Mera Peak Trekking- at 65

By Malachy Doyle

Experience of climbing 6500mtr peak at age of 65.

In 2019, the year I turned 65, I decided to really go for it. In May I did my first full adventure race (a 55k run/ cycle/ hike / kayak). In June I ran my first ever marathon. And then in September, to top it all, I set off with Namaste Nomad to climb Mera Peak in the Himalayas.

At 6476 metres Mera peak, it’s known as the highest trekking peak in the world – meaning, apparently, that it’s not too technical and that if you’re fit enough, if conditions are good and if you can cope with the altitude, you should be able to make it.

So I named it my 65@65 Challenge (using a bit of poetic licence), and off I went. My trek-mates were Anne, Cathy and Ronan, all of whom I’d walked with before. All of whom were fun , fit – and thirty or so years younger than me. Namaste Nomad are past masters at both organisation and luck, so our flight to Lukla took off, despite nearly everyone else we came across having to either pay extra for a helicopter, or go a very long way round by jeep. It was great to be back with Dawa, a man in whom I trust my life (and my
son’s, on a previous trek). Alongside two porters, he and his nephew, Nurbu, were to be our guides. We took the lower level route in to Mera, as it’s better for acclimatisation.

Trouble is, that meant trekking through the ‘jungle’. But as we’d also chosen to go quite early in the walking season, to avoid the crowds, it meant we were still at the tail-end of the monsoon period, which meant not just rain, rain, rain but leeches, leeches, leeches. Eek! Along the way Cathy, who’s mad on dogs, adopted one (or he adopted her.) So Stumpy joined the trek. (Only to be told later that he made a habit of it, and had previously actually summited not only Mera Peak but Burunche, which is over 7000 metres high!) Why are you doing this, Malachy, I asked myself, one long hard wet cold morning, bringing up the rear, as usual. But then, after a rejuvenating lunch of noodle soup, tea and a snack bar or two, we climbed above the tree line, hit the 4000 metre mark, and there I was, racing on ahead with Nurbu. Soon we’d joined the main trekking route, the sun had come out and we caught a first glimpse of our target, the towering, glowering, snow-covered Mera Peak.

It was such an exciting moment. The real adventure had begun! We stopped at Lungsumgba Gompa, a tiny Buddhist monastery set into the side of the rock, with three statues over 1000 years old. Then on to Tangnag, where we stayed in a surprisingly comfortable lodge for two nights. Locals were harvesting potatoes, playing a mean game of volleyball, and running a yummy German bakery.

We had an acclimatisation hike there, aiming to cross the 5000m line, but heavy snow drove us back. Back at the lodge we met a group of despondent climbers who’d been unable to summit Mera as, apparently, there was three metres of snow up top. (If the snow’s too fresh, the paths are unclear
and the walking both too hard and too dangerous). But be positive, said Dawa – if we get sun, a lot of it will melt and we’ll be fine.
The next day, still accompanied by our little friend Stumpy, we sang Happy Birthday to Dawa, the sun came out and we headed up to Khare (4900m). Here we hired the kit we’d need for the summit attempt: harness, boots, crampons, gaiters and down jackets. Our spirits dropped when three more
groups came in, all beaten back by deep snow, high winds and no path… Later, though, two exhausted-looking French guys arrived. It turned out they’d summited, without even a guide. Which meant it was possible and that there was now, hopefully, a path. They’d spent a night in a snow hole at the top, and one had paraglided off. Wow! he next day was hard, so hard. It took fully seven hours to climb the 800 metres to High Camp.

Stumpy the dog went back down with a group of descenders. Did he know something we didn’t? My breathing was bad and I kept having to stop. The others were very kind – saying they were more than happy to walk at my snail-like pace. We met two more people who’d made it to the top. And
then there it was. High Camp. So there we were, perched on a cliff edge, at the very top of the world. A meal, a few hours broken sleep and at midnight: ‘Wakey! Wakey!’ Porridge, tea, kit on and away – the aim being to hit the top by sunrise, as it’s really hard to walk in full sun at that altitude.
It was steep, so steep. Cold, so cold. Twenty minutes in, I was in serious trouble. We were all roped together, with me up front, behind just Nurbu, but I was going slow, so slow. Dawa came up the line and basically gave me my marching orders – get moving, or we’re taking you back to high camp.
Come on, Malachy, said I (and Cathy, behind me.) You can do this thing!
After about an hour Dawa put me on oxygen, which helped. I was now walking better, breathing better. But it was hard, so hard. It took so, so long. The last fifty metres were ridiculously steep but eventually, amazingly, we got to the top.

Everyone else whooped and scooped and took a million
photos. I just sat there, exhausted. Sitting up, standing up, I watched the sun rise over Everest, over Lhotse, over Makalu, over Kanchenjunga. My God, it was so beautiful! Emotionally overwrought, physically empty, the way down was possibly even harder than the way up. I had to stay on oxygen right down to the snow line. Past deep crevasses, past amazing ice
formations, desperately trying to stay upright, to keep going, in the blinding, boiling sun. The others went on ahead this time, leaving just me and Dawa slowly slowly descending.

I was so, so tired – but at 4pm we arrived back at Khare. It had been the hardest day of my life. But, undoubtedly, one of the very very best. I’d done it! At the age of 65, with the help of the best
trekking team in the Himalayas, I’d climbed Mera Peak!

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