sland Peak is a 6,189m mountain in the Nepal Himalaya. It is situated in the Mahalangur Himal section of the Himalayas within the Khumbu region, and between Lhotse’s South Face and Ama Dablam. Island Peak is a trekking peak, but not in the conventional sense. In order to climb it, you must already have some experience on steep snow and ice, and be familiar with how to use mountaineering equipment (ice axe, crampons, rope and harness).
Trekking towards the Himalayan giants of Lhotse and Everest is the most beautiful way to get to know the country and its many diverse people. We walk through villages, soak up the unique mountain landscapes and visit Buddhist temples. We are also treated to fascinating insights into the Buddhist culture of the Sherpa people. The walking combined with the culture in this immense, seemingly endless sea of high peaks, makes it an altogether unforgettable experience.
The 18-day trek takes us along the classic Khumbu trail to Island Peak Base Camp (5,100m), the starting point for our climb up the 6,189-metre-high Island Peak. We have been on the move for seven days already before it’s time to set out for the summit the following night. We check out our surroundings thoroughly and our guides give us a safety training session so that we are ready for the rope handling techniques we’ll require the following day. After an early dinner, we retreat into our tents and the warmth of our sleeping bags. Temperatures quickly drop below zero once the sun sets here and on cold nights it can get down to minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Shortly after midnight the camp comes to life again. Head torches light up the night sky as we make our final preparations for the climb. Following a quick breakfast, we get into our groups with our Sherpas and head off. The first few hundred metres are still level, but then the dusty, rocky trail starts to get steeper and steeper, mercilessly snaking its way higher. The cold of the night is bearable; above us a starry sky and no wind – it all points to perfect conditions for summitting. Once we hit the first steep section of ascent, health concerns force 3 of the group to turn around.
The scree trail carries on to about 5,800m. A little further up, there are a few easy climbing sections (Grade I). As we get to the edge of the glacier, we rope up and put on our crampons. We start to move over the glacier. The first rays of sun bring with them renewed energy and motivation as we negotiate the next section across wildly rugged, glaciated terrain. The thinning air means we have to keep the pace slow. Then, over steep ground, we must circumnavigate a few crevasses or cross them using ladders, before continuing over a flatter section that leads to an ice face.
From here however, we can already make out the last few metres that lead up to the summit. We make our way up the imposing route made of snow and ice – luckily conditions are perfect. Any tricky sections are secured with fixed line that you clip into using a jumar on the way up, or a belay device on the way down, placing your entire trust in it.
Step by step, with the fixed line for safety, we make our way slowly up the steep summit face. Those 200 metres are tough, before we make it out onto a narrow névé ridge. The well protected, snow-covered ridge takes us a few metres further up to the summit. Overjoyed, we throw our arms around each other and lap up the summit moment in incredible conditions.
All the effort and suffering have been through on the way up is now forgotten, as we stand on the summit of Island Peak, at 6,189 metres the highest point of our trip. On one side, the massive South Face of Lhotse rises up another unbelievable 2 ½ km higher than us, and on the other side, the view stretches from Makalu in the east, over Baruntse and to the North Face of Ama Dablam – with us in the middle of it all enjoyingfantastically still conditions. We spend about 15 minutes on the summit before turning back, with some of us feeling a little queasy and concerned at the prospect of the steep, exposed terrain we need to negotiate on the descent. It is a tiring and lengthy process, in particular due to the sudden change in the weather. We’re hit by a snowstorm. The wind picks up, it’s cold and visibility is deteriorating by the minute.
When we hit “crampon point” at around 5,800m, the weather changes again, and we leave the snow, ice and wind behind us as we snake our way down the scree trail again. We enjoy the last rays of sun as we reach the camp in the early afternoon and, exhausted but overjoyed, get a good night’s rest, because the next morning we will continue our journey through the breathtaking Himalaya.