He was on top of the world. Tears of joy sprang
to his eyes despite his exhaustion as he dug the Sri Lankan flag
into the snow. After long months of preparation and tiring days
of tortuous climbing, he had finally made it. As he looked at the
incredible beauty of the Himalayas, it was a moment of indescribable
On April 17 this year, Elmo Francis became the
first Sri Lankan to reach the summit of Mera Peak which stands at
|The Mera Peak
The eldest in a family of four, 29-year-old Elmo
always had a deep yearning for adventure. An avid nature-lover and
water sports enthusiast, he began exploring local peaks such as
Knuckles and Adam’s Peak and in his first expedition to the
Himalayas in 2001, trekked to the Ama Dablam base camp, at an altitude
of 5700 metres.
|A triumphant Elmo
The mountain he set his sights on this time was
Mera Peak in the lovely uninhabited Everest region in Nepal, the
highest of all trekking peaks in the Himalayas.
Preparing for this expedition was no easy task,
says Elmo. He spent hours on research, made sure he would be in
excellent physical condition to undertake the rigours of the expedition
and wrote letter after letter, until he ultimately convinced several
organisations including MAS, HSBC, Kodak and the Sri Lanka Tourist
Board to sponsor his expedition.
Finally, on April 5, he was his way to Delhi, from
where he travelled to Kathmandu where he was met by executives from
Explore Himalaya Travel & Adventure, his agents in Nepal. The
flights were sponsored by SriLankan Airlines and Royal Nepal Airlines.
He began his trek from the small Sherpa town of
Lukla on April 8, accompanied by his team of two sherpas or climbing
guides- Phurba Pasang Sherpa and Lakpa Sherpa, a cook and five porters.
Passing a number of tiny hamlets, they entered an area of thick
forest on a hillside before they reached Chutanga, the first camp.
Here, they spent two days getting acclimatized. The next challenge
was to cross the Zatrwa La pass, which connects the two valleys
of Khumbu and Hinku. This was one of the hardest parts of the climb,
due to the technical difficulties of the ascent, says Elmo.
Their climb continued through long, cold days,
filled with the beauty of pine forests and rhododendron trees, snow-capped
boulders, alpine lakes and fleeting glimpses of wild life. Crevices
created by the movement of ice plates had to be crossed with great
care and the experience and knowledge of the sherpas proved invaluable
in this, says Elmo.
A memorable part of the trek was meeting some
Maoist rebel leaders, in whose territory he now was and to whom
he had to pay a donation of Rs. 5000. Another was his short visit
to the Gompa temple on the rock, where he was blessed by the Lama.
|Elmo and his team at the peak
In the late afternoon of April 16 they reached
high camp, at an altitude of 5800 m where they enjoyed a meal of
soup, porridge and tea and settled down to a much needed rest. By
now the whole team was completely worn out, the low oxygen levels
taking their toll.
Waking up at 1 a.m., Elmo took a moment to absorb
the strange and mystic loveliness of the mountainside by moonlight.
The time had come. After sipping cups of hot coffee and eating the
special high-nutrition breakfast prepared by the cook, they began
the final leg of their journey.
By sunrise they had reached an altitude of 6000
m. At 9.30 a.m. Elmo’s dream was realised, and he stood on
the summit of Mera Peak. Crying and laughing at the same time, his
team mates hugged each other, as they used the satellite telephone
to transmit the news of their success.
“No one can take away this feeling,”
Elmo says with pride, “I’ve learned a lot about myself
and what I am capable of.”
Mountaineering is a matter of life and death and
you need to know exactly what you are doing, says Elmo. The right
clothes, climbing gear, and above all, the right attitude are essential.
As one reaches higher altitudes and oxygen levels drop, physical
exhaustion sets in, he says, and with it many climbers begin to
wonder if the ascent is worth it. A climber has to go slowly, allowing
his body to adjust to the changes. After a certain point the brain
only concentrates on the vital parts of your body, such as the heart
and lungs; from there, he says, you climb on sheer will power alone.
Elmo believes in taking risks, but calculated
ones. Bad weather, deteriorating physical health-all this must be
taken into account he says, adding that if he had sensed these at
any point, he would have turned back. “You have dreams - but
there’s a fine line between what you can achieve and what
you can’t. You have to take a million things into consideration.”
An Assistant Manager at HSBC, also reading for
his degree in Sociology, Elmo says he needs to concentrate on work
and studies for a while before his next adventure. But isn’t
he hoping to climb Mount Everest sometime? “Definitely,”
he says with a grin.