My 11th Summit attempt on Island peak Nepal. I have trekked into Island peak base camp 5,100m 11 times now. I consider myself very lucky to be able to make this journey into critically low oxygen environments and be able to helps others in their journey to climb high to 6,189m/ 20,305 feet high in the Everest region. On 9 out of those 11 times I made it to the summit but this journey was to be a little different.
The last journey I made to Island peak in early October 2016 was the worst weather I have ever seen in the Everest. We didn’t see Everest until day 8 of the trek. We were almost snowed out at high camp on Island peak at 5,500m. The weather gave us a window and we took it. The whole team made it to the summit.
This journey was amazing, great team, one of the strongest so far and great weather every day for 14 days. The temperatures were above normal with crystal clear views of the mountains each and every day. As we take our time heading into Island peak we took one night in Dingbouche 4,410m after returning from Kala Phattar 5,545m. We then moved to Chuckung 4,700m for an afternoon of ladder training, abseiling and Jumaring. We tested the team that morning on the walk to Chuckung and everyone was up for the challenge. Each team member came prepared and had good technique on the abseil which was the critical section of the Island peak experience. We had one minor mishap on the ladder crossing when one of the team stumbled down the ladder and into the rock on the far side, no damage done. Head and helmet intact. A reminder to the whole team that each step is important and constant concentration is needed when high on a mountain, glacier, head wall all in cold challenging conditions at 6,000m/ 20,000 feet high in the sky.
6 people did need to be rescued off Island peak the day as they pushed themselves past the limit. Once again the shocking display of safety on the mountain was apparent. Poorly equipped local guides trying to literally push people up the mountain on dangerous snowy ridges with no ropes and total disregard for their client’s safety. People really need to spot and think about the climb, risks and preparing correctly to summit Island peak. It is not a trekking peak and you need excellent physical conditioning along with an excellent acclimatization program. DON’T be fooled, just because the local guide is a Sherpa does mean anything. You need to have your own team ropes, have prepared for ladder crossings and be competent in abseiling.
I felt so bad for our team, they were strong, well prepared. We had 8 climbers in total. After trekking into Everest base camp one of our climbers left ill at Gorak Shep 5,180m, he picked up a nasty cold and had to helicoptered back to Kathmandu, his trip was over. Another team member had a cold but it did not spread to a chest infection and he was able to recover for the summit attempt on Island peak. We also had our head climbing guide Athumani from Kilimanjaro with us. He was hoping to become the first Tanzanian to climb Island peak above 20,000 feet and hopes to climb Everest in 2020, if he can get funding.
The rest of the team marched strong to Island peak base camp and were managing well living above 5,000m. Our training in Chuckung 4,700m went well and our climbing preparation at Island peak base camp 5,100m when very well.
After leaving Chuckung we all made it to Island peak base camp in under 3 hours which is our target and every was looking ok. One of the team members had been struggling with lack of appetite, and altitude and on the second morning in Island peak base camp decided to return to Chuckung, rest and recover. The rest of the team would catch up after our summit attempt.
After two nights at 4,700m and the weather still playing ball 6 out of the 8 climbers pushed up to high camp 5,500m. Some of us when up to 5,575m looking for crystals, rocks for loved ones. They could really feel the extreme altitude at this elevation. We could see way down to base camp, along the Imja lake and lower into the valleys. The weather started to shift that afternoon, the wind picked up, and clouds started to build as we moved back down towards high camp.
By 3pm we were all set up, tents, gear, snacks, cameras were ready for long slow 14 hour summit day from high camp 5,500m to the summit 6,189m and all the way back to Chuckung 4,700m. I was in the tent with Athumani from Kilimanjaro and he was ready, very excited to be going for the top. I took a final look outside, everything was fine and drifted into sleep.
I was woken abruptly by some load bangs of thunder and sharp lighting flashed across the tent. The tent was covered with snow and the snowing was coming down hard. It was 11pm and we were due to wake at midnight and then leave at 1pm so the people following up from base camp would not interfere with our climb. We always bring our own ropes and had planned to pull them up after us as people never bring their own ropes and delay us abseiling to the glacier after climbing to the top.
It was 11:35pm and Ang Kami, our head climbing Sherpa came to my tent to discuss options. We said we would delay for an hour, until the snow stopped and 4am would be our cut of point. After 4am we would struggle to manage our time correctly on the mountain and might not make it to the summit and back to Chuckung before dark.
At 2:15pm there was hazy cloud and the moon could be seen through the haze. I decided we could make an attempt for the top and we all prepared and left at 3am. It was slow going as there was 4 to 6 inches of snow on mixed rocky terrain. That makes it more challenging. The journey up into the night is already challenging with 50% less oxygen getting to the muscle, with slippy, snowy conditions it was harder than normal. I was more worries about the way down, if the sun didn’t come out and melt the snow it would take an additional 3 hours to safely make our way through the steep, snowy and slippy gully sections high on Island peak.
The team were moving strong and consistently upwards. They worked hard to managing each step and getting the deep breathing to make sure the body was getting enough oxygen to the muscles. We were making slow progress, but consistently moving and I was confident that everyone would make it to the summit.
Two hours in, the snow start falling again, but there was no wind. I was happy to wait for the sun to come up and see how the weather would change. We decided to move on and evaluate the conditions every 20 minutes. We keep moving put the snow kept on coming. At 6am, 5,900m I decided to turn the team around. From this point it would normally take 1 hour to return to high camp, but because of the snow and conditions it took 2 and a half hours.
We arrived back into high camp at 8:30am and start planning a 2nd attempt on the summit of Island peak. We had some logistical challenges to over come before that would happen. Three team members wanted to stay and try again. The rest of the team would return to Chuckung 4,700m. I checked the weather report and high winds were on the cards. We managed to get the gear, teams and everything sorted. It would be a long, high wait until midnight and make a decision on going to the top.
It snowed all day at high camp before clearing in the early evening. I woke at 11pm and checked out the scene higher on the mountain. I could see high winds higher and had to make the call to cancel the 2nd attempt. I knew the guys would be gutted. We went back to sleep. We would wake at 6am and prepare to leave for Tengbouche at 3,900m 8 hours away. It was a long walk back lower to pick up the rest of the team but we had to get underway to make it back to Lukla and Kathmandu in time. A great adventure with a great bunch of people. I look forward to getting back to Island peak in September. Join me here in 2018…………..