At the airport you will be met by a representative of World Expeditions and transferred to the Radisson Hotel where you will meet your group leader. Your kitbag containing sleeping bag, down jacket and equipment will be issued upon arrival and individual equipment/gear checks will be held during the afternoon. A pre-trek briefing will be held at approx 6.00pm and is a great opportunity to get acquainted with your fellow group members before heading out to dinner.
This morning final gear checks will be held and afterwards we will depart for Thamel where any necessary items will be hired, ie plastic boots, or purchased. A group sightseeing tour has been arranged, taking in the key attractions in and around Kathmandu. If time ds not permit, the tour can be taken after the expedition when there is a full day at leisure in Kathmandu. Notwithstanding, the hotel is centrally located and a short walk from shops, cafes and other features of interest.
An early start to the airport to catch the 45 minute flight to the STOL airstrip at Lukla. It is a memorable flight, with marvelous views of the Eastern Himalaya. Our crew and porters assemble, loads are sorted and after a cup of tea, we are soon on our way down a trail below the air strip to the river at Surke Khola, which brings us adjacent to the racing glacial waters of the Dudh Kosi. Our route takes a southerly direction along old trade routes, a trail of farm settlements growing subsistence crops such as millet, corn and buckwheat and then as we trek higher, into stands of oaks, maple and rhododendron.
We follow the main trail briefly before turning up a path that leads into the forest and traverses around many ridges to the valley of the Kari Khola. Although our camp elevations are similar for the last days, we are undulating over two major ridges, the Chutok La (2945m) and the Khari La (3080m). As we approach Pangum, set in the base of a small bowl like valley immediately below the Pangum La, we travel through forests of rhododendron, pines and oaks. This is a little known trail used only by the local families and apart from a couple of small settlements along the way we see little evidence of human activity. Pangum is a very old settlement little changed, with a new gompa and expansive views out over the valley.
We climb the half hour or so to the Pangum La (3175m) and our gateway toward the Hinku Valley, and now start to head eastward and then in a northerly direction. Today is a solid descent to the Hinku River of at least 900 metres depending on which path we take, and then a climb up to our camp high on the other side near the Surke La. We are once again traveling through a mix of terraced slopes containing grain crops interspersed by undisturbed forests of the upper temperate zone; maples, rhododendrons and fir.
Climbing up to the Surke La (3085m) we now follow the spine of the Surkie Danda ridge northwards towards Mera and the Hinku and camp part way along at a yak herders clearing or 'kharka'. These next few days are far from teahouse and trekkers trails and should be some of the finest Himalayan wilderness trekking of the trip.
Continuing along the ridge, we climb higher and higher over knolls (lumps in the ridge) of 4000 metres and then 4500 metres. The terrain has now elevated well above the tree line and is grassy slopes and rocky outcrops and cliffs, where birds of prey may be seen flying overhead such as Griffon vulture, lammergeier or eagles. We then descend to a camp set near a series of five lakes, Panch Pokhari, set beside the river of the Chunbu Drangka.
This is a good time in the program to have a rest day and a lovely natural setting to explore further.
Our route now contours around many ridges on the eastern side of the Hinku, descending lower into forests of rhododendron and scree. Near the valley floor we encounter the devastation caused by a natural damn at the head of the valley bursting in 1998. The valley has been destroyed, leaving boulders, dead trees and silt where once there were old growth forests and meadows. Our campsite is on a pleasant grassy patch, on the now much higher bank of the rocky riverbed.
We are now in the Hinku Valley proper, and cross over by way of a yak herders bridge and join the main trail. The first settlement we pass is the busy village of Kote, primarily servicing the trekking groups that come through for Mera. As a result of the tremendous washout of boulders and debris, the trail follows the riverbed mostly, a good trail among rounded stones and silt. We gain our first views of dramatic peaks of the valley; Kusum Kanguru to our left and an unnamed peak over 6700m that stands directly before us. The path then weaves up on to the pastures on the left hand side and pleasant easy trails through to Tagnag. Today we also enjoy our first views of Mera, initially at the confluence of the Sanu Drangka above Kote, if the weather is clear we see the dramatic south face, and then on our final approach into Tagnag. We are now among mountains and starting to prepare for our climb.
Tagnag is a location to have an acclimatisation day and we will prepare and check our climbing gear also. There are many good ridges and slopes to trek up for a few hours and spend valuable time acclimatising ourselves at these greater heights. We aim to gain at least 500 metres following a ridge behind the village as a side excursion on this day. There are views of peaks towards Kusum Kanguru and across towards Mera.
Today is long day of trekking however all members will be extremely fit by this time. We descend the slopes of Namche to the Dudh Kosi joining the main trail to follow at riverside through numerous villages to Phakding. On crossing the bridge, we trek a short distance up and around, to the broad flat spur that Lukla lies upon. The last night is always memorable for an end of trip celebration with all the crew and porters.
We begin our exit trek descending through the famous Khumbu Valley to Namche Bazaar. Namche is known as the Sherpa capital and it is a great place to wonder around, visit the Tibetan stalls or enjoy the Swiss bakeries. Our accommodation will be at our private eco campsite.
An alpine start sees us climbing steeply up the lower flanks of the south-east face. The track is well used as this is a popular peak. At times there is a bit of rock scrambling and the rocky spur takes us to a snow ramp that leads to the upper snow fields. The peaks of Makalu and Lhotse come into view as we climb higher. Upon crossing the upper neve, it is necessary to fix ropes up a short but steep ice face that leads on to the summit ridge. The summit ridge is a classic alpine ridge and quite exposed, (we fix ropes here also) and traverse our way to the summit. Although Island Peak appears dwarfed by the seven and eight thousanders surrounding it, it provides a magnificent vantage point to all the peaks south of the stupendous Lhotse face. After some exhilarating moments on the summit we descend by the same route to our base.
