Welcome to our Trek in Nepal

Sharing the Culture and Beauty of this Mystic Land - May 2007

- Click Here For Larger Image -Island Peak Base Camp, Elevation 16,470 feet - May 22

When we arrived at Base Camp, our guys had already set up one of the dome tents and the cook tent. Kaji spread out a blue tarp for us to sit on and served us chapati (bread) tuna, cheese and chyya (tea). While we ate Bim and Pirim set up our tent, a North Face 3 person, 4 season dome tent. It was roomy. Kike advised us to rest. During our down time K read, while I made the journal entry.

Later, K and I took a short walk along the base of the mountain. We didn't go far. We stopped at a point overlooking the Imja Tse Glacier and a huge lake dammed at its lower end by a terminal moraine. When we returned to camp, we discovered another group had arrived. A Norwegian climber, his guide and porter, had settled near our camp. We chatted for awhile. He seemed to be an interesting character.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Cho Pulo from Base Camp at Sunset - May 22

The evening was closing in. For the first time on this trip the afternoon clouds stayed away. We could see the mountains at dusk. The light on the mountains changed from a warm golden hue to a rosey pink alpenglow.

As the shadows closed in and the sun set, it got dark quickly and the temperature plunged. So we headed to our tent and snuggled into our cozy sleeping bags for a good sleep.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Unnamed Peak in Morning Light - May 23

We awoke to amazingly clear and crisp Himalayan morning, with deep blue skies and chilly temperatures. Overnight the temperature dropped to -5 C (20 F). Once the sunlight hit camp things began to warm up quickly.

We were in no hurry. Tents had to be taken down and stretched in the sun to dry. Camp had to be broken and dokos had to be loaded.

We left camp and traversed along the base of the mountain a few hundred yards. There the trail turns steeply uphill. We were climbing ponderously slow. We watched as our porters with their heavy loads crested the ridge above us.

Kike led us on a less direct route. This trail provided ever expanding views as we gained elevation.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Island Peak High Camp - May 23

It took only two hours after leaving base camp to reach high camp (elevation 17,516 feet). There were several camp sites terraced into the boulder covered slope and no other climbing parties were here. Our guys set up camp at the upper most sites to provide the easiest access to the climbing route.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -K at Ridge Top, Elevation 18,648 feet - May 23

After a rest and a snack, Kike suggested we take a short hike about 100 meters up the climbing route. It sounded like a good idea. Kike and Lhakpa had their packs fully loaded with climbing gear and the heavy ropes for the fixed lines. We had only snacks, water and extra gloves in our packs.

As we started up the rocky route, K was having difficulty with the altitude and was moving very slowly. She would feel nauseous when she tried to go faster, but she persevered. We gained that 100 meters and Kike lead us farther and farther up the rocky climbers route. At times we had to use our scrambling skills to ascend some tricky areas, expending valuable energy.

Up and up we climbed until we reached a rocky point on the end of a pinnacled knife edge. Two large, prayer flag draped cairns, stood like sentinels on the ridge (elevation 18,648 feet). The views were unbelievable! We could see the summit of Island Peak above us, with Lhotse looming even higher.

Kike, Lhakpa, and I scrambled over the knife edge of rock. K stayed behind to rest and wait for my report on the conditions. It was an easy scramble. The route was wider than it appeared from the cairns, with excellent handholds and footholds. I was confident that K would have no difficulties crossing the knife edge.

The snow begins just beyond the rocky knife edge. This will be where we rope up and put on crampons in the morning. Kike and Lhakpa unloaded the gear and ropes they had been carrying. The ice axes, pickets, and ropes would await our return in the morning. It took us two hours to reach the ridge. It took only 40 minutes to descend to camp, where Kaji had a nice warm mango juice waiting for us.

We had an early dinner. We were in our tent before dark. Our bid for the summit would begin with a 3:00am wake-up call.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Summit Day - Pre-sunrise on Ama Dablam - May 24

In the middle of the night K awoke with nausea and headache, the classic symptoms of mountain sickness. She struggled with the symptoms for awhile, then took a full dose of diamox. The medication got her symptoms under control, but there was no way she would be able to make the climb in the morning.

At least she wouldn't have to be evacuated down the mountain in the middle of the night. She was terribly disappointed. We had traveled half way around the world for an opportunity to climb a Himalayan Peak. Now her aspirations had been dashed. I felt regret and a kind of remorse that she wouldn't be going to the summit with me.

Lhakpa awakened us at 3:00 am. He brought some tea and some hot noodle soup. I also ate some energy bars as I prepared for the adventure ahead.

Lhakpa had only his fleece jacket. K lent him her new red North Face shell jacket to better face the possible harsh conditions on the mountain. K wouldn't be climbing today, but her jacket would be going up the mountain.

Outside the tent, the starkness, intensity, and the vastness of the universe was overwhelmingly apparent. The deep blackness of the sky was sprinkled with the glittering gems of stars cast across the universe. Yet, as Kike, Lhakpa, and I left camp our universe was quickly reduced to only what we could see in the small circles illuminated by our headlamps.

The boulders and cliffs cast a parade of deep shadows as we passed. We made good time climbing the rocky climbers route to the ridge. The darkness gradually gave way to light as a crease of bright pink to the east spread and grew. When we reached the ridge, the pre-sunrise had transformed the masses of Ama Dablam and the surrounding peaks from the depths of shadows to a transcendent pink glow, while the west face of Island Peak remained in deep blue shadows.

