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!

Manaslu Circuit Trek: Turned out to be “On and Off the Beaten Track through Solukhumbu”

I spent three weeks in April/May on another great trek with Val Pitkethly, and in the company of two familiar faces from last spring’s Tsum Valley Trek – sirdar Chhiring and cook Krishna.

But instead of tackling the Manaslu Circuit as planned, Steffi, Charles and I spent three weeks with Val and our trek crew trekking off and on the beaten track in the Everest area, ending up in one of the remote valleys below the Renjo La that lead to the glacier-passes to Tibet.

Remote valley views
Remote valley views

On the beaten track you could easily forget about the earthquake (and then you’d find a house/stupa in ruins). Off it, people are still sleeping out under tarps and tents, too scared to sleep in their houses.

LED solar light checks, Upper Bhote Kosi valley
LED solar light checks, Upper Bhote Kosi valley

Val and Chhirring did solar light distribution and checking/repairs/replacement all the way, and we were often invited into homes and tarp-tents to be thanked with tea by ladies living solitary lives tending their family’s yaks in their summer pastures way up high in the region’s remote valleys. A hard life for humans and animals – ongoing drought meant that vegetation was sparse, and what there was had dried to a crisp.

LED solar light distribution, Upper Thame valley
LED solar light distribution, Upper Thame valley

Some of the other main memories: Stunning rhododendrons; Steffi and Chhiring Pilates Planking; Jack, Nikolai and Lubko (how could we forget you?); potatoes….; a Krishna-Cake for my birthday in Bhulbhule; that bird call; dice games galore; coffee, cake and wifi in Namche; actually seeing Namche, and the Kongde Ri; exciting river crossings; three sick days; “last night” dancing party in Lukla, loads of amazing views…. and al fresco loos.

Rhododendrons en route to Bhulbhule
Rhododendrons en route to Bhulbhule

So how come we switched from Manaslu to Solukhumbu?

I caught up with Val just before she headed out to Nepal a couple of days ahead of us. Our plan to do the Manaslu Circuit was off – there had been some big landslides in the previous couple of weeks which made some sections of the trail difficult underfoot, even for the people who live there, plus Val was worried that there could be more landslides.

So we were on Plan B: Solukhumbu.

Val knew Steffi, Charles and I had all been to the area before – Steffi and I met her (and each other) on the Three High Passes to Everest trek in 2011 – and so Val had planned out an alternative route which would have some familiar names but the places in between would be new to us, and off the beaten track as far as possible.

All being well, we’d get stunning views and the opportunity to deliver / check / repair / replace some of simple solar lights that Val’s charity – Light Education Development (LED) – provides to some of the region’s most remote communities.

And we did.

From the road head at Dhap we trekked to Junbesi via PK / Pikey Peak (aka Off the Beaten Track, part 1), then took the main trail to Namche, north west into the Thame Valley and up the Bhote Kosi towards Lungden (On the Beaten Track, part 1) before heading off the (relatively) popular route to explore the remote valleys beyond Arye (Off the Beaten Track, part 2).

Our return route back down to Thame took us high, high above the Bhote Kosi valley, and we headed back to Namche via Khunde and breakfast with Dr Kami Temba at Kunde Hospital (Not sure if that classifies as On or Off the Beaten Track!).

The final section – Namche to Lukla – was always going to be On the Beaten Track (part 2) – and The Big Question for Steffi and I was whether we’d actually get to fly fixed wing back to Kathmandu…. which we did….. just…. but only after almost two days of increasingly agonised waiting featuring a day of low cloud and hail, a premature farewell party with our crew and lots of time in the dining room of the Lukla Numbur Hotel. Next time I’m insisting we plan on walking back out right from the get go.

Our time in Nepal over, we were treated to wonderful Himalayan views out of the window of our Jet Airways flight to Delhi, although we did almost lose Charles in the international transfer “process”.

Steffi wrote up our trip for the LED website and Charles’ photos are in his (private) SoluKhumbu Trek, 2016 Flickr album. I fear my photos and notes will be a time coming yet…. [and it’s August 2016 now]