Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nepal 2012 Hogus&Paul Summit Island Peak

Everyone has their own 'mountains to climb'

Climbing Island Peak Mountain was
a long term commitment
a formidable challenge
a test of fortitude

We woke near midnight, to a magnificent black sky and brilliant stars. The snowy mountains shone with an iridescent glow. We ate a hot soup breakfast, filled our 1-Liter bottles with boiling water, and started the approach to Island Peak. Today, groups totaling 39 climbers would attempt to summit Island Peak. 

We picked our steps carefully, lit only by our Petzl headlamps. Apparently, climbing in the darkness was a blessing to some. As daylight broke and they could see beyond their headlamps, the Japanese team was horrified with their surroundings - a very steep and sharp rocky ridge with fall-to-death edges on both sides. The entire Japanese team turned back at this point.

We climbed to a transition place where the rocks ended and the snow and ice began. We changed from hiking boots to mountaineering boots, and geared-up with harness, helmets, crampons, carabiners, jumars, descenders, and ropes. Here the more technical climbing started. If you've ever walked in ski boots, then add crampons with a dozen 2 inch spikes on each foot, then start on a 45-60 degree slope ... well, you get the idea.  

The terrain is mixed - gentle slopes, steep inclines, crevasses, sheer drops, rocks, and ice.
But it's always uphill!

Our first pitch on ropes had us climbing a vertical of 200M (600ft), with jumars and a lot of arm and shoulder power. Lock the jumar, hoist yourself up about half an arm-length, raise a boot and kick a crampon into the ice.  Rest for 30 seconds. Try to breathe. Force the body to do one more step.  Again and again.

The next pitch got steeper.  Fatigue and altitude started to close in on us. Earlier in the day, legs screamed tired ... now they just felt dead and would only move slowly and reluctantly when overpowered by the brain. One step, rest for a minute, try to breath, force another step. On the West Coast Trail (at sea level) I climbed ladders in minutes, but here on the mountain with 50% oxygen, it took hours to climb the same heights.

Many climbers will say that high-altitude-climbing is the most strenouous and demanding  performance they have ever done.  Maybe for them.  Yes, it is severe.  But for those of us who have walked within days of Ostomy and Resection Surgery (or other major surgeries), there are life-challanges that are equally formidable.
The last pitch looked steep and harsh but surprisingly I felt strong, fluid, and energized. Like the mountain gave back some of the energy I had imparted with her that day. We summited Island Peak at 6189M (20,306ft) and attached our safety ropes.  Hogus and Paul quickly flashed their ostomy gear, and with numb fingers zipped up to protect skin from the nasty cold wind.
Ganesh, Karna, Paul and Sanjay all celebrate with Hogus
As I stood to take pictures, I stepped over a rope, but misjudged by the 2inch crampon spikes, tripped on the rope, and fell. Our climbing guide was instantly horrified, then relieved when my safety rope held and I got back on my feet, only embarrassed with my fatigue-induced clumsiness. Then he explained the horrors from 2 weeks prior, when a Japanese woman fell to her death from this summit. She had made a mistake - she had not attached her safety rope. Her body was not retrieved.

This was a hard-earned Bucket-List accomplishment for each of us,
but summitting was more relief than jubilation.
Summitting is usually the goal - getting down safely is all that really matters
Of the 39 climbers attempting Island Peak today, only 11 summited.
Our group of 3 old climbers, totaling 190 years of age, all summited.

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