Island Peak Elements of a successful climb in adverse conditions

Myself and a team of 6 other successfully summited Island peak with Ian Taylor Trekking in September 2019. This climb incorporated a trek to EBC (Everest Base Camp) on route which aided our acclimatization. We were faced with variable weather conditions throughout our trip, particularly on Island Peak summit day, where poor visibility and an abundance of snow across the glacier and final headwall hindered our advances and resulted in a longer than expected summit day of almost 19 hours. This was an exhilarating but exhausting trip, which pushed us to our limits both mentally and physically and should not be underestimated. Below is an account of how I prepared for and completed this climb.

If you Google ‘climb island peak’ you will be bombarded with dozens of companies selling commercial expeditions to Island Peak, but why did I choose Ian Taylor Trekking?

Trust: This was the 3rd trip I’ve completed with Ian’s company. Two years earlier I
successfully climbed Kilimanjaro with Ian Taylor Trekking. That was my 1st high altitude
trek and both Laura and Ian were available to catch up over phone or email to help with
preparations. I learnt a lot on that expedition- how best to correctly acclimatize my body to the altitude, understanding why itinerary and choice of route are so influential to success.

Further to that I observed how the exceptional management of the trekking team contributes to higher success rates. In 2018, being more aware of my abilities, strengths and weaknesses I consulted with Ian again to take on Island Peak as a bigger challenge. Ian regards this as a climbing peak, and not a trekking peak-and rightly so!

Training: Climbing Island Peak should be an expedition that stretches your physical and
mental boundaries- not a torturous expedition you regret from start to end, and diminishes interest in future climbs. Physical preparation for me began 10 months in advance. I would consider myself to be a generally fit individual to begin with that enjoys most outdoor activities. (But allergic to a gym environment!) Fortunately, I live close to the mountains which helped with training. Developing endurance is key and sacrificing evenings and weekends and heading for the hills was essential- regardless of the weather! (sometime for multiple days at once). Also, not forgetting a gradual increase in your backpack load over time to push you that bit more. With the 19 hour summit day we had on Island Peak at 6000m, this training definitely stood to me.

Equipment: Ian and Laura provided us with a comprehensive equipment listing for this trek-as they do for all their treks. While most of us have our own preferences, styles, and budgets to invest in trekking and climbing gear, for me I gave most consideration to the following…

1. Quality Footwear: Good trekking boots and mountaineering boots with a variety of good quality socks. With 18 days in the mountains it is essential you protect
your feet and ensure that footwear is well broken in before the trip.

2. Quality and loft of Down jacket: This will be your primary insulation layer for
your core, especially on the colder days and as you get higher.

3. Combination of gloves (liners and outer): Appropriately insulated while flexible
enough to operate your technical equipment on the climbing sections. (Such
as your Jumar and Figure of 8)

4. Gortex rain gear. (upper and lower):  Always important to keep your core dry
to avoid getting cold, which can lead to sickness.

5. Sleeping bag: Temperatures vary with season but can be unpredictable at
times. A suitably rated and quality sleeping bag will help improve your quality
of sleep at higher altitudes. Important after those long days trekking to aid
your recovery.

Hydration: For my trip to EBC and Island peak, I utilized a 2 liter bladder along with two, 1 liter Nalgene bottles. With these I used a combination of steripen and water purification
tables.  Drinking a minimum of 5 litres of water a day was essential to keep us hydrated at higher altitudes. Topping up our hydration even further with unlimited teas and soup at our tea houses was also a good idea we took advantage of. With so many cheap and realizable options out there for water treatment I would encourage people to invest time understanding what’s works best for them, such to limit purchasing of bottled water on the trails.

Acclimatization itinerary: Ian Taylor Trekking adopt itineraries that give the whole group the best chances of success. We had 3 nights acclimatizing in Namche Bazar, 3,450m, and 2 nights in Dingboche 4,410m on our approach to EBC and Island Peak. More strategically we utilized a high camp at 5,500m on Island Peak ahead of summit night. This is located 400m higher than Island Peak base camp and was a key factor to our success as it reduced the altitude gain we faced on our summit day, hence better acclimatization and less fatigue.

Having had the 19 hour summit day due to weather conditions we appreciated the
importance the high camp had for us. Most other climbers at that time didn’t utilize high
camp in their itinerary and failed to summit, while others were being short roped down the mountain by their guides due to severe fatigue!

Technical Climbing Gear: Island Peak is a popular climb for those who want to reach
20,000 feet and get solid introduction to a technical climbing peak.  Having the best climbing gear at your disposal is no good unless you know how to use it properly and safely! Typical equipment used included ropes, harnesses, jumar ascenders, figure of 8s, carabiners, ice axe, crampons and helmet.

