Mera Peak Expedition Trip Report
Updated: Nov 15
Mera Peak stands at 6476m, and with that it is the tallest trekking peak in Nepal. The mountain is based in the Hinku valley, which more or less runs parallel with that of the much more famous Khumbu Valley (where Mount Everest can be found).
Between October 17th and November 4th 2023 an expedition of 9 people, plus myself as Trek Manager, embarked on their journey to Mera Peak and back.
Day 1 – Kathmandu – 1400m
By the time the expedition start date came around most of the expedition team had already been in country for a day or so, some even taking a pre-holiday of 5 days. On the evening of the 17th, the whole team met for a bite to eat at the classic ‘Fire & Ice’ Restaurant, a place that not only serves excellent pizza, but is just a few hundred metres from our swanky Marriot accommodation. Where possible, an LMG Treks & Expeditions trip is sandwiched with higher quality accommodation. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a super comfy bed and a powerful shower at the end of an expedition.
Day 2 – Kathmandu to Dhap – 2900m
We grabbed an early buffet breakfast and then at around 7:30am we had a quick ‘Trek Brief’. Although by this point the team had been informed on everything they needed to know through trip dossiers and forums, it’s always a good opportunity to drive home a few points, or to answer any final questions. Once complete, we exited the hotel and boarded our transport for the next two days – three Toyota Landcruisers.
Flying into Lukla airport is an option for this expedition, but part way through the planning we took the advice of our ground handlers to revert to using the road to Kharikhola and to launch our trek from there. Lukla Airport sits on the hillside in the Khumbu Valley and since it was constructed in 1964 it has been the launchpad for treks to Everest and Everest Base Camp. Although earmarked as ‘The World’s most dangerous airport’ the flights are extremely popular and it cuts days of trekking and driving off any trek in the region. The one plight is that due to its location the airport is incredibly weather dependent. Often, you’ll see a flurry of flights in the morning, and by early afternoon too much cloud has built up for the planes to fly. It’s not uncommon for there to be days where the planes don’t fly, and due to a dragging Monsoon, there was actually a nine day period just before we landed in Nepal where there were no flights in or out of Lukla. A nine-day period is pretty unlucky, but at the end of the day, if any commercial expedition on an itinerary meets a two or more day delay then it can derail the chance of meeting the objective simply due to not having enough time to acclimatise effectively. Ultimately, we hedged our bets in advance towards taking the less weather dependent option, but I’m also taking the time to describe the reason in order to help justify what comes next….
The miles out of Kathmandu are exciting, especially for those who are visiting for the first time. The roads in Nepal are an absolute enigma. There are obviously rules to observe, but there also seems to be a lot of freewill and interpretation applied. I’m pretty certain all you really need is a working horn and you’ll be OK. The first 5 hours of the drive covers the same ground as you’d drive to get to Ramechaap (the airport that serves the flights to Lukla over Kathmandu since 2019). Along the way we stopped for Dhal Bhat (a staple dish in Nepal) and cracked on climbing through the foothills towards the village of Dhap. Suddenly, the Landcruiser I was in continued straight on as the driver frantically tried to turn the steering wheel – a blow out? As we stepped out of the vehicle the problem was clear and obvious, the end of the steering arm had snapped off. It didn’t take us long to realise the location at which it had happened was pretty favourable, given the amount of corners with very large drops next to them we’d already done that day. A second of the three vehicles pulled up shortly after, and the drivers got to work trying to solve the problem. We sat at the side of road enjoying a beautiful afternoon as the drivers went off to get the bit repaired. 3 hours after the incident we were all back on the road heading for Dhap.
By the time we reached the village Carol, Nick and Lindsay who had been in the first vehicle had eaten and were ready to turn in, and to be fair it wasn’t long after our bite to eat that we did the same. It had been a long day, with a 9 hour drive becoming a 12 hour day – but that’s the nature of adventure travel.
Day 3 – 19th October – Dhap to Kharikhola – 2020m
It was a stunning morning and I quickly got my clothes on and headed to the brow of a nearby hill to gawp at the view. Before us was a row of jagged peaks, many miles away, and many I wouldn’t be able to name. However, there were some obvious shapes, and for first time we set our eyes on Mount Everest and then just a little further to the right, Mera Peak.
