Island Peak – Venturing To The Sea Of Ice

Shares
island-peak-1

On this page you will find a comprehensive and impartial guide to the Island Peak Trek.

As this is a very long and detailed article on the Island Peak Trek, we recommend using the quicklinks below to navigate to the sections that interest you most. Alternatively, bookmark this page for future reference.

Route Overview

At 20,305 feet high, Island Peak or what the Nepalese know as Imja Tse is not one of the Himalayan giants but does provide a mountaineering experience that is exhilarating.

As one of Nepal’s trekking peaks, Island Peak can be conducted as an extension to the Everest Base Camp Trek. A registered and experienced Sherpa guide is recommended. While you are not made to take porters, you will most likely want some.

Angles are mostly low, with one significant exception being a long section of 40 to 50 degree snow which will necessitate a fixed line. Some knowledge of rope work and technical climbing is required, but not significant experience. You can be informed of everything you need to know in the course of the trek – cows’ tails, jumars, fig 8s and screwgates.

The rate of elevation throughout the trek makes altitude sickness a potential risk.

Perhaps, like Sir Edmund Hillary, this trek will prepare you to tackle Everest. In fact if you decided to climb Island Peak in April you will likely be on the mountain with people who are climbing Everest later in the season.

Island Peak was so named in 1952 by Eric Shipton’s party because they thought it resembled an island in a sea of ice.

The trek usually takes about 19 days, including a visit to Everest Base Camp (EBC).

Regional Map

Island Peak, part of Lhotse’s southern peak, is just off the main Everest trail, between the Lhotse and Imja glaciers. It is generally regarded as one of the easiest trekking peaks, but be fooled, Island Peak is a serious challenge that involves a glacier crossing and ice climb up a steep headwall.

Having recently completed the climb in April 2016, I can assure readers that the climb up Island Peak is not a ‘trek’!

According to statistics I could gather from the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Island Peak lures more than a thousand “trekkers” a year.

Khumbu-Valley-Trek-map

Recommended Map

We recommend the following maps:

Tour Recommendation

Get a price competitive quote for your Island Peak Trek from our trusted on-the-ground operator.

Itinerary

Except for Island Peak Base Camp and the climb segment if you stay at High Camp, you will for the rest of the time be staying in tea houses along the route. Please note that there are several Island Peak trek itineraries that can be done.

Below we have laid out the most popular version – 19 days, leaving from Kathmandu. If you want to make your own way to Lukla then you could probably organise this with your operator or guide.

Click each day to read more...

Day 1-2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7 

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

Day 11​​​​

Day 12-15

Day 16-19

island-peak-climb

The Climb

The climb segment of the Island Peak trek begins around day 12 (see itinerary above).

From Lobuche there are two ways to get to the Imja Khola Valley – the first and easiest (but longest) is to trek back to Dingboche (overnight) and then head for the small settlement of Chukhung. The views are tremendous along the path. The second is to cross the Kongma La Pass (5,535m), which will get you to Chukhung on the same day, but is of course a tough slog! See the map below to get your bearings:

everest-3-passes-map

Chukhung (4,730m) consists of two teahouses, both are well equipped and serve awesome food! You can rent technical equipment, like crampons, hard sole boots, a harness, jumar, ice axes and helmets in Chukhung.

The hike from Chukhung to Island Peak Base Camp (5,087m) takes about 3-4 hours. Base camp is cut off from a fresh water supply (the nearest water is about an hour walk back down the valley). You will camp at base camp and prepare for the summit push.

Base Camp vs. High Camp

The push from Island Peak Base Camp to the summit is about 2 hours longer than the push from High Camp. It definitely makes the summit push easier if you leave from high camp (~5,300m) than from base camp, but you will need water supplies and porters to carry tents up to high camp to make this possible.

Assuming you leave for the summit from base camp, you will follow a gradual path for about 30 minutes. Just past the Imja Tse lake you will start to climb a relatively steep gravel and rocky path to High Camp (+- 1.5 hours). From high camp you continue up a rocky gully, that is usually icey in the early hours of the morning until you reach the crampon point. This is where you will get your first glimpses of the headwall and summit ridge of Island Peak, although it might not be light out yet.

island-peak-headwall
island-peak-ladder crossing

Please Note!

