American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Malahangur Himal — Khumbu Section, Mera Peak (6,470m), South Ridge, In Memoriam

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2010

Mera Peak (6,470m), south ridge, In Memoriam. From October 29 to 31 I climbed a new route, solo, on the right side of Mera Peak’s southwest face. I named it In Memoriam, as a tribute to Mal Duff and Ian “Tat” Tattersall; the only other route on this face is their 1986 Southwest Pillar. Ray Delaney was part of that expedition, and he accompanied me to the Sanu Valley, remaining at our 4,700m base camp while I completed the climb.

I started up a rock ridge at 5,150m. Easy climbing and scrambling on the crest led to a knife- edge snow ridge and then an area of broken rock ridge where I bivouacked at 5,900m. Another snow/ice crest led to a rock wall, 75m high. A huge serac barrier above looked extremely unstable and dangerous, so instead of climbing the rock wall, I traversed left across an ice slope to a point where I could make a series of diagonal rappels over vertical bands of shattered rock. From prior binocular examination I was hoping to reach an ice couloir, which ran up the left side of the serac barrier for 200m and regained the upper face. Since I only carried a single 50m rope, the rappels were committing. After pulling the rope on the first rappel, I was unable to climb back to my starting point. If the couloir was not where I expected, then with my small alpine rack I felt I might not be able to descend the ground below.

Fortunately, I reached the couloir (50-55°). As I climbed it, occasional overhanging rock walls provided some protection from the decomposing left side of the serac. Ironically, just as I was safely past the main danger, a football-sized rock from the summit headwall missed me by less than a meter. I bivouacked at 5 p.m. in a small crevasse at the top of the couloir where it joins the upper left edge of the serac at 6,250m. I’d intended to continue to the top, expecting to summit in the dark, but had been shaken by the rockfall and decided to take shelter. Next morning I climbed up left past crevasses marking the junction of the serac with the upper face. I reached an ice ridge and followed it toward the summit. A 50m rock band in the upper section gave UIAA III/IV and easy mixed climbing, and I reached the top at mid-day.

Descending the Normal Route, I plodded into Mera High Camp only to bump into a commercial group led by Tom Richardson. I’ve known Tom for 25 years, and he lives less than a kilometer from my house in Sheffield.

I found it difficult to grade the climb. Technically it wasn’t hard but had a high seriousness factor. My best guess would be a Route Major (Mont Blanc) level of climb, with significantly greater commitment given the irreversible rappels and more time spent directly exposed to alarmingly unstable seracs. In years to come, if the seracs were to stabilize, a direct ascent of the rock wall and a route through the seracs would provide a more satisfying line, probably at D+. However, given the current risk of ice avalanche, I assess the 1,200m route at TD+/ED1.

Joe Simpson, U.K.

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