My Trust with Imj Tse
Expedition to Mt. Island (Nepal)
The day that I had been waiting for eagerly during the last 4 months had finally arrived. With a sense of trepidation laced with excitement I boarded the flight to Kathmandu from where we were to proceed on our expedition to Island Peak in Nepal Himalayas. I had decided to reach a day earlier to have time for any last minute purchases suggested by our Sherpa team. On examining my stuff, Wangda Sherpa gave me the nod and the rest of the day was spent visiting Pashupatinath for the much needed blessings and chit chatting with fellow trekkers.
Early morning on 7th April we reached the airport to take the flight to Lukla. After a long wait, as the weather was bad, the day ended with us trooping back to our hotel. Discussions followed as to what to do the next day if bad weather persisted. Guided by Keshavji (Giripremi’s Nepalese partner) we were inclined to take the chopper, if required. Accordingly, after waiting till noon, we finally decided to fly out by helicopter and reached Lukla by 3pm. After a quick lunch we kick started our 14 day journey well past 4 pm.
The initial route upto Dingboche was familiar as I had travelled on it during the trek to EBC. There were many high points en route - the acclimatisation trek to Everest Hotel from Namche Bazaar and the spectacular view from there, the first sighting of Mount Everest after leaving Namche, the monastery at Tengboche, the snow fall en route and the tranquility of the mountains all left me with a sense of awe.
From Dingboche we turned east for Island Peak. Chukung at 4,600 mts was where we hired all the equipment needed for the summit climb and proceeded to Base Camp ( 5000 mts). From here onwards we were to stay in tents. At Base Camp we practised jumarring as the final summit push would entail having to jumar for about 200mts. We also climbed up a small hill to catch a glimpse of Imja Tse - a lake which was totally frozen - what a sight.
Pre summit day - we reached High Camp (5,500 mts) by mid afternoon. It was too cold to stand around so we settled into our tents for the long wait till midnight since it was decided that we would start at 12.30 am for the final push. Layering up to counter the cold, mentally checking that everything needed had been packed, I tried to sleep but the excitement got the better of me. All that I succeeded in was lying down quietly and waiting for the wake up call.
We started as planned at 12.30 am - the initial climb was a sheer rock face. We climbed assisted by head torches which gave us a visibility of around 5 ft. Probably that was a boon as had we been able to see the rock face it would have been daunting.
After toiling for over 4 hrs we reached Crampon point where our equipment had preceded us. Here with temperatures around minus 15 degrees C we got into our ice boots, crampons, harness and decorated ourselves with the other equipment - ascender, descender, carabiners, jumar, helmet and ice axe.
Off we started in single file. I was wearing crampons for the first time so it took a bit of time to adjust. Initially there was a bit of snow on the rock face which made it very difficult. Thereafter, there was only snow, snow and more snow to deal with. The temperature felt like minus 20 but I can’t confirm the exact figure. We walked along a narrow ridge - all around us were mountains covered with snow - even the clouds were below us. Daybreak brought with it a different sheen, various hues which was breathtakingly beautiful.
By now my hands, although well gloved, were getting to be very cold and the sensation in the fingers was lessening. The grip was just not there and the ice axe kept falling from my hands. Thoughts regarding the consequences of frostnip / frost bite flitted through my mind and along with it an element of fear. It was decision time and about 250 -275 mts from the summit I took the hard decision to not continue and turned back after a wave to my fellow trekkers. After turning back my Sherpa asked me if I was happy. I vehemently nodded as talking in the cold was getting difficult. It was then that I realised the true meaning of the cliche that the journey is as important as the destination. My happiness stemmed from the enormous joy that the trek had given me. Being so close to nature, realising your potential, understanding your limitations and above all the peace and tranquility as you progress step by step in the journey is something to be experienced and cherished.
Many emotions ran through me - I had spent months practising, imagining how it would feel at the top, anticipating and waiting for that final day when I will summit - amongst the many challenges that I had steeled myself for, freezing fingers was definitely not one of them. As they say, you probably have to wait with all humility till the mountain gives you permission to summit. For me, I will have to wait for the invitation.