Day 14 – Chhukhung to Dingboche – Porters and Illnesses

Following the exertions of yesterday an easy day was in order and a relatively short trek back down the valley to Dingboche, our third and final visit. The wind was brisk but progress was almost all downhill made for a leisurely time.

Now is a good time to recognise the hard working group of porters that have been with us since day one. One of the the key rules of the organization that we chose to travel with, Mountain Monarch, is “One Porter One Trekker”. So, each trekker is assigned a porter who carries the majority of his or her baggage from place to place. These guys are amazing. They virtually run from place to place be it a short distance or a long high altitude climb. Below is a photograph of our fantastic Porters. Some companies use Porters to carry two or even three Trekkers bags.

Unfortunately one of the realities of mountain living is illness. For several days now a few of the Turtle Trekkers have been suffering with a variety of ailments, some more serious than others. Hygiene in the mountains is a huge challenge and at night in the Tea House there is a cacophony of sneezing, wheezing and coughing. Once ill it is then very difficult to recover as there is no opportunity to get warm and no where to really wash and get clean. A few of us have really struggled these past days, none more so than Henry, and today he made the tough decision to leave the trek and get back to Kathmandu. He left in style by helicopter which took 10 minutes to cover the distance it had taken us 5 days to walk. We already miss him and wish him a speedy recovery.

The sink pictured serves an entire floor, probably 30 people and is situated in an open corridor.

Tomorrow it’s onward to Zhongla and then the High Passes.

Day 13 – Island Peak summit day returning to Chhukhung

And ……. they’re off …….

Wake up call at 1am with porridge, toast, boiled egg and coffee served tent side at 1:30am … what a life! Oh yes, it’s minus 15 degrees Celsius and a 5+ hours steep ice ascent awaits.

The first half of the climb is on rock, a difficult hard upward struggle negotiating boulders and ledges. Half way up, Crampon Point is where, predictably, crampons are attached, and climbing essentials such as harness, helmet and jumar are added and the group are roped up with each other and the three guides.

From here on it gets tough and it’s still dark so each relies on their head torch to illuminate the way. Several crevasses needed to be navigated around and there are many beautiful natural ice sculpture landmarks known as Seracs and can be dangerous as they can topple with no warning.

Before the ice wall there is an 8m ladder climb which fortunately was almost vertical making it somewhat less scary than a horizontal ladder across a crevasse.

The ice wall is approx. 150m high and at a 75 degree gradient (but appears vertical) . This is why all the jumar training was so important and the team start the long haul up. There is no turning back now! This is truly exhausting, the sun was up so it was warmer, and the head wall climb took about an hour of relentless hauling up and front pointing crampon hammering in to the ice.

The feeling of relief (and exhaustion) at the top of the head wall was quickly replaced with concern as a ridge walk awaits to the summit. Upon reaching the small summit (about the size of a snooker table) there is an overwhelming feeling of relief, accomplishment and elation. All four Turtle Trekkers made it to the small summit at 6,189m at about 7:30am. A fantastic and admirable achievement. Congratulations Vico, Keith, Craig and Marcos. They join many that summit this peak each year although the first ascender was the famous Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (of 1953 Everest fame).

After enjoying the views, the accomplishment and taking many pictures it was time to come down. Descending a mountain is notoriously more dangerous than ascending as the body is exhausted and mistakes can be made.

Thankfully the descent was largely trouble free but due to fatigue seemed way longer than on the way up. Coming down you can also enjoy the landscape views, seracs, and understand more the terrain.

The journey down took the team through high camp, Base Camp and all the way down to Chhukung. Arrival was at 5pm (some 15 hours after hitting the mountain) where the Turtle Trekkers were reunited and stories shared around the Yak Dung fire.

Day 12 – Climbing clinic at Base Camp and climb to high camp

Life at Base Camp was cold, quite quiet but gloriously sunny. Shaking the tent at wake-up time caused a shower of ice crystals to fall down on the occupants, two per tent.

