Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Final Update

I have somewhat belatedly realised that I’ve not actually posted up details of Val’s planned route for this year’s trek encompassing Mera PeakAmphu Lapsta PassImja Tse / Island Peak.

(Am I allowed to call it A Climb? An Expedition? It feels more than a simple trek, and definitely represents a step up from previous trips. About 800m up from my previous high point – the Drölma La on the Mt Kailash Kora. And that didn’t require anything more than a daypack for 4 days. But I digress.)

Here’s a summary of the itinerary we got from Val back in January. I’m not sure how it will spread out over the 27 days we have between leaving Kathmandu for Paphlu and returning to Kathmandu. The Trakshindo to Kharikhola section is familiar from 2011 and 2016, as is Chukhung to Namche (2011), and Namche to Lukla (both trips).

  • Drive to to Paphlu (2500m) (9-10 hours). If we arrive early enough, trek to Trakshindo, otherwise stay in Phaplu.
  • Trek to Kharikhola (2069m) or Nuntala (2200m) depending on where we camp previous night, via the Trakshindo La pass (3071m) and we will drop some solar lights at one of the communities on the way.
  • Trek to Pangkongma / Pangom (2850m) little settlement above Kharikhola where we camp near the Gompa.
  • Depending on how everyone is doing I have 2 routes for days 5 & 6:
    Option A
    – Trek to Ning So (2850m) via Pangkongma La (3174m), steep descent to the village of Sibuje (2770 m) then undulating trail through the forested river valley to Ning So (2850m).
    – Trek to ‘Jungle Camp’ (3160m) via a tea house at 3280 m and high point of the day at 3350 m. Steep descent back to the river. After lunch undulations through the forest with some steep sections of trail to ‘Jungle Camp’ (3160m).
    Option B: Trek via Nashing Dingma, Chlum Kharak and Chumbu Kharaka
  • Trek to Gotay (3600m) following the Hinku Khola
  • Trek to Tagnag / Thangnag (4350m) beside the Hinku River to the small gompa at Gondishung. From the gompa it is an hour’s walk over moraines to the Yak herders settlement of Tagnag.
  • Acclimatisation day at Tagnag / Thangnag. Day trip up towards the moraines below Kusum Kanguru (6367 m). Practise with ropes and harnesses and crampons after lunch.
  • Trek beside the Dig Glacier to Khare (5000m).
  • Acclimatisation day and skills training, with more practice techniques and safety procedures to be used on our climbs.
  • Climb to the Mera La (5415m). Overnight at Val’s Mera La camp.
  • Climb easy snow slopes on Mera Peak to a high camp (5800m).
  • Climb easy-angled snow slopes and short steeper section to Mera Peak central summit (6476m) or north summit. Long descent to Mera La (5415m) and on down to Khare (5000m).
  • We have some spare days and depending on weather we may take a day after the climb resting before heading up the Hongu Valley.
  • We spend the next few days trekking up the Hongu Valley via a few camps (1) one very close to Chamlung BC (2) another one close to Baruntse and (3) a further one situated below Amphu Lapsta.
  • Cross Amphu Lapsta and descend into the Imjatse valley opposite Imja Tse / Island Peak. Camp Island Peak BC.
  • Climb Imja Tse / Island Peak (6183m) from BC or move up to HC and climb from there.
  • Trek Island Peak BC to Lukla via Chukung / Chukhung (4730m), Dingboche (4410m), Kyangjungma and Namche (3440m), Monjo / Manjo (2835m) over 3 long days.
  • Walk from Lukla to roadhead.
  • Drive from roadhead to Kathmandu.

Severe gales (up to 95 km /hr) were forecast for Mera Peak last week and this…. Not quite so fierce on Imja Tse (Island Peak).

Mera Peak (6476m) weather forecast
Mera Peak (6476m) weather forecast

In other news, I bought my travel insurance from the BMC (Alpine & Ski cover) last Tuesday and my La Sportiva G2 SM mountaineering boots plus ski goggles, fleece balaclava and hand/foot warmers arrived on Wednesday. Excellent service from Expedition Kit Hire and FedEx.

Packed today. Buying Dirhams tomorrow morning and going out for dinner at the Saravana Bhavan tomorrow evening.

All set!

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Flight Change & Training Weekend

It feels like our flights for this year’s big trip are cursed.

