Mera Peak is usually, and perhaps incorrectly, regarded as the highest official trekking peak in Nepal. The confusion stems from its altitude and location being misreported by the Nepal Mountaineering Association. See the section on the real Mera Peak below.
In any case it remains a popular destination due to its easy standard route, which requires only basic mountaineering skills to achieve an altitude considerably higher than a European or North American peak. For many years the climb was Alpine Grade F (Facile / Easy), but due to recent summit block changes the final 30-40 meters has become Grade PD (Peu difficile / not very hard). See Recent Updates section below.
In addition the Mera Peak trek is superb. The Hinku and Hongu valleys are spectacular Himalayan wilderness.
From the summit of Mera one can see 5 of the 6 highest mountains in the world: Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyo. The standard route from the north involves little more than high altitude glacier walking. The ease of reaching this elevation may be its biggest danger but good weather and snow conditions are, of course, necessary for safety and success. The west and south faces of the peak offer difficult technical routes.
The first ascent was on May 20, 1953 by Col. Jimmy Roberts and Sen Tenzing. The region was first explored extensively by British expeditions in the early 50's before and after the ascent of Everest. Members of those teams included Edmund Hillary, Eric Shipton and Geroge Lowe.
(Jimmy Roberts (1916-1997) was probably the person who can take most of the credit for establising the trekking industry in Nepal in the early 1960's. He was posthumously awarded the "Sagarmatha (Everest) National Award" by the government in May 2005.)
The normal approach is to make your way to Lukla by land or air. Then instead of heading north towards Namche Bazaar and Everest, trek east towards the ridge of peaks that divides the Dudh Kosi from the Hinku Valley. Cross the Zatrwa La (15,000’ / 4600m) then descend steeply to the Hinku. Go north and east for for 2-3 more days to reach the Mera La (17,767’ / 5415m). The summit is now to the south and can be reached in one or two days of glacier travel.
Proper acclimatization is key to having a good chance of reaching the summit. Our group used the following camps with most members acclimatizing well. This schedule put us on the summit 12 days after leaving Lukla.
Lukla (9,186’ / 2800’)
Chutanga (11,115’ / 3400m) – 2 nights
Tuli Kharka (14,436’ / 4400m) – after crossing Zatrwa La
Tashing Ongma (11,489’ / 3500)
Tangnag (14,108’ / 4300m) – 2 nights
Khare (16,729’ / 5099m) – 3 nights
Mera La (17,767’ / 5415m)
High Camp (19,028’ / 5800m)
Summit and return to Mera La
At the camps where we spent more than one night the extra days were used to climb about 2,000’ (600m) above camp, following the “climb high, sleep low” rule.
Spending the night at the high camp is highly recommeded, both for its awesome views, and for the higher success rate in reaching the summit. Nine of ten people in our group summited from the high camp. Another group of ten that we met had only four of ten summit, but they tried to climb from Mera La to the top in one day.
The return can backtrack, or better yet, you can descend the east side of the Mera La into the totally wild Hongu Valley. Trek north with the awesome precipices of Chamlang on your right to Panch Pokhari (Five Lakes). There you cross the Amphu Labsa, a difficult pass of 19,193‘ / 5850m. The amazing Lhotse south face is staring right at you. The steep descent takes you past Imja Tse (Island Peak), another popular trekking peak, to Chukung and then back onto the normal Everest trekking routes.
When to climb
The typical eastern Himalayan climbing seasons apply: April-May before the monsoon, or October-November after it, more or less. I have seen some oufitters book this trip during the Christmas holiday season, but in my opinion it would be excessivly cold and dark then.
Peak permits required, can be obtained in Kathmandu. As of November, 2001 the cost starts at US $350 for a group of four. Check the Nepal Mountaineering Association website for the latest details.
If you cross the Amphu Labsa you will enter Sagamartha National Park and will need a park permit as well. Most outfitters handle getting these permits as part of the trip cost.
