I know some followers of this blog have been unable to see the official Adventure Consultants dispatches (http://www.humanedgetech.com/expedition/ac82/). From the AC site we have just received Mark’s first dispatch since the Summit so I have reprinted it here in full – it gives a much better picture of the summit attempt than I have been able to give with the information received over our satellite link. As I read it I was filled with even more admiration for what each member of the team had achieved.
Whew, what a few days. I apologize for not updating the dispatches, but we have been preoccupied with climbing a mountain.
As I mentioned in my previous dispatch we were indeed due to head to high camp. We set off in clear conditions, full of beans and anticipation of what lay ahead. We passed over familiar territory from our previous acclimatisation walk and soon we were into new ground, on the glacier, walking between huge crevasses happily traipsing along in our mountaineering boots and crampons. Life was good!
Soon though the wind started to rise. Clouds gathered. Snow began to fall.
Before we knew it we were in a full blizzard. We were at Mera La pass, 5450m, we still had 400m to climb. Visibility was down to near zero, the temperature had plunged and the wind was close to gale force. We had some choices to make. Our team had split into two by now, a fast group and a slow group, 3 and 3. I had to make a difficult decision and now was the time to make it. I gathered Dominic, Frank and Margaret together and half shouting into the wind I told them that they had to go back. Reluctantly they agreed and the last I saw of them was them disappearing into the clouds being led by Nema Sherpa on the way back to base camp.
After some time I managed to catch up with the faster group, Warwick, Di and Janice who were being led by Singi Sherpa, the conditions hadn’t improved but we were warm and moving steadily higher…..and higher….and higher. The hill seemed to go on and on forever into the clouds. The air was thin and our legs screamed for a break, but we couldn’t stop, it had to be so close. Eventually it did arrive, high camp, our safe refuge. The weather had by now eased slightly but we were all exhausted and extremely pleased to see our mountain solace. We were now at 5900m. It was 4pm and we had 9 hours to rest and recover in order to push onto the summit.
But rest we did. At least as best we could as very strong wind gusts battered our tents throughout the night. As it inevitably does, time moved on, and the light became dark, we ate what we could on a stomach that wanted nothing to do with food. Sleep was difficult to come by and the anticipation was high.
1am. I leapt out of my sleeping bag to have a look at the conditions, well I say leapt, but it was around minus 20°C and at close to 6000m, it was more like a struggling crawl. But look I did and I was greeted by the welcome scene of glistening pin pricks in the inky blackness, stars. Clear weather. It was on, it was time to move.
Well, 2 hours later anyway, of struggling with harnesses and boots and crampons we set off into the darkness.
The footsteps we followed led off, upwards towards the stars into the black. Our world only being within the pool of light emanating from our headlamps. Oxygen at this height is scarce and our lungs heaved and legs burnt. The extreme cold pierced our extremities and doubt pierced our thoughts. Why carry on? The rope we were tied to never seemed to relent to slope remained constant, the cold intense.
It was now that Warwick decided that he didn’t want to go on. He had put in a huge effort to get to high camp and he acknowledged that his body didn’t have it in it. There was no gas in the tank. It was a wise decision and not one taken lightly.
So now it was Di, Janice, Singi and Sherku Sherpa, and myself. Still moving upwards. Moving upwards towards the beckoning stars, looking within to somehow find the strength to carry on. Was it worth it.
The hope began to rise in the eastern sky. First as a silhouette , then a burning glow. The sun was rising over the greatest mountains on the planet. Soon Everest, Makalu, Cho Oyu and countless others were framed by a golden sky. As the sun rose hope rose within us. This was possible.
The slope never relented, but to be able to see at least to the top of the next rise made the task at hand seem achievable.
False summits dashed our hoped several times and the seeds of doubt began to creep in again, but then there it was, the summit. One last long slope. Exhaustion screamed within our bodies, begging us to turn back, but the mind remained strong and at 8am, 5 long hours after setting out from high camp we stood on the top of Mera Peak.
We had done it.
The views from here were phenomenal. The highest mountains on earth stretched out before us. The steepness of the peaks seemed to defy gravity and the valleys seemed carved by some giant hand. There was elation and relief all round. The pain had stopped and the summit achieved.
