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5 Point Plan for a Successful Ascent of Mera Peak

Posted: Monday November 7, 2022

Mera Peak is one of the highest trekking peaks in Nepal. Standing on its summit is thoroughly exhilarating and provides unrivalled 360-degree views of 5 of the world’s highest mountains including Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu.

At 6476m there are only two peaks, Singu Chuli (6501m) and Chulu East (6584m) on the NMA[1]’s Group B Climbing Peaks list that are higher than Mera Peak and, with itineraries of less than 21 days you can dash out to Nepal and bag Mera Peak in just three weeks.

These factors make climbing Mera Peak extremely tempting. Indeed, every year, hundreds of avid ‘trekkers’ set out to stand on that superb summit. Statistics obtained from the NMA show that in 2019 there were 1707 permits issued for Mera Peak. There’s no doubt that it’s a popular objective.

The term ‘Trekking Peak’ though can be misleading. Trekking Peak is the name generally given to all the peaks on the NMA Group B peak list. There are some awesome peaks on this list and many of them require more than just the ability to be able to trek. Some of them, such as Kusum Kanguru and Singu Chuli are pretty technical, requiring solid mountaineering skills and even then, strong teams often struggle to summit.

There’s plenty of companies offering ascents of Mera Peak, many of whom claim success rates in excess of 80%, which is pretty impressive. Whilst there are no official statistics available, analysis of the data provided by the NMA shows that in 2019 only 428 people were issued with summit certificates which equates to a shockingly low 25% success rate. I don’t believe success rates are so low and instead attribute this low figure to the fact that some people don’t want a certificate and others aren’t aware certificates are available. That said, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests success rates are lower than 80% with 50-60% being a more realistic estimate.

From my perspective, if you’ve started on the journey of making your dream of climbing Mera Peak come true by booking onto a trip, you want to give yourself the best possible chance of standing on that summit and feeling great whilst doing it. I’ve made some basic assumptions that you have some previous experience at altitude from having perhaps climbed Kilimanjaro or trekked to Everest Base Camp. I’ve also assumed that you have chosen to climb in either the main spring or autumn climbing seasons and you have the technical skills to safely use crampons, ice axe and work as a member of a roped team whilst in glaciated terrain. With this in mind, below I’ve detailed what I see as the five most important things that you can do to give yourself the best chance of success on Mera Peak.

One - Itinerary is Crucial.

There are a number of different ways to approach Mera Peak. The route you select will have an impact on how long the journey takes, how well you are able to acclimatise and ultimately whether you successfully reach the summit or not. The shortest route includes a crossing of the Zatrwa La[2] within the first few days of the trek.

Short itineraries are attractive because they reduce the amount of time you need to take off work and offer, in theory, the same outcome as itineraries spread over more days. The short itinerary also has the advantage of generally having a lower price and let’s face it, who wants to pay more for something when you can get it much cheaper.

The Wilderness Medical Society suggest that the best approach to avoiding the problems of altitude related illness such as AMS[3], HACE[4] and HAPE[5] is to follow a gradual ascent profile. They advise ‘…above an altitude of 3000m, individuals should not increase the sleeping elevation by more than 500m per day and should include a rest day (ie, no ascent to higher sleeping elevation) every 3 to 4 days[6]’.

A short itinerary is very unlikely to follow these guidelines and so there will be insufficient time to acclimatise. This in turn significantly reduces your chances of summit success whilst increasing the likelihood that you will develop AMS or the more serious and life-threatening conditions HACE and/or HAPE. These conditions will curtail your trip and according to the UIAA[7], ‘…each year, fatalities from these conditions are reported amongst mountaineers and local workers who cross the Zatrwa La’.

Whilst a short itinerary might appear both time and cost effective, it can significantly reduce your chances of summit success on Mera Peak and can lead to serious complications including death.

