Island Peak Trek
- This article is an itinerary.
Island Peak (6,189m), officially known as Imja Tse, is a mountain in the Khumbu (Everest) region in Nepal that's one of the most commonly climbed "trekking peaks" in Nepal. It can be climbed as part of several different trekking itineraries.
Island Peak was originally named by Eric Shipton in 1952 (some sources say 1951) and was so named because it sits in the middle of the upper Chhukhung valley, like an island in the middle of a sea of ice. It was officially renamed Imja Tse in the early 1980s. Imja Tse simply means Island Peak in Nepali.
Much of the upper Khumbu Valley is within Sagarmatha National Park. The park was created in 1976 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1979. It was first climbed in 1953 as part of a training exercise by a British expedition that went on to summit Mt Everest. Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who was one of the first two humans credited with climbing Mount Everest, was also one of the first to summit Island Peak.
It's considered to be a moderately easy peak by alpine standards and can be attempted by people with little or no alpine experience. Normally, trekking/climbing organizations offer to teach the novice Alpinist what they need to know to attempt the peak.
Island Peak can be climbed during two seasons on either side of the monsoon, spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (mid-September to November). It's possible to climb the peak during the winter but cold temperatures will present additional difficulties.
The summit of Island Peak is at 6,189m so the rate of elevation gain and the consequent risk of Altitude sickness or specifically Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a very real concern. Your general fitness and your acclimatization process will both be very important.
The trek to Island Peak initially follows the main Everest Base Camp Trek route, but separates near Dingboche. Most teams attempting the mountain will initially fly to Lukla and hike from there. Although itineraries include an attempt to summit Island Peak, many people visit the area as trekkers. If you are trekking and not climbing, there are additional options for exploring the Khumbu region.
Be aware that weather conditions around Lukla and Island Peak, as well as Kathmandu, may play havoc with flights and trekking/climbing schedules. It's best to be flexible with your arrival and departure dates and even be prepared to have the expedition cancelled completely, almost without notice.
Although many trekking/climbing organizations do offer to teach novices everything they need to know to enable them to climb this peak, it hardly bears mentioning that any prospective climber will be far better off if they have at least some experience with climbing rope management, alpine equipment such as harnesses, ascenders, crampons, ice axes and so on. The better your general fitness and conditioning, the greater will be your chances of success and you will actually enjoy your climb more. Most big peaks involve a certain amount of suffering, so anything you can do in advance to reduce that suffering will be to your advantage.
Some trekking organizations try to set up abbreviated itineraries (about 14 days) that allow participants the chance to hike to the peak and climb it as quickly as possible. Obviously, this is only really feasible if you are fit, somewhat acclimatized and have some alpine experience. If none of those conditions apply to you, then find (or arrange) a trek and climb that allows extra time for you acclimatize, develop reasonable fitness and learn how to use climbing equipment. Itineraries from some companies are around 19 days of trekking and climbing plus travel to and from Kathmandu.
The Nepal Mountaineering Association lists Imja Tse as a "Group B" climbing peak. If you intend to climb this peak, you must be accompanied by a Sirdar/Guide who must be registered with the Nepal Mountaineering Association. The rules associated with climbing peaks in Nepal list a wide variety of duties of the Sirdar/Guide. You should familiarize yourself with these duties.
Group B trekking peaks incur a permit fee of USD350 for a group of up to 4 climbers with an additional USD40 per person over that number. There will also be a USD250 deposit to ensure compliance with garbage regulations.
Trekkers will also need a TIMS card. If you are a part of a guided group, you will need a "blue" TIMS card (NPR1,000). If you are an independent trekker, you will need a "green" TIMS card (NPR2,000). These cards must be registered at various checkpoints along the trail. You will NOT need a TIMS card if you have a climbing permit, which you will have if your primary objective is to climb Island Peak.
If you wish to have a trekking/climbing company organize everything, an option which does offer certain advantages, you will need to find one with a good reputation. There are hundreds of such companies so finding one can be an interesting process. You could start by looking at companies registered with the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal. Possibly the best way to locate a suitable company is to rely on recommendations from people you know.
Arrange for rescue insurance. Some insurance companies will cover you if you are hiking but NOT if you are mountaineering (ie: climbing a peak). Make sure you know what you are getting. If you are hiring a trekking company, you will almost certainly have to provide this information to the guide and the agency before you leave for the trek.
