Steve Wroe, our India and Himalaya Destination Manager, has just returned from climbing Island Peak. He gave us his thoughts on the trip…
We introduced Island Peak into the Gecko’s range of Nepal treks for a simple reason: for a relatively low cost, anyone who is fairly fit and adventurous can stand on the summit of a mountain in Nepal. Climbing a mountain is an amazing experience and is not restricted to hardcore, bearded adventurers.
One of the great things about Island Peak is that it’s only a short diversion from the Everest Base Camp trail. Everest Base Camp offers the perfect warm-up for Island Peak because you become accustomed to walking several hours each day….and the thinner air!
Everest Base Camp alone is a great trek – one of the world’s best – and we were feeling fit and acclimatised as we turned off the main trail for the one day walk to Island Peak Base Camp. Here, the climbing Sherpas and our leader Passang Sherpa (Passang has led treks for us for well over 10 years and summitted Everest in 2006) spent the morning showing the group how to fit their harness and crampons, how to ascend and descend a fixed line rope and other basic climbing skills.
I must admit that most of us didn’t sleep all that well the night before the attempted climb to the peak…partly because we were excited but also because summit attempts require a 1am wake-up and 2am start! Most of the group had no climbing experience so there was a sense of excitement as everyone fitted climbing boots, helmets, harnesses, karabiners and grasped their ice axes in anticipation. We had a beautiful day – clear and sunny – as we crunched along the snow, looking up at the ridgeline that leads to the summit.
We were very well acclimatised so the summit approach was not nearly as hard as expected, despite being at close to 6000m. The headwall up to the summit ridge, however, was steep and pretty challenging…but if it was too easy there would have been no sense of satisfaction. The view from the top is amazing. Lhotse’s imposing 8414m peak rears its brutal head just a few kilometres to the north on the Tibetan border. Looking back down the valley, Ama Dablam (regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful mountains) is prominent and the Lhotse glacier – a massive, tumbling, cracking river of ice – looks tiny when seen from one vertical kilometre above. It’s a staggering view.
Climbing Island Peak isn’t easy, but I can assure you that standing up at over 20,000 feet above sea level (6189m), peering across at the world’s highest mountains, fills you with a sense of satisfaction that will leave you on a high for months. If you want to turn an average year into an amazing one, have a think about climbing Island Peak next season!
Reaching the top is an obvious highlight but I also think that for most people, the summit approach is something they’ll never forget. It’s not every day you are roped up with an ice axe in your hand, working with your team to negotiate the glacier…and the scenery is unbelievable. Most of our trekkers say that the highlight for them is interacting with the Sherpa people, and I wouldn’t argue with that.
Fitness and preparation:
Island Peak is challenging, but pretty much anyone who is aerobically fit can manage it. If nothing else it provides a very good incentive to work on your fitness! A few weekend bushwalks, plus some running and bike riding during the week, or perhaps gym classes, is enough for most people in terms of preparation. Stair climbing is a great way to build up leg strength. Start training 3 months out and then do extra session in the last month. If nothing else, it helps your confidence.
Tips while on the trail:
I have said it 100 times but people still don’t listen…walk slowly! It is often the most competitive, fittest person in the group that suffers altitude sickness because they treat each day’s walk as a race. Take it easy, enjoy the view, take lots of pictures…the golden rule is that if you’re out of breath while walking, you need to slow down a bit.
On that subject, while you’re out trekking, relax and enjoy yourself. You’re in good hands. A positive mental approach is as important as fitness so don’t stress about whether you’re fit enough…you most likely are.
Also, I really like a beer and a steak (a lot actually) but once I’m on trail, I’m alcohol-free and meat-free. Alcohol doesn’t help acclimatisation and although our lodges are great, you can never be 100% sure about the provenance of your yak steak.
Key things to bring:
You’re supplied with all the climbing gear. A few things you can’t skimp on are: good gloves (preferably a silk inner liner and good outer glove), a head torch for summit day (did I mention a 2am start!?) but also for reading at night etc., and I personally love a silk sleeping bag liner. And finally, good sunglasses are a must as the UV up there is very strong.
Thanks Steve! If you’d also like to give Island Peak a go, we have a 22-day Everest Base Camp & Island Peak adventure.