You may have thought that Joe Simpson had bowed out of high standard mountaineering. But you'd be wrong. The well-known Sheffield-based author and climber has recently put up a new route, solo, on the South Face of Nepal's popular Mera Peak.
6,470m Mera is one of the most frequented Trekking Peaks in Nepal, a gentle glacier ascent from the Mera La to the north east. But on the opposite side of the mountain, the South West Face falls steeply towards the Sanu Valley.
Jumbled ice slopes and large threatening serac barriers characterize the South West Face but in March 1986 Mal Duff and Ian Tattersall climbed the left side via the South West Buttress.
This c1,400m spur gave a frightful and dangerous glacier approach, followed by intricate mixed and ice climbing. The rock was generally poor, as was protection, and a grade of ED1 reflected the overall seriousness of the enterprise. This or a similar line was repeated shortly after by a New Zealand team, but went unrecorded.
Ray Delaney was part of the 1986 expedition and this autumn accompanied Simpson to the Sanu Valley, remaining safely ensconced at their 4,700m base camp, in full view of the mountain, while Simpson set off for a line on the right side of the face.
Starting up a rock rib at 5,150m, he bivouacked at 5,900m and the next day climbed a 75m wall at UIAA IV-V. This led to the toe of a very large and fractured serac barrier. The serac was deemed extremely unstable, so Simpson outflanked it on the left by a committing series of diagonal rappels down shattered rock to reach a couloir.
Although only 55-60°, the couloir was still threatened, but Simpson made to the exit that day, bivouacking in a crevasse at 6,250m. Ironically, just when he thought he was finally out of harm's way, a football-sized rock fell from the summit headwall and missed him by less than a metre.
Next day, a few slightly scary crevasses, the upper ice field, and a short rock band of III-IV led to the top. Descending the Normal Route, he reached Mera High Camp and bumped into a commercial group led by Tom Richardson. Simpson has known Richardson for 25 years and lives half a mile from his house in Sheffield
In memory of his two friends Duff and Tattersall, Simpson has named the route In Memoriam. Although technical difficulties would equate to an alpine route of around D+, Simpson feels an overall grade of TD+/ED1 is more appropriate, due to the serious risk of ice avalanche.
A successful operation on a bad ankle 16 months ago removed much pain and this route was supposed to be a farewell trip to the mountains. But whether from now on it's pleasant sport climbing and fly-fishing holidays remains to be seen.
In the photograph, In Memoriam follows the right skyline past the obvious, large serac. The South West Buttress takes the spur in the centre.