Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Island Peak!

Saturday, 31 March
Imja Tse (Island Peak)
Our day began at 01:45- with a slight shaking of our tents. We had forty minutes to take our meds, brush our teeth and hair, use the facilities ( down a treacherous stretch of rock- probably one of the scarier things about our trip- so sure each time that I'd snap an ankle!), and get dressed. Sounds like plenty of time, right? Obviously Linden thought so...but the three of us were pretty flustered by the time we gathered in the cook tent ( the warmest place around..) for breakfast. We were all pretty nervous, and still futzing with our clothing and equipment. I've done this several times now, and this pre-summit time still seems like chaos. Getting dressed includes hat and helmets and headlights and four layers up top and three below, and levels of mittens and boots and gaiters and hand warmers and toe warmers and water bottles and snacks and extra layers and, and, and.

I wore my stylin' down pants to breakfast because we'd all planned on wearing them to start with, but dropped them before we left camp. Lakpa and Phura joined Linden as guides-but I think they were surprised we were attempting a summit bid. After all, Phura had been carrying my pack for over a week so that I could be better rested for the climb. Regardless of why, it still made me feel like a schmuck.

We ended up warming up a bit while we crowded into the relatively warm cook tent for our eggs, toast, and for me, grits. After breakfast, I hurriedly shed my down pants, and we hit the trail at 03:30. The night was clear, the stars were out, and it looked to be a fine night for climbing.

I fell in step in the weakest link spot, right behind Linden. We climbed the rocky trail, now coated with ~2" of snow, until our first dark, cold break. Jeff had told me to shoot for 400 calories per break to keep up my strength-, and it was damn difficult to do, between chewing, and chewing, and drinking, and adding layers, the break time ( better referred to as a "maintenance" time), flew by. Lucy and Corell are so strong, and my greatest fear was not being able to keep up. Luckily for me, Linden has now had plenty of time evaluating me and my pace, and he kept to a pace I could mostly handle.

As we climbed, we saw a couple of light trails behind us. A group of big, burly Russian men passed us during the first hour but we caught up to them near he end of the second hour on the rocks. Never underestimate the strength and perseverance of women! There is an exposed rock ridge, marked by cairns visible from high camp, just before "crampon point" and the glacier, and that is where we tagged them. As they breaked, Linden led us further onto the snow, to the place where he and Phura had stashed our glacier gear earlier that afternoon. What was supposed to be a "healthy" break turned into a long break- almost an hour- which was hard for us all to believe. At close to 19,000 ft, everything was slo-mo. From trying to eat those snacks, drink water, add crampons to our boots, use the facilities, again, time flew. I often, in shades of Kilimanjaro, felt like a baby bird to Linden and Phura's Mamma. You'd think I'd improve in the self-care-at-altitude department, but I have such a long way to go...

Now cramponed, we roped up to head out onto the glacier. There was some mild-moderate incline to tackle, but most of our glacier time was traversing. Regardless, it was exhausting. We saw the Russian team ahead of us, and we leap frogged them once more as we headed into a break. At this point, Lucy clued me on that we were almost at the base of the headwall- a clue which thrilled me because I thought we had more to go. After dropping our packs, we walked the last bit to the headwall. Phura and Lhakpa had already placed a fixed line up the headwall, so one by one, we tackled it. I was up first with Linden, then Phura and Lucy, followed by Corell and Lhakpa. The wall was...500+ feet...up. Pretty daunting, but I had Linden to help me. Move the ascender, step up, move the ascender, step up. Worked pretty well except for the many times when no matter how I tried, I couldn't reach the next step up without digging in my front points. That's when Phura would step up from below and streeeeetch my leg up and then I'd pull on the ascender and he would boost me. Sometimes Linden would pull me up as was exhausting. We kept inching up the headwall, and every few steps I'd look up...and we were no closer. At one point, I told Linden that I needed to pause and get my breath, and he replied, "C'mon, you know you want this!" and he was right. I thanked God several times for the STPT workouts and my (relative) upper body strength. It saved me when my legs weren't enough.

Finally, after about two hours on the headwall, we topped out onto the summit ridge. My memory may be faulty, but that ridge seemed about a couple of feet across at it's widest part. With huge drop-offs on both sides. We clipped onto the fixed lineup the summit, and put one foot in front of the other. About twenty minutes later, I reached the summit and Linden clipped me onto the summit line. The summit was about 8x10, and there were about 12 people crowded onto the small plateau. We took some photos, Linden gave us the big mountain IDs, and then we began our descent. Coming down off the summit, with our arms wrapped around the fixed line, was pretty freaky, because that's when I truly noticed the exposure on both sides of the summit ridge. Pretty soon, we began our rappel down that 500 ft+ head wall.

The clouds had moved in on our ridge walk and summit time, so we were anxious to get off the ridge and down the headwall. Corell led, with Phura on belay. Lucy followed, but ran into a bit of difficulty as she rotated on the line and hit her ribs, twice. And she hit hard. Meanwhile, up on the ridge, I waited with those Russians- who at this point were chomping at the bit, and none too sportsmanlike. They actually pissed me off. There was Lucy, hurting 30 feet below us, and Phura had to hold them off. And to top it off, they had put their fixed lines up using Phura's, so that the lines overlapped several times on the route, hence the "roadblock".

I waited for a few of them to go before Phura waved me on. And so, down I went. It was tricky for me because of those overlapping ropes, and because of all the erratic ice.
I would go for awhile, stop, then go again. At the bottom of the first belay, I was then shifted over to "fireman's belay" as Lhakpa greeted me and stayed behind me all the way down. All in all, Linden said we spent as long on the descent as on the ascent...but I can blame the rude Russians for a part of it...

Once off the headwall, we walked backed to our parked bags, took a quick break, and then set off over the glacier, stepping over a few crevasses. The snow was falling pretty steadily by now, and I was glad that I had at least stopped at the top of the approach on the way up to notice the breaking dawn. It had been a gorgeous pink tinged with purple, framing the mountains. Unfortunately, most of our walk down was in the snow, so mountain visibility was minimal. Each of us was "short-roped" to a guide on the way down because of the slick terrain. Upon reaching crampon point again, we were greeted by porters from high camp with hot tea, coconut biscuits, and our trekking shoes. With the increased snow on the ground, the rocky trail down would prove even more treacherous. For me, at least, that was true, and I spent the better part of two hours hunched over my poles, trying to distribute the weight so that I didn't wipe out. There were also multiple times when I slid down rocks on my rear because I couldn't see a good foothold.
And, as all good things must do, the descent finally came to an end- Phura and I reached high camp at 4:45 PM- a 13:15 summit day- and the dubious distinction of being Linden's longest summit day on Island Peak. Woo hoooo!
After a quick dinner, I hit the bag, and promptly crashed.
It was great to be down, but we still have miles to go before we sleep...
By the way, a "summit" feels great!!!
Sent from my iPad


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dana, you did it!! Thanks for sharing. Do you have more stories about Island Peak to share? Also, advise on gears to prepare?!