Island Peak or Imja Tse (6,189m / 20,305 ft) sits in the center of the Everest Region and is a great peak for first time climbers and for those with more mountaineering ambitions in Nepal. The summit stands by itself in the middle of a large valley and is surrounded by giant peaks with Everest to the North, Makalu to the east and Ama Dablam to the west. What follows is an interview with Xavier Gaston Hervé Koenig who our records indicate he is the first Mauritian ever to have reached the summit. He did it with us in October 2016.
1. Do you need previous experience to climb Island Peak?
We were 2 to climb Island Peak (IP) with our guide. My new friend Yasir, who I met on the trek, had no previous mountaineering experience and did well, although he was quite scared at times because he had never used the rope equipment like Jumar ascender or figure-8 descender. He was reassured by our guide and myself who were both comfortable with them. We had a practice run with the gear and technique at IP basecamp which was good as well. I had never used crampons, but our guide’s advice was good and I didn’t have any trouble.
2. How was the climbing gear provided? What about the boot rental in Chukhung? Did they have an adequate selection of sizes?
I got my rental boots and crampons in Dingboche. They looked well used (the laces were replaced by cordelette) but solid and I was happy with them. The harness was a heavy duty alpine one, with cows-tails, a good screwgate carabiner and figure-8 descender, plus a Jumar. They all looked very good however I had brought my own screwgates and descender and I chose to use those.
3. What type of gear, clothing or snacks do you wish you had brought?
I wish I brought an insulated Camelbak because with the effort on the mountain, I forgot to blow back into the tube and the water in it froze. As a result I was without any water for the headwall and descent back to our bags and water bottles. Other than that I had everything needed. An extra chocolate bar for the way down would have been nice!
4. What were the conditions like at Base Camp? How long did you stay at Base Camp? What was the food like? Did you get any sleep?
We got a 3-man tent at basecamp with mattresses (didn’t expect that!) so it was comfortable for the 2 of us and all our gear. We got there around 1pm if I remember well and were served tea right away, then delicious mushroom soup and spicy rice (not “hot” spicy). We rested for an hour or so, then did the briefing and climbing “training” for another hour, had diner around 7pm and went to bed around 8pm. No complaint about the food as there was plenty of it and was quite tasty. I did manage to sleep maybe 3 hours, before Tenzing woke us at midnight with cups of coffee and porridge. We then got our stuff together and headed off at 1am.
5. Can you describe the actual climb briefly? What was the most challenging part? What about the Headwall?
The climb started in the dark and we could see the lights above from the 2 or 3 groups that were ahead. The track was dusty and being last, I had no choice but to breathe some of it. The first 2 or 3 hours was just a zigzag which got rockier as we went. The extra challenge compared to the previous days was carrying the gear in the backpack – boots, crampons, harness, 3L of water, snacks, etc – meaning that it was probably 7 or 8kg. That made for a tougher walk than I expected. After the initial zigzag path we had to scramble up some bigger rock formations and that was actually fun, the zigzag in rocky terrain and a last scramble before the “crampon point”: the start of the snow covered plateau. We arrived there at dawn and it was beautiful. We were now above the clouds and graced with an amazing view of the mountains across the valley.
Here we dropped our hiking boots for the plastic ones, put on our harnesses and crampons and started up the crevasse area. I was very glad to have a lighter pack and had second wind (new energy) from there and went ahead first. A path was very clear and the snow quite compact there so we stuck to it. I expected having to cross big crevasses but we only came down one ladder, placed by guides there at the start of the season. The ladder was solid and we were secured on a rope as well, so it was fine and rather exciting! After this was a short, steep section then a nearly flat space until the bottom of the headwall. We were in the sun and the mountain was beautiful, the summit looking well within reach and my motivation spiked. I could see 2 people about 2/3rds up the headwall: they looked really small and I couldn’t tell if they were climbing or descending so I figured it would be long. By the time we reached the bottom of the steep slope I was very tired again. We drank water from our bottles before leaving the packs there, I took off my down jacket and we started up towards the ropes. It was 8am.
From there Yasir went first and did really well, followed by Tenzing who was encouraging and keeping an eye on both of us but I slowed down considerably. Here the snow was collapsing under most of my steps so it took double the effort to make progress, until the slope got steeper. Making 3 steps in a row, pushing myself up, was exhausting and I had to stop that frequently to catch my breath. Looking up from that angle the wall looked huge, and I really started having doubts…
6. Can you describe the summit approach?
After this first ropelength, past the 6000m mark, clouds came in and we lost the view but it somehow made the experience even more magic. The people ahead came down and made some snow fall while I was at anchor so that was fine, and I really pushed myself on the two remaining ropelengths, helped by the more compact snow/ice. I managed to make bursts of 4 to 6 steps then catch my breath, until the summit ridge where a lifeline was placed. Only about 20 meters were left to walk to the summit, but it was hard to see exactly how close and steep the slope was on either side – I obviously stayed on the path, staying low or on my knees and hands, clipped to the rope until the summit. It was white all around be we were there and that felt amazing. It was 10.30am
7. Did you have any problems with acclimatization?
Acclimatization went well. I struggled on Kalapather (5545M) a few days before but made it, I didn’t really have headaches and kept hydrated by drinking small sips very frequently from my Camelbak. 2 days before the climb I started adding hydration power (electrolytes) to my water and I think this also had a psychological effect: knowing I was getting what I needed. Sleep was OK but I was walking short 2 or 3 times feeling like I had missed a breath, but that’s a normal effect of altitude.
8. Who was your climbing Sherpa? Did you feel like he had the required experience?
He was excellent. He had summitted Everest once and been up to 8000m a few times. He encouraged us, helped and secured us. I felt like I was in good hands.
9. How long did you stay in Base Camp once you got back down from the summit?
We came down in 3 or 4 hours, I lost track of time but we arrived at Base Camp at around 2pm. We only stayed a couple of hours, ate, drank, but our tent was no longer available so we trekked another 2 to 3 hours back to Chukung with our porter. That was mostly flat but tough…
10. Do you have any other thoughts or feedback that might be relevant for a first timer doing the climb?
I would say it’s a good idea to start carrying more weight in your day pack a few days before the climb, to get used to it and fare better on the climb when you’ll have to carry the climbing gear up the mountain. Make the most of the healthy food offered in Chukung. I was starting to have a cold in Dingboche before Chukung, and the big garlic soups really helped. Finally I believe I should have trained harder to feel more comfortable: a disciplined program of cardio + strength training at least 3 times a week plus a challenging endurance day every week are in order, not forgetting good stretching and nutrition.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Island Peak you can check the following blog posts:
9 Tips for Summiting Island Peak
Nepals Greatest Trekking Peaks
Island Peak Climb 17 Day Program $2349
Upcoming Climb Dates