One could stand here, silent. In a place where humans shouldn’t be and feel the privilege of this place. This was a moment that would remain with us until we die. And it seemed that when we died that this would be the place that our soul might come, such was the beauty.
The descent was inevitable, and down we went. The downward slope passed beneath us and hours rolled by. In a haze of exhaustion we passed through high camp. Rested and carried on to base camp. Clouds rolled in, snow flakes fell. We slipped on rocks. We walked, sat, talked, smiled, slumped and struggled. Then 32 hours since we had left, we wandered back into base camp. The others who had turned back were there to greet us with elated hugs, kisses and handshakes.
We had done it. Home safe.
That was 2 days ago now. I am currently sitting in the oxygen rich air, in the sunshine in Mosom Kharka (the Ewok village) back down valley. The group has gone ahead towards Tashing Dingma. We are all pleased to be descending and enjoying the warmth after our efforts up high. There is some obvious disappointment from some that the summit wasn’t reached by all, but we are all circumspect about the condition.
Mountains are the great humblers of the world, and Mera Peak is certainly no exception.
Janice and Di are extremely pleased with their achievement , but I think will only really appreciate when they can get home again and recover properly as fatigue still plagues their bones.
A special mention has to be made to Singi and Sherku Sherpa, who without them it would have been far more difficult. In fact they seem to wander along whistling all the way. The Sherpa people continue to amaze us with their strength and patience.
Well, I must head off into the sunshine to catch up with the group. I will write some more soon about our descent. We have a couple of easy days ahead and then 1 long day over the Zatra La pass back to Lukla and our flight back to Kathmandu, and a shower, on the 6th.
So, finally, until tomorrow
Mark and the team
Two pints of Super Dry, a vodka and orange and a good massage was Dom’s order before he handed the phone over to Margie.
Margie reported that the team had a pre lunch walk from base camp at 4800m up towards Mera La as far as 5300m before returning to camp. The track was a steep climb up onto the glacier and then, after changing into boots and crampons, a journey of exploration over mixed snow and ice. The first time in plastic snow boots and crampons is a unique experience and not necessarily a fun one. The walking motion is awkward, extreme concentration is required and fatigue comes quickly. But snow was falling as they walked and the team walked back to camp through
virgin snow. It was still snowing as they ate another excellent lunch and enjoyed warm drinks (not Super Dry) back at Khare.
Margie said that there were some very tired bodies but they had all coped well with their first glacier challenge. She was glowing in her praise of the Sherpas and porters. Nothing was too much trouble, they were generous and kind and always laughing. She also wanted to stress how wonderful the mountains are, surrounding them on all sides, and just how much were they are seeing, experiencing and learning. In fact the only time the wonder left Margie’s voice was when she described how she had moved her tent so that there was a bit more space away from Warwick’s snoring.
Today (Friday) has given the team a good appreciation of what life on the mountain will be like. Tomorrow is a rest day and it will be most appreciated.
After another long day’s trekking on Thursday the team reached their target destination, the small village of Panggom. Although the height of 2600m may give the impression that the trek has been all downhill since Lukla (2860m) the team have in fact been ascending and then descending some significant ranges.
Di was on communication and described the fantastic scenery. The walking for the day was through mixed forest interspersed with traditional terrace farming – often millet which can handle the harsh conditions. Di said that the pace was quite slow and steady with all 6 walkers keeping together, although she did reveal that Frank and Dom were happy recipients of some muscle massaging by Margie. Also noted that Margie has managed to produce a new set of clothes each day.
Di said that the Mark and the Sherpas have been doing a great job and that the food has been excellent. Steak last night apparently.
Today the group plan to visit the local school, which has 15 students, to present some books and equipment to the teachers. They will then set out on their trek for the day. They will be following a rarely used path along the ridge above Panggom. So rare that it doesn’t appear on any of the maps.
Di passed on thanks for the messages the group has received and sends love back to all at home.
The Team have arrived safely in Nepal. I understand a team of Sherpas was on standby to help Margie unload her carry-on luggage from the plane but the airport and customs were successfully negotiated without drama. The team made their way through the chaos of Kathmandu traffic to the relative calm of the Hotel Shanker. The Shanker comes from the pages of a Rudyard Kipling novel and will be home for the next 2 days. Tasks for today will include a thorough gear check, some last minute gear shopping and hopefully some time for sightseeing.