Ian’s team keep all the technical climbing gear in the village of Chuckung, which we stopped at on our trek to Island Peak base camp.  Some of our group had been fortunate to attend a winter skills course prior to this trip and were more familiar with the use of equipment. We trained that evening in Chuckung, practicing our rope climbing, abseiling and ladder crossings, with a firm emphasis on safely and team communication. We had the 2nd round of technical training at Island Peak base camp the following afternoon, and a final session again the morning after to ensure everyone was confident prior to departure for high camp.  For this training Ian’s team would fix ropes to the side of the steep valley for us to climb and abseil from, with 1:1 coaching and mentoring provided. In addition, we also practiced walking as a single unit while roped together, and effective use of ice axes in an emergency situation. Worth mentioning, our itinerary facilitated us spending a 2nd night in Island Peak base camp.

If we wished but seeing as conditions were more favorable and the team was comfortable with the gear and suitably acclimatized, we push onwards to high camp a day early.

Summit night/ day: We arrived at high camp at 5,500m at 2pm in the afternoon, relaxed in our tents for the evening and did a final gear check for our summit attempt. The Sherpa team brought food and drinks to our tent that evening to keep our energy up. We went to sleep at about 5/6pm and woke again at midnight. The Sherpa team greeted us again with tea and snacks before we departed.

Slowly we made our way up along the steep gully for the first few hours. This required a lot of scrambling, while the scree rock beneath was icy and slippery with the heavy snow that was falling. A lot of focus placed on our pace to ensure everyone managed their breathing and heart rates appropriately. After reaching the top of the gully, we maneuvered across a narrow ridge with steep drops either side, utilizing a fixed rope as a precaution but our feet and hands being our primary anchors.

Just before dawn, we reached crampon point at the edge of the glacier, and once gear was adjusted, we set off traversing the glacier linked together by rope. This was a slow and arduous crossing. The snow was soft and knee deep (even waist deep at time) which required more effort on all our parts to progress. Due to the weather conditions over previous weeks the usual ladder crossings were also no longer usable, hence we had to cross crevasses by abseiling in and climbing out multiple times. This was something that we hoped would not be necessary but was partially anticipated by our guides. This depleted a lot of energy in the group, but we had no choice but to push forward until we reached the base of the headwall where we took a short rest while we prepared for the final assent.

Due to the low-lying cloud there was no view of the summit from the base of the headwall, nevertheless with encouragement from our guides and team mates we began to link our jumar ascenders in and begin the assent. Many other expedition groups to Island Peak do not bring and set their own ropes on the headwall, instead utilizing the (somewhat questionable) existing ropes set earlier in the season, or even last season. Ian Taylor’s team always set their own ropes on the headwall and take them off the mountain again after.

Massive credit goes to Ian’s lead Sherpa guides on this summit climb that day- Ang Kami
Sherpa and Norbu Sherpa. Under the difficult weather conditions, they pushed through to anchor the ropes on the head wall, taking the necessary time to double check and triple check anchor points were secure under the deep snow. This was a slow and fragmented section of the climb because of the weather conditions, which tested our core and lower body strength. An unexpected challenge I faced was ensuring fingers and toes keept warm and functioning while we were waiting to advance to the next fixed rope. Worth noting that no matter how insulated your boots and gloves are, your extremities will eventually get cold if you stop moving, so important to keep the toes and fingers moving even if you are standing stationary.

After almost 2 hours on the headwall, the summit came into view and we transitioned to the last rope. The final push was on, and one by one we dug deep to reach the top. The summit is by no mean spacious, so safety is still paramount, ensuring we remained roped in at all times to avoid slipping or fall off the mountain. With a brief period of celebration and the compulsory group photo we refocused our minds to begin the decent. One by one we began our co-ordinated decent of headwall with our figure of 8s. With energy levels running low we then began travelling back over the glacier, retracing our steps down and up out of the crevasses. With limited day light hours available to us we pushed on promptly down the steep gully back to high camp, gathered our belongings there, and under darkness we continued down the mountain returning to base camp at 5,100m. Fatigued, exhausted but all in good spirits knowing we were the first group to successfully summit this autumn climbing season.

Over the next 4 days we continued our trek back down the valley. We retraced our steps
through Chukhung, Tengbouche, Namche and Lukla before returning to Kathmandu by
helicopter, having completed our 18 days expedition in the mountains.

Paudie Brosnan, 33 from Ireland.

Top 10 tips for climbing Island peak
Island peak is a climb not a trekking peak
Is it difficult climbing Island peak