MIR 18, Imja Tse (Island Peak)

It has been a trend to see a retention rate of only 10-20% from each TMC team. Most of the other 80% may never don a pair of crampons again. Mountaineering is an expensive hobby and requires an element of luck to meet the right people to form a team for an expedition. It was an interesting idea to see what would happen if we placed all these willing (after all that suffering) and experienced ex-TMC members on a climb together. Hence, Island Peak 2019.

Just north of Langtang Valley, across the border into Tibet and visible from Tserko Peak, lies Shishapangma (8027m). In 2002 Dr Robert Goh and Edwin Siew, stood on its summit to become the first South-East Asians to ascend an 8000-er ‘alpine style’. The Make-it-Real program was their brainchild and it eventually morphed into the Mountaineering Club we have today. Climbing is an assortment of different games, each with its inherent challenge and set of rules that are negatively articulated to make the climb more satisfying. High altitude mountaineering experiences are few and far between for the average Singaporean, and Dr Robert Goh was fortunate enough to have had access to the crags in the United Kingdom in his undergraduate days to hone his skills.

Every semester, the responsibility falls on the executive committee of the club to reiterate and convey the essence of mountaineering to a fresh team. Expansion of the tourism industry in Nepal has given this generation the liberty to pick and choose from a myriad of agencies providing well supported climbs in the Himalaya region. TMC has largely been operated the same way for the better part of the decade because of this ensured support. Traditionalist may frown upon the excessive luxuries that supported expeditions have, while the average climber may fully embrace it. The ethics of climbing has and always will be arbitrarily defined, and it will never be for us to define it. Yet, the dilemma of this club is balancing the proliferation of the idea of alpinism as it was born from, while also supporting those necessarily inclined to modern expeditions.

On one of the evenings of August 2016, a hush fell over the crowd of about 40 students in one of the seminar rooms in Central Library. Shaun (15/16 President), looking fit and slim, briefed us on the sharing session that was about to commence. Then a spirited young woman shared her photographs, videos of her TMC and explained how she celebrated her twenty first birthday in the soaring landscapes of Kyanjin Gompa, Langtang Valley at 3800m. My friends and I were sold by this ‘once in a life time experience’. Fast forward three years, here I was again, having joined MIR for the better part of my University life.

Unfortunately, none of us had the discipline to set a common training schedule that we would all adhere to. We touched down on 9 May 2019 in Kathmandu fully aware of our own unfit state, yet quietly confident of each other’s tenacity in the mountains. We arrived at a period where Tribhuvan’s domestic terminal was under maintenance and were shuffled in a minivan from International Guest House in Thamel to Ramechhap airport at 3am the next morning. The duffel shuffling, and hectic schedule was a chore.

Kathmandu, Nepal

A tiny propeller plane flew us to Tenzing-Hillary airport in the town of Lukla, better known as the world’s most dangerous airport. We set our sights on Phakding then Namche for the next two days.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport

Chiew, who had already experienced the beauty of the Everest Base camp trek, forewarned us of the impending uphill battle just before Namche Bazaar. I think it was fair to say we all surpassed our own expectations of our fitness level here, making it to Namche just after lunch in pretty good time.

Namche Bazaar

Namche Bazaar was the largest village at altitude that I have ever seen in Nepal so far. It was filled with plentiful amenities, well paved streets, large hotels that were constructed with concrete, and had cafes and pubs that lined the main street. We spent the following day hiking up to Everest View Hotel and was introduced to the incredible level of fitness of our ultra trail running guide, Mr Sujal. 🙂

Ama Dablam from Tengboche

Having celebrated Jing Sen’s birthday after the mini hike, we found out the next day that most of the team had some sort of indigestion/food poisoning/diarrhea. We trekked like zombies that day, towards Tengboche and spent a night in Deboche. Remarkably, this hilly section faded out of Chiew’s memory, probably due to PTSD. We spent 2 hours navigating an endlessly series of hairpin turns that got steeper with each turn.

Deboche

We spent the afternoon at Deboche watching the second final episode of Game of Thrones. It was torrented on Shaun’s laptop that was tethered to his phone’s 4G network. Yup, at 3820m in the middle of Khumbu, we streamed GOT. More notable, was the exorbitant pricing we encountered at this lodge. It was probably the least interesting place we could have spent the night in.

