Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, is only half as large as Colorado by area, but being situated along the highest points of the Himalayan range, is twice as tall. The country is a Mecca for mountain scenery, trekking and climbing. Of the countless possibilities, the Nepal Mountaineering Association has designated 104 expedition peaks and 18 trekkers peaks. Mera Peak (6476m/21,247') is the highest of the eighteen trekkers peaks and has been a trek we've been considering for several years. Located in the Khumbu Himal, the peak offers spectacular mountain scenery, including views of five 8000m peaks! This October, Deac Lancaster, Norm Henderson, Kris and John Wallack (Colorado Mountain Club members) joined up with Warren Storkman, Steve Eckert, Andy Skumanich and Elaine Holland (Peak Climbing Section members) to trek up the Hinku Valley and climb Mera.
This was Warren's eighth trek in Nepal and so we used the Kathmandu-based company Nepal Himal Treks Ltd. that he had used successfully in the past. It turned out to be an excellent choice, as we had experienced climbing sherpas as well as a great support team for the trek. After one heck of a long series of flights, we found ourselves in 80 degree fall weather of Kathmandu. We spent a couple days there while the trekking company arranged our trekking and climbing permits. That gave us a chance to visit Bodnath, a Buddhist stupa, Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple on the holy Bagmati River, and the Durbar Square of Bhaktapur.
The trek started with a 50 minute flight in a twin-engine Otter to the short gravel landing strip at Lukla. This village, at 9200', is the starting point for all the Everest area treks and has obviously prospered in the past few years. It has all the new building and bustle that I imagine in the frontier towns of the old west. Lukla lies high on the shoulder of the Dudh Kosi river valley, while Mera Peak is situated at the end of the Hinku valley, one drainage to the east of the Dudh Kosi. Rather than cross the 15,000' pass separating the two valleys immediately, we planned a side trip to Namche Bazaar, heart of the Sherpa culture, at 12,000' for acclimatization and views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam.
After the four-day sojourn, we started again from Lukla, but this time to the east to cross the Sebuk Danda (danda = ridge). On the way up, we camped in a small clearing in the fir and rhododendron forest called Chutanga (11,300'). Over the 15,000' Zatrwa La (la = pass), we camped above timber line on a relatively flat meadow called Tuli Karka (14,436'). Two days of hiking took us down through forested valley and back up above timber line again to Tangnag (14,291'). This camp was surrounded by glaciated 20,000' peaks. There were groups from Australia, Belgium, England and Canada. The Hinku valley was not quite the remote place described in O'Connor's 1988 guide.
The next three days took us to Dig Karka, Kare, and finally to base camp at Mera La (17,800'). This was snow camp on a glacial shelf that had great views west to the Charpati Himal. From Mera La we could see the Mera Glacier ramping up the 3600' to the summit. The glacier walk up to high camp (19000') made for a short day and allowed us to enjoy the views and the warmth of the rocky campsite. While the valley was covered in the daily cold gray fog, we sat in full sunlight on a patch of rock in a sea of glacier.
Our summit day was mild and clear. The entire climb was on low angle snow/glacier. The difficulty was in breathing, not in any technical climbing. We summited along with an Australian party and an English party. It seemed almost like an alpine summit with the diverse groups and prayer flag laden wands. The views from the top were spectacular. We could see Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and in the distance Kanchenjunga.
The trek took us 20 days from Kathmandu to Kathmandu. We had a couple of extra days built in to the 22-day plan to allow for bad weather, but didn't need the extra days. Four of us used the extra time to visit the Chitwan Jungle after the trek.
References: By far the best resource is The Trekking Peaks of Nepal by Bill O'Connor. The best map of the area is Sorong/Hinku 1:50000, Schneider Series.