.
I don’t scare easily, but I was genuinely worried about sliding off the ledge to the abyss below.
Spending the night trying not to be blown away in the wind it was clear that we were not going to be able to try to head for the summit as planned. And frankly, none of us really wanted to die in the attempt, it wasn’t worth the risk of being blown away.
When the sun arrived at 8am the wind started to ease, by that I mean it dropped to 60mph and just safe enough to leave the tent. Adam and Nick has been told by Phenden to pack up and wait in the tent until they were ready to pack it away behind them, to prevent the tent being lost. But as their fly sheet came un-attached, they decided it wasn’t worth the risk to stay and bailed out. Poor Andy had been in a tent on his own for the night since April had left at the previous camp, so he had a unnerving night trying to pin the tent down alone. His tent suffered damage to the poles.
So at 9am we were kitted up and heading back down to Khare, roped together. The decision had been made to leave some of the team kit at high camp and try to retrieve it the next day. It was more important we got down as quick as possible, and that our porters didn’t have to come up unnecessarily.
You’d never tell from the photos how cold and windy it was!
(those boots make the rest of me look tiny!)
The descent wasn’t without drama as several severe gusts continued to blow across the exposed glacier crest, though thankfully it wasn’t continuous wind. So in between bracing ourselves in the wind I managed to get a few pictures. You can see Everest in the distance – with the high winds blowing from the summit.
Back down at Khare in the safety of base camp its possible to process our adventure. Yes I’m disappointed that I’ve not been able to summit Mera Peak, but I’m happier than we all survived the night, and frankly we got an amazing view of the Himalayas as we descended so I still got to see Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, Cho-Oyu and more importantly Everest in the distance.
It was certainly hard to descend though in the gusts – the wind in the winter blows all of the snow from the glacier, exposing old ice like glass – beautiful to walk across but impossible to drive an axe end into to brace in the wind. I’m hardly light but I did have visions of being blown away!
We abseiled our way back down the roped line to the lower section of the glacier and then headed back to the safety of the rocks for our slow descent back to Khare.
Scarily one of our porters had a very close brush with death today as he slipped on the lower part of the glacier and only just managed to grab the fixed line. If it hadn’t been there he would have gone, with no way of stopping himself on the ice – he is ok thankfully, just bruised and shook up. It does make you realise they should have proper crampons on and not the little spider crampons.
When we arrived back at Khare it was clear that the strong winds weren’t just across the mountain top, as the remaining team had spent the evening battening down the roof of the lodge. The long drop loo didn’t survive the night though, having not only blow down but completely blown away!
I can’t really believe its Boxing day – despite all the trouble the team have decked out the dining area with balloons and made us a Christmas chocolate cake which after this morning is about the best thing I could get for Christmas.
We’re having a rest day here at Khare to allow the team to go back up to high camp and retrieve kit and the lodge down at Tagnag is also closed now. Its going to be surreal to actually have a day doing nothing after the last few days.