Fortunately, this issue can be resolved relatively easily. Choose an itinerary that takes a gradual approach to Mera Peak, does not cross the Zatwra La in the first few days and has one or two acclimatisation days programmed in, an example can be found HERE. This is simple if booking a trip in the UK as most, but not all, UK providers design their itineraries with acclimatisation in mind. Whilst this might cost a little bit more both in terms of time and money, I can guarantee that it will be worth it. If you choose to arrange your trip after having arrived in Kathmandu, in one of the many trekking agencies in Thamel then make sure you negotiate an itinerary that meets the criteria described above.

Two – Physical Preparation

Climbing to high altitudes is physically demanding – Fact! Whilst there is no correlation between physical fitness and the ability to acclimatise, being physically fit still plays a vital role in any mountaineering or multi-day trekking expedition. The route into Mera Peak is beautiful but it is also very rugged with plenty of steep ups and downs. You’ll be on your feet carrying a small rucksack for up to 6 hours per day and all the while the amount of oxygen available will be decreasing.

Being physically fit helps us to deal with the rigours and hardships of the day. Whilst it won’t improve your ability to acclimatise (more about this in point four) it will definitely help you get through the day. Furthermore, the fitter you are, the faster you will recover from whatever you’ve had to deal with during the day. The benefits of being fit are well documented and from personal experience I can vouch that being in good shape physically when setting off to climb a mountain is a much better strategy than just turning up and hoping for the best.

There’s plenty of resources, advice and guidance available that can help you with training plans. Have a look at Uphill Athlete or Mountaineering & Trekking Training for inspiration and ideas.

As a minimum I’d recommend that you run at least 10km 2 or 3 times per week, do some all over strength and conditioning training and get out walking in the hills carrying a bag as often as possible.

Start your trip in as good a physical condition as you can, the effort will be well worth it.

Three – Choose the Right Kit and Equipment

On your journey to the summit of Mera Peak you’ll hopefully start off trekking in warm sunshine but don’t be fooled, the weather can turn quickly, often bringing heavy rain, especially in the afternoon.

As you gain height, temperatures will drop, especially at night and it’s not uncommon for it to be windy.

Above the Mera La your feet will be in snow and the route to the summit is across glaciated terrain.

With such a broad range of potential conditions it’s vital that you choose the right kit and equipment so that you can be properly protected from the elements and give yourself the best chances of success. A suggested clothing and equipment list can be found HERE but for this part of the plan I want to focus on some specifics, namely boots and crampons.

Anecdotal and observational evidence suggests that on reaching the Mera La far too many people have the wrong boot/crampon combination and/or don’t have the basic skills required to use them. This is poor planning and preparation and definitely contributes to failure.

Starting with boots. The boots that you wear for the trek into Mera are unlikely to be suitable above the Mera La. Trekking in from Lukla a lightweight waterproof trekking boot will be more than adequate so long as they are well broken in and comfortable. Boots of this nature are generally unsuitable for crampons and are certainly not warm enough to be worn in snowy glaciated terrain above 5000m so you might be surprised that people actually plan on exactly this. The worst-case result is serious frostbite but in almost all cases like this what actually happens is that the combination of cold feet and poorly fitting crampons reduces the pace and eventually results in the team having to turn back, scuppering any chance of reaching the summit, if they even manage to set out.

From a personal perspective I strongly recommend a B3 boot for Mera and one which is rated for 6000m+ along with a well fitted and compatible pair of C3 crampons, after all, you only have one pair of feet and you need to look after them. B3 boots aren’t cheap, but they are definitely worth the investment. If this is your first foray onto a Himalayan peak of this magnitude, then consider renting boots. Since a well-fitting, comfortable pair of boots are a key ingredient for success, if I didn’t want to buy, I would opt to rent from a UK company such as Expedition Kit Hire rather than chance finding something cheaper in Kathmandu, that way you can be sure you are getting a quality pair of boots that, assuming you have sized correctly, won’t let you down.

Four – Good Acclimatisation

You could argue that this point is the most important and maybe you wouldn’t be wrong. I like to see this as inextricably linked to the previous three points but also crucial in its own right.