Some discussion of the term "trekking peak" might be in order here. This does not mean, as might be assumed, an easy peak that someone can climb while on a trek. Some "trekking peaks" such as Kusum Kangru have turned back the most determined and skilled climbers. It is more of a legal term that applies to a group of peaks listed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association for certain permit and fee structures. The ease or difficulty of reaching a summit is not implied.
I recently attended a slide show given by friends who climbed Mera in November, 2003. There have been several changes to the region since my 1994 trip that should be mentioned. The main ones are:
There are now lodges in the Hinku valley all the way up Khare. In 1994 there was just one yak herder hut at Tangnag. It is now probably easier to do the Mera trip with just a few porters. The Hongu valley remains undeveloped, so continuing up to the Amphu Labsa requires more logistical support.
October 2003 information from Mathias Zehring, who reports that the summit block of Mera Peak has changed from when I was there in 1994. The crevass that was making its way up this north-eastern face now extends across the entire face. This blocks the line of ascent I used, which went up to the right of the crevass. Matthias' line followed the left (east) skyline. This is steeper and more exposed than the route I took.
April 2009 information from Robin Baks, who wrote, "I climbed Mera Peak on april 23th. The normal route cannot be climbed anymore due to an enormous crevass at approx. 30/40 meters below the summit. Most teams stop her. You can only reach the summit from the north> side. You'll have to climb a steep part and use a fixed rope. On the Photo of the Summit you can see the crevass 'splitting' the Summit in two. You can see the track to the right site of the summit. Behind the ridge on the right site you can climb a steep part of snow/ice to the top (approx 30/40 meters). This is now the only way to reach the summit." Robin reports that this change has altered the climb grade from its traditional Grade 'F' to the next more difficult Grade 'PD'. Thanks for the information Robin.
The difference in 15 years:
My photo of summit block from November, 1994. The crevass now blocks ascent from this side.
Robin Baks' photo from April, 2009. You can see the track circling the summit block to the right.
Summit View Photographs
The view from the summit of Mera is fantastic. Starting from high camp instead of Mera La increases your odds of reaching the top before the clouds roll in, so you can savor where you are. Have a look at these photos.
Mera from Everest
Since one can see Mount Everest from Mera Peak it follows that Mera is visible from Everest. Here’s the proof.
The photos are courtesy of Kiyoshi Furuno, leader of the Nihon University Everest Expedition 1995. This expedition made the first ascent of the Northeast Ridge of Mount Everest. This is the route that claimed the lives of British climbers Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker in 1982.
This is for the obligatory summit photographs.
Will the Real Mera Peak Please Stand Up?
It appears that many people who think they climbed the highest trekking peak in Nepal made a wrong turn! That Mera Peak is north of the Mera La, not south, and is known as Peak 41. There are no easy routes to its summit, which at 6654 met
ers, is nearly 200 meters higher than this Mera Peak.
Whatever the case, those of us who ascended Mera 6476 are following in the venerable tradition established in W. E. Bowman's The Ascent of Rum Doodle and can take pride in having climbed the wrong mountain. (Since I wrote this it has been generally agreed to keep the name Mera for the peak we have all climbed, and Peak 41 for the "Real Mera", even if all of our permits had the wrong map coordinates!).
Mathias Zehring supplied this information:
First climb of Peak 41, "Real Mera" in 2002, done by Slowenian team over the west face (1500 m, TD+, WI V/4)
See the Alpinist climbing notes: Peak 41 First Ascent.
The photos below show Peak 41, "Real Mera Peak".
After the Flood
On September 3, 1998 an earthquake of magnitude 5.8 struck eastern Nepal. The epicenter was about 20 km east-south-east of Namche Bazaar. This caused the collapse of the lateral moraine of the Dig glacier above Tagnang and triggered a huge flood as the waters of the Sabai Tsho Lake were drained. Several villagers living downstream were killed. Here are before and after photos of the valley by Tangnag.