After my trip to Kilimanjaro I wanted to go for something a bit more technical and challenging. I had doubts about going back to Nepal because even though I love the country I was a little nervous about the flight into Lukla. However after doing some research it seemed to be the best place to take the next step in altitude.
As with most mountain hiking you need a general level of fitness, add into that altitude and walking for 19 days in a row you need more than your average weekend hiking fitness.
Mera Peak is 19 days on the mountain, with 14/15 days from arriving in Lukla to summiting and then 5 days back to Kathmandu. A high level of fitness is required for these trips as most days involve 8 hours or more trekking on a daily basis and most of this is at high altitude.
My main training for Mera Peak is aerobic fitness, mainly running. I was enrolled in the Paris Marathon which was to take place a couple of days before I flew out to Nepal but due to running injuries in February I pulled out as I did not want to risk ruining my chances of walking. I also try and get out walking as much as possible, but with weather in the UK being very stormy this year, time on the fells has been limited.
I am currently supposed to be on a strict diet to try and lose a bit of weight before I go and to detox my body. However its not gone to plan. I am currently at t-minus 21 days before I fly out so I am going to try cut out more alcohol and fatty foods and try and eat healthy for remaining of time.
When booking with a well established and highly recommended company like Jagged Globe you’d expect the best advice and support. Which is exactly what you get with them. From the moment you book to before you go any questions you have you can phone and email them and they will bend over backwards to help you.
As soon as you book you are asked if you would like to join in with the pre trip weekend. It is not mandatory however but it is in my opinion worth going. You tick the box to indicate you are interested and then they send an invite out closer to a time when a date is arranged. They also have an expedition shop, which if you book a trip with them, you get 15% off RRP. The guys in the shop have done some of the trips and know what they are talking about as well.
Another recommendation before Mera Peak was to go on a winter skills course. Just so you get an idea on ice axe and crampon use, as well as avalanche awareness and ice axe arrests.
Pre Trip Weekend in Peak District
The pre-trip weekend was the first weekend in February and it was extremely informative. Jagged Globe provided all the information you could think of and more from kit you are definitely going to need to different types of kit you can use (B3 boot variety), altitude sickness, food, welfare facilities, first aid, conditions and experience. Information such as delayed flights to and from Lukla, the famous airport which is renowned for delayed flights was discussed. I was more concerned about getting out into the mountains rather than getting back however we were notified that there were provisions in place, in such circumstances as it was not an unforeseen circumstance to them as they were well experienced.
They had opened the shop to sell items that we hadn’t bought yet, or in my case tempted me with a few extra midlayers.
After the morning presentations we headed out for a walk in the Peak District which was really good as it gave us an opportunity to walk and talk with those on the same trip as others or a modified version (Mera Peak and Mera and Island Peak trips). There were also a couple of guys on Everest South Col Expedition who were great to talk to for advice as well. That night we headed back to the offices for a traditional Nepali meal with a few drinks followed by a presentation.
On the Sunday we headed out to Peak District again to practice ascending techniques, rope work and abseiling. This was really good practical advice session with the ability to test out the skills needed on the trip, especially for those like me who have never used rope work to climb before and very little experience abseiling.
The group seemed to bond really well, especially six of us on the Mera Peak Expedition. We also got on with the group doing Mera and Island Peak as we will all be heading off up Mera Peak together. We set up a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with each other.
Scottish Winter Mountaineering Course
Although not mandatory Jagged Globe and other providers do suggest competence in winter mountaineering, (ice axe use, crampon use, experience in long cold days). I chose to do this course with Jagged Globe for ease and because they offered the best structure over the week.
The course was based in Ballachluish between Glencoe and Lochabar. It consisted of 5 full days training followed by presentations at night. It was extremely well put together and was appropriate to the skill level and competence of the groups. There were seven of us in the group and all of us (except one) were beginners when it came to winter skills.
The first day was an introduction into avalanche risk assessment using apps and weather conditions while at the hotel and then using knowledge developed on the slopes assessing type of snow and slope angles. Another skill was the basic use of crampons, walking techniques, cutting steps, ice axe arrests. It was not an overly long day however the skills learnt would set us up for the remainder of the week.
The second day was a longer day using skills gained to assess avalanche risk to assess which side of the mountain would be safe to climb and which areas should be avoided. Assessing weather conditions forecast to ascertain if it would be safe to go out and attempt a munroe with factors like wind speed, visibility and precipitation taken into account. We headed out to Glencoe to climb Buchaille Etive Beag – Stob Coire Raineach. I have climbed this before in winter conditions and I knew it was going to be a tough hike. The snow was extremely deep going uphill and I was carrying an injury from running so it was tough going for me and I fell behind. I did feel a bit pathetic as mu calf muscles were burning up with the constant steep uphill but I kept plodding on. From the ridge we put our crampons on and got ice axes out and continued towards the summit. I was not confident in coming back down with crampons on as it was steep however the guides were very patient and helped me along. The view from the summit was spectacular, one of the best views I have seen from a summit, as everything as far as you could see was covered in snow. After the summit we built a snow cave suitable for all of us. We were split into two teams, one starting at entrance and exit and making our way inwards before turning to create a U shape.
On the way back down towards the vans we had a bit of fun going down on our backsides as some sections were quite steep and it was safe and deep enough to have a laugh. There were some sections on the way down were set up for small avalanches which our guides decided to set off to show us how they occur and what signs occur just before. A note to say that this was done in safe conditions without risks to others.
Day 3 was a right off for hiking out on the fells due to severely high winds and heavy rainfall/snowfall. However as this was a course the guides went through other options of things we could do that day such as a lowland walk or a day in the Ice Wall and Climbing Wall in Kinlochleven. We chose to spend the day in the ice wall/climbing wall. Although this was not winter mountaineering as such this was a fabulous day and I learnt a lot of new techniques such as belay work, rope work, figure 8 knots, ice climbing, crevasse rescue, prussic loops, general rock climbing and abseiling. I really enjoyed the tuition from Ed and Mark which was fun and yet informative.
Day 4 was a little better weather wise, still high winds and heavy snowfall however it was safe enough to try and get out on the fells. It was decided to try part of the West Highland Way from Glencoe over Devils staircase and into Kinlochleven. It was really interesting as all features that you would use for navigation were covered in snow and so we were shown how to get round this, as well as avalanche and drift assessment enroute. The wind was very strong gusts upto 40mph at some point which was enough to bash me around. It was a beautiful walk and a lot of fun as we got to enjoy winter walking and safety.
Day 5 – I didn’t go out on day 5, I wasn’t feeling well and my calf muscles were screaming due to the running injury. The rest of the group headed out back to Buchaille Etive Beag to summit a munroe and to practice snow anchors etc. I headed back to the hotel and had a chat with Ed about Mera Peak and training etc. Then I headed for a slow gentle walk at the back of Ballachluish which was lovely. I enjoyed the walking at my own pace without feeling rushed and the peacefulness.
Overall the course provided a good background knowledge for winter walking, I would however state that a high level of fitness is required to do this course. I would like to repeat this course next year and gain more skills but my fitness would need to improve a lot.