Getting up in the middle of the frigid night, pulling on your gear, and heading out into the darkness never gets any easier. Still, as soon as the first rays of light appear in the sky and you glimpse your surroundings, it feels like an effort worth making - especially if your surroundings include five of the six highest mountains in the world. So it is on Mera Peak, which must surely be the best-positioned non-technical mountain on the planet.
Mera is nestled at the head of a valley on the edge of Nepal's legendary Khumbu region - the home of Mount Everest and its neighbors - and enjoys a view that defies description. Instead of scouring the English language for vocabulary which could never do it justice, try to picture a vista that takes in the mighty south-west face of Everest, Lhotse's 2000 meter-high south face, Makalu's imposing west face, and distant views of Kangchenjunga and Cho Oyu. Of the six highest mountains in the world, only K2 (the second highest mountain on earth, which lies almost a thousand miles away in the Pakistan Karakoram) is not visible from Mera's summit, and that's before we've mentioned the lower peaks it overlooks, including Nuptse and Ama Dablam, "the most beautiful mountain in the world." There might be a better mountain vista in the world than the one from Mera Peak....but I doubt it!
The ascent from high camp to the summit is not technically challenging, but with the horribly thin air failing to provide enough oxygen, it's a physically brutal journey. The best way to deal with it is to pull your hood over your head, look down at your feet, and let your mind drift off for a couple of hours until the first rays of light hit. When that daylight does arrive, it's finally time to begin looking up and reaping the rewards for your efforts up to this point. The light seems to change with every passing minute, and grey light slowly gives way to pink and - finally - orange glow. It's a beautiful thing to witness, made all the sweeter if you make it to the summit of Mera Peak and have the chance to rest your legs and "be" in one of the planet's most incredible spots.
By now, you might be thinking that this all sounds great and are hovering over booking a flight to Kathmandu, but there's always a catch - and here it is: the height of Mera Peak (6,476 meters/21,247 ft) and its relatively remote location (a 10-day hike - including acclimatization/rest days - from Lukla airstrip) make climbing it a long and challenging process. You'll need three weeks to get to Nepal, up and down Mera Peak, and home again, so this (sadly) isn't one for weekend warriors! The journey to the mountain is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most climbers, so savor it and enjoy the ride.
The trip starts in the bustling city of Kathmandu, Nepal's capital and a place that overwhelms the senses! There's more than enough to explore over a few days - between the Pashupatinath and Boudhanath temples, Durbar Square, and the seemingly endless backstreets, so take a few days to get over your jetlag and explore.
After a bit of sightseeing, it's time to head into the mountains, and the trip begins with the scary flight into Lukla, the world's most dangerous airport with a runway less than 2000 feet long. Just try to remember that the pilots do the Lukla landing every day and don't want to mess it up any more than you want them to, so trust their skill and try not to dwell on it! Once safely on the ground, it's time to begin the trip to Mera Peak - get hiking!
The trip to the mountain goes over a high pass and then up the stunning Hingku valley, with Mera Peak's various rocky buttresses and Kyashar (6,769 m/22,208 ft) dominating the view for most of the journey. As you move higher up towards Mera Peak, there's a growing sense of being amongst the mountains rather than looking up at them. Grass, streams, and trees slowly become memories as you enter the mountain's barren but spectacular upper reaches. High camps in the Himalayas are utterly desolate places - devoid of anything living - but they rank as some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Even by the standards of high mountain camps, Mera's high camp is utterly spectacular, with a glacial serac looming a few hundred feet away and the distant peaks of the Kangchenjunga region disappearing over the horizon.
Despite the rugged beauty of the surroundings, high camp is a tough place to be, with no genuinely flat tent sites and air so thin it literally takes your breath away. There's no escaping from the fact that, once the tent door is shut and the view is no longer visible, being at Mera high camp is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the period when you're shut in your tent will be pretty brief - that alarm will go off before you know it!
Hopefully, you'll have had some sleep, but whether you have or not, you will feel groggy when the time comes to go! Getting out of the tent will likely be a long and uncomfortable process, but force yourself to do it - rewards await! Having forced yourself outside, pulled your gear on, and tied into the rope - it's time to go.
Which is right where we started.
Here’s our guide to climbing Mera Peak and then carrying on to another classic Khumbu summit, Island Peak: