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Trekking in Nepal - 1998

Our first foray into the world of trekking - let's see, what's the hardest trek in the KE catalog? Mera and the Amphu Labtsa pass? Sounds good - let's do it!

Early afternoon at Lukhla airport. The jumping off point for treks to Everest Base Camp and all points north. Our soviet made MI-17 helicopter from Ghorka Airlines is being unloaded. These choppers claw their way up to Lukhla with the rotor blades almost brushing the mountain-sides. But they offer a fine view through the, um, holes in the fuselage.
Another helicopter makes a successful landing at Lukhla.
We stayed at the Himalayan Expedition Lodge, essentially the buffer at the end of the runway in Lukhla. Here, a young sherpani plays in front of the lodge.

From Lukhla we made a late start and trekked through fields of rhododendrons, gradually gaining height until we reached the first acclimatisation camp at Chutanga. As you can see, there was still some snow on the ground. The tent areas weren't exactly free from boulders either, giving those of us without Thermarest mattresses (actually there was only yours truly) a taste of the delights to come.

After spending two nights at Chutanga we ascended towards the dreaded Zartrwla pass at 4600m with some pretty mean looking clouds in hot pursuit.
Several gruelling hours later we passed over the Zatrwla and descended a few hundred meters into the Hinku valley. We set up our tents in a snowstorm at the Tuli Kharka lodge and gazed enviously at another KE group who were proudly displaying their KE thermo-mugs. Alas, ours had been lost, along with the group's chocolate supply, by Pakistani International Airlines.

The next day we continued our descent into the Hinku valley, meandering through dense woodland decorated with surreal arrangements of snow and moss...
... eventually arriving at our next campsite a Kote. The flank of Mera Peak, our main objective, can be seen at the head of the valley.
During the night we were subjected to an unseasonably heavy snowfall. Not too much of an ordeal for us but it kept the sherpas busy running around trying to prevent the tents collapsing under the weight of snow. Their efforts were largely successful, only the mess tent suffered terminal damage when a tree branch fell on it.
Due to the danger of further tree fall we were forced to spend another night at Kote. We made the most of the rest and various alcoholic beverages appeared and were consumed. This is the view from the temporarily restored mess tent.
Clare takes a walk in a winter wonderland.

Shortly after sunrise the clouds disappear while the wind makes short work of clearing a lot of snow off Mera's lower slopes.
The group together with porters and sherpas set off, breaking trail through the deep snow is an arduous process with many hidden holes to fall in and branches to trip over.
Once out of the woods the going improves considerably but there are still hidden pitfalls to catch the unwary. Discretion being the better part of valour, the sensible members of the group stay well back and let the sherpas break the trail.
Late into the afternoon we reach a 'Gompa' beside the trail. Once the home of a Buddhist hermit, this holy place is now popular with climbers hoping to secure a little extra help for success (and survival) on the mountains.
Together with the sherpas we burn Juniper twigs and leave offerings of money in the Gompa before continuing on the long walk to Tangnag.

At Tangnag we are treated to another rest day, well deserved after the long, hard walk from Kote. From left: Clare, Ant, Graham, Ian, Paul, Niki and James catch some rays before enjoying an al-fresco lunch accompanied by Pink Floyd.
A few days into the trip and the group has divided into 4 distinct subgroups. At the rear is the penguin and friend, just in front if them marches the '20 paces' club with Paul, Clare, Graham, Ant and Ian. At the front, storming along, are Niki and James while somewhere behind comes Andy in a group of one.
Beyond Tangnag lies the Mera Glacier, this is Khare, our final camp below the glacier. Pasang, the sirdar, is paying off some surplus porters. We are brought back to earth by the news that seven porters from a Japanese expedition have been killed in an avalanche on the Zatrwla.

Above Khare we are faced with a steep climb up onto the glacier. No joke, especially when you have been presented with an assortment of climbing gear and ropes to add to your rucksack.
Early morning at the campsite on the Mera Glacier. And boy is it cold, probably about minus 25 degC before the sun hits.
View from the Mera Glacier up towards the summit of Mera (6500m). The summit is the snow dome at the top left of the photograph.
Finally the sun hits the campsite...
... swiftly followed by a bank of fog which rolls in as we make an acclimatisation trek up the glacier towards high-camp. Pete and Sergey place wands to mark crevasses in the glacier.

