Climb Imja Tse (Island Peak)

3615 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Rachel Davidson

Experience the best of Himalayan mountaineering with this great beginner’s climbing adventure, Island Peak (6,189 m / 20,305 ft.). Glacier travel, ladder crossings, and vertical ice climbing included.

Most people climbing Island Peak are adding this summit onto an extended 3-week long Everest Base Camp Trek, this climb occurring after a visit to EBC, between days 10 and 12. Folks embarking on the longer and more challenging 3 Passes Trek may complete this climb before visiting EBC, between days 8 and 10. Either way, the jumping off point for this climb will be in the village of Chukung, east of Dingboche and southeast of Lobuche.

To begin, head east from Chukung following signs for Island Peak Base Camp (16,690 ft.), also called Pareshaya Gyab. After a couple of hours walking through a long, windy valley you’ll see a small settlement of tents that’s semi-permanently structured here in the spring and fall. If you do not have any experience in alpine climbing, make sure you review how to properly use your equipment the evening before your ascent.

Teams typically begin climbing between 12am and 2am, following a clearly defined trail up the mountain. After around one hour at a moderate pace, you should pass High Camp and another series of tents and climbing camps. Between 2.5 and 4 hours after leaving Base Camp, the switch-backing dirt trail will end at the mountain’s unofficial crampon point. This is your chance to add extra layers (it will be colder walking on the ice, especially before sunrise), and gear up before clipping into the fixed line at the base of the glacier.

In the spring of 2016, almost the entire mountain had fixed lines leading from the crampon point up to the summit. Also at this time, there were three ladder crossings between 10 and 15 feet long, but these will vary by year and depend on the snowfall and season. Make sure your entire team is comfortable and confident in each of these crossings and has practiced crampon techniques before. If it is especially windy, be prepared to crawl across each ladder on hands and knees.

Once you reach 20,000 ft. you’ll cross a wide plateau where you can hydrate and fuel up before the final summit push. A huge vertical ice wall looms above you and shows a clear route up the final 300 ft. to the very top of Island Peak. Here’s where you get to switch out your leg strength for arm strength and use your ice axe and ascender to reach a razor-edge ridgeline. Carefully traverse towards your right until you’ve landed on a soft, circular mold of snow decorated in prayer flags that marks the Imja Tse / Island Peak Summit. From the top, you should be able to see the towering peaks of Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Ama Dablam, and more.

The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) includes Imja Tse on a list of around 18 “Trekking Peaks,” which is pretty deceiving. In contrast to trekking, you’ll want to have a completely different set of mountain clothing and technical gear for this climb. Prior practice with ladder crossings over crevasses, rope work with ascenders and descenders, and experience using a front-pointing technique with crampons is tantamount to a safe and successful summit of this mountain.

You will need an Island Peak Trekking Peak Permit from the NMA in Kathmandu in order to complete this climb. This should cost around $350, but rules are constantly changing, and you may need to pay extra for insurance. If you hire a guide, rent gear, and stay at Island Peak Base Camp with the pre-set up tents and kitchen, be prepared to spend a lot more.

Because of the long acclimatization schedule beforehand, your body should be well-adjusted to high elevations by the time you reach Chukung and eventually Island Peak Base Camp. However, it’s important to remember that Island Peak is just 15 ft. shy of the tallest mountain in North America, Denali (20,320 ft.). With that in mind, be wary of AMS and descend at first signs of symptoms. 

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