In the "old days" people visiting the Everest area would simply trek there from Kathmandu. You'd have lots of time over a couple of weeks to get fit and acclimatize. That's not usually what people do now. Most will now opt to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and pay about USD161 to do so. Consequently, there are dozens of flights in and out of Lukla each day and if weather causes delays, things can get backed up very, very quickly.
The organized itineraries offered by trekking companies, which you will likely be using, all include a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and back to Kathmandu the same way at the trek's end. It's always possible, however, to have trekking companies set up whatever custom options you want. With that in mind, there are four other possible places to start your trek into the Khumbu and end up at Island Peak if you have a few additional days:
- Shivalaya - about six days south-west of Lukla. During the 1950s and 1960s, this was part of the original route into the Khumbu for expeditions to Everest and other peaks in the area. This option is a good way to avoid the crowds and is perhaps the only good reason to take it, other than as an excellent fitness exercise. This route isn't particularly impressive for scenery and because it crosses rather than follows river valleys, there is an inordinate amount of up and down. One estimate suggests that by the time you reach Lukla you will have accumulated nearly 9,000m of elevation gain, more than climbing Everest from sea level! Take a bus the 184 km to Jiri (1,905m) and on to Shivalaya. Be warned: the bus trip will take most of the day as the road is narrow, twisty and slow.
- Phaplu - is a three or four day walk from Lukla. Its airstrip was extended in 1986 to accommodate twin-engine aircraft. These days it's not used much by trekkers so flights might be easier to find, especially at the last minute.
- Lamidanda - five days south of Lukla, offering a mostly unknown alternate way into or out of the Everest region. Tara Air has 40-minute flights from Kathmandu to Lamidanda.
- Barahbise (aka Bahrabise) - Finally, if you really want to experience a long trek into the Khumbu, consider starting here, bypassing the road to Jiri. It takes about 6 days to hike from Barahbise (Bahrabise) to Shivalaya through part of Nepal that isn't much visited by trekkers. It would be important to have a guide for this route (or some ability in Nepali) as well as camping equipment because accommodation for trekkers is pretty sparse and even locals might not be able to explain the right direction to you. The route starts at 820m and rises to cross the Tingsang La (3,320m) and then wanders through high meadows, pastures and forests and eventually to Shivalaya. This is a remote, seldom-used route and we leave it for your research and discovery if such an experience appeals.
Remember that Island Peak is inside the boundaries of Sagarmatha National Park and you will have to pay an entry fee. It's best to get this entrance permit before you leave Kathmandu. Trekkers from SAARC countries must pay an entry fee of NPR1,500, other foreigners NPR3,000 and Nepalis NPR25. These new entrance fees were put in place in 2012.
Your TIMS card (see above) if you are trekking only and will not be using a climbing permit.
Some of the villages the trek passes through on the way to Island Peak:
- Lukla - has what some call the most dangerous airport in the world, some lodges, hotels and a hospital.
- Phakding - has a large collection of lodges three to four hours from Lukla.
- Namche Bazaar - a significant village on the Everest Base Camp Trek, with lodges, markets, a museum, currency exchange facilities, National Park Visitor Centre.
- Tengboche - the name of a monastery and the nearby village, with lodges and an eco-centre. Five to six hours from Namche Bazaar
- Dingboche - located five to six hours east of Tengboche. Has lodges and tenting areas.
- Chhukhung - (alternate spellings: Chhukung, Chukhung) a small village three hours walk east of Dingboche.
There are several ways to approach Island Peak. The most direct route is to follow the Everest Base Camp Trek and diverge near Dingboche. A possible itinerary for this route could be as follows, starting from Kathmandu:
- Day 1 - fly from Kathmandu (1,350m) to Lukla (2,800m) . Continue on to Phakding (2,600m) .
- Day 2 - Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3,440m) .
- Day 3 - Namche Bazaar - acclimatization day.
- Day 4 - Namche Bazaar to Tengboche (3860m) .
- Day 5 - Tengboche to Dingboche (4,360m) .
- Day 6 - Dingboche to Chhukhung (4,730m) .