Final preparations and a check of snow and weather conditions before attempting the summit of Island Peak.
An alpine start for our pass crossing. Once again, ferrying across all our loads together with all party members, crew, porters and members takes time. The approach to the pass from the Hunku is deceptive. Facing east and southward there is much more sun and little snow, just a collection of rocks that gradually lead up to the gap we travel through. On the north facing side we find steep slopes of snow that we must take care to descend by fixed ropes to the snow basins below and subsequent moraine and alpine valley beyond. The views from this 5780m pass crossing to the peaks of Khumbu are unmatched. Any spare moment one may have whilst we are climbing and descending will allow one to appreciate the spectacle of the peaks of the region.
A steady approx 4hr climb out of the valley and up through lateral moraine and grassy culverts to our last camp below the snowline. Enroute we will be able to glimpse the remains of the Lake (Sabai Tsho) that has caused so much damage. It is directly fed by some massive, almost vertical glaciers and it is suspected that there was an enormous avalanche of ice into the lake, and subsequently, a wave that broke through the loose rocks forming the wall on it's far side. A day is set aside for further preparations for the climb, rehearsal of using harness, crampons and axe, and travelling roped up etc. All members will not travel up on to the mountain and glacier without being briefed and skilled beforehand. Whilst the route itself is fairly straightforward, there are objective hazards and good basic technique and awareness of changing conditions is vital for every individual. Your guide will supervise the entire proceedings on the mountain, from the route taken and timings, and equipment required (we only take what we need for the climb, and the rest of your gear remains at base) through to people's fitness (mental and physical) to proceed. This means that the guides decision is final; he or she is responsible for everyone's safety and well being throughout the expedition, and no compromise will be made on these aspects.
We will need to make a relatively early start today. Once our porters are organised we will commence our most remote stages of the expedition. We descend into the Honku valley near to five large glacial lakes which sprawl out before us. They are known as Panch Pokhari (five lakes). The Amphu Laptsa pass is situated immediately at the head of the valley to our right and is basically the low point on the ridge between the Hunku and the Imja valleys. For this day or so we are in the Hunku. A new vista of peaks span out before us including Ama Dablam to the distant westward, and many unnamed peaks. Camp is set close to the rocks that lead up to the pass. On these stages we ask that members be flexible and co-operative. Camps will be set where conditions allow, and your World Expeditions leader will keep you advised as to each days plan.
Today is set aside for a well earned rest and contingency day. We will make our last minute preparations to exit via the difficult Amphu Laptsa which takes us to the Khumbu Valley and our next objective - Island Peak. From our camp we have spectacular views into the Hinku and towards the La.
These high alpine passes will require the use of crampons, ice axes and ropes and it will be necessary for our staff to reconnoiter our route and fix ropes for some sections to ensure safe passage. For members, it will provide invaluable time to further prepare for our long day ahead checking gear, familiarising one's self with appropriate climbing gear and resting before an early start the next day. Logistically pass crossings are always at a much larger scale than peak climbs, as all crew, porters, supplies and equipment, as well as members will be passing through the alpine terrain and a safe, methodical procedure is required for every load and party member. This takes time and your commitment and contribution as part of the team is absolutely vital.
All going to plan and the weather on our side, we will move up to a rock and glaciated camp just off the Mera La saddle at approx 5400m. Plastic mountaineering boots are usually worn from base through to the summit bid and return. Whilst they feel clumsy they are perfect for the job, providing warmth, protection and stability for the variable terrain including loose rocks, snow and ice. Another camp is set half way up the long north slope of the mountain, at about 5700m near a rock knob. Although it is a shorter distance here, it can be difficult in poor conditions and you are at altitude and is harder and further than it first appears.
The summit bid will commence early in the morning (anywhere from 2 to 5am) from this high camp, and take around 4 to 6 hours to make the summit. Whilst the distance dsn't look far, we can assure you it will be hard work, and all the preparations and a positive, tempered attitude will pay off here. It is usually necessary to rope up for much of the summit approach due to crevasse hazards along the route. The route can vary depending on the conditions of the season but usually skirts around a major shoulder in front of us to the back side of the mountain and then traverse in a fairly straightforward approach to the summit knob. As the light comes, we enjoy incredible views across to Baruntse (7129m), Chamlang (7319m) and Nau Lekh (6360m) with Makalu (8481m) looming behind. Further to our left is Everest, Cho Oyu and in the distance on a clear day, Kangchenjunga. Please note that due to the unstable nature of the northern summit knob, it is highly likely that we will ascend the central summit (6461m) of Mera.
The exact schedule will depend on many factors, including the weather, condition of the route and condition of the members. Our contingency of equipment and experienced staff and a time buffer, gives us a fair amount of flexibility to achieve success for all who have worked hard from the beginning of the expedition. The day will be long, and this is where all the training beforehand, the trek approach, and the right attitude will combine to give you stamina and confidence to be part of a sound team, with optimum chances for the summit.
This morning, we fly by Twin Otter aircraft to Kathmandu and transfer to the Radisson Hotel. The remainder of the day is at leisure to rest, relax or explore and shop in the town.
Final preparations and gear checks for our pass crossing.
The trip concludes after breakfast with a transfer to the airport or other arrangements as planned.