The summit team had now settled to Vico, Craig, Marcos and Keith and Chef Shetty attended Base Camp and the climbing clinic. Climbing clinic was after breakfast and just behind base camp and covered a thorough examination of all the necessary equipment, ascending with jumar and abseiling with a number eight.

After lunch it was off to high camp. This was a 2 1/2 hour 350m vertical climb and scramble over large boulders and validated the decision to utilize a high camp rather than start the summit assault from Base Camp.

On arrival the team prepared for the summit attempt which was to commence with a 1am wake call for 2am departure. Sleep at 5,650m is patchy. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold and the forecast was for perfect conditions. The team were ready but understandably apprehensive. Tomorrow would be the big day. Island Peak awaits and as Sherpa Mingmas T-shirt says, “The mountain doesn’t care”.

Day 11 – Chukung to Island Peak base camp

And so the day has come to set off on the climb of Island Peak. At 6189 meters Island Peak (locally known as Imja Tse) is a popular climbing peak, and features many mountaineering challenges, including rocky scrambles, a glacier walk, ladders crossing crevasses, a near vertical wall of ice and a tiny ridge to walk along the width of 2 boots all leading to a summit that is the size of a dining room table, not to mention high altitude where oxygen levels are half that in Cayman, climbing for 5 hours during the night by torch light and temperatures expected to plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius. A true Himalayan adventure.

The summit team of Cayman Turtle Trekkers set off for Base Camp. The trail wound its way up the banks of the Imja Khola river with Lhotse on one side and Ama Dablam on the other side of the valley, but all pointing to Island Peak, which as the name suggests stands alone like an island between these mountain ranges.

After a three hour hike, we arrived at the Base Camp at the foot of Island Peak and on the banks of Imja Tsho lake.

Base Camp is a collection of large dining and kitchen tents and small two man sleeping tents. It made for a colorful interlude amongst the barren glacial moraine. We were greeted by the camp chef handing out hot mango tea and a bowl of delicious pasta.

Then it was time for the Turtle Trekkers to wish the summit team good luck and begin the return journey to Chhukung and for the summit team to prepare their sleeping bags and gear for a night in the expedition tents, where temperatures in the tents were expected to drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius. Tomorrow the summit team will do some climbing training and then move to High Camp , half way up the mountain.

Day 10 – Dingboche to Chhukung

Our day today is relatively relaxed with a 4km hike covering an altitude increase of 300m to Chhukunk, which is predominantly a Tea House stop at a junction of trekking routes. Chhukung is our stepping off point for Island Peak where tomorrow the summit team will set off for Island Peak Base camp with the remaining Trekkers either trekking local trails and passes or just taking advantage of a rest day.

The route today followed a barren but picturesque valley and river at a steady incline with an unexpected cafe appearing half way providing a now staple and refreshing honey, lemon ginger tea.

Along the way we are again reminded of the realities of life without roads or any form of mechanized transportation when a man passes us carrying a huge piece of slate on his back and strapped around his forehead. There are no roads at all in this region of Nepal and haven’t been since we landed in Lukla.

We also trek through an abundance of fragrant Juniper bushes making the chefs in our party envious.

Our Tea House is one of the more comfortable we have encountered with truly spectacular views all around. Comfortable doesn’t extend to any heating, showers, toilets in the room or even sinks but it’s all relative. Behind us is the mighty Lhotse casting shadow over the valley. Nothing however can increase the temperature which at night is well below freezing. All the Turtles are feeling the cold and longing for the Caribbean sun.

Tonight those preparing to summit receive a final briefing from Sherpa Mingma ready to trek to Base camp tomorrow. The following day will be an ice climbing skills course followed by a trek to High Camp and then finally in the wee hours of the following morning the assault will commence.

Day 9 – Gorak Shep to summit Kala Patthar and back to Dingboche

As Mingma had promised at last night’s dinner it was a long day.