We soldiered on the next day, past Pangboche towards Dingboche. It was luxuriously built, with ample heat from the fireplace in the evening. Think it was fair to say we got pretty comfortable there, having spent a second night there after a short hike to Nargarjun Hill (4900m).

Island Peak from above Dingboche

At this point, we were going on our 7th day of long distance trekking with pretty moderate loads. We were not as rigorously trained as we should have, it was probably good base fitness that pulled us through towards Lobuche and then Gorakshep. The last small village before Everest Base Camp.

Porters at Gorakshep

We made it to Everest Base Camp and met Yukta, who had guided some of us during TMC. Climbing Everest brings about much controversy not only because of this year’s bad human bottleneck but also on the ethics of its climb. PS Sim, Anand Bala and Jeremy Tong were the 3 climbers from Singapore in this year’s window. We missed them at Base Camp by a day. Everest may not be the penultimate goal in the alpine world but there will always be an appeal to be standing on the top of the world. To each his own, is USD$40,0000 worth it?

Everest Base Camp
Everest peaking above its West Shoulder

Having felt burned out after more than a week of being on the move, we decided against Kalapathar (5500m) to reserve our remaining strength for Island Peak. That next day, we clocked 20 odd km in about 5 hours, to reach Chhukung. The most beautiful lodge we had this trek. Every Island Peak team stays here because it is the last point of civilization, much like Kyanjin Gompa in Langtang Valley. Moreover, we learnt of National Geographic’s expedition to climb Lhotse by its South Face. They too had some members occupying the same lodge.

Island Peak Base Camp

Island Peak Base Camp was about 4 hours away, the trek brought us through soft sand that seemed was probably the bed of a lake a long time ago. We were only going to spend one night here, with summit push being the following day. Temperatures hovered just below freezing and it was cold enough to leave a layer of frost on any gear left outside the tent.

Summit Push

We made for the summit on 21 May 2019 at midnight. The climb was an 800m ascent, scrambling over loose rocks till we hit crampon point. Then there were about 4 ladder crossing sections amidst giant crevasses. About an hour later we hit the 300m jumar wall that was about 70-80 degrees steep. We made for the summit between 0720 – 0930 hrs and surpassed two other teams.

As we descended, we were met with the other two teams who were on their way up the jumar section. With only 4 lanes and only one as the abseil section, we were stuck in a human jam. Our own 2 rope teams were separated by an hour. We eventually reached Chhukung that evening and everybody was well spent. As a sort of reward, we streamed GOT’s series finale the following day 🙂

Imja Tse, 6189m

This was a climb that had no hiccups, with perfect weather conditions. It was a team that had everybody well suited to altitude, with good fitness and technical knowledge. Our team was a well-oiled machine, with everyone knowing exactly what to wear on the morning of the summit push, being efficient at the crampon point, able to form up in each rope team, fearful but in control at each crevasse crossing, technically sound at the jumar wall, capable of front pointing and most importantly, smoothly abseiling down despite poor rope conditions. Kudos to all!

It was especially interesting to note each other’s personal observation of the grading of Island Peak (PD+) against their own TMC peak. In short, as compared to:
Scout Peak, Island peak may be harder, depends on snow level.
Tserko Peak, Island peak was at least a grade easier.
(FYI: Ama Dablam is a D.)

For reference:
F: Straightforward, glacial, easy angle of snow and ice
PD: Longer routes, complex glacier, involves scrambling, belaying and rappelling.
AD: 45-65 degree snow and ice, 4C rock climbing etc.
D: 50-70 degree, 5a-b rock climbing, objective hazards.
TD: Long sections of hard climbing, danger, etc.
ED: Exceptional danger, possible aid pitches, etc.
ABO: Danger and difficulty at the limit.

Grateful towards this community for giving us the opportunity to meet like minded people who would willing pay to suffer together. As much opinions we have on climbing, I think we were extremely fortunate to be able to form such a strong team for Island Peak. How often could we organize such jios in the future? Three years and three teams later, I am thankful for each opportunity.

Joel

Island Peak 2019 consists of:
Shaun (Summer ’16), Christel (Summer ’16), Hui En (Summer ’16), Lionel (Summer ’16)
Joel (Winter ’16)
Jing Sen (Winter ’17)
Jermin (Summer ’18)
Chiew Hui (Kazakhstan ’18)
Clarissa (Winter ’18)

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