|Report Name||Mera and Island Peak - 6 Oct to 3 Nov '06|
|Team Member||Mike Purnell|
Most of our team met at Heathrow on 6 October, all clean, shiny and full of enthusiasm. All 7 of us met our leader Mic in Kathmandu and off we went, via Lukla, on our acclimatisation.
Our team varied widely in age, from 22 (Anselm, who seemed to subsist largely on cornflakes and chocolate, but was very strong) to 64 (Ken, who went straight on to a month-long Annapurna Circuit trek afterwards, as this month-long M+I trip clearly wasn't enough). I was somewhere in the middle age-wise, and had travelled a bit, having spent quite a lot of time in the Pyrenees, Picos, Atlas and trekked in Gokyo and the Khumbu before. I had been over 6000m before in the Zanskar Himalaya, but I was expecting this trip to be quite a challenge, not so much because of the difficulty of the climbs, more because of the slow decline that occurs in us soft westerners when we stay in tents, in the cold, for many weeks.
It also became clear early on that I was in the "not a proper climber" category in comparison to most of the rest of the team, as although I spend as much time in the mountains as I can, I don't speak the same "v-diff/5e/she'll go" language, and didn't feel compelled to mount any large boulders we encountered along the way.
There's so much to say about the beauty, simplicity and dignity of the places, people and religions of the Himalaya. I don't have the eloquence (or the space); perhaps best if you take a look at some of the images (and maybe go there yourself).
I think one of the strongest themes of our trip was staying one step ahead of the weather. Although we had many days with hard frosts, hoar frost showers inside the tents, claggy cloud and breakfasts in the open at -12C, we were extremely lucky to have bright sunny days for our summits. 6/7 of us reached Mera's summit in the clear, 5/7 reached Island's summit in the clear. We all got to the top of the Amphu Labtsa in perfect conditions; whilst waiting for porters and loads to be lowered down, the weather closed in and started to snow, so we abseiled, traversed and trudged down the other side in poor conditions - that turned into a bit of an epic day, but everyone made it down in one piece. Having met some of the other teams in the area at the same time as us, we were lucky.
Although moving slower than most on the summits, I was pleased to reach the tops and never considered giving up (although those 1am starts, forcing down porridge and struggling with boots, harness etc in the dark do give pause for thought). I experienced little breathlessness, so I think all that running in the months preceding the trip, plus the careful acclimatisation schedule, must have helped. I was quite happy to be at the back on the summit days, as I only have one uphill speed in the Himalaya and that's slow. I also feel much happier knowing I have something in reserve for those important little things, like getting back down the mountain, and putting the tents up at the end of the day. Anyway that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. My Island Peak experience was slightly marred by my socks trying to escape under my feet, so I had to unzip overtrousers, remove gaiters, shells and inner boots twice in order to pull my socks up. So I won't be wearing those socks again.
Following an enjoyable, if speedy, scoot down the Khumbu, we returned to Kathmandu a day ahead of schedule. Thanks to the Summit Hotel team for sorting out an alternative hotel for us in Thamel, until we could be accommodated at the Summit again the following day. Quite a surreal experience to see other crusty climbers coming straight from the airport into breakfast at the Summit (unshaven and resplendent in plastic boots, down jackets and woolly hats), sitting down amidst the clean UN, UNICEF and DFID types who also stay there.
So all in all an excellent experience, and one that grows even better in retrospect, particularly as I get used to being warm again and being home with my wife and children (who still recognise me). Objective now is to put back a little of the weight I've lost, otherwise I'll need to replace all my clothes. Oh, and plan the next jaunt.
In closing, a big thanks to Mic Rofe, our unflappable Aussie leader, who helped all of us through the trip and, working closely with Chote (our Mr-Fixit sirdar) and the rest of the support team, kept us all safe and on track.
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