We were on our first trip to the Himalayas in Oct 1990 – a small group of great friends were all member’s of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team at Leuchars in Fife. We had chosen through Scouse Atkins who had planned and picked the peak a very technical mountain of Kusung Kanguru Alpine Style. After a long trek 15 days we arrived at our Base camp overlooked by the huge North Face of Mera Peak. This was all our first trip to the Himalayas and we were learning every day.
Two of the team Martin and Dave Tomkins went for a look higher up as we moved the Base Camp to a better area we had arrived late and the Sirdar was not happy where we were. Nawan our Sirdar was a veteran of 8 Everest trips including a successful winter ascent was a great help and had to be listened to. He was also rightly worried about our lack of Himalayan Experience and gave some great advice. He was impressed as we were not using Sherpas to move our kit up the hill or at all above Base camp. When Dave and Martin got back they had climbed to gain 500o metres and the site of a good safe Advanced Base Camp, (ABC) They had done this in lightweight training shoes and returned with huge headaches and very dehydrated. The rest of us after setting up the new Base started moving kit up near the ABC – most of us were feeling very rough a long day with massive sacks. This Alpine mountaineering is not easy!
It was a long pull up from Base to Advance Base at 5000 metres, when the Japanese had come this way a huge expedition they had used lots of fixed rope, we did not have this luxury. We had four 9 mil ropes and one 250 fixed rope and very basic climbing gear a bit more than for a big route on Ben Nevis. We had tents to move up for ABC and the summit day and all the gear it was very hard work, much of it on unstable steep ground. we could see why the Japanese used ropes in places. I was feeling pretty rough even though only at just below 5000 metres but we needed everyone to move the gear. Everyone did their bit and worked hard walking at your own pace no rush. It was a bit different no big decisions just a load of gear to move you just got on with it. We did not want to have a leader as such, we had seen how previous military expeditions had been run, so it was a bit hit and miss, but we were learning every day.
Martin and Dave Tomkins stayed high and then moved the gear for a summit push passing old fixed ropes the scene of a past epic retreat of the huge face. Then they traversed into a snow couloir andthe heavy crevassesed glacier and the South East Face, they reached 5500 metres when heavy cloud came in. I met them as they crossed the complex moraines back to the tents, heavy clouds had come in. They had a brew and then descended totally exhausted, they had done well. ABC was busy we had all the gear up now and the weather was fine. It was hard work with big bags just like a big call – out on the Ben!
There was a huge serac fall from high on Mera Peak that covered our Base Camp with snow dust and all night the rumbles of avalanches fell, we were in the big mountains. Dave Tomkins and Martin were recovering from their big day and visited a lone Australian who is living in a cave with 3 statues of Bhuda! The rest of us went to blast a trail to the Face and dump more kit for the summit attempt. On the glacier the route finding was hard and we were trying to cairn the moraines as in bad weather this would very tricky. We were learning fast. Rather than come back down and due to logistics myself and Willie Mac bivied at ABC it was a cold night at 5000 metres but we were still alive in the morning! The plan next day was to stock a snow hole for bivy on the face. We were learning a bit about logistics and after that freezing night out we had to go down back to Base and sort out our plan for a summit attempt.
To be continued!