Island Peak (6,189m), as seen from Dingboche on the approach, lies central in a sea of glaciers. It is dwarfed by Lhotse (8516m, and the fourth highest peak in the world) on the left. The Regular Route is behind the ridge on the right of the mountain. (All photos by Tim Mosedale)
These notes have been prepared for Needle Sports by Tim Mosedale, a qualified mountaineering instructor who leads commercial trips to Island Peak. They are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of mountaineering and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to climb mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way.
Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead.
Q: Where is Island Peak?
A: At 6,189m (or a tad over 20,000ft) Island Peak is located in the Everest region of Nepal. Imja Tse, as it is known locally, lies towards the head of the Chukkung valley and was so named because it stood like an Island surrounded by a sea of glaciers. It is aptly named. Lhotse and Nuptse are to the north, Makalu to the East, Baruntse to the South East and Ama Dablam to the South West. It is right in amongst the giants.
Q: How do I get there?
A: You could walk in from the roadhead at Jiri but most people fly into Lukla. From there you follow the Everest Base Camp trail through Namche Bazaar before heading up to the village of Dingboche. From here you follow the trail, in another 2 days, to Island Peak Base Camp.
Q: How hard is it?
A: It's not really that bad. Island Peak is well within the reach of most trekkers and mountaineers as long as you are with a guided party. The main thing that gets people is not the terrain but the altitude.
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: Autumn is the best time of year as the weather is becoming more settled as you move away from the monsoon. Later in November/December it starts to become quite cold so Oct/Nov is the best time. The other classic time of year is Spring when it is becoming progressively warmer. The only minor drawback is that the weather is also prone to being more unsettled with increasing cloud and decreasing visibility due to the haze.
Looking back down the ridge from the summit of Island Peak with Ama Dablam (6812m) in the background
Q: How should I prepare myself for this mountain?
A: You need to be mountain fit. You should endeavour to be able to arrive at Base Camp in a good healthy state. It could take you as little as a week to get there but then you would probably not be very well acclimatised. A far better approach is to trek in the Gokyo valley, or along the Khumbu trail first, so that when you get to Base Camp you are not going to suffer from any altitude related problems.
Q: So what kind of gear do I need?
A: Island Peak is a reasonably non-technical mountain. There is glaciated terrain higher up and it is usual to fix ropes on the headwall and summit ridge. So you will need karabiners, helmet, jumar (ascender), ice axes, crampons, warm mountain boots, extra clothes, water, food, Cat 4 glasses etc. It can get quite chilly up there too so you need good gear and clothing to protect from the cold and the wind. Oh, and a 4 or 5 season sleeping bag will come in handy too!
Island Peak summit day, with Makalu (8463m, and the fifth highest peak in the world) looming in the background.
Q: What kind of clothing?
A: Lots of layers are the way ahead as this then gives you lots of options. Trekking in from Lukla, you can wear shorts and a T-Shirt (I personally favour long trousers to protect a) me from the sun and b) the locals from my knees). On a daily basis you'll be getting up and putting your down jacket on only to take it off again when the sun hits camp after breakfast. From Base Camp to High Camp I tend to just use my trekking clothing as the terrain is reasonably straight forward (although the altitude will take its toll). Generally the starts aren't too horrendously early until summit day and so it isn't bitterly cold. I take a Primaloft top for my days on the mountain as I find down to be too bulky and a lot heavier.
Q: What about food and water?
A: One key issue is to drink P L E N T Y. If you become dehydrated you will not only suffer a marked decrease in your performance but you will also be more susceptible to the affects of altitude. It's not so high that people suffer with being put off their food (as can happen when camping above 6,500m) but you must get in to the habit of forcing yourself to eat and drink even if you can't be bothered. When at Base Camp or on rest days you should chill out, rest, eat, drink, eat, drink and rest some more.
Q: Do I need permission?
A: I'm afraid so. You need to get a trekking peak permit which is valid for Island Peak (this by the way is why it is known as a "trekking peak"). You will also need a team of porters to get all your equipment to Base Camp and it is advisable to have some Climbing Sherpas and a Sirdar as well. Then you have to decide whether you are going to use tea houses along the way or whether to camp en route. The last tea house is at Chukkung which means that you need to be self sufficient from then on. So you'll be needing a cook crew for you and the rest of your staff. And so it goes on. The easiest way? Get someone to organise all this for you.