Our day started with a 4.00 am wake call so we could climb Mt. Kala Patthar in time for sunrise. Gorak Shep, altitude (5140m), is one of the highest in the world and not surprisingly a cold place to stay besides the Khumbu glacier. The hotel rooms were below freezing and when we left the hotel to set off for the climb the temperature was a frigid -16 degrees Celsius.

Mt Kala Patthar at 5540metres sits above Gorak Shep and provides an incredible panarama of the Everest Massif trek up. Sunrise is the best time to photograph this incredible scenery. Some of our intrepid Turtle Trekkers braved the cold and the steep slopes and climbed the mountain and an hour or two later. The Cayman Turtle Trekkers summited. Spectacular views and photo opportunities were are reward.

If that was not enough exercise for one day, after breakfast we set off on the Long road home to Dingboche retraced our steps from the outbound which took us two days.

Arrived in Dingboche late having spent 45 mins in the clouds and arriving to a smoke filled village. Being above the tree line there is no wood to burn but fortunately there are many yaks who produce something ideal to burn as fuel. The scent does permeate the village early evening.

Day 8 – Lobuche to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and on to Gorak Shep

At today’s 5:30am wake up call the dawn was breaking clear and a crisp -10 degrees Celsius in Lobuche. Our first stop after a 4 kilometer hike was to drop our bags at the tea house in Gorak Shep, a small village closest to Everest Base Camp. It sits at 5200 meters on the banks of the Khumbu glacier and under the majestic Lhotse (8,516m) the worlds 4th highest mountain.

After lunch we set off for the 8 kilometer round trip trek to Everest Base Camp. Every spring the base camp becomes a teeming tent city with expeditions from all over the world coming to chance their luck at scaling Mt Everest. it has become a pilgrimage for Trekkers as just to reach the BaseCamp, as we are finding out, is a mighty physical and mental achievement.

Fortunatelay for us we had the ideal guide to show us the way. Sherpa Mingma is our guide for the whole trekking trip and the climb of Island Peak.

Sherpa Mingma was born in Lukla and as a boy saw the constant flow of trekkers and climbers arriving in his home town and heading for the high mountains. As a boy he had a dream of climbing Everest. His father was a climbing guide. At 18 he started started trekking as a porter. His brothers were also trekking guides and soon realized Mingma had the talent to be an assistant trekking guide. For 2 years he did this and also started learning and training to acquire the skill sets as a climbing and guiding professional. He took many many climbing and guiding courses with the Nepali Mountaineering Association and the Khumbu Climbing Centre. He stated leading clients on the leading 6000m. peaks as a trekking leader. Finally his big chance came in May 2018 when his brother told Mingma he could guide on Everest with Himalayan Trailblazers. On 21 May 2018 Mingma summited Everest for the first time. Mingma has many fascinating tales about his climbing experiences and we are lucky to have him leading our team..

The trek to the base camp was an undulating walk along and across the side of the Khumbu glacier, one of the biggest glaciers in the world, and finally we crossed the glacier to the Base Camp at 5250m. We were all elated at reaching one of our primary goals of the trip. It sits opposite the Khumbu Ice fall which is the gateway to the route to the summit. It sits on the glacial moraine in a spectacular amphitheater of the worlds highest mountains. An expedition member can expect to spend up to 60 days at this base camp when they attempt an Everest climb.

With the sun starting to dip behind the mountains, we headed back along the ridge walk and got back just in time as the sun set and the temperatures started to plummet. It had been an exhausting but rewarding day.

And our prize for achieving one of our goals…… Mingma telling us the plan tomorrow is a 4.00am wake up call so we can climb Mt Kala Pathar (5650m) by torch light to watch the sunrise over Everest. We should dress warmly as it could be -15 degrees Celsius and following the climb it will be a15 kilometer hike back down to Dingboche. Quiet Sunday in prospect for the Cayman Turtle Trekkers.