Mera Peak – day 11 – High winds at high camp

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!

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(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. DSC00706

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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.

DSC00712DSC00713DSC00715 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. DSC00716

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.

Mera Peak – day 10 – up to high camp

Happy Christmas from High Camp!!

I’m so excited to be at 5900m and sleeping here for the night. Although I’m also wrecked and my appetite has finally left me.

We woke to gorgeous sunshine at our camp on the Mera La, a fantastic start to Christmas day.

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We had a slow start to the day to give our team chance to come up to the Mera La and pack up and head off before us. It seems a lot of effort that they didn’t all stay here the night with us, but then it would have meant more equipment and ultimately more porters. And frankly they’re so fit that I can see why they would want to head down to Khare where there’s a (relatively) real bed, a stove for warmth and a supply of whiskey and Raskshi.

Unfortunately as we put on our crampons to continue up the glacier, April decided she had done all she could and decided to descent to Khare. It was sad to lose a team member but she made the right decision for herself, and while we’ve not really walked very far today it has certainly been tough going in the wind and at this altitude.

We also couldn’t head directly up as we had to wind our way around the crevasses and so it took us all day to walk about 5km and climb 580m. Really slow going.

It’s hard to describe the effect of altitude to someone who hasn’t experienced it – the best I can say is that any normal movements such as walking, become a big deal. Walking and stamping crampons into concrete hard glass ice makes my leg muscles ache and my lungs scream from the lack of oxygen. Here there is only 50% as what there is at sea level. My heart races like I’ve run a race and I’m only shuffling along.

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I certainly felt drained when we arrived on the rocky ledges of high camp. It took me a while to recover before I could really appreciate where I am. It is truly amazing to be here looking at the Mera La so close to the summit. However the ledges we are camped on are ridiculously small and its a REALLY long drop below! Not that you can tell from these photos.

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We’ve had soup and stew in bed and the plan is to head to the summit at 2.45am – which will give us enough time to get up there and back down all the way to Khare. Its going to be a long day.

Mera Peak – day 9 – finally on the Mera la glacier

Its Christmas Eve and I’m sleeping in a tent on the Mera La Glacier at 5400m!!

We left Khare this morning early and the walk up to the edge of the glacier took till lunch – its steep and rocky and in our mountaineering boots was really hardwork. There has been rockfalls in the last year so we had to wind through scree and boulders to reach the glacier rather than take a direct route.

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I was excited when we finally got to put on our crampons and harnesses and set off walking alpine style – roped together – and using a fixed line to head across the ice. The fixed line was really for the porters who do not clip on but use it as a handrail as they head across the ice with heavy equipment.

It was hard going initially as the ice is polished like glass and hard as concrete – scoured by the strong winter winds, and with us all walking a different speeds it was difficult to maintain a good pace as we approached the headwall of the glacier.

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The team had added a haul line to aid the porters ascent of the glacier and move the equipment. We used ascenders to jumar up to the top of the line to reach the top of the Mera La glacier. It was hard work, but great fun though the cloud descended as we all reached the top and the wind picked up.

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We quickly crossed the glacier top and descended the other side to a rocky plateau which is our camp for the night. We didn’t reach camp until 4pm and the team had already set up tents and had soup waiting for us. Heroes, they’re all superheroes. I’m sharing the tent with Natalie, our group leader as we’re the only single females on the trek – we have an amazing view across a little lake and up to the summit of Mera. A perfect place to celebrate Christmas. DSC00660

Its cold and windy so as you can imagine we were in bed before sun had even gone down and Bindra – our trekking porter and our greatest superhero in the team despite not being a climbing sherpa – brought us soup and noodles for tea, along with hot water in our naglene bottles for our sleeping bags. God I’m going to need those tonight as its already minus 15 degrees and the sun has only just gone down. Brrrr.

A week in the Cairngorms

I love Scottish winters, endless white snow, ice and summits. What more do you need? DSCF7957 DSCF7960  DSC02545DSCF7972 DSCF7978

Beautiful sunshine across to Carn Lochan from our ascent out of Coire an t-Sneachda.

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Rime ice on the weather station on Cairngorm, battling through the wind to reach it.

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Winter skills are an essential for heading in to the mountains in winter and this includes ice axe techniques and self arrest, as well as digging a snow hole for emergencies. This one is a tight fit!

Winter is here – Crampons on icy grass?

heavywhalley

 

 

If you look closely at the photo below you will see Ian Kelly wearing crampons on frozen grass on a wonderful mountain Suiliven in the North West of Scotland. A lot of people are amazed that I show this photo, at times frozen grass can be more treacherous than hard frozen snow.

As with any use of crampons one must get used to them in various conditions and I have used them in various searches and rescues especially early on in the winter when the grass is frozen.  It is always worth checking the crampons at the start of the winter and putting them on your boots in a friendly place not for the first time in a raging storm on an icy plateau. Spend a bit of time every year getting to know your tools ice axe and crampons and I would advise always to wear a…

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