Niki and James on the approach to high camp the day before the summit attempt.
Mera is an ideal place from which to view some of the highest mountains on earth. This is Makalu (8563m) fifth highest in the world.
Pasang approaches high camp at 5800m.
Tents at high camp with Makalu in the background.
High camp is not the kind of place where you want to do any sleepwalking, it's about 700m straight down from here to the glacier below. The approach to high camp is down an icy slope which also has to be traversed to get ice for water.

Summit day, after a late start due to high winds, we ascended towards the summit of Mera. Too breathless to take photographs most of the time. This one shows Kagi and Andy below the summit ridge of Mera.
At last, the summit of Mera.
Summit flag with Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse to the left.
Clare on the fixed rope approaching the summit. Everest, with snowy plume, is visible in the background. Clare: 'Put that f'ing camera away'.
Group shot on the summit.
Andy next to the summit flag.
A brief walk down the mountain (even briefer for anyone unlucky enough to be tied to Sergey, the mad Russian) finds us back at high camp for a quick meal of RaRa noodle soup before we continue down the glacier to the Mera La and turn right into the Honku valley.

First campsite in the Honku valley, on the way to the Amphu Labta pass.
As we descend further into the valley the snow deepens. The porters wait until we reach the bottom before calling down to say that they are not coming. We can't blame them, but we are left with no choice but to climb back up to the Mera La and return to Lukhla over the dreaded Zatrwla.
Photogenic as ever, Makalu looms over the snow filled Honku valley.

Crossing back over the Mera La we descend back into a radically changed Hinku valley. The Gompa looks totally different without its covering of snow. We continue down the valley to our old campsite at Kharka, below the Zatrwla. As the weather changes we discover that plastic boots are almost as good as wellies in the rain.
The obstacle we've all been dreading is fast approaching, but first we have to work our way back through the woods.
Final rest before starting the ascent of the Zatrwla.
Graham poses in front of our final views of Mera as we traverse the Zatrwla.

One night on the Zatrwla followed by a snowy traverse and decent takes us back to the rhododendron filled woods at Chutanga. Sergey and Niki rest before continuing on to Lukhla...
... where Andy is already enjoying a beer or three.
Children playing outside the lodge in Lukhla.

With a few days to spare most of the group, except for Ian, decide to visit Namche Bazaar, the main town in the Khumbu valley, made famous by numerous Everest expeditions in the '70s.
Along the trail to Namche are numerous lodges, tea houses and shrines. Religious constructions should always be passed to the left. Many tourists, unfortunately, now neglect these traditions but we do our best not to offend the Nepalese.
Spring has well and truly arrived in the Khumbu.
River crossing on the way to Namche. Not all bridges are as well maintained as this one.
Just when you thought you were never going to get there, the first buildings of Namche Bazaar appear at the top of the trail.
Namche offers some spectacular views of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse...
... and the spectacular tooth of Ama Dablam.
The summit of Everest complete with spindrift plume. The yellow limestone band of the summit pyramid can clearly be seen.
Sunset on Ama Dablam.
Worth waiting for... sunset on Everest is spectacular.
Colourful buildings in Namche. Even the most ardent vegetarian would be hard pushed to turn down a yak steak and chips after three weeks of trekking around Nepal.
Namche is also famous for its Austrian bakeries. Graham, Ant and Clare are on a fact finding visit to find the best of the best. It's not cheap, but once you start it's impossible to stop until you have used up your last Rupee.
View from the hillside overlooking Namche.
On the hill above Namche lies the Everest View Hotel. For $100 per night you can stay here and watch the sun on the mountain. There's even an airstrip and, for the Japanese tourists, oxygen is available in every room. For slightly less you can enjoy a pot of tea on the terrace.
Leaving the Sagamartha National Park. When a guy with a sub-machine gun asks you to take his photo you don't argue.
Back at Lukhla we say goodbye for the last time to our sherpas - Uji and Onji.

Boarding the plane for the bumpy flight back to Kathmandu.

On the tourist trail in Kathmandu...
... no space is wasted in this city of 7 million inhabitants.
This where the residents cremate their deceased relatives, we didn't want to visit here but the Nepalese insisted.
Our main occupation once we were back in Kathmandu was a quest for calories. Fortunately KE was paying for three huge meals a day. Interspersed with numerous snacks. Mike's Breakfast is highly recommended for excellent food.
Inside Mike's Breakfast.
The setting sun mingles with the cloud of smog hanging over the city to produce a spectacular, hazy sunset.
Beautiful, what a shame it's largely man made.
©Terranova 2009 ©AndyClark.eu 2009
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