The Himalayas are home to some of the tallest mountains in the world, and mountaineers from all over come to test their skills against these giants. But even for experienced climbers, summiting a peak like Island Peak is no easy feat. Located in Nepal, Island Peak, Imja Tse in the local dialect, rises to a height of 20,305 feet and is part of the wider Everest region. A team of experienced mountaineers from Greece recently took on the challenge of reaching the summit, and I had a chance to speak to one of the team members about the expedition.
The team, made up of climbers with years of experience between them, chose Island Peak while taking into account its technical difficulties, altitude, and location. Accessible from the popular Everest Base Camp trekking route, it is still a relatively remote mountain, providing a true adventure. The expedition began with an acclimatization period, during which the team members trekked to higher and higher altitudes, slowly getting their bodies used to the thin air. This is a crucial step in any Himalayan expedition, as it reduces the risk of altitude sickness.
However, the team had started the training way before they reached Nepal. Petros Constantinidis, member of the expedition, explains that the winter prior to the expedition, the team organized a number of climbs in Greece, in order to practice and get familiar with alpine climbing, "For this particular expedition I practiced a lot of road and trail running and also swam regularly, as swimming is a good way to master your breathing," he explains.
The route to the base camp took the team through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Nepal, past settlements of the Everest valley and the capital of the Sherpas. The Sherpas are the local population of the area, descendants of Tibetan ethnicities and famous for their great resistance to altitude. Impressive temples, scattered prayer-carved rocks as well as the characteristic colorful prayer flags added a touch of spirituality to the journey.
During the expedition, the team members had to face not only the technical difficulties of the climb but also extreme weather conditions. They were constantly dealing with strong winds, below-freezing temperatures, and surprise snowstorms. Even so, the biggest challenge was the altitude according to Constantinidis, "I had to constantly manage my stamina and energy. I had to be very disciplined in my pace and my rehydration, even when I did not feel thirsty at all. Sleep was difficult and I often woke up gasping for air."
Despite the challenges, the climbers reached the intermediate base camp of the Island Peak 16 days after their journey began. From there, they had to summit the peak in a single day, which meant getting up at around 1 am. "In high elevations like this, it is very important to start early in the morning," explains Constantinidis, "Firstly because the weather is usually better in the morning hours and secondly because during the small hours, the temperatures are low and the snow and ice have a better consistency, making the ascent less tiring and safer."
When the climbers finally reached the top, they were rewarded with breathtaking views of some of the world's highest mountains. “We felt a great sense of awe and accomplishment," says Constantinidis, “Though for me the most beautiful feeling came later, once I reached lower altitudes and finally realized the scale of the ascent. An interesting summit experience was when I realized that once I was not looking at my teammates, I could not hear them. It was only when I looked at them that their voices came alive. A case of a slight hypoxia.”
There are many lessons to learn from mountaineering expeditions like this one. For Constantinidis, the most important one is to enjoy each moment without being excessively preoccupied with what’s coming next. Setting small goals and enjoying each step of the way is the key to achieving the ultimate goal. And this is a lesson that can be applied to all aspects of life.
One of the team members filmed the entire expedition and made a short documentary about it. You can watch it here.