Sitting in Kathmandu on Saturday 25th April would be an experience I will never forget. It was not just another month in Nepal. I woke up tired at our office in Kathmandu where I was meant to be staying for 7 days working on training and preparation for upcoming trips back into the Everest region. I had just come down from a very eventful trek to Everest base camp and climbing Island peak. At Lobuche 4,900m we were turned around due to deep snow. Myself and guide Ronan Friel were watching as small groups started walking towards Gorak Shep and Everest base camp at 6:15am. I watched a group of four people walking in blizzard conditions and watched as one person slipped and disappeared into the snow. With over a foot of snow, conditions were not right for trekking and with more serious risk crossing rocks and boulders to get into Everest base camp this would be a massive risk for our group. Just another month in Nepal April 2015.
At Lobuche 4,900m only 464m and 5 hours away we needed to turn around and head back lower to relative safety. It was a hard decision as we had positioned the team giving them a great shot at getting to Base Camp and achieving their goal. After some serious evaluation and calls to people higher up and lower down. At 9:30am we started moving back down the trail to Pheriche 4,200m. We still had to come down the Thukla pass on snowy and tricky conditions but 6 hours later and everyone in tact we arrived in a still cold and snowy Pheriche. The team were disappointed not to have reached Base Camp but enjoying each other’s company.
The following morning our group split. Nine of us moved higher to Chuckung at 4,700m in our attempt to climb Island peak 5 days later. The remaining trekkers would be moving slowly back down towards Lukla airport and back to Kathmandu. Conditions for the trekkers were icy on the trail and would take time to get back lower back down past Tengbouche. Four days later the trekkers arrived back in Kathmandu on the 17th April. Some people stayed on for a few days and others went back to their respective countries. April was already a strange trekking month, colder than normal temperatures, lots of snow, more challenges on the trail with so many yaks, porters and rock slides. Parts of the Everest Base Camp trail are risky and people do need to be aware of the risks. Staying well into the mountain side and moving a little faster on exposed parts of the trail is vital as the risk is very high.
On the 14th April our Island peak team moved back up a different valley from Everest towards Island peak. We walked for 3 hours past Dingbouche at 4,400m where we had previously stayed for two nights acclimatizing for the Everest base camp attempt. We past the memorial to the famous Polish climbers who died on the South West face of Lhotse the 4th highest mountain in the world. We finally arrived in Chuckung 4,700m where we would spend two night relaxing and preparing to move out into the wilderness area of Island peak. There are no phones, limited water and we are climbing with added risk and exposure to the elements. One big lesson for me and for others considering trekking to Everest base camp, climbing Island peak or any peaks or treks in Nepal and remote regions is: This is not for tourists!! Serious preparation is needed, training, mountain knowledge and understanding of wilderness medicine is needed. You need to be able to look after yourself and have lots of previous experience of walking and climbing (if applicable) on mixed terrain for long distances is essential. If you are unsure of what is required, ask………….. we have a wealth of knowledge and experience so you need to ask and be prepared. CLICK HERE and watch our Everest base camp video. CLICK HERE and watch some raw footage from one of our Island peak ascents.
After two days in Chuckung where we prepared all the climbing gear, food, tents and equipment we were ready to move. We had made an attempt on Chuckung Ri and reached 5,200m to acclimatize. It was apparent that two of the group were struggling and with wind, snow and cold temperatures I was getting a little worried about heading higher as I knew the challenges ahead. This would be my 8th attempt and 7th summit of Island peak. We were experiencing snow most days and constantly cold weather for the 15th April was strange. This was my 18th expedition to the Himalaya’s so fully aware of the risks and knowing we might not reach the summit of Island peak or even get close.
On the 16th April we moved slowly up the glacial moraine outside chuckung and the sun started to come out. It got quite hot and we slowly moved higher towards Island Peak base camp. Maybe two hours into the trek we were back to down jackets and gortex jackets as the wind and snow started again. We arrived into Island peak base camp cold. After yaks arrived tents were up and started to relax. We had a party in our tent that night with cards, music and a good laugh. The following morning the 17th April was about preparing our climbing gear, rigging up harnesses, equipment and training on steep terrain using our Jumar’s and practicing abseiling. All the climbers had used crampons, harness and abseiled before. This is essential if you plan on climbing on one of our Island peak teams. This experience can be gained anywhere but getting in a winter skills course somewhere in the world will stand to you as you decide to climb up and down steep icy and snowy terrain at a 50+ degree angle at 6,000m / 20,000 ft. This is very difficult and required serious preparation and consideration. Over all we had a strong team and without bad weather I was confident most people would make the summit.
