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Island Peak Summit

Posted on Sunday 23rd April, 2017

Hi folks, I hope you all had a great Easter and had some fun long weekend adventures! Well Sonia, Nathan and I have been on the go since we arrived in Kathmandu. We were greeted by Babu Sherpa who has helped organise all my expeditions here since 2007 and it was so great to see him again as he is more of a friend than a business associate. We stayed at a beautiful hotel in Thamel called the Dalai La which is centrally located for shopping and has a great courtyard restaurant and a good vibe. We had a day to buy the extra bits and pieces we needed for the expedition and also the high food I needed for Mariano and I on Lhotse. Kathmandu is always hectic but we managed to catch up with some friends for a night before we flew into Lukla with a lot of expedition bags! After sorting out our porters, which took some time as there were not many in Lukla, we started on the busy trail towards Everest. Our first night we stayed at the Yeti Mountain Home in Monjo. The rooms were amazing, very big and great mattresses on an Eva Bed, hot shower, the works. Obviously you need to pay for this luxury so it is one of the most expensive lodges on the trail but we treated ourselves while we could. We were not super impressed with the service at the lodge however so we felt because of that we would not go back there again. When we headed to the Yeti Mountain Home in Namche it was with some nervousness as we thought it might be the same. However it wasn’t, it was awesome! Most lodges are run by Sherpa families and that is one of the reasons they are so homely. You can’t expect the same type of vibe in a chain of lodges but Shiva the manager made our stay really enjoyable. It is a beautiful hotel with views over Namche and an amazing lounge room, the walls lined with photos from the 1953 Everest expedition with Hillary and Tenzing.

The chortens and mani stones on the way to Phakding

Both Sonia and Nathan have trekked the trail before in fact Sonia has done three treks into Everest Base Camp already. It was still interesting for us all to see how much Namche has grown in the past few years. We had an acclimatisation day in Namche and Nathan was feeling sick with the flu. So while he rested I took Sonia up Kunde Ri which is a ridge high above Kunde village. From Namche it is 900m up in elevation so it is a great acclimatisation trek with an awesome view from the top, well when it isn’t clouded over. We have a lot of cloud and haze but we could still see down the other side of the ridge to Thamo, Thame and Mende. Great way to fill in a few hours before heading to one of the local cafes for lunch.

Top of Kunde Ri 4400m

The next day we headed off to my friend Ang Jangmu’s lodge, Rivendell in Deboche. I carried 20kg in my pack during the trekking days to train for Lhotse so it was a tough slog up the hill to Tengoboche from the river. It was awesome to see Ang Jangmu again and the lodge was so busy! She is Dawa’s wife’s sister so when Dawa and I have been climbing together we stayed many nights there. Nathan and I also stayed there on our Winter Khumbu honeymoon. It was good to see she was fully booked and slowly regaining the lost income from the earthquake and the damage to the lodge. It snowed overnight so we woke up to a world of white which was really beautiful. We continued on to Dingboche via old Pengboche to visit the Lama Geshi. It was a small detour off the busy trail but it was so nice to not have many trekkers around as we kept getting stuck behind slow, large groups that were hard to overtake. We went to the Lama’s house with our Kharta scarves wrapped around our donations and asked for blessings for safe climbs. He tied knotted strings around our necks, prayed for us in Tibetan and threw rice at us and we were one our way. Even though I am not Buddhist I would always get the Lama’s blessing before heading onto the mountain, as all the climbing Sherpa do. We continued through the snow to arrive at a relatively new lodge in Dingboche called Hotel Countryside run by Dawa Sherpa. Dawa and her husband built the lodge in 2014 and then had to fix it again after the earthquake and have just been open for business for a year. It is not a huge lodge and super homely, clean and nice rooms with great food. I highly recommend it. Dawa is heavily pregnant and manages to run a tight ship. To help acclimatise before heading from Dingboche to Chukkung, we had a rest day. It was great to not carry a heavy pack for the day. In the afternoon we hiked up the hill behind the village to get some great views towards Makalu.

Blessed by the Lama Geshi in Pengboche

We had met Lobsang in 2014 when Nathan and I came to attempt Island Peak in Winter but didn’t summit due to high wind and a bunch of other reasons. His lodge in Chukkung is called Khangri Resort and it is really nice with an awesome sunny courtyard that has views to Island Peak and also Ama Dablam. It is a short 2 hour hike to Chukkung from Dingboche and we spent the next day at Lobsang’s lodge as well. We planned to head straight to Island Peak high camp which is 5450m and skip the Base Camp so we hiked up Chukkung Ri on our acclimatisation day. Sonia had never been there before and we were lucky to have clear skies and awesome views from 5500m. It is really worth the effort to get to the top of the ridge as many trekkers don’t actually hike up the last rocky part of the ridge and prefer to stop lower down. I would almost go so far as to say it is one of the better view points in the Khumbu. We stopped up there for a chapati lunch before heading back down to get our gear ready for the next day.

Chukkung Ri 5500m

A leisurely start, like everyday except summit day, saw us heading off towards high camp on Island Peak. There is no water or snow or ice to melt up there so we took our water with us thanks to the porters. We left at 9:30am and arrived at 2pm to start setting up the tent and then eating. Soups, noodles, Chai tea for afternoon tea and of our Backcountry Cuisine spaghetti bolognese dinner fuelled us up for the next morning’s early start. As per usual I took way too much stuff as I had everything I needed in the event that there were no fixed ropes. Ice hammer and axe, rope (which we did need for the glacier), snow stakes, ice screws, emergency gear etc. We left the tent at 4:20am and kept leap frogging a group from Norway on the trail and rocky scramble to the glacier. I had a huge pack and was surprised to see that their two Sherpa climbing guides had almost nothing. One had no back pack at all and the other just had a small daypack. Not sure how that would help anyone in the group if they fell in a crevasse??