- Day 7 - Chhukhung to Island Peak Base Camp (5,200m)
- Day 8 - Island Peak Base Camp to High Camp (5,600m)
- Day 9 - High Camp to Summit (6,189m) descend to Base Camp and continue to Chhukhung
- Day 10 - Chhukhung to Namche Bazaar
- Day 11 - Namche Bazaar to Lukla
- Day 12 - Lukla to Kathmandu
This itinerary represents possibly the fastest option to the summit of Island Peak. It would require good fitness, acclimatization and alpine experience. For most people, a longer approach would be advised.
For a more relaxed pace, allowing for more time to acclimatize and see other scenery in the area, the following itinerary would be a possible example:
- Day 1 - Fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and hike to Phakding
- Day 2 - Phakding to Namche Bazaar
- Day 3 - Rest and acclimatize in Namche Bazaar (day hike to some higher elevation is recommended)
- Day 4 - Hike to Tengboche
- Day 5 - Hike to Pheriche
- Day 6 - Rest and acclimatize in Pheriche
- Day 7 - Hike to Lobuche
- Day 8 - Hike to Gorakshep. Spend the day hiking up to Everest Base Camp (5,380m) and back to Gorakshep for the night
- Day 9 - Hike up Kalapathar (aka: Kala Patthar), a "black hill" at 5,643m, with good views of Everest, then on to Lobuche
- Day 10 - Hike to Chhukhung
- Day 11 - To Island Peak Base Camp
- Day 12 - Climb to Island Peak High Camp
- Day 13 - Climb to Island Peak summit and descent to Base Camp
- Day 14 - Trek to Dingboche
- Day 15 - Trek to Tengboche
- Day 16 - Trek to Manjo
- Day 17 - Trek to Lukla for overnight
- Day 18 - Fly to Kathmandu
As you can see, there are many variations on route and time, even if your ultimate objective is the summit of Island Peak. These are things you will need to sort out with your team, arrange with your guide or propose to the trekking company, whatever system you plan to use.
Aside from the scenery that unfolds as you hike towards the spine of the Himalaya, there are a number of worthwhile attractions along the route:
- Tengboche Monastery, Tengboche. Monastery - largest and most active in the Khumbu, gompa, Mani Rimbu festival in the fall. some charges for video cameras during the festivals.
- Sagarmartha National Park Visitor Centre, Namche Bazaar. Su-F 08:00-16:00. Free.
- Nangkartshang Gompa, North of Dingboche. Good views east to Makalu.
- Namche Market, Namche Bazaar. Friday evenings and Saturdays. Important regional market.
- Mani Rimdu, Tengboche Monastery. Festival celebrated during the full moon of October/November; ritual dances depict the triumph of Buddhism over Bon.
Following as it does, the Everest Base Camp Trek, the route to Island Peak will provide opportunities for all kinds of foods. The hungry trekker will find lodges, bakeries, pizza shops and almost anything else your palate might desire. Expect to take your breakfast and supper meals at the lodge where you are spending the night. This is the trade-off of having inexpensive accommodation.
The "traditional" trekking meals include the following:
- Breakfast - scrambled eggs, oatmeal, muesli, Tibetan bread, tea
- Lunch - pasta or rice with potatoes, tea
- Supper - rice dishes, tomato pasta dishes, "pizza" in various forms, soups, chicken burgers, chips ("french fries"), tea
All the usual Nepali favourites will be available on this trek. For environmental reasons, try to avoid drinks that come in plastic bottles as there is really no effective way to recycle such things here. Glass bottles aren't really much better and their weight means that they won't get recycled either.
With all the people visiting the area, trekkers, climbers heading for various mountains, especially Everest, the villages along the route have "enjoyed" an influx of money and, consequently, there has been a bit of a building boom. Expect to find lodges in almost every village along the route. There are far too many to include an extensive list here, but a few can be mentioned. For example, the quantity of accommodation in Namche Bazaar is almost astonishing, although at the height of the trekking and climbing season, space may be hard to find unless you are prepared to stop early.
Note that while accommodation in some lodges can seem inexpensive, you are usually expected to take your meals at the lodge. That's where the lodge owners make their money. During the peak of the climbing and trekking season, when the hordes have descended on the Khumbu, there still may be some competition for places to stay, even with the number of lodges available. There might be some advantage to getting on the trail early each day and stopping early in the afternoon. Groups with a few Sherpas will often send one out early in the morning ahead of the group to secure accommodation well before lunch and hours before their group catches up with them.
- Panorama Lodge (Chhukhung).
