Island Peak is
one of most popular trekking peaks. I am focusing on the normal route. I am asked many questions about
climbing especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most
popular questions with my answers. As always, this information is based on my
experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making
any serious climbing decisions.
Q: Where is Island Peak?
It is located in west-central Nepal about 50 miles
from Katmandu.It is considering a trekking peak and used often as a person's first Himalayan climb.
The nearest international airport is Katmandu. Most people fly into Kathmandu and
take about a week to trek to base camp.
Eric Shipton's party of 1952 named the mountain Island Peak because it stands somewhat alone. In 1983, Nepal renamed it Imja Tse, but even the locals still call it Island Peak.
Q: When is it usually will climb?
A: As with most Himalayan peaks, pre and post monsoon but
Spring is popular since every day it gets warmer with less threat
of snow. The Fall season is just the opposite with colder days and increasingly
Q: I understand that Island Peak is one of the easier Trekking Peaks.
How hard is it?
A: Island Peak is known as a "trekking" climb meaning there is little objective danger as in vertical ice but there are crevasses and potential avalanches along the route so care must be taken. The real crux of climbing Island Peak is the final 100 meters or last 300 feet. It can be a bit steep and these day there is a fixed rope.
Q: How does Island Peak compare with Denali or Aconcagua?
A: The altitude is what makes Island challenging. At 20,000 is is up there with Denali but lower than Aconcagua. But it is a 2-3 day climb at the most so not weeks like other big peaks. It is similar to Denali in spirit
in that you climb on steep snow slopes. Also you are using fixed ropes occasionally near the summit
but are not roped to other climbers.
Q: How does Island Peak compare with Everest or other 8,000m peaks?
A: It is significantly simpler both it terms of altitude and duration thus a good peak to begin with.
Q: Is a Island Peak climb dangerous?
A: It can be like any other mountain. You should understand climbing in crampons, blizzard conditions, snow camping and have other cold weather skills. Some prior snow climbing skills are needed.
Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died
A: The Himalayan Database doesn't;t keep data for trekking peaks but I would make a wild guess that over 30,000 people have summited Island and perhaps handful of deaths.
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Q: How do you you train for this climb?
A: I climb my Colorado 14,000' mountains mostly with a
30 pound pack. This increased my cardio, stamina and overall strength.
I no longer run due to bad knees. I did not work out in an indoor gym.
I feel real-world training is the best prep if possible. If you live
at sea-level, find a sandy beach and walk/run with a large pack to work
the micro-muscles and climb stairs in a high-rise office building.
Q: Will altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes, it is always a challenge on climbs above 6,000-meters. Altitude
can be a problem for anyone above 8,000', much less when you are going
above 20,000'. To acclimatize in route, the travel to base camp takes
about a week.
Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A:Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain
(1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where
you sleep up until your summit bid. As you go
higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains
21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen. Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American
Lung Association this way:
The lower oxygen
stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting
in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline
blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though
this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first
48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among
them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin
to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still
acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at
low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health.
Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic
mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood
can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and
sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart
You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there
are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through
specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher
elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you
can find more details at the Hypoxico website.
They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside
Magazine posted an article in
2013 questioning their effectiveness.
Q: What kind of equipment will you you use?
A: The same
gear I used on Everest except no down suit or oxygen. I use a 3 layer system: base, warmth and wind/cold.
My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice axe, harness,
carabineers and crampons. It is always critical to protect my toes, fingers
and face since these were most susceptible to frost bite. See my gear
page for a complete discussion and my gear list updated for 2018.
I am very pleased with all my gear but had a few standouts that I note
on my gear page.
Q: Anything special in your gear for Island Peak?
A: I will use everything on my gear page under Everest
except the full down suit. It can be extremely cold and windy so multiple
down layers were required.
Q: Will you you use a Sat Phone?
A: I will have my Thuraya sat phone.
Also, hopefully there will be cell service. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Q: Which route is most popular?
A: It has a classically beautiful ridge leading to the summit. The continuation of this ridge, descending south-west, provides part of the normal route of ascent and leads in turn to the South Summit.
Q: How long does it take?
A: A week to get to base camp, a few days to summit and four days to get back to Kathmandu. It takes about 3 weeks in total.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending
on who you use. If you use a logistics company only, you might be able
to cut the highest cost by a third. See my Guide page
for more details.
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes a climbing permit is required through the Nepal
Ministry of Tourism of $300
Q: Do I really need a guide for Island Peak?
A: You will need help getting a permit and entering Nepal
at a minimum thus need a ground agent. Once there, It all depends on
your skills, money and time available. Many people go to Island Peak without a formal guide and contract
with local agencies for yaks, porters or carry everything themselves.
There are usually a lot of climbers on Island Peak so you would probably
not be alone but easily could be. In harsh weather (white-outs) or
in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill
level carefully. Climbing alone or in too small of a team is never
a good idea.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Island Peak?
A: Since it is relatively straight forward, most guides will take anyone, even with no experience. But most anyone can get on a Island Peak commercial
expedition these days without many questions so be careful who you select
since you may get caught up in a mess. There are horror stories of using
low cost Nepal based guides but also some with excellent results.
Q: What is involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food,
gear, routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There
are local companies in Katmandu who can provide some services such
as getting food or heavy tents to base camp. And some can provide a
Sherpa at low costs. You can save a lot of money this way but as I
said before, consider your skills in the event that something goes
wrong - are you 100% self sufficient? What are your medical skills?
HAPE and HACE are really possibilities on Island Peak - do you have the
proper medicine and training to deal with it? And a hundred more questions.
See my guide
page for more. Again, climbing alone or in small teams is never
a good idea. Saving a few thousand dollars is not worth your life.
Q: Did you you summit?
Q: Who did you climbing with?
A: I climbed with Kami Sherpa, just the two of us and no commercial team
Q: Which route did you plan to take?
A: We will take the regular "Everest Base Camp Trek" but veer off at Dingboche and trek to Chhukung. From there we will establish a tiny base camp of one tent :) and, depending on conditions of how I'm feeling , perhaps an advanced base camp between 5300 and 5600-meters. Most people leave from ABC for the 10 hour summit push.
From high camp the climbing angle increases and has a few switchbacks and rock scrambling before reaching "crampon point". We will make our way across the glacier using several ladders to cross deep crevasses. The next challenge is a 450-foot/150-meter "headwall" which is a 60 degree angle snow slope leading to the summit ridge. It is usually set with a fixed rope and climbers attach to it with a carabineer and a jumar.
Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
Q: Did you plan on using bottled oxygen?
A: No, it is usually only used over 23,000 feet for 8,000-meter mountains.
Island Peak should be a fun, low-drama climb. However as I saw on Twin Sisters, the unexpected can always happen.