Q: Which route do you do?
A: The regular route approaching from the south is the most popular. There are other routes but they are generally far more technical, not as easily accessed and generally objectively quite dangerous too.
Q: How long will it take?
A: I run a 3 week itinerary which allows for a few days in Kathmandu, a 2 week trek in the Khumbu getting acclimatised, a few days on the mountain and about 4 days to get back to Kathmandu.
Wending your way amongst beautiful scenery and a great route on Island Peak.
Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?
A: Generally in autumn the weather is more settled than in Spring. As you move in to November it does get colder but it's not bitterly so until December. Whilst it is sheltered by Lhotse to the North it also stands alone at the head of the Chukkung valley and it can be reasonably windy some days. Temperatures can drop to -10 to -15C at night at base camp but by day it usually quite pleasant. At High Camp it can get to -20 to -25 at night so a 4 or 5 season sleeping bag is essential.
Q: What about altitude sickness?
A: Acute Mountain Sickness can be a problem when going over 3,500m (although some folk start to suffer at 2,500!). The itinerary has been designed to maximise everyone's chance of getting to Base Camp in a fit state. There are plenty of days built in to the itinerary to allow people to acclimatise steadily. There are a few rest days and even a few spare days built in just in case. One of the key things at altitude is to move s_l_o_w_l_y and to drink PLENTY. If you have a headache - taken Paracetamol. If it doesn't go away - don't go any higher, maybe have some more Paracetamol (no more than 8 in 24 hours), chill out and drink fluids. If it still doesn't go away then descend. Have a good old rest and then go back again - s_l_o_w_l_y. Diamox is often used by people to kick start the acclimatisation process and I don't have an issue with that - for some it works really well. But if you find yourself reaching for Dexamethasone or Nifedipine then I would say that you have overexerted yourself, overextended your stay and potentially have a BIG problem. It is definitely time to go down. In fact why didn't you go down earlier?
Approaching the summit of Island Peak. Makalu (8463m) in the background.
Q: What is the biggest problem most people face?
A: Either not arriving at Base Camp fit and healthy or the altitude. It is quite easy to pick up a debilitating tummy bug along the way and so I cannot over emphasise the need for cleanliness and high levels of personal hygiene. The other issue is that folk often trek in too quickly and push themselves 'thinking' that this is good for their personal acclimatisation. Well generally the first person in to Camp is the first person to get ill. Trekking at around 5,000 metres is not a pushover.
Q: Can I do it?
A: If you have a love for the mountains and have worn crampons before, then - yes. Having a head for heights is useful, and if you are not acquainted with jumars and karabiners then you should be given some technical training before setting foot on the mountain. But remember that standing on the summit is not the achievement - it's getting down safely. Summit day can be reasonably long (depending upon which camp you start from and where you descend to) and so your pre-trip training should reflect this with an emphasis on stamina rather than speed.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Yeah - don't get too focused on the top because that's when people start compromising their safety, and therefore the safety of those around them. One key factor is to have FUN. If you are with a group of people who don't get on then even if you get to the top you won't necessarily have fond memories of the trip. If you are with a great bunch of folk, and having a cool time, then the summit will just be the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Using fixed ropes to descend safely from the summit of Island Peak
Q: How much will it cost me?
A: Anything from £1800 to £2500 for an all inclusive 3 week trip depending upon which company you go with.
Q: HOW MUCH? Surely I can do it cheaper?
A: Yes you could. You could organise everything yourself but all it takes is a public holiday to delay your paperwork by 3 days and your holiday is jeopardised. And by the time you have sourced everything yourself you probably won't have saved THAT much money so it's worth getting someone else to take away the hassle factor for you.
Jess and Tim Mosedale on their way to the summit of Island Peak. The shapely Ama Dablam (6812m) is central in the background.
Tim and Ali also run their own Bed and Breakfast in Keswick, Elm Tree Lodge. Click for more details.