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Table of Contents "On the road to Kabul and other short stories of treks"

Island Peak, November 1997: Borrow boots and a casualty

Ice wall of 70 meter at 6000 m. Persons bottom right and on ridge close to the top of Island Peak for scale.


Our cook asked me if he could borrow my hiking boots for the summit attempt, otherwise our Sirdar would not allowed him to go to the top as he only had poor boots. Two weeks ago I lend him my plastic climbing boots and of course I again said yes.


The night of the summit I did not sleep well. It was -15 Celsius and my sleeping bag was too thin. I put on several layers and still felt uncomfortable. We got up at 2 AM and had a bit of breakfast in the crowded kitchen tent. The garlic soup was nice. Garlic seems to help you to fight high altitude sickness. We packed the gear and finally left at 4 AM. I followed Klaas who was going strong. We first used a steep trail that took us to High Camp at 5500 m we reached after 2 hours at dawn around 6AM. This was the preferred camping site but we ran out of time and skipped it. A German group followed us closely and in a steep part their leader shouted once how to follow. That day some 5 groups tried to climb Island Peak.


Avalanche on the 2 km North face of Ama Dablan (6900 m).

The glacier started at 5800 m. This part was steep and we put on the crampons. Klaas using his clip-ons was fast but I wasted a precious half hour as they wouldn't fit being a bit small. I was now with the rest of the group and we slowly moved up the steep snow ridge which had a significant drop on either side and I wondered why we did not use ropes. At a distance we witnessed a large avalanche coming down Ama Dhablam [1]. We finally reached 6000 m at 10 AM and here there is a large glacier-covered plateau. Our Sirdar Phurba Sherpa warned us not to leave the trail because of snow-covered crevasses.


I got very sick by the altitude [1] and no one was able to climb the last 70 m high ice-wall and another 100 m of steep ridge as we were all very tired. I waited for cooky to return so I could get back my comfortable hiking boots and ask him to guide me down. Finally, at 11AM some of the top climbers returned. Cooky and also my boots had a successful summit attempt despite the lack of crampons. On going down we now fixed a rope at the steep snow ridge at the start of the glacier as it had a vertical drop of 500 m on the South side. On the rocky part we switched boots and the going was now much easier. At the camp at 5000 m my sickness was gone. My boots were soaking wet and would stay wet for another 3 days but they reached the top.


Going back to Chukung a Sherpa guide of the German group said that one of the group members died that morning. Most of the Germans were too tired and went back but two kept going. One of them sat down at the glacier plateau at 6000 m and then died. Cause of death was probably HACE, High Altitude Cerebral Oedema, the brains filled with water. They took only one week to get here from Lukla. They left him on the mountain as Sherpas never touch a dead person. He was going to call what to do, take him down by a specialized rescue team at a considerably expense or bury him in a crevasse.


In Chukung I got the second room of the simple lodge as I did not see the point of sleeping outside at 12 and wanted some privacy. I slept very long that night on a comfortable bed and a warm room, around 5 Celsius. The next morning my group members complained about the cold night.