On the 18th April we lost two climbers who returned to Chuckung to rest, get warm and recover. Our remaining team of seven would venture on to our high camp at 5,500m and a new height record for most of the team. Island peak sits at 6,189m and after the earthquake sits a little higher. We had an early lunch re-gigged our gear and moved up. It is a steep ascent from base camp up to high camp so taking it very slowly is essential. Exercise is an important element of acclimatizing but fatiguing the muscles and body is not good as it is harder to recover on the multi day trip. Energy is needed for the exhausting climb to the summit of Island peak and getting all the way back down again. From the summit we would have to down climb on tricky conditions 1,500m in one day after climbing up 700m at very high altitude from high camp to the summit. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THIS IN YOUR PREPARATION.
Once at high camp some people rested and some of the team went crystal quartz hunting. After more rest, snacks and food we rested, slept and prepared for the upcoming attempt on the summit of Island peak. At 1:30am we would leave for the summit of Island peak. We had hoped to be back in Chuckung between 2pm and 5pm. Always a long day, 14+ hours on the move with limited water, food. This is a challenging climb and not to be underestimated. Just because you can climb Kilimanjaro at 5,895m does not mean to can climb Island peak at 6,189m.
After eating, drinking a liter of water, applying sun cream, warming our gear in the sleeping bag and heating up our boots we took off into the night. It was cold and my watch read -12 celcius at it’s coldest with a wind chill on top of that. It took three hours to crampon point on steep, snowy and tricky conditions which were challenging for all.
Once at crampon point we needed to be fast, harness on, double check everything, crampons on, ropes sorted, radio’s on and everyone ready. We moved slowly. We are now at 5,950m / 19,520ft and needed to move slowly but efficiently to keep our timing of getting up to the summit and safely getting down. It was another 4 hours before we reached the summit. With lots of snow and two steps forward and one step back in deep snow it was taking it’s toll on everyone. The final 100m to the summit is steep, 50+ degree angle at 20,000 feet is extremely difficult and challenging and a lot of mental strength is needed. Eventually we all made it to the summit on a beautiful clear morning. It was a long journey down. We dropped from 6,189m t0 4,700m after coming up from 5,500m. This shows something of the challenge that is high altitude climbing on steep, snowy terrain in cold and tricky conditions. For more information on climbing Island peak, how to prepare, training needed. Contact me and I can help you prepare for your summit.
At 10am on Saturday 25th April myself and Dawa Chhiri Sherpa took a motorbike ride to Swayambhunath (The Monkey Temple) to have a chat about the previous trip to Everest base camp and climbing Island peak. We walked up the long steps leading up to the ancients temples. Took a look around and went to the Nirvana cafe. We ordered our cappuccino’s and sat and chatted about the trips, our 30 page dossier what we needed to add, change and do better. We even discussed earthquakes and what information we should provide on the subject. At 10:55am we walked back down the steps we had earlier come up, jumped back on the motorbike and arrived back at the hotel where are clients were staying. At 11:40am I sat and talked to Liza and Viktor about going to the royal palace. Paul Colton also wanted to come so we waited in the reception lobby for him to come down stairs. Two others were out walking the streets shopping and exploring the city and 3 climbers still in the mountains coming back from a snowy, cold Mera Peak where conditions were harsh and also challenging for everyone in that region.
We were waiting for Paul to come down from his room when the shaking started. At first I thought it was someone dragging bags up the stairs but within 3 seconds I was on my feet saying ‘lets go’. It hit fast and furious for about 20 seconds and then eased off for the following 2 minutes. For a split second I thought I was not going to get out of the way of falling buildings. I did watch as the hotel was swaying violently from side to side. Once the movement became less I looked out on the street and could see two building down. I was surprised not to see more buildings down. The earthquake felt pretty big although I had no reference, not having been in an earthquake before.
to be continued………………………………….