I got a text on Wednesday from GoToGate, who we booked our new flights with back in April when Jet suspended their flight operations, advising that there had been a change to our flight schedule and to check my email for details.

Now, normally when I get these emails, the flights have moved by a matter of minutes, occasionally an hour or two.

Not so this time. Our outbound flight to Dubai has been cancelled and we’ve been offered the same flight 24 hours earlier. Not only that, but our onward flight from DXB to KTM had been moved from early morning to midday, arriving into KTM at 6pm. Thanks Emirates. Our choices were to accept the new flights and sort out accommodation in Dubai at our own cost, or cancel one or both parts of our journey and book our own alternatives, although a refund of the cancelled flights wasn’t 100% certain.

Not a great choice really, and both Steffi and I were up to our eyeballs with work and family stuff.

Looking for positives, although leaving on the Wednesday rather than the Thursday would be a pain, at least it was doable for us both. I’ve been able to juggle my working days (although that does mean I lose the Monday I had set aside to pack, and the weekend before we go I’ll be in Northern Ireland for a birthday), and Steffi had booked the whole week off.

My initial thought was to take the main flight and book an onwards flight for the Thursday and ask Val to sort out an extra night’s accommodation in KTM. That way at least we’d be in KTM. I was influenced by the expectation that hotels in Dubai would be ex.pen.sive – Burj Khalifa, Jumeriah et al. But, when I googled Hotels Dubai International Airport I was pleasantly surprised, quickly homing in on the presence of the ever-reliable Premier Inn. Checking availability, prices and location on their website, I realised that staying in Dubai would be doable without breaking the bank, and may well come in cheaper than cancelling our DXB-KTM flight and booking a new one.

So that’s what we decided to do: take the alternative flights offered by Emirates, and book 2 nights in Dubai International Airport Premier Inn – 2 nights meaning we can get a room as soon as we’ve landed and cleared immigration and baggage collection (2 minor minuses with staying in Dubai is that we have to do that, which is a pain), worth it given we land at 7.10am and Premier Inn checkin is 2pm. They provide free transfers between the airport and the hotel, and it’s only 10-15 min journey.

But inevitably it was not smooth sailing putting this plan into action.

The GoToGate email instructions were to respond to the email confirming our course of action within 6 days. By the time Steffi and I had conferred it was Thursday. No problem, I emailed them with our decision then and there. Five days left to go.

Thursday I heard nothing,

Friday, nothing – and Phil and I headed north to spend the weekend in Leith with Sue. Checking my junk mail every 30 mins brought no joy and the stress began to build. What if GTG were having trouble getting seats on the alternative flights? What if we wouldn’t be able to get to KTM in time for the trek? Had I lost Steffi and me another £60 each, having already booked the hotel on Thursday….. What if they hadn’t actually received my email at all?

So after a terrible night’s sleep Fri/Sat I decided I had to call GTG – assuming I could find a number, and even if that meant sitting on hold for hours.

I should be more positive. The phone number was easy to find, was a “normal” rather than premium rate number, and within a minute or so of navigating the automated call menu I was speaking with a very calm and reassuring lady. She could see my email, and confirmed they’d rebook us on the offered flights – there was no risk that we’d be left in limbo. PHEW.

Her confirmation email came straight after the call, and although it took a few days to get the updated confirmation PDF from GTG, once we were home I was able to log into the booking and see we were on the new flights. From there to the Emirates site to download our boarding passes and to book new seats – no need! We’d got the same ones as I’d booked for the original flights. Neither planes look very busy at all, which may explain the cancellation…. I’d half wondered if the main flight cancellation might be Brexit related.

Let’s hope that’s it for the flight stress.

(OK – we’ve still got Yukla in the schedule, but that’s Val’s responsibility.)

(And annoyed that we paid more for a flight without the inconvenience of a layover, and have ended up with one.)

So now I can start to ponder how we might spend our day in Dubai. It’s been a long time since my one and only visit, but Janette’s been recently and tells me the metro makes it easy to get around, plus the hotel has a pool and plenty of food places nearby, and having booked direct we get 2-for-1 deals, which helps. One good thing about our new DXB-KTM flight is that we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to get to the airport for checkin.

I’ve bought new Stansted Express tickets and Steffi’s changed her train to arrive on the Tuesday.

Let’s hope that’s it for travel plan changes.

