This blog is to detail the Mera Peak and Baruntse expedition I embarked upon in 2011 in preparation for my Everest expedition in the spring of 2012.
Flight to Lukla
The Adventure Peaks team met at Kathmandu prior to the flight to Lukla (dubbed the world’s most dangerous airport). On arriving in Lukla, we took a long (17 day) acclimatisation trek through some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, and eventually to the world’s biggest mountains. There were 10 climbers, two British guides from Cumbria, and 42 porters and Sherpas. Everyone bonded well as a team during the trek, which was a crucial element in being successful once high in the mountains.
On arrival at Mera Peak base camp at 5,400m, this was the first time I felt the debilitating effects of altitude. Everything becomes 10 times as hard, and simple tasks like getting into a tent or putting a pair of boots on become mammoth chores. The next day however was a climb to Mera high camp at 5750m, and here, the effects were simply magnified.
First view of Everest from Mera Peak
On summit day, we woke at 3am with outside temperatures at around -15 with a bitter wind, and started the climb at 4am. Climbing at high pace was still not sufficient to warm up, and my fingers started to freeze, eventually resulting in minor frostnip. My hands recovered enough once I had changed to a warmer pair of mitts, and after around 4 hours of utterly exhausting climbing, we reached a final steep climb up fixed ropes which led to the summit. I summited at around 8:30/9am, and took in spectacular views of Everest, Makalu, Ama Dablam, Chamalang and Kanchenjunga.
Summit of Mera Peak for Global Angels
Summit of Mera Peak for Climate Unchange
Summit of Mera Peak
A two day trek followed to reach Baruntse base camp (5,450m) where we had our first rest day after 17 days.
Baruntse from Base Camp
After deciding we were all well acclimatised after the ascent of Mera Peak, we opted for an upwards itinerary on Baruntse, which is to say once we left base camp we would not return there until we had made our attempt on the summit. The first day on our summit bid as we left base camp to camp 1 was my worst day of the whole expedition. We had heavy loads and hauling at high altitude is truly exhausting and debilitating work. After an epic high on the fixed ropes at around 6000m in the dark, I finally made camp 1 at 7pm. After a rest day, we climbed up again for camp 2, this time things were much better, and a slow but steady pace helped me gradually make progress. Camp 2 is situated at around 6,400m, roughly the same height as the summit of Mera Peak. At this height, things happen extremely slowly, as you try to preserve what little energy you do have, as well as being inextricably limited by the altitude.
Fixed ropes on Baruntse
Summit day on Baruntse started at 1am when we awoke. The outside temperature was around -25/30, and at this altitude, it took an hour to get ready into down jackets and high altitude boots. After we had geared up, we left camp 2 at 2am for our summit attempt. The wind was biting, and every step was exhausting. On average, I was taking between 3 and 5 breaths per step at the early stages of the summit attempt. The ground was very steep, and fixed ropes were used to cross multiple crevasses and the main crux of the route, a 20m ice step. After around 6 hours of effort, I made it onto a long and committing summit ridge, with 5,000ft drops either side. The scenery was stunning; however I could hardly take the view in since I was so hypoxic. On the final summit slope where I often fell to my knees under sheer exhaustion, I was counting 10 breaths per step, and probably taking more. After 9 hours of climbing however, I finally summited Baruntse at 11am on the 4th November 2011. On the summit, there was only around 40% of the oxygen normally found at sea level. The mountains that surrounded us were the highest mountains on earth, and the 20 minutes we spent on top of the mountain will live with us forever.
Summit of Baruntse
The Amphulapcha Pass
Amazing sunset towards Chukung with Taweche Peak and Cholatse
Getting home proved harder than we first imagined however. After descending Baruntse, and crossing the stunning Amphulapcha Pass, we made our way gradually back to Lukla in 4 days. The weather took a turn for the worst and we became stranded in Lukla for 3 days, only escaping by walking down to a lower village, and taking a $900 helicopter back to Kathmandu. The helicopter ride was only 1.5 hours in length; however it took all day after we were dropped off in an extremely remote army base and left in a field for 7 hours whilst other climbers stranded in Lukla were rescued.
On arrival back at Heathrow airport in the UK and after navigating a massive queue at security, we had our final somewhat emotional farewells where we contemplated running on the carousel after watching Friends With Benefits on the plane.
After meeting mum who thankfully already knew about the $900 scenic helicopter flight which avoided too much explanation, we drove home, and after somehow managing to miss every MacDonald’s on the M25 and A1, arrived back around 11pm, where I went straight to my luxurious bed.
And that was it; the expedition was finally over, 35 days after leaving, I was back home. 10 fingers, 10 toes.
This was an experience of a lifetime which I will simply never forget.
The climb was promoting the awareness of the charity Global Angels, and the organisation Climate Unchange.
This was a very condensed extract from my original series of 3 blogs on the expedition which can be found here: http://blog.matthewdthornton.com/2011/12/baruntse-mera-peak-expedition-2011-part.html