Acclimatisation is all about appropriate behaviour. As oxygen levels reduce with increasing altitude, without going into a whole load of science, your body has to work harder in order to function. This is most noticeable in your breathing rate when at rest. This increased breathing rate is normal and just one of the effects that reduced oxygen levels has on your body. However, the more time you spend at a specific altitude, the more your breathing rate at rest will start to return to normal. This is because you are acclimatising.

There are a number of things you can do to help the acclimatisation process and avoid AMS. Firstly, you need to slow everything down. The speed you walk when at home is not an appropriate speed to walk when ascending to altitude. You need to walk slowly so as to moderate your breathing and keep your heart rate down; if you are sweating, breathing hard and have a racing pulse you are going too fast! This is the most common mistake, especially in young fit males. Slow down.

Secondly, you need to ensure you drink plenty of water/fluids throughout the day. Dehydration is a natural consequence of exercise, so you need to make sure you replenish the water you are losing. Not only that, good hydration is also essential for the acclimatisation process. As a rule of thumb, you should pass urine on a more regular basis than normal and it should be clear. If this isn’t the case, then drink more. Closely linked to hydration is nutrition. Altitude can reduce your appetite, but it is really important to ensure you eat as much as you can at each mealtime. A lack of energy will affect your ability to acclimatise.

Finally, keep warm. If you are cold, your body has to work harder to warm you up. If it is having to work hard to keep you warm it can’t focus on the acclimatisation process. So, put on that jacket when you take a break and make sure you are warm in the evenings so that you can get good sleep.

Five – Mental Preparation

The final point in this five-point plan for success but definitely not the least important. There’s no doubt your journey from Lukla to the summit of Mera Peak will be challenging and to be honest, at times it’ll be pretty tough. There’s lots of factors at play here and if this is your first time on a mountain of this size then self-doubt will be in there somewhere.

But, if you have followed this plan, then you can have the confidence that the itinerary has been well thought out. You can be reassured that you have the required level of fitness and the right clothing and equipment to protect yourself from the elements and, you’ll be able to draw on your previous experience of travelling at altitude and employ appropriate behaviour to help you acclimatise.

This plan is designed to help with your mental preparation and to reduce any anxiety you might have. All that remains is for you to endure any hardships that you encounter. Remember, so long as the conditions are favourable and you are well acclimatised, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t reach the summit. Don’t be the one to give up and turn back, because you’ll kick yourself once everyone returns from the summit.

To help you, keep these two things in mind; ‘all the things worth achieving in life take effort’ and ‘everyone else is experiencing the same things as you – stick with it – you’ll make it and it’s definitely worth it’.

Climbing Mera Peak is totally achievable but like all mountains, Mera shouldn’t be underestimated. Standing on the summit and drinking in those fantastic views is exhilarating but it only comes to those who prepare. Follow this simple five-point plan to give yourself the best chance of success.

If you want to find out more about climbing Mera Peak or join one of our trips, then please send me an email: info@monkeymountaineering.com

About the author.

Sam Marshall has been climbing and mountaineering for over 30 years. He has climbed on every continent and made 17 first ascents in a seldom visited remote and inhospitable part of northeast Greenland. He was a member of the Army Everest West Ridge expedition and has been on numerous Himalayan climbing trips including the technical Southeast Ridge of Makalu as well as Mera Peak, Island Peak, Kusum Kanguru, Tharpu Chuli, Singu Chuli and Hiunchuli.
[1] Nepal Mountaineering Association
[2] The Zatwra La is a high pass (4610m) which is crossed from Lukla to gain the Hinku Valley. A route used by almost all short itinerary trips to Mera Peak.
[3] Acute Mountain Sickness
[4] High Altitude Cerebral Oedema
[5] High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema
[6] https://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032(10)00114-6/fulltext
[7] https://www.theuiaa.org/mountain-medicine/mera/

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