In the meantime I’ve been buying USD daily via the ever reliable Thomas Exchange Global to try to even out exchange rate fluctuations (thank you Brexit; thank you Trump), and I’m writing this as my Virgin Train heads north to Penrith for a weekend’s walking and training with Val; Steffi and Nicola are coming too so that we can all get some practice in using ropes, harnesses, crampons and scrambling. We’ve also got a prelim kit check and I am sure we’ll be fine tuning our “getting the gear” plan, although I’m hoping Steffi and I will still be OK to hire kit from Val’s KTM contacts, to avoid having to lug it there and back. Let’s hope my birthday daypack passes muster.

Things left to do: buy Alpine & Ski Insurance from BMC. Pack. Buy UAE dirhams.

And in the background, at work David dropped his bombshell.


Post Lakes Training Weekend Update

  • We’re walking rather than flying from Lukla. GREAT!
  • Nicola’s on the same DXB-KTM flight. EXTRA GREAT!
  • The getting the gear plan is even less clear than it was before. And the trip cost has crept up again. NOT GREAT.

Training was fun.

Training for Mera Peak - Amphu Lapsta - Island Peak
Training for Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Island Peak: Me, Steffi & Nicola at Near Howe

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse: Gear Update

The LED fundraising weekend in the North Lakes last month was a prompt to sort out a few more pieces of November’s Nepal Plan, principally BOOTS!

We did have a chance to go through Val’s “6000m Gear List” with her, the main outcome of which is that I’m borrowing her down jacket from last year, and a sleeping bag (but not the one from last year). She also recommended taking some of the disposable self-heating hand and foot warmers for the summit days (pre-dawn starts). Bim in KTM can provide most of the technical gear, and we arranged another trip to the North Lakes for some training with ropes etc in September.

Boots surfaced as Nicola was heading to Adventure Peaks to try on the boots she’s hiring from them, and Steffi decided to go with her to get a boot fitting, and as it transpired, to hire a pair of Boreal G1s…. in a size 44, as advised by the thorough chap in Snow & Rock when we made an initial fact finding foray into Covent Garden a few months back.

After an abortive attempt to hire from Adventure Peaks (very, very busy), I focused on the La Sportiva G2 and the Scarpa Phantom 6000 and learned the following:

  • Boreal boots are a wide fit, so not a good option for me
  • La Sportiva are warmer and a narrower boot, Scarpa have a more durable sole
  • with a long, slim foot and a long big toe, I can wear shoes / boots “shorter”
  • trying out boots, especially with narrow feet, there will be some “slip” but provided this is the inner boot slipping against the outer you’re OK
  • it can be impossible to find boots that are a good fit according to all the rules, and padding / heel lifts  insoles can help.

Having decided that I needed La Sportiva G2 in a size 42, I emailed Expedition Kit Hire who I’d earmarked earlier on. Same day reply from Stuart, confirming they had a pair available for my dates and attaching the hire form. A couple of exchanges and less than 24 hours later, I’d hired the boots plus goggles and balaclava and bought 5 pairs each of hand and foot warmers. All paid up, delivery due the week before we go, and the hire includes prepaid return. Very efficient, very friendly. I can see why The Mountain Company recommend them.

(As an aside, what was interesting about doing the foot outlines was realising that my feet are pretty much the same length, but my left foot is slightly wider at the ball. And shoes / boots are always tighter on that foot. I’d always thought it was because it was longer, but no – wider!)

So that just leaves travel insurance that will cover me to 6,500m and using ropes, crampons and ice axes, which I think means it will be the BMC. The Austrian Alpine Club (UK) standard AWS policy doesn’t cover you above 6,000m and the Alpenverein Premium Single Trip Cover you have to get then is a lot more expensive. I’ve yet to find a ‘normal’ policy that covers you above 6,000m, (although Nicola’s just flagged that Trailfinders’ goes up to 7,000m).

And last, but not least, Nicola has managed to wangle 4 weeks off work, so she’s coming for the whole thing.

But for now M-ALP-I is on the back burner – our week in Picos de Europa is only a month away!

Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Imja Tse: Update

Even the best laid plans sometimes go awry….

Being my usual super organised self, I sorted out flights for November’s four week extravaganza way back in January. We got a fantastic price with Jet Airways (£430), flying out via Mumbai and back via Delhi.

In early April, a chance chat at work flagged up that Jet were experiencing financial problems…. and I’d booked direct, and on my debit card. Uh-oh.

