On April 8, 2003 eight travelers met at San Francisco Airport for a 1:30 AM flight to Nepal. We boarded the Cathay Pacific 747 with about 50 other passengers. Consequently, we had the entire back of the airplane to ourselves. Each of us chose a row of four seats and after dinner, got a good night's sleep. That was the most pleasant flight I've ever taken to Asia.
Once in Hong Kong we put on our surgical masks kindly given to us by Hailen Mak. I wondered if I would look strange with a mask on but once in the airport I realized I would stand out if I did not have a mask on. Two more flights got us to Kathmandu.
We were met at Tribhuven International Airport by Tamding, a founder of the trekking company handling our trek to Mera Peak and Island Peak. He took us to the Tibet Guest House in the Thamel district, which is a very nice place to stay. It is modest by US standards but very clean and the personnel are attentive and polite. If you wish, you can pay 50 rupees to send e-mail and surf the net in their internet room. There are numerous internet cafis now in Kathmandu.
On April 9th we returned to the airport for our flight to Lukla. I had never been to Lukla but I had heard that since the airstrip was paved landings and take offs are much safer. It is still a wild ride, nevetheless.
The itinerary for our 24-day trek had changed several times before we started walking. The final version was to avoid Zatrwa La, just above Lukla, because there was too much snow for the porters to go over it safely. The alternative route was to go around the pass which had us camping at 9,000 feet for four nights. This put a kink in our acclimatization plans.
Our Sherpa guides were Ang Nima, a climbing guide, Ang Babu and Krishna. Our sirdar was Dawa Jainbu from whom it was difficult to get a straight story on what our plans were. Nevertheless, they took good care of us and always kept us in sight.
The first day of our trek we were accompanied by Warren Storkman who entertained us with stories of past treks. We were amazed that everyone seemed to know Warren. On the second day, Warren turned back to meet the 17-day trekking group. We felt cast adrift without our leader, the great Babu as we affectionately called him. What would we talk about at dinner? We didn't ponder it long before conversation turned to all those topics your mother told you not to talk about at the dinner table. Most dinners were loud, raucous affairs.
Our walk took us through beautiful rhododendron forests and up the Hinku Valley. Spring time is a good time for a trek in the Khumbu because the flowers are spectacular but the views are sometimes obscured by the moisture in the air. It also rained just about every afternoon.
There is a lot of flood damage in this valley from 1998 when the moraine containing the Sabai Tsho burst. One report indicates that millions of cubic meters of water poured down the river valley in about 10 minutes. The scenery remains beautiful despite the damage.
We rejoined the normal trekking trail to Mera Peak near the village of Tagnag at about 14,000 feet. We stayed here two days and were treated to a shower. Our next stop was Khare at about 16,000 feet where we shuffled the schedule a bit and stayed two days hoping to get in a little more acclimatization before starting up to Mera La.
Just above Khare we got onto snow continuously and climbed up to Mera La which is at about 18,000 feet. From there we continued up to our base camp for Mera Peak at 19,000 feet. It was windy but the weather was good that day and we did not get any precipitation. A group ahead of us had already taken the camping spots on the rocks so our tents were set up on the snow somewhat in the path of the wind. Our tireless guides served us tea and dinner while we lazed around in our tents or tried to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest.
We started out at about 4:30 AM for the summit of Mera Peak. We had two rope teams because there are crevasses along the way otherwise Mera is nontechnical and not very steep. From the upper slopes the views of the high peaks around Mount Everest are incredible. The day was clear and it was very nice to have the warmth of the sun. My rope team reached the central summit of Mera at about 2:00 just as the other rope team was heading back down. The slope up to the central summit is about 40-degrees and is the steepest part of the climb. The north summit is slightly higher but there is a wide crevasse separating the two summits. A broken ladder may once have provided easy access to the higher summit. We were satisfied with reaching the 21,321 foot summit.
Descending took only a few hours and once back at our base campsite, we were given hot juice and noodle soup by our cook. Thus fortified we continued down Mera La to our campsite at about 16,500 feet. This put us in a barren but beautiful river valley following the Honggu Khola. We followed this valley to the end where we climbed up and over Ambulapcha La.
This pass was very difficult and involved many feet of fixed lines on both sides of the pass a few moves of overhanging 5.4 rock at 19,000 feet and rappelling down steep snow. Porters, guides and clients all agreed that it was not a good route.
Once on the other side of the pass we continued to Chukung where we decided to have another rest day before heading up to Island Peak base camp. Here we were on a popular tourist trail so we saw many more trekkers and expeditions than we had in days.
Island Peak is a more popular peak than Mera or so it seemed from the number of tents at the lower camp. We made camp at about 16,600 feet since there is no water available at the high r camp at about 18,000 feet. The next morning only two members of our team felt fit enough to climb the peak so an account of the climb by Bob Evans follows.
The rest of our trek back to Lukla took us through Tengboche where we visited the monastery and Namche Bazaar where we met up with Warren and Dixie Storkamn and the group from the 17-day trek. We learned from Warren that the Chinese government had cancelled our visas to Tibet and closed the Nepal/China border.
This was a strenuous trek but was well worth the effort. The scenery and camaraderie were great. I don't know our mileage for the trek but our approximate total elevation gain was 36,400 feet.
Island Peak by Bob Evans
Turn Back: The walking wounded, which was 5 of 7, turned back to camp (Imja Tse Base Camp, not the High Camp or "Attack Camp" as labeled on one map) after about 15 minutes, along with our sirdar and two Sherpas. Chris Kramer and Bob Evans proceeded with the other climbing Sherpa A. Ningma.
The route was well ducked snow free scree and rock up to about 18,500 feet.
At about 10:30, we reached snow, donned crampons, and roped up. A short narrowish bit follow d by a short moderately angled traverse led to the flat portion of the glacier. At the first and only crevasse, the front portion of the glacier had sunk about six feet but at one point leaned against the upper portion. Accessory cord and cut steps led to the upper portion.
The route up has changed from the guidebook description and photograph. The guidebook shows a crossing low on the glacier to the base of the head wall, where the route angled up, and then a relatively long ridge walk to the final summit ridge. However, a bergshrund covered the length of the glacier and could be crossed (easily) at only one snow bridge further up the glacier. Above the snow bridge, the head wall was steeper, between 55 and 65 degrees (my visual estimate). Thin (about 6 mm) poly pool line had been fixed. I used a micro-ascender and "French" style, though I saw some front point. The head wall was about 2 1/4 pitches, some of it hard ice, which made for good placement of the ax by overhead swing; some of the ice was rotten to a depth of about six inches.
At the top of the head wall, the final ridge was immediate. One crevasse intersected the ridge and had to be stepped around. The final ridge was fixed with rope and was about 100 feet vertical. No views at the top, due to falling snow; though Chris, who reached the top of the head wall well before me, enjoyed the fabled view of Lhotse. Arrived on summit: About 1 PM
Left summit: About 1:30 PM
For the descent, we repelled down. At the head wall, we used rope, which did not reach the bottom (snow bridge), so we had to transfer over to the pool line to finish. Back at camp: 4:30 PM.
Total round trip: 13 hours. Ang Nima left his pool line and rope on the mountain. He returned the next day to retrieve them, and he reported that he ascended in 2 hours from Base Camp and descended in 1 hour.