In October, we headed out to Nepal to climb Island Peak in Nepal. Island Peak, or Imja Tse as it is locally known, is a 6,189-metre high mountain in the Himalayas, so-called because it resembles an island jutting out of a sea of ice when seen from Dingboche.
For many trekkers, the 6,000-metre threshold is a big benchmark for more serious mountaineering. Climbing Island Peak involves not only walking at high altitude, but also some ropework, crampon skills and a lot of determination.
It might sound scary to some, but to Bucket List guide Gareth, this is what life is all about! So he was delighted to take a group of keen Bucketlisters out to climb this epic peak! Keep reading to find out what he got up to on our first Island Peak trek…
Day 1: Travel to Kathmandu
We arrived at our hotel in Kathmandu just after midday, following a long flight east with a brief stopover in Dubai. After settling into our rooms, we had a quick briefing on what there was to do in Thamel, the region of the capital we were staying in, where to find the must-visit places and where was best to eat.
Following this, we had the afternoon and evening to explore and experience the busy city. In the evening, we met up with the Everest Base Camp group, who were already in the country.
Day 2: Kathmandu city tour
The following day, after an early breakfast, we headed out in a minibus to visit some of the sites that were further away in the city, such as the Monkey Temple and the Boudhanath stupa. The day was made even more interesting thanks to the very knowledgeable, local tour guide who was leading us around.
With the following day being the first of nearly three weeks on the trail, myself and fellow guide Tony headed out for a pizza in the popular Fire and Ice Pizzeria.
Day 3: Flight to Lukla and trek to Phakding
After an early start with many nervous clients, we made it to Lukla, the gateway to the Khumbu region of the Himalayas.
The airport is known for the unreliability of its outbound flights due to the changeable weather and its treacherous airstrip. The flight went smoothly and all the team enjoyed a round of hot drinks before getting on the trail to Phakding and our teahouse for the first night.
The day was warm and the walking laboured as the first hike blew the cobwebs from the long day’s travelling away.
Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazaar
We woke to cloudy weather, as we had the day before, and would for the next few days. The weather in the lower reaches of these regions seems to be changeable and cloudy. The second day on the trail would take us meandering at first, slowly up, following the river until we crossed the Hillary Bridge, which was made famous after its appearance in the film Everest. It was followed by a long, steep climb into Namche Bazaar, where we could relax and enjoy an acclimatisation day.
Day 5: Acclimatisation day in Namche
Today was our rest day – but we weren’t planning on lounging around! We headed for a half-day walk up to the Everest View Hotel to aid our acclimatisation. Some of the closer 6000+ metre peaks towering above us, teasing us with short-lived peeks through the clouds. What was apparent, though, was the change in the terrain and landscape as we ascended to new heights.
Day 6: Trek to Tengboche
The following day we trekked to Tengboche, descending down into the steep-sided valley in the morning before slowly climbing back up the far side in the afternoon. The tea house in Tengboche overlooks a beautiful Buddhist monastery, which the group had the pleasure of visiting, creeping round in quiet whispers as they immersed themselves in learning about the lifestyles of the monks living deep in the mountains.
Day 7: Trekking to Dingboche
This morning we were up early, not to get on the trail in a rush, but because the weather was clear early, giving us our first glimpse of Everest, Nuptse and Lhotse directly up the valley.
However, from this distance, all three were overshadowed by the iconic Ama Dablam, which should be on any mountaineer’s bucket list. For the next few days, this mountain would be present on our right-hand side as the Imja valley traverses around it.
After following the busy trail along the side of the Imja river we eventually made it to Dingboche at 4200m, where we were greeted by the eccentric tea house owner, Ram, who is always eager to please. We also got our first sighting of the goal of the trip: Island Peak.
After settling into our rooms, the group left to explore the mountain village. The main “street” was on a very slight incline, and many were caught off guard with how even a stroll up to one of the many bakeries made them short of breath due to the thin air. Most ended up in Xafé 4410, where the film Everest is shown every day at 3 p.m.
Day 8: Acclimatisation day trek to Chukkung
The following day was our second acclimatisation day, for which we ascended up the valley, towards our final objective of Island Peak and the village of Chukung. We had a slow lunch here, buying our bodies as much time as we could to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen at this altitude, before heading back down the valley to our teahouse in Dingboche.
