Everest Base Camp Trek: Linden Recounts Summit Day
The days since our last dispatch were packed full of activity as we headed out to climb Island Peak. After saying goodbye to the trekking group, we walked up the Imja Khola Valley to the village of Chukung, a small collection of teahouses sitting between Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and Island Peak. Our teahouse is run by a Sherpani woman and her two daughters and they welcomed us warmly, feeding us a hearty dal bhat (Nepali rice and lentils) which we unanimously agreed is the best to be found in the Khumbu. Before going to sleep we pared down our gear in anticipation of the climb, taking with us just the gear we needed for the climb.
In the morning we left Chukung and made the final walk to the base of Island Peak. A sharp wind blew as we walked, making the morning feel much colder than it was, and we made our way through the dusty and rocky terrain bundled up to stay warm. We reached Base Camp by midday and settled into our tents there, enjoying the warmth of the sun through the tent walls. The wind died off by mid afternoon and we spent a comfortable evening in the tents at Base Camp.
The following morning broke clear but again with a cold wind blowing through camp. We packed up our gear and headed up to High Camp. The trail climbs steeply out of camp, making tight switchbacks up the hillside. The thin alpine grasses covering the ground soon gave away to rocks and boulders as we left the last sparse vegetation behind. High Camp is tucked into the rocks on the mountain side just below 18,000’ and the walking between tents required full attention, especially at those altitudes. We spent the rest of the afternoon resting and preparing for the climb. In the early evening the clouds descended over the mountain and left a thin layer of snow covering everything and we went to bed concerned that more snow could abort our summit attempt.
Thankfully the night sky full of stars greeted us when we woke up just before 2am, the climb was on! We forced down a quick breakfast, no easy task at that hour or that elevation, and set off. The first few hours of climbing took us up a series of steep rocky gullies and occasional ledges. The normally tricky walking was magnified by the layer of freshly fallen snow but we made good progress, reaching the toe of the glacier just after sunrise. We strapped on our crampons and climbed up and across the glacier to the base of the headwall below Island Peak’s summit. Clipping into the fixed lines there, we climbed our way up the headwall, crossing the bergshcrund and working our way up the steep icy face. The headwall was a mix of smooth ice and ledges several feet apart and it was difficult climbing, especially with no place to pause and catch our breaths. Nevertheless, the team climbed steadily and before long we stood on the ridge leading up the summit. The final hundred feet of climbing took us up a narrow snow ridge, with thousands of feet of exposure on each side, until we reached the top, a small flat area no bigger than the size of a pool table.
The views from the summit were incredible, the ridge between Lhotse and Nuptse rising directly behind us, Makalu visible in the distance, Ama Dablam off to the side, and the entire upper portion of the Khumbu Valley running out below us. After a brief moment to celebrate, we turned our attention to the descent, carefully picking our way down the ridge to the top of the headwall. As we clipped into the ropes to rappel down the headwall the snow once again began to fall and the temperatures dropped, making the rope changes at the end of each rappel section difficult with cold hands. We slowly made our way down the series of five rappels to the foot of the headwall, and then recrossed the glacier back to the rocks. The final portion of the descent was very challenging with the added snow and tired legs but everyone traveled remarkably well, crossing the slick rock slabs and descending the rock steps with sure feet.
We returned back to High Camp in the late afternoon and after a delicious dinner, collapsed into a deep night’s sleep. This morning we descended from High Camp back to Chukung where we paused for a lunch of Sherpa Stew (thick vegetable soup) and then continued down the valley to Pangboche, at 12,700’. The change of scenery from the rocks and snow on Island Peak to the fields and juniper trees here in Pangboche is remarkable, we have spent many days up high and being back down at these (relatively) low altitudes feels great. And the warm fire burning here in the teahouse is a true treat. The team climbed incredibly well on Island Peak, doing a great job of navigating the terrain and challenging conditions. We are all feeling good and happy to be heading downhill. We descend to Namche tomorrow and will check in from there.