Early morning, heading up to the glacier on Island Peak

The plateau before the final climb to the summit

We arrived at the glacier at around 7am and got our harnesses on and roped up for glacier travel. I short roped the first section of icy up hill and then continued with the rope in glacier travel mode through the crevasse field. We had to jump a few crevasses, cross snow bridges and climb a ladder before arriving on the plateau before the final head wall to the summit. Some people just walked through all this on their own unroped even though there were no fixed ropes which I thought was interesting. There were other groups already climbing the fixed ropes to the summit and coming down them as well. We ended up being in front of the group from Norway. We had to cross ladders to reach the actual head wall as there is a big crevasse that separates it from the glacier underneath. It was lucky Sonia practised this in our backyard as it wasn’t such a shock, even still she didn’t look down! Nathan unfortunately got stuck behind of the guys in the other group, behind Sonia and I. It was crazy, the guy didn’t even know how to put his ascender on the rope or how to use it, so Nathan had to help him. There were two guides for 7 people and some of them had no idea what they were doing. This was the worst part of the day, just being around these guys because they had no awareness of safety, one of the guides didn’t even have a helmet. There were lots of loose rocks on the route and it was easy enough to avoid them if you know what you are doing but sadly many people there didn’t even try to avoid knocking them down which was super frustrating. Anyhow after avoiding the abseilers coming down and the rocks getting knocked down we finally made it onto the summit ridge which was a relief. Sonia was pretty mentally exhausted by this time and Nathan was having a great time apart from having to help the guy that had no idea how to change over on the fixed lines. We made the summit at 12pm, super happy. Nathan was especially happy as this was the second time he had been there and he had not made it the first time. Sonia was probably more in shock that she did it than anything else!

Just after the first ladder, exiting the crevasse field

Crossing the crevasse to access the face that leads to the summit ridge

Island Peak summit 6189m

We abseiled back down under the large group that kept dropping rocks and ice on us. We went as fast as we could to get away from them and I abseiled next to Sonia, clipped into her to make sure she made it down safely. Someone dislodged a massive chunk of ice which hit me on the shoulder. I was lucky to not have been seriously injured, I just felt like it bruised the bone, more of a shock than anything and I was glad it didn’t hit Sonia. We were super happy to be off the face and away from everyone. The group came down and the guides packed away their rope which they used in the morning through the crevasse field. Apparently it was safe in the afternoon to just let everyone walk through the crevasses on their own. Very interesting guiding techniques were demonstrated that day. One guide was walking down an icy snow slope with a rope to his client. He was downhill from her and pulling her down the hill. She was very tired as he had apparently been doing this all day and she kept falling over. I told her it would be better for him to be behind her so if she fell he could actually do something about it. It was crazy up there and super stressful to see what other people were doing. On two occasions as Nathan was on the fixed ropes the Nepali guide just unclipped his safety so he wasn’t attached to anything. He was just trying to hurry everyone along and Nathan was really angry and told him not to touch his safety leash again. I just couldn’t believe there was no accident and that people were paying these guides to look after them. It was really sad and disappointing. I know for a fact there are awesome guides in Nepal but they weren’t on the mountain that day. So moral of the story people is be careful who you climb with!

Sonia weaving her way through the icefall

Our porters had been waiting for us at the tent for a couple of hours. We were pretty surprised they were still there when we got down at 4pm and would’ve just stayed another night at high camp if they were not waiting. We were so dehydrated as it was really hot on the glacier. We had to pack everything up so the porters could run back to Chukkung before it got dark. In the rush Nathan hardly gave them any of his gear and was stuck with a huge pack. My shoulder was pretty sore so I was keen to not carry 20kg again and made sure I shoved my climbing gear in the bags before they left. We stayed to organise our packs and headed off again downhill to Chukkung. We arrived back at Lobsang’s lodge in the mist at 8pm, I managed to navigate us back on the trail which I was stoked about as it was pitch black and a whiteout. We were super tired, hungry and dehydrated and smashed out dinner before passing out in bed. The next day we all felt a lot better and started to recover from the massive summit day. We re-sorted all our gear and headed back to Dingboche to the Hotel Countryside again. We love this lodge, in fact I am writing from the lodge now. Mariano arrived in Dingboche at the same time, having left his group in Lukla and had walked back up the valley again. We made a plan to meet in Lobuche tomorrow and we will head up Lobuche East Peak with Sonia. The weather now is really cloudy and we have had some snow. It should start to clear up tomorrow and be good for when we move to high camp and then the summit. Nathan left yesterday morning in a helicopter back to Lukla as he has to head back to work. He was lucky enough to share it with another guy in the lodge which made it quite cheap. He had to wait 5 hours in Lukla for the plane but he is now safe back at the Dalai La in Kathmandu enjoying all the delicious food Thamel has to offer….no not jealous!

I have been fighting off the flu the last week or so because Nathan has been sick almost the entire trip. It has been great to have 2 rest days at 4400m to recover and get strong again before moving up. From here, after Lobuche Peak, I continue to Base Camp with Mariano and Sonia heads back down the valley. Mariano and I will set up camp and start climbing so I want to feel healthy before getting there. I am not sure how much internet I am going have from here on to post another blog but I will be updating my Facebook page more regularly. If you are interested to follow along on our journey please also check my Facebook page here. Thanks folks!

Beautiful afternoon view from the glacier

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