Day 9: Trek to Lobuche
The following day would take us into the Khumbu Valley, climbing steadily in the morning, but steeply after lunch to the Thukla Pass. Here there are brilliant views, both back towards Ama Dablam but also ahead towards Everest Base Camp. This is a very solemn point of the trek as it is the site of a memorial to many of the climbers, such as Scott Fischer and Rob Hall, who have lost their lives on Everest. We took a 15-minute break here to pay our respects to the lost climbers. From here, the trail continues gently to Lobuche, where we would stay the night.
Day 10: Trekking to Everest Base Camp
We rose early today to begin our trek to Gorak Shep and Everest Base Camp. There was another obvious change in terrain headed out from Lobuche as we were now trekking along and through the moraines.
The weather was perfect today, with clear blue skies and no wind. But it was still cold if you were sat still. Once at Base Camp, I found a spot to myself, leaning on a rock enjoying the view up towards the notorious Khumbu glacier on the mountain, with the sun warming my face.
Before long we were up, taking a team photo in front of the Bucket List flag and then heading back through the maze-like moraines to Gorak Shep, where we would spend the night.
Day 11: Kala Pattar
Before we headed back down the valley to Dingboche, we had an early rise to ascend a small mountain, Kala Pattar, which has a beautiful view over the Everest horseshoe as the sun rises. We had breakfast after returning, before heading back along the moraines, losing height as we walked, back to Dingboche.
Day 12: Back to Chukkung
The following day, feeling strong and acclimatised, the team made the short journey back to Chukkung. The afternoon was then spent practising the skills required to negotiate fixed lines on both ascents and descents.
The skills of the team at the beginning of the day were varied. Some had experience climbing and for others it was a completely new set of skills, having never put a harness on before. By the end of the day, everyone was feeling much more confident and ready for the challenge ahead.
Day 13: Trek to Island Peak Base Camp and summit!
After a cold night at Chukkung, we headed through the moraines once again to our tented base camp at 5100m, far below the summit of the mountain. The nerves around camp were obvious as everyone busied themselves, either preparing their kit for the following morning or practising their rope skills some more. Everyone was in bed early this evening – although I don’t know how well anyone slept!
We had our breakfast wake-up call at 12 a.m., before heading into the cold darkness at 1 am.
Looking up, I could see the long line of head torches lighting up the small space in front of each group member as they slowly made their way up the rocky steps, climbing higher into the cold, thin air. Tony was at the front, along with Remjin, one of our Sherpa guides. He had a team of three other Sherpas, staggered along our ranks, to help us to achieve our goal.
Daylight broke as we geared up at the snow base, strapping crampons to our oversized but warm boots, taking our ice axes in our hands and tying into a rope with five other group members to safeguard ourselves from the silent, gaping crevices. Eventually, we made it to the icy headwall, which is the last obstacle between us and the summit.
Finally, we reached the summit. The views from here were amazing, looking one way towards Lhoste, Everest and Nuptse, and the other way was Ama Dablam, and east to Makalu, another 8000m peak.
From here we abseiled down the headwall, that seemed to take so much effort to progress an inch, in a matter of minutes. The descent in daylight made us realise how far we had climbed through the night as we seemed to never get closer to base camp we could see far down the slope below us.
When we finally arrived back, we crashed into our tents for a deep night’s sleep.
Day 14-17: Back to Lukla
One last time, along the moraines we went, back to Dingboche, finally on our way back towards civilisation, even though we had three more days of trekking back to Lukla before our flight out of the mountains.
Back in Namche many of the group headed to the Irish bar, supposedly the highest in the world, for celebratory drinks. However, England was playing Australia in the rugby world cup semi-finals and the nearest TV showing the game was in Lukla. So an early start was needed to march back in time to watch the game with a midday kick-off.
We spent one more night here before an early and uneventful flight out of the mountains.
Days 18-19: Back in Kathmandu
Finally back in Kathmandu, we savoured the opportunity to have a proper shower and wash before one last day celebrating and exploring this vibrant city before the long flight back home.