After another freezing night in Tagnak, we crossed over the valley in front of Sabai Tsho and followed a stream up past Dig Kharka to Khare, our base camp for Mera Peak. Khare would be our home for almost 3 days, though homely it was not. No lodges here - we were back to eating in a freezing tent and, with temperatures at night-time nearing -20 celsius, it gave the impression of a place where humans stayed because they needed to, rather than because they wanted to. This was it, the end of the road, all that was left was Mera itself.
Our pause here was both to carry out a couple of acclimatisation walks and some glacier training - climbing snow slopes in crampons, using a jumar and abseiling (rapelling for those on the left hand side of the pond).
By now well into our second week of walking, we were all becoming hyper-aware of how we felt each day and the demands the trip was making. It was a unique feeling for me - every calorie that went in was going straight out again, and then some - the challenge was to get fuel into the tank and never get to the point that you're running on fumes. We were all obsessed with energy balance - achieving the day's goals at the lowest possible cost because, even here at the relatively low altitude of 5000m, recovery took way longer.
The second acclimatisation walk was a perfect example of how to get the energy balance completely wrong. Our first walk the previous day was textbook - straight up a ridge behind the village, poke our heads above 5000m for the first time, sniff the air, take a couple of pics, then back home within a couple of hours.
Today was different. We were led out by an assistant sherpa and started a laborious trek across the moraine to find a route up the chosen hill. It didn't take me long to realise that the round trip would be a lot harder than I expected, and my mood darkened as I realised what would happen - yes we were getting higher, but with the extra distance walked none of us thought the route choice sensible. By the time we returned to camp, all were agreed the day had been a disaster. For the first time on the trip I had to sleep in the afternoon to recover, and I knew I'd dug myself into an energy deficit.
The following day was equally annoying, but for different reasons. The plan was to trek up onto the glacier and get the crampons and ice axes out. By now, we were completely accustomed to having Pemba as a leader, and happy with it, so the arrival of a Western trip leader felt unnecessary, as Pemba was relegated to a supervisory position. The glacier training was fun, but took place on an unnecessarily steep snow slope, whilst other groups picked easier gradients. Once again, there were a few grumbles as we returned to camp for our last night in Khare before moving to High Camp on the mountain itself, mostly unhappy as to the new leadership regime in place, and a little concerned as our new trip leader's gamble with a shorter acclimatisation hadn't paid off - he was clearly unwell.