After breakfast we got back into our now familiar seats and onward we drove. The first hour was much the same as the day before, but then it was time for the off-road (no road!) section – 5 hours of it. For some reason I had been led to believe this day was a mere 2-3 hour journey, not 6. It was time to suck it up. The best way to explain this day is ‘Type 2 Fun’ – the kind of thing that is fun once it’s over. Don’t get me wrong, there were times it was awesome, but there were other times when you just felt like getting out and walking as the Toyota manoeuvred it’s way along slippy trenches above rather unforgiving drops! The drivers were however very experienced and did an amazing job. The time passed and by mid afternoon we were at Kharikhola. Kharikhola is a predominantly Sherpa dwelling, and the hometown of our Sirdar (lead guide) Sonam, and our assistant guide, Dendi. I believe a chiropractor would probably do well in Kharikhola as the battered souls exited the Toyotas. It's fair to say that the ‘Funometer’ swung between ‘Type 2’ and ‘Type 1’ rather frequently over the course of the two days, but after a couple more days most of the expedition team realised that actually it was a pretty wicked adventure that only enhanced the journey.
Again, we settled in for the night, had dinner and finalised our kit, as the next day we would trek!
Day 4-7 - Kharikhola to Kothe
The opening section of this trek is spent winding a way through the dense rhododendron forests that adorn the foothills of Nepal. The days are spent undulating on forest tracks, at times climbing 100m or more to just descend the same distance again immediately after you crest the ridge. The days range from just 4 hours of walking, through to 6, with regular stops at teahouses for warm drinks and lunch along the way. Even though at relative low altitude on this portion of the trek, the team was forcibly slowed by our assistant guide Dendi, to ensure we weren’t over exerting ourselves or impeding our acclimatisation. It’s believed that this time spent at around 3000-3500m is some of the most crucial and as it happens these 4 days are spent floating around that exact altitude.
One of our nights is spent at Chatra Khola. Shortly before this ‘middle of nowhere’ settlement of just two teahouses we got to experience some of the wildest paths of the entire trail. Somehow, some almost gravity defying staircases have been built into the side of a cliff, so steep that chains have been placed as handrails
Our final lunch spot in the forest happens to be at the point the route from the Zatwra La Pass comes and joins the route into Mera we were taking. The Zatwra La is a 4,600m pass and for those daring enough you can ascend straight up and over it from Lukla and shorten your trip by a couple of days. The shorter route does mean you get a snazzy 1900m ascent from Lukla to over 4,600m within your first 24 hours of trekking, and then you get to descend all the way down to Kothe at 3,900m – erm, no thanks, we’ll go around! Haha The point of bringing this up is that at this point we did bump into a few groups coming over the pass, as well as a number of returning trekkers from the peak itself. Some of said trekkers looked pretty beat, and it was at this point we learnt that just 11 people had been to the top of Mera during the month of October, and that super cold temperatures were an issue for many.
As we approached the crashing Hinku River that we would then follow up the valley to our base camp at Khare, Ian managed to find a perfect shoe shaped gap between some rocks and go over on his ankle. It was pretty clear this wasn’t going to be something he’d shake off in a few minutes. Before long the ankle was strapped up by Nick, and then we took the opportunity to get the now tennis ball sized ankle into the freezing cold river. I firmly believe that this quick submersion was the saving moment for Ian’s expedition. Of course, at this point in time we didn’t know how things would turn out, but with continued icing, compression, tonnes of ibuprofen and a planet-sized amount of determination from Ian he managed to work his way day by day through the expedition all the way to the summit and back down again.
I distinctly remember Kothe from my 2013 expedition to Mera Peak. Looming over the village is the objective itself, standing almost 3000m over the village. From here it’s easy to feel intimidated, but the feeling of excitement generally outweighs, or masks this. For some members of the expedition, Kothe was a point of a warm shower, their first since Kathmandu. Such a moment is equivalent to the ultimate SPA experience, and brings on absolute rejuvenation – and all for just 500NPR.
Days 8 – 10 – Kothe to Khare
Here the journey takes a step into the type of scenery most think of when they dream of the Himalayas. The skyline is broken by soaring, snow covered teeth like mountains. Leading up to these lofty summits are vast walls, thousands of metres tall. From time to time the valley is abruptly awoken as another serac (ice block) detaches from up high and crashes down over the rocks below. Sadly, it is places such as this where the unarguable impact of global warming can be seen. Retreating glaciers, snowlines and increased rockfall are all evident.
The trail from Kothe to Tagnak heads up the glacial moraine (boulders) and we spend the day gawping at Char Pate Himal ahead. This peak has had minimal ascents, and with it doing a great impression of the Matterhorn (Toblerone Mountain) on Himalayan steroids you can understand why. Somehow we ascended 800m on this day, but we never really seemed to go uphill. If only all ascents were this easy! Along the way we visited a monastery that had been built into the side of a cliff, in which a monk was reciting prayers. The sound is entrancing, and also hugely impressive.
As we arrived in Tagnak we entered our teahouse for the night, the aptly named ‘Oxygen Lodge’. Now through the 4000m mark, maybe it would be best named ‘Lack of Oxygen Lodge’. After dumping our kit we all popped out for a short acclimatisation walk. When heading to altitude it is good to live by the mantra of ‘Climb High, Sleep Low’. Following this rule will generally be kinder to the body, but will also provide a better quality of sleep. Every minute spent at altitude above your sleeping height is well spent. On this walk we were accompanied by a brown dog. It took quite a liking to Fliss’ Karta scarf and in the end she lost the game of tug of war as it took it from her pack. Little did we know at this point that we’d be seeing this brown dog a few more times on the expedition…
Khare was our next objective, and it’s a key milestone of the expedition as it acts as our basecamp. The walk from Tagnak is predominantly uphill, with shorter bursts at a steeper gradient. Atop our first climb we broke off the trail to visit a turquoise blue glacial lake. The name of which I don’t remember, but Sonam told us it was once the site where Sherpas hid their brass as they travelled between valleys.
The final steps into our lodge at Khare felt like a bit of an effort, but maybe this was exacerbated by now having weight of seeing the summit of Mera Peak, and with it still being 1400m above us. It was very quickly clear that the lodge at Khare was going to be a great lace to be based for a couple of days. It has a sunroom, an amazing view, some pretty awesome food, and even a proper coffee machine for anyone that wanted one.
The next day was an acclimatisation walk, and the first day of the expedition we wouldn’t be moving on to a new village. Its funny how not having to pack up even just a few bits and bobs in the morning feels like a mini holiday! Our walk just took up the morning and we climbed out of the village following a ridgeline all the way to about 5.300m. We spent some time at the top taking in the views, capturing photos and eyeing up the journey ahead.
In the afternoon we sorted out the technical kit for the summit push (Double Boots, Crampons, Harnesses)
Days 11-12 – Khare to the Summit and back
It was on this day that three members of our expedition made the tough, but wise decision to not push for the summit. All three felt like they’d not acclimatised sufficiently and were suffering mild AMS symptoms. Pushing on even to High Camp (5,800m) would not have been clever under such circumstances. We do have a built in contingency day for such occasions, but with the individuals not feeling like an additional day would be the sole answer, and the weather window for the Saturday looking much better (lighter winds, warmer temps) the decision was made to push on.
The first couple of hours from Khare are spent heading to what is the official Mera Peak Basecamp. This is a small set up at about 5,300m just before the point at which you put on your crampons. Due to the very basic nature of this camp we opt to not use it and our itinerary pushes on to High Camp.
We changed into our big double boots, popped the crampons, and roped up into three teams. We now began a 500m ascent up to High Camp. Not much of the trail is particularly steep, but the angle is such that when mixed with the altitude it became quite a grind. After about 4 hours or so the roped teams made their way into the camp. High Camp is quite literally perched on the edge of a cliff. It’s a pre-made camp served by a few kitchen tents, operated by a cook and then the climbing guides. We were very well looked after by these guys, with them serving us tea, soup and dinner either in the kitchen or our tents. We had a 1am wake up call, so by about 6pm we were all in our tents, wrapped up, with the aim of getting at least a little sleep.
1am soon came around and our climbing guides Geljen, Mingma and Dendi were knocking at the tent door with tea. Shortly after we had porridge to fill our tummies and then it was a simple case of getting our boots and crampons on – because we were probably all already wearing the rest of our clothes!
The teams were roped up again and off we went heading for the summit. Only about 2.5km and 647m ascent separates High Camp from the summit. At times the route tackles some steep sections which really required a bit of a push, but most of the time there’s a shallow gradient to dig into. The temperature was sitting at about -20 degrees Celsius with a light wind. The down layers were vital, particularly the big down mitts. After roughly 4 hours, and not long after a beautiful sunrise, the roped party I was a member of reached the summit - oh and remember the brown dog from Tagnak? It was there too! The summit views brought back some great memories and they really are a great reward for the effort. Everest dominates the view, but you can also see famous peaks such as Makalu, Cho Oyu, and Kanchenchunga off in the distance.
