Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Island Peak Expedition Memoirs X - Summit Day

Tuesday 4th November Advanced Base Camp (5,700m) to Island Peak Summit (6,189m)

We rise just before 2am instinctively, just before the wake-up call – its weird how the body works sometimes – and get our gear together, easy as I’m wearing most of mine already! Brekkie is muesli & milk, biscuits and coffee, Saran forgot the tea but we warm the hands and innards with hot coffee which is a nice change! We finally push off into the dark just before 3.30pm with Nima (our climbing Sherpa) leading off into the cold morning. Our head torches blaze away, flickering into the dark like a bunch of fire flies in the darkest of night. We edge our way up the loose, exposed gully, I feel like a zombie as the body tries to wake up. We wind up the steep track; the toes start to warm and the body slowly starts to kick into action. I can suddenly smell beer and am thinking either Nima (now behind me) or maybe Ola has had a night on the turps, surely not! But no the beer (a can of San Miguel) has been punctured by my crampons in my pack – gutted - that was meant to be drunk on the summit as a celebration! We continue on balancing feet and hands up the loose path and rock walls as we elevate, partly scrambling partly tramping up. It starts to lighten as we near our first goal – “Crampon Point” – guessable as the place where we don the spikes for the snowfield. Saran comments about the fact that just before daybreak it always seems to cool down and then when the sun hits it starts the warming process as the earth gets blanketed with solar energy. Christine is really struggling but makes it to CP. We strap our crampons on, perched on a small buttress with striking icefalls all around us. Christina decides to pull the plug and head down – she’s had enough of dragging her arse and it’s the right and responsible call to make and we all really respect her for that, a tough call to make. Per, Nima and I form the lead climbing team, roping up and start winding our way up over a couple of crevasses in the snowfield as the view opens up we can see the large 100m headwall and the exposed ridge leading to our goal, the summit - what a great view and perspective. We plod on slow and steady as the air is thin in glorious sunshine and can make out a handful of climbers ascending the ramp in the distance. We continue on easy ground, and it’s not long before we arrive at the fixed ropes at the start of the 100 meter headwall. A Japanese man (very old - we later discover the youngest team member is 60 years of age in their party) is torturously making his way up the fixed ropes and almost looks on death’s door)! Saran, Freddy and Ola; in the second climbing team catch us up and it’s on, we’re ready to start the technical climb. Per heads up followed by myself with Nima skipping up next to the fixed line. This guy’s pretty casual, in his jeans and a smoke hanging out the side of his mouth, this is cruise mode for this Sherpa. The Japanese are creating a traffic jam at Anchor one but Nima does a great job in overtaking the old fella and getting our Jumas and safety slings around him. Some clear ice in front of us now, as our crampons bite into the 45-55 degree sloping ramp. The views are fantastic and again the bluebird day is just what we’d been hoping for, glorious conditions on summit day! There is the odd hole and crevasse slit so we take care and edge our way up slowly but surely as the adrenaline starts to flow. Snow and ice is constantly pelting down and it’s nice to have my trusty (and now battered) old helmet on, to duck in and avoid the deluge of ice debris. I reach another anchor with help from our lead Sherpa who doesn’t seem to even have an axe (ok so he’s summited Everest twice), a walk in the park is the impression he’s giving, but he’s in full control. I keep on going, determined, focused and feeling great, the preparation has been good and it’s paying off as I concentrate on step after step. I take my camera out to take a shot of Per in front of me, and just like the other evening, a big avalanche crashes down the other side of the valley onto the dirty brown moraine of the Lhotse Shar, a long way below us – what a view - spectacular! The headwall steepens to 50-55 degrees now and I use my axe pick style to really get some good purchase finally finishing the rope section and topping out onto the summit ridge. The hard part is done, now the 20 minute cruise up to the peak. The views are sublime Nuptse (7,879m), Lhotse (8,501m), Lhotse Middle Peak (8,401m) and Lhotse Shar (8,383m) to the North. To the East rising above the frozen waves of the Lhotse Shar Glacier are Cho Polu (6,734m), beyond to the red granite mass of Makalu (8,475m). To the South the Imja Glacier leads the eye up to the massive ice flutings of Baruntse (7,720m) and across the Amphu peaks to the large arrow head of Ama Dablam (6,856m). Down the valley we can see the village of Dingboche, peak of Tawache (6,542m) and way down to the Imja Glacier Lake. We can also see Mera Peak (another famous trekking peak at 6,421m) far away in the distance, superb crystal clear views.
I take a few more pictures on my camera and I clip my safety rope to head up the exposed South ridge. It curves up into the sky and the endorphins are really kicking in now, the feeling that you know you’re almost there is exquisite, step after step – I’m nearly there and bang then I am – summiting 9.30am on the dot. Wow a bit of wind up here but its crystal clear views 360 degrees, huge peaks and mountain architecture stretches for miles, the sublime beauty of the Himalaya is hard to describe, a wonderful place to be, harmonious as you’re surrounded by the biggest mountains in the world. I feel very small but contented and almost privileged to be up here. We snap away taking loads of pictures & video, soaking up the sublime atmosphere and feeling of achievement, Per and I celebrate and the rest of the team join us for the team summit photo. Soon it’s time to lead off down as only half the job is done! We head down the ridge to the fixed rope. I manage to sneak in front of the sloth-like Japanese man and I attach my figure 8 to abseil down. We cruise on down really enjoying the satisfaction of summiting but we know it’s a long way down too but just keep soaking up the wonderful views. We stop at the bottom of the fixed lines for hot chocolate and scroggin, but are soon cold from pausing and there’s a bit of wind cooling us down. The slow Japanese man is now “short-roped” by his guide and is literally being dragged down the 110m pitch which is rather disconcerting, and it looks like he might just die there and then – questionable about how much he is enjoying his experience. We rope up again and get moving, making a good pace down to “Crampon Point”. We arrive and are greeted by Hari (our Sirdar) with hot chocolate and biscuits which we heartily wolf down stuffing our faces. We de-gear and start the descent of the loose rocky path passing ABC and finally arrive in Base Camp exhausted around 2pm – what a day! A well deserved lunch of chapatti, sausages & spaghetti and we retire into our tents crashing out for the arvo absolutely exhausted to the max! We rise again, as hunger returns, for dinner at 6.30pm. The boys have been busy as we’re presented with a glorious dinner of Chicken Curry (nice and spicy), rice and lots of potato and breads. I pull out a celebratory beer (I had purchased 2 from Chukkung, one for the summit and one for the return, the major goals) which I of course share out with my team mates! As we devour our dinner down finishing off when Nima (Cook) brings out a congratulations Chocolate cake to celebrate a successful summit!!! What a great surprise and just amazing what the team has been producing from a basic rudimentary kitchen – great work guys! We’d done it and now it was time to crash out to bed and bask in our glory! Rock on!

For info on trekking/mountaineering Everest Base Camp, Island Peak Mountaineering Expedition check out:


Email: paul@sunstoneadventures.com

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