Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Ascent of Island Peak (6,189m)

We were woken at 1am to the sound of our guide, PK, calling our names. My tentmate, Jens (Sweden), had guessed that the temperature inside the tent would be 0°C by this time, rising from -3°C when we went to bed. Unfortunately he was wrong. Inside the tent was now -7°C whilst outside it was -10°C and windy. The full moon illuminated the tents huddled amongst the rocks at base camp.

After a thin porridge and thermos of tea, we began our ascent at 2am. The wind was blowing strongly in the dark, and we were wrapped in down jackets and gortex for the uphill. From base camp at 5,100m, we gained 700m over the next four hours, walking and scrambling over a well defined path. Just below the crampon point, Jen decided to abandon her summit attempt. She had been very cold for the whole walk and was nearing hypothermia. Lhakpa, our cook, turned back with her and insisted on carrying her bag down – not something she's used to! [After a brief rest and a cup of hot tea at base camp, Jen walked to the lodge in the village of Chukhung to wait for the rest of the team to return.]

We reached the crampon point just as day was breaking. The sun warmed and boosted morale. Putting our crampons and harnesses on took almost 20 minutes. We then walked for almost an hour over hard glacial ice to the foot of the fixed ropes. Jumaring up the fixed ropes took me around two hours. It was exhausting climbing the 300m - angled at around 45 degrees. All the time, taking care to place feet and iceaxe securely. At one point, I over took a Japanese mountaineer who was doing the peak Alpine Style. I was the slowest in our group, and by the time I reached the summit ridge, PK and Jens had vanished. For a moment I panicked, thinking I had been abandoned at 6,000m. Then, on the left, our second guide Mingma was waving at me to clip into the safety rope which led to the summit.

A further 45 minutes of slow ridge walking led to the summit, the rope arcing in the wind. To my left, Lhotse towered with the wind blowing plumes of spindrift into the sky. At 9.30am, I reached the summit. People were taking photos as I emerged from the ridge. Fortunately, my goggles hid the tears in my eyes – I think they were tears of relief that the draining uphill had finally ended. It was great to see Lhakpa Sonam and everyone on the summit.

Spending around 20 minutes on the summit, we took photos and then began to make our way down. This time we abseiled down the fixed ropes and reached the crampon point at 10.30am. We shared some Toblerone before making our way back down the path. The effects of altitude began to hit me, and I felt nauseous during the descent. Reaching camp at 12.30pm, there was time for a brief sleep before our cook, Lhakpa, woke me with noodle soup and hot orange tang. Still feeling nauseous, I managed only a few mouthfuls before I began the march back to Chukhung and Jenni.

(Coincidentally, Mingma smoked like a chimney and had climbed Island Peak two days in a row!)

***Additional photos from Jens and Mia***

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auntie Liz said...

WOW ! well done Andy.

Love auntie Liz x