As we descended off the summit dome we saw Ian and Lindsay approaching the final summit slopes too which was fab. Of the 10 expedition members, 6 made it to the summit.
Everyone descended down to High Camp where a much needed power nap in the now warm tents was required. After a bowl of Noodle Soup we got our kit back on and descended back down to Khare. It’s fair to say it was much easier heading down these snow slopes then it was the day before!
It didn’t take long once back in Khare for a few beers to be popped in celebration.
Days 13-16 – Khare to Lukla
We took the opportunity to have a delayed start, knowing that the walk from Khare to Kothe was pretty much all downhill and relatively easy. Every metre we would descend would provide us with ‘thicker air’, and we now didn’t have to walk at such a slow pace either. We covered almost 10 miles back down the valley, often commenting on how the weather really wasn’t as great as it had been the day before. It seemed we’d got lucky with our weather window, and now we just needed one more stroke of good weather fortune in order to get out of Lukla on our planned day.
The penultimate day of the trek is without a doubt one of the toughest. First the trails are retraced along the Hinku river and back up to where the path to the Zatwra La breaks off. We lunched here and then got stuck into the steep winding ascent. Our accommodation for the night is at a dwelling known as Thuli Kharka (3,600m), and it isn’t much more than a couple of teahouses nestled in a steep sided bowl. The final trails that led to the village were enchanting, and it was like stepping into a set of Lord of the Rings.
The final day of the trek holds about 2000m descent, but before dropping down to Lukla, we had to cross the 4,600m Zatwra La Pass. With limited power left in the legs, the expedition crawled uphill for the final time. The views from the pass were a lovely treat, with yet more snow-capped peaks breaking the horizon. Far below we could see planes heading in and out of Lukla. As we crossed the pass we hit the shady side and had to negotiate about an hour or so of compact snow on the steps. The going got easier once we hit the tree line again, and the trail continued winding on downwards. Lukla did start to become a bit of an unobtainable dream at one point, as we would turn another corner expecting to see it, but eventually it was reached and with that the end of our trek was reached.
It is customary to celebrate the end of the trek with your trekking team. It provides an opportunity to thank them for their help in making everything possible. That night we dined, drank and partied with our guides and porters, it was brilliant.
As we didn’t use our contingency day we had an additional day in Lukla. This was mostly spent catching up on calories, wandering around, watching planes and for some, getting a freshen up at the Barbers.
Days 17-19 – Lukla to Kathmandu
The next morning we flew out of Lukla on one of the first flights. The final bit of good luck had graced us. We landed in Ramechaap, grabbed our bags and drove back to Kathmandu. We got some bonus luck as this 5 hour drive only took us about 4!
Once checked back in I’m sure everyone would have had a shower 3 or 4 times longer than that of their usual shower. If people thought their shower at Kothe was good, they’ll be in heaven now.
The time in Kathmandu at the end of the trip is there for people to use as they wish. Again, replenishing calories was high up on the list, as was sampling some of the finest cocktails Kathmandu has to offer. Some of the expedition team enjoyed a sight seeing tour to the Monkey Temple and back, whilst others bathed in the peace and tranquillity at the Garden of Dreams.
At various times over the next few days the team departed Kathmandu and headed back to their lives in the UK.
My Final Thoughts
This expedition was pretty brilliant. The group dynamic was fab, with lots of fun and banter laced through the expedition. Of course, it would have been fantastic to have every expedition member stand on top of Mera Peak, but I of course knew going into the trip that there was always a relatively high possibility this wouldn’t be the case. As I said to those that had to call off their summit attempt, they made one of the toughest decisions there is in mountaineering – to not continue. The adage ‘The summit is optional, getting down is mandatory’ should always be at the fore of every mountaineer’s mind. To come home without the summit doesn’t mean they returned empty handed, the whole trek is a brilliant experience, one (as with every experience I’ve had in Nepal) that was enhanced by the incredible local people along the way.
For anyone considering joining an expedition up Mera Peak, you’ll want to be pretty fit, prepared to go back to basics, and have an open mind. The technical skills required are pretty much limited to walking in crampons, and having a knowledge of this in advance is helpful, but not essential.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone that joined us for this expedition. This was the first company expedition up Mera Peak, so I’m eternally grateful for you putting your trust in us to deliver your trip of a lifetime. I’m sure this will be the first of many ascents of Mera Peak.