Kike, Lhakpa, and I scrambled over the pinnacled knife edge as we had done the day before. At the edge of the snow, the Norwegian and his party were just finishing roping up and were heading onto the glacier. We sat on the cold exposed rocks, where we changed from our hiking boots to the plastic climbing boots, pulled on the harness, strapped on crampons, and roped up. I noticed Lhakpa's footwear was work boots and a rusty pair of hand-me-down crampons given to him by Kike.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Summit Day - Lhakpa at the Snow Bridge - May 24

Geared up, we headed out onto the glacier. Kike was in the lead. I was in the middle, Lhakpa followed at the end of the rope. An established boot path marked the route, as it curled up and over a mound, then flattened out before we reached along “S” shaped snow bridge crossing an enormous, gaping crevasse.

Kike examined the snow bridge from both sides to check its stability. I had a flashback to Kilimanjaro, and remembered how the altitude had affected my balance. I tested myself by balancing first on my left foot, then on my right foot. I felt good. I was ready to go. Kike started across the crevasse. I refused to be unnerved by the narrowness of those first 3 to 4 steps on the 16 inch wide snow bridge. I fought the temptation to look into the blue depths of the crevasse. I concentrated only on the snow bridge, only on where I placed each step.

From the tension I felt on the rope I knew Lhakpa was making the crossing without any problems. As the snow bridge widened, I was able to relax a bit. Another few steps and I was across. We continued to the next obstacle, a much smaller crevasse, but with its own challenge. On the opposite side of the crevasse a vertical eight foot tall wall reared above the ice.

The approach to this challenge was simple and forceful. Jamb the ice ax hard into the face of the ice wall while simultaneously jamming the edged of the right crampon into the face of the ice wall, step up, then hard with the edge of the left crampon. Reset the ice ax higher up the wall, self belaying, and again stepping hard with each crampon and the obstacle was over come. From the top of the obstacle we could see the head wall. From this distance it didn't look hard at all. We could see that the Norwegian and his party were about to start their climb up the head wall.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Summit Day - Approaching the Headwall - May 24

It was a long easy march across the glacier. There were potential crevasse problems on our right. Kike would pause every 40 steps or so to check for danger. As we got nearer, we could see the tiny specs that were the Norwegian and his team ascending the headwall.

It appeared much steeper than the 45 to 50 degrees I had read about. The headwall looked more like 60 degrees to me! We crossed the moat at the base of the headwall on a wide ice platform and unroped.

There was a large block of exposed blue ice at the first step up the headwall. Lhakpa grabbed the loose end of the fixed line and pulled himself up to the first anchor point. He clipped onto the rope and with his jumar (ascender) in hand started up.

Next it was my turn. I grabbed the end of the fixed line and swung out and over the block of blue ice, jamming my crampon into the hard snow and with my right knee pushed against the side of the chute to stabilize myself, I clipped the carabiner with a sling on it to the fixed line, then snapped the ascender onto the line and started up. Left crampon, right crampon, slide the ascender up, repeat. I had gained only about 12 to 15 feet. My heart was hammering in my chest and I was gulping for air. Left crampon, right crampon, hammer the pick of the ice ax into the snow, slide the ascender up, repeat. I was up the headwall 30 to 40 feet. I pushed my right knee into the snow to stabilize myself. I needed to breathe.

I needed to slow my heart rate. Breathe, Breathe. I was up about 60 to 70 meters, I paused at the anchor point to unclip from below the anchor and re-clip above the anchor. I looked up to see how much farther I had to climb to reach the ridge. I could see Lhakpa peering over the edge at me. Only 30 to 40 meters to go. Left crampon, right crampon, ice ax, slide the ascender up, I was getting closer, left crampon, right crampon, ice ax, slide the ascender.

I made it to the ridge and unhooked the ascender and safety carabiner, and stood on the narrow ridge next to Lhakpa. I took a deep breath and looked around. Kike arrived on the ridge a few moments later. He made the climb look so easy. Looking back down the headwall, I was astounded to see a Sherpa guide using only his safety tie and climbing hand-over-hand up the fixed line. He had left his client with his assistant at the bottom of the headwall.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Summit Day - Route Across the Galcier - May 24

Standing at the top of the headwall, I had a moment to catch my breath and reflect on where I was. The scenery was breathtaking. The view out across the glacier to the jagged Himalayan peaks was more that I had hoped for, or expected.

To understand the scale of this image, click on it to get an expanded view, and follow the zigzag line that starts in the bottom middle of the image, and follow it down to where is disappears behind the group of snow covered “hills” in the foreground. The specs you see along the that trail are people on the climb.

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- Click Here For Larger Image -Summit Day - Looking up the Summit Ridge

The next task was at hand. I turned toward the summit ridge and took 3 - 4 exposed steps up. There, I dropped to a knee and clipped onto the fixed line. I stood up and took a moment to marvel at the scenery, and the deep blue of the sky. With the fixed line in hand, I started up. Step, step, breathe, breathe.

At a wide area on the ridge I unclipped walked across and re-clipped. This is a very narrow ridge, barely wide enough for my size 12 boots, but I felt confident. I was about 80 feet below the summit when I looked up and saw that the Norwegian and his party were about to begin their descent.


How will we transfer our tie-ins on this narrow ridge? Why don't they wait until we reach the summit? Despite my loud thoughts, they were coming down. When our groups met, it was like a choreographed dance. Holding onto the rope with the left hand, unclip the carabiner with the right hand, reach around the other person and re-clip, let go of the rope with the left hand and re-grasp the rope. We did this three times, once for each member of the descending party.

The summit was so close now.

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