Ascending Island Peak (6,189m) in Nepal

Nepal is amazing! You can hear the constant movements of glaciers, grinding against each other and against rock, witness avalanches or just sit down and be glad not to be on ‘that other slope’, where a lethal landslide just went off.

View from the summit (center: Ama Dablam)
After spending two weeks along the well-known Three Passes trek in the Everest region of Nepal, Fangwen and I (Tobias) headed to Chukhung (4,700m) for our final highlight in the Khumbu. We had previously arranged for a climbing guide to meet us there. Our destination: Island Peak (6,189m), one of the most popular peaks among mountaineers in Nepal.
Island Peak is aptly named, as it is situated in the middle of an amphitheater of some of Khumbu’s most impressive peaks (among them, Lhotse and Ama Dablam). Climbing it gives you a magnificent 360 degree panorama.
View to the other side: the Lhotse range
While waiting in Chukhung for our Climbing Guide, we met an American climber called Marcus, who was from Cascades Mountaineers in Oregon. We ended up join forces, and all hiked to High Camp (5,400m) together on the next day, where we had enough time for another practice round of ascending on a fixed rope.
A curious bird makes sure that the crampons sit tight.
Our alarm went off at 2am, and we were on our way shortly after 3am. Half of the ascend was in the dark, stepping up scree and boulders, with a bit of enjoyable light scrambling in between. We put our crampons on and stepped on the glacier (5,800m) at 5am.
Marcus ascends in the morning sun using the fixed rope.
The first little while on the glacier we went up gentle slopes broken by two large crevasses we had to cross using fixed ladders (secured by two fixed ropes). While exhilarating, it all went well and we approached on a rather flat section the final 150m headwall.
Crossing one of the crevasses.

This is where the fixed ropes and ascending techniques we rehearsed the last day got important. Previous to the trek I had researched, that the headwall was 50 degrees ice; not much more than what I had encountered on one of my previous trips. What we encountered was considerably steeper. It was overall more like 60 degrees, and a few moves were almost vertical on ice. Given that we only had dull crampons and a single dull ice axe each, the preferred way up was using an ascender. With this, an ice climb which would otherwise have been extremely difficult for us got so easy it felt like cheating.

Going straight up the headwall. Ridge at the top leads to the summit further on the right.

To this date, I am unsure about why exactly the section was so much steeper than described. It seems like the 50 degree route is a different one and involves gaining the ridge further on the left. The mountains in Nepal, however, are constantly changing such that the route taken by us is now the preferred way. On pictures I saw a broad summit ridge, when in fact it was narrow and steep to both sides.

Mt. Tobias, Mt. Fangwen, Mt. Lhotse

After a strenuous climb, we followed the ridge some 50 more meters to the peak and congratulated each other to our first six thousand meter summit. Chocolate and summit photos followed, and we started our long descend at around 9.30am. This proved to be as time-consuming as the ascent, since only one person at a time could abseil from the long fixed ropes. Changing ropes at anchors also proved difficult in some steep spots. On one occasion, I stepped comfortably on a small ledge in a foot-wide crevasse. I found it preferable to hanging for a long time on a nervously bent snow picket.

Summit shot with Ama Dablam in the background.

We stopped at high camp for a quick lunch, packed up and headed back to Chukhung. Although the trail was easy, we were so out of energy that it took us until 7.30pm to get back to the guest house. Exhausted but happy we enjoyed our dinner.

Huge icicles that luckily, we did not have ascend on.

Advice to those considering Island Peak:
- You need a guide, it’s illegal to do it on your own.
- Prices and conditions vary, so check with multiple companies. The government permit alone costs 350 USD. You will probably have to spend at least 800 USD for everything. Consider booking an extra day in case of bad weather on the summit day. Having a porter is also helpful.
- You have to arrange for a guide with a company in advance. But you can easily have a cancellation policy, such that if you are sick (e.g. mountain sickness), you cancel the trip 5-10 days before Chukhung and get your money back.
- Try to avoid large groups. (Avoid high season & hire guide for private tour)
- Get properly acclimatized. The Three Passes trek (clockwise) is an excellent option.
- Whether you want start your ascend from Base Camp (5,100m) or High Camp (actually, a bunch of different places at 5,400m-5,600m) is up to you. The former will mean a more strenuous climbing day whereas the latter will mean a risk of not feeling well at night, when sleeping at high altitude. We chose the latter, since we already had ten days of sleeping at around 5,000m, and were well acclimatized. Another concern is the lack of water up at High Camp during some seasons. (We also heard of one poor soul whose climbing guide though it to be a good idea to start from Chukhung. Needless to say, this is a very bad choice and the guy did not make it to the peak.)

This is the actual “climbing rope” which is up on the mountain all season as a fixed rope. Here it is on display next to a kids badminton racket in a store in Lukla. I would not recommend lead falls.

About Tobias Klenze

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