- Island Peak View Lodge (Dingboche).
- Himalayan View Lodge, (Dzongla) (on the route from Gokyo to Lobuche east of the Cho La).
- International Trekkers Guest House, (Phakding). Quiet with good views.
- Trekkers Inn, (Namche Bazaar). One popular lodge out of many in this village.
- Island Peak Base Camp at 5,000m.
As a general rule, the costs of everything - food, accommodation, drinks - will increase as you go along the trek. Remember that most of the things trekkers want must come in on someone's back from the trailhead. Some things, like bottled water, which you should be avoiding anyway for environmental reasons, can cost about NPR500, compared to less than NPR100 back in the city.
Accommodation in basic lodges along this route will cost from NPR200 for a room to NPR500 if the room has an attached bathroom. For this price, trekkers are expected to take their meals in the lodge. Room rates are much higher if you take your meals elsewhere. If you really want to sample the food from some outside restaurant, try to arrange to have your lunch at that establishment while you are passing through the village.
Prices for meals depend on how much you order. Each item can cost NPR250-500 so if you want a dish of "mixed pasta" plus a bowl of noodle soup and a "potato roastie", you can spend as much as NPR1,000 or more for your supper. For obvious reasons, meals with no or little meat will be less expensive. In some parts of Nepal, meat simply isn't available so trekkers get used to being vegetarians for a few weeks. You will lose weight.
There are "luxury lodges" on this route and they can charge USD150-200 per day with food prices to match. If you have hired a trekking company, they can get discounts, but remember that luxury is a nebulous quality high on the trail.
A guide will cost approximately USD25 per day. Porters can be hired for about USD10 per day. Note that it is much less expensive to hire a local, Nepalese trekking company with local guides and porters; the money you pay will go directly into the Nepali economy as an added benefit. A tip for good service will be expected at the end of the trek. You will pay this in cash at the end of the trek to the guide/sirdar who will distribute the money to the rest of the staff. It would be worth discussing this with the trekking company people ahead of time but the amount of the tip could be from 15-25%.
A one-way ticket from Kathmandu to Lukla by air will cost USD161.
In brief, a 2 to 3-week trek with a porter/guide, your flights, food, tips and accommodation may cost you USD1,200-1,500.
Some medical services are available along the trekking route.
- Lukla and Kunde - small clinics that can provide medical support while waiting for evacuation
- Namche Bazaar - Namche Healing Centre; also the Namche Medical Centre and a small dental clinic
- Pheriche - Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic treating locals and trekkers. At 15:00 each day the Clinic gives a talk about altitude sickness and other health issues that you might encounter. Pheriche is between Tengboche and Dingboche.
Altitude sickness is one potentially life-threatening condition that you need to be aware of. Become familiar with the information in this related article.
Water for drinking must be treated in some effective way. Trekking in Nepal has the usual recommendations.
If you happen to sustain minor injuries but are unable to walk, it may be possible to hire a mule or be carried down by a porter. If your condition is more serious or life-threatening, evacuation by helicopter is the only option. Helicopter costs start when the machine leaves Kathmandu so it is entirely possible that such transportation could cost as much as USD10,000. For this reason, you must have travel insurance that covers mountaineering activities and helicopter rescue if required. To put such a rescue into action you would also need a contact in Kathmandu to guarantee payment. This could be the trekking company you are using or possibly your embassy but they will need details of your insurance policy before you leave Kathmandu. Realize that even if everything goes well, a helicopter evacuation could take as much as 24 hours.
- Gokyo - a 9-day out-and-back high altitude trek from Namche Bazaar through a valley west of Everest Base Camp. This is a less crowded route with good views of Everest. It offers views of Cho Oyu and, below it, the Ngozumpa Glacier which is the largest in the Nepal Himalaya. The Ngozumpa Glacier is the subject of some special research because of its rate of melting and the possible risk to villages down valley. It's possible to climb to a ridge above the village of Gokyo and see four 8,000m peaks: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu. There is an impressive ice ridge connecting Cho Oyu and Gyachung Kang (7,922m) that offers one of the most dramatic panoramas in the Khumbu. An alternate route in or out of the Gokyo valley is over the 5,420m Cho La, a high pass connecting west into the Khumbu.
- Numbur Cheese Circuit - a 14-day trek that starts at Shivalaya, the alternate route to Lukla