Then, on my birthday I got a cryptic email from Steffi: Flight cancellation?

A quick Google and email check revealed all – Jet Airways had suspended operations, “temporarily”, as of 17 April. Here’s the first couple of paras of the BBC’s article:

Troubled Indian airline Jet Airways has temporarily suspended all its domestic and international flights after failing to find fresh funding.

The airline said its last flight would operate on Wednesday as it was not able to pay for fuel and other critical services.

So I spent a good hour or so working through the Jet Airways Flight Cancellation emails and refund claim process – a separate claim per flight, per person. That made 8 in total.

Since then, I’ve had various confirmation emails, all automated, but as yet no refund.  I’ve got the CAA’s Advice to UK consumers impacted by Jet Airways suspending operations tucked away, just in case.

Once I’d recovered from that little “Birthday treat”, I dug out my dusty credit card and scoured Kayak for replacement flights. The algorithms must have been in overdrive, factoring in all the Jet passengers suddenly swamping the flight search. Hey ho.

We’ve ended up with a not-too-bad option flying out with Emirates / FlyDubai and back with Qatar. Handily, given that we’re flying out at the end of a work day for me, our outbound flight leaves from Stansted so we’ll be getting the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street, which is (a) 5 mins walk from work, (b) a more reliable journey than the Piccadilly line out to LHR, and (c) much, much easier for those wielding heavy luggage. VIP that last point as we have 30kg baggage allowance both ways.

I’ve been in to “manage my booking” for the new flights today, primarily to check that we do actually have tickets (paranoia!), and was able to book seats, set meal preferences, provide emergency contacts and print e-tickets. So that’s a good job done.

Let’s just hope that Jet Airways refund does eventually materialise….

In other news, it’s the LED Fundraising Challenge up in the Lake District next weekend, which will provide an opportunity for Steffi and I to meet Nicola, who’s doing the Mera Peak section. We’ve already emailed a bit, mainly about boot hire and training. Now I’m worried I’m not doing as much as Val seems to think I am!  We’ll also be able to talk through the 6000m gear list Val sent through, working out what we might be able to borrow or hire either from Bim’s in KTM or the UK in the case of insulated boots.

Five months to go. Better get working on those weedy arms…..


13 May 2019 – Update

Jet Airways refund came through today.

Phew.

Where next: Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta – Imja Tse

I’ve been talking to Val about my main 2019 trek since the summer and settled the dates shortly after getting back from Manaslu & Tsum*. It’s always a question of juggling my LW working pattern and vacation days to “optimise the optics”, but Val’s managed to schedule the 29 days to fit into four weeks off.

I need to come up with a good name for the trip. “Two Trekking Peaks and a Tricky Pass” doesn’t tell you where it is or what the peaks and pass are. For now, let’s make do with the relevant names…

As is so often the case, it’s not “next”, but it is the main trip for 2019.

Destination: Mera Peak – Amphu Lapsta Pass – Imja Tse / Island Peak, Nepal.

When: November 2019.

What: Back to Nepal for another November trip, this time tackling two 6000 m trekking peaks with a 5800 m pass in between. It will be my first time going that high, and will be more technical than anything I’ve done before requiring ropes, jumar and ice axe, insulated boots and crampons. There will be glacier walking and abseiling. It’ll be cold. And we’ll need to do some winter skills training before we go.

Steffi is coming, Charles is a possible (probable?). Hazel is pondering joining for the first section together with two other ladies Val’s talking to. Plus there are Three Chaps Unknown for the full route.

How: With Val Pitkethly and Sirdar Chhiring. So we will be in safe hands.

Why: The usual – to do more high altitude trekking in the Himalaya – but with a step up from a straightforward trek, in terms of both altitude and technical difficulty. Don’t be misled by the term “trekking peak“.

Itinerary: Waiting for details, but the outline plan is to drive to Phaplu, then gradual acclimatisation in Solukhumbu en route to Mera Peak (6476 m / 21250 ft) followed by 5 nights over 5000 m in the Hongu Valley to reach the Amphu Lapsta Pass (5845 m / 19177 ft). From there I think we drop into the Imja Khola valley en route to Imja Tse / Island Peak (6189 m / 20310 ft). There is the inevitable flight back from horrible Lukla.

* And I know I’ve not written my “We’re back!” post for Manaslu & Tsum yet!