Since the 2015 Earthquake the glacier that leads up to Island Peak has fragmented in places, as of 2016 there where two large exposed crevasses that necessitated ladder crossings (see the picture below of one of the ladder crossings). These crevasses may have closed in recent times or more crevasses may have opened up. You should be prepared for sections of the glacier that require ladders to cross.

Once you have crossed the glacier and reached the headwall the first this you will notice that the ice on the wall has broken and fragmented a lot, partly due to the 2015 Earthquake but more to do with advancing climate change.

Below are a few pictures of the headwall as of 2016.

The wall is about 120m of vertical ascent at 40-50 degrees, with sections that have 70-80 degree steps. If you have not used a ascender or jumar it is worth undertaking a basic winter mountaineering course before joining an Island Peak expedition.

island-peak-climb-2
island-peak-climb

After navigating up the headwall, then all that is left is the knife-edged ridge to the summit.

In the past it was common for climbers to walk along the narrow ridge to the summit, but because of the fragmentation on the mountain face, it is now easier and safer to traverse along the ridge to the summit. 

You can see the traverse path in the picture below. The summit itself is about the size of a large round dining table. You can comfortably get 4-6 people onto the summit at a time.

island-peak-climb-traverse

From the summit the descent back to Base Camp takes about 5 hours. Be careful going down the headwall and on the glacier as that is where most mistakes happen!

Tour Recommendation

Get a price competitive quote for your Island Peak Trek from our trusted on-the-ground operator.

Video Overview

A beautiful video overview of the Island Peak Trek by Karine Collet. The video is 04.39 long.

Recommended Guidebook

There are no dedicated guidebooks for Island Peak, but this mountain diary by Mark Horrell is excellent, and very entertaining: Islands in the Snow.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the trek cost?

Are permits required for this trek?

When is the best time to trek?

Is altitude sickness a risk?

How difficult is the trek?

What gear do I need?

What travel insurance do I need?

Other Routes

everest-base-camp-trek-difficulty-3

Everest Base Camp Trek

The Everest Base Camp Trek is one of the most popular and iconic treks in Nepal. Trekkers get to retrace the early footsteps taken by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their historic Everest expedition in 1953. Discover the Everest Base Camp Trek.

Langtang-Valley-Trek-routes

Langtang Valley Trek

The Langtang Valley Trek is a relatively easy trek and is often far less busy than other popular treks in the Everest and Annapurna region. The trek can be done in seven days, however, it usually takes 10 to 12 days. Discover the Langtang Valley Trek.

manaslu-circuit-trek-1

Manaslu Circuit Trek

Robin Boustead, author of Nepal Trekking & the Great Himalaya Trail: A route and planning guide, pronounced, “Many would argue that the Manaslu Circuit trail is the best general trek in the country.” Discover the Manaslu Circuit Trek.

Did you find this article useful?

Please share it...

Tour Recommendation

Get a price competitive quote for your Island Peak Trek from our trusted on-the-ground operator.

Related Articles

The Hardest Choice: Turning Round on Everest
Singaporean mountaineer Jeremy Tong talks about turning round at 8600m on Everest, and why he will be returning next year.[...]
New Climbing Regulations for Mount Everest
Last week, the Nepalese government announced that it would be setting new regulations for climbing Mount Everest. These new regulations,[...]
Nepal Books and Trekking Guides
Welcome to our library of Nepal Books and Trekking Guides. Below we have tried to synthesis the best trekking guidebooks[...]
Peak Climbing in Nepal
Since the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) was formed in 1978, peak climbing in Nepal has become more popular than ever.[...]
The Definitive List of Places to Visit in Nepal and Things to Do!
Whilst the famous mountainous country of Nepal is known for its soaring peaks, wild landscape and mountaineering expeditions, there’s actually[...]
Khumbu Cough – The High Altitude Hacking Cough
The Khumbu cough, also referred to as the high altitude hack, is a cough caused by the low humidity and[...]

Leave a Comment: