18. Foiled by an island of ice in Nepal
“Imja Tse, (20,305ft) better known as Island Peak, is a mountain in the Everest National Park, Nepal. It was named Island Peak in 1953 by members of the British Mount Everest expedition because it appears as an island in a sea of ice when viewed from Dingboche.
The southwest summit of Imja Tse was first climbed in 1953 as part of a training exercise by a British expedition that went on to summit Mount Everest. The team who climbed Imja Tse comprised Tenzing Norgay, Charles Evans, Alfred Gregory, Charles Wylie and seven other Sherpas.”
Imja Tse had been on my “Must Climb” list for about 5 years as I entered my late 50s, but in that time I had failed to reach the summit TWICE! The first time was caused by a severe lung infection that felt like I was breathing needles at 16,000ft, and the second time when we couldn’t climb up the final pyramid of ice only about 50ft from the summit. I just wasn’t skilled enough to do it! So, back to the drawing board.
I grew up in the mountains of Cumbria and from an early age scrambled around rocks and crags, walked miles through valleys and up hills, learned to use a compass and navigate, camped out in remote places. Fast forward to my late 40s early 50s and I was a fairly competent winter mountaineer on snow and ice, could navigate in a whiteout, and was summiting moderate snow peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. I was skilled in the use of a general mountain ice axe and flexible crampons. But …. what had come home to roost that day on Imja Tse was that I needed to be able to “ice climb” near vertical ice if I wanted to progress, that meant using twin short climbing axes and rigid crampons.
I spent lots of weekends now in Scotland and the Alps being trained, guided, and practicing on icy summits and frozen waterfalls. I was never going to be an expert in climbing up long vertical frozen waterfalls, but if I could safely get up say, short 20-30ft sections of not quite vertical ice ….. I was ready. I reasoned that I needed to be able to climb ice at French Alpine Grade 3 as a minimum, but within 12 months I was climbing Grade 6a ice/waterfalls, but I knew I’d reached my limit of competence and being scared shitless! I was now ready enough for Imja Tse and more thanks to a great friend and teacher Rich Cross the Alpine Guide and the odd session with Kenton Cool the Everest summiteer in places like these below: