The huge efforts that the team endured to reach base camp intensified illness and forced two of the group to make the very hard decision not to attempt Kala Pattar. My advice was to allow their bodies to recover, to give them the best chance of fitness before attempt to summit Island Peak. However, a 6.30am departure saw Aggi and I climb the grassy slopes and, eventually, the rocky summit of Kala Pattar. As the sun was rising behind Mt Everest, we sat alone on the tiny peak watching in awe as the South Col and the Hillary Step became visible and avalanches ripped down Nuptse in clouds of chaos.
Marco and Aggi on top of Kala Pattar.
From Kala Pattar we had two very big days to get to Island Peak Base Camp which is situated in the Imja valley at around 5000m. Once there we were out of the tea houses and into tents. A cold wind blew through base camp which was enough to make us want to stay ‘indoors’. We ran through the various skills and logistics of summit night and I reminded them once again that it was all about their mental attitude, that they would face some of the toughest moments of their life the next day but that success would be theirs – it was all in their heads. Suitably excited, we all retreated to the safety and comfort of our sleeping bags.
Then, at 11:45pm on Friday, April 12th, it finally began. As we emerge from our tents wearing down jackets and mittens and carrying ice axes and crampons we take our first steps to conquer the 6000m Himalayan Peak. It is pitch black, the moon, even on this clear night, is not enough to help guide us. Our head torches wrap around our heads, hats and balaclavas as the sub-zero temperatures force us to cover up. The night starts with a huge effort up a scree and rocky slope, sapping us of energy and slowing our progress immensely. Hours pass with barely a word spoken. The thoughts in our heads are about all we have for company. As the sun rises, the temperature barely increases but the winds do. We’re on the glacier with not even the lightest dusting of snow as our crampons fight to grip the solid ice and we are buffeted by 60kph winds and -28C temperatures.
Looking back from the base of the head wall.
It is not until we are already exhausted and cold that Island Peak decides to show her true colours and challenges us with a 200m head wall onto her tiny summit. By this point it is all a mental game between us and the mountain. How much do we really want it? Are we willing to spend another couple of hours climbing before facing the reality of a long descent?
The ridge to the summit.
As I am hanging off of the rope, turning my face away from the wind and the bits of ice falling towards me, I take a look at the group. Their skin is blistering from the intensity of the sun, their cold hands struggling to release the karabiners on their safety line, every single step looking more difficult than the last. I can see the mental game is well and truly in play. But, by 10.30am, after a gruelling 11 hours, the game is finally over and Tim, Cress and Aggi know they have won when they find themselves standing victorious on top of the elusive Island Peak.