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Asia, Nepal, Kumbhakarna Himal, Merra, First Known Ascent

Merra, first known ascent. The name Anidesh Himal refers to the mountain range separating the Ramtang Glacier to the north and the Kumbhakarna (Jannu) Glacier to the south. The ca 10km-long massif is characterized by a striking, narrow ridge running east-west and dominated by the unclimbed mountains of Anidesh Chuli (a.k.a 6,808m) and Merra (6,334m). The Anidesh Himal is rarely visited, and the attention of most trekkers in this region is captured by the stunning north face of Jannu (7,711 m), which rises above the south side of the Kumbhakarna Glacier.

In October, Thejs Ortmann and I from Denmark ventured into the remote eastern sector of the Kumbhakarna Glacier, in order to attempt Merra from the south. The mountain, which was first added to the permitted list in 2002, is a complex, four-summited peak that lies between two side glaciers: Merra southeast and Merra southwest. The limited number of groups that had attempted the peak before us had all approached from the Kumbhakarna Glacier, as this way is the easiest and most interesting.

Prior to the expedition, I spent a lot of time investigating whether any parties had climbed Merra at an earlier stage. To my knowledge the only groups to have made attempts from the south are: a small Japanese party, which in 1963 tried to reach the southwest summit from the Kumbhakarna glacier but turned back before the summit ridge; the French, Bouvier, Magnone, and Leroux, who in 1957 attempted the same route that I eventually climbed, but I have no idea how far they got; an unknown group of three climbers, who in 2003 took the same approach as the French and reached a subsidiary summit somewhere on the eastern flank of the mountain; one of the Russian groups that failed on the north face of Jannu and were subsequently turned back on Merra due to rotten snow on the east-northeast ridge. Information on these climbs is sparse and I’ve had to interpret their routes based on a few photos or fragmented notes from expedition diaries. It is likely that other teams have attempted the peak but many maps wrongly place Merra too far east (at Pt. 6,100m, a small summit). An unprepared party without the new Finnish maps would likely pick the wrong mountain, as Merra is actually a long way back from the Kumbhakarna glacier.

Our expedition attempted a route up the southeast glacier, which terminates in front of the northeast summit. Trekking from the airstrip at Taplejung, we reached base camp at Kham-bachen (4,040m) on October 14. Next day a small advanced base was established at 4,700m on the north side of the Kumbhakarna Glacier. Here, the glacier forms an impressive closed valley surrounded by Jannu, Yalung, and Anidesh Chuli.

Above advanced base a prominent, moraine-covered, glacial gully rises steeply to the northwest, making a wide left turn before reaching a large plateau at 5,200m. Camp 1 was established on the 16th at 5,450m on the upper plateau, in front of a rock arête splitting the southeast glacier into two distinct parts. The weather had been magnificent all week, and two nights later proved equally perfect, with no wind, moderate temperatures, and a clear star-strewn sky. We left camp at 5 a.m., and after a few hundred meters on snow-covered moraine, followed a moderate scree cone leading to an open couloir immediately east of the rock arête. Once across the heavily crevassed glacier, several short gullies led us up to the bottom of the southeast face of Merra at 5,800m. Over the last few days Ortmann had struggled with the altitude and decided to wait at this point while I continued solo. The southeast face gradually steepened to a broad 45-50° couloir at 6,000m. Here I was treated to spectacular views of Jannu, Kanchenjunga, Kangbachen and Chang Himal (Wedge Peak), as well as other fine peaks. At the top of the couloir some rock slabs, which gave slightly delicate climbing, led to the east-northeast ridge at 6,200m. The crest was narrow and exposed, and I reached the summit at 10 a.m. on the 18th, after a total of five hours from camp.

Claus Ostergaard, Denmark