Last week I shared our journey from Lukla to Kathmandu. Now that the dust has settled, I am reflecting on several mistakes I made during the Island Peak expedition.
Hopefully you can learn from them too.
A lot of things went right. I am most happy about taking out at least half an hour every night to journal. At high altitude, when you have no distractions, your mind is heightened too. I wanted to capture those thoughts as and when they were happening, and I did.
Let’s quickly see what I did wrong.
- Personal boots and crampons
Believe you me, my rented crampons must have slipped my rented boots at least 5 times during summit push. The last time was while coming down the icy headwall and my Sherpa told me ‘Ok Akhil. This is the last time I fix this’. The more embarrassing part was when they came off 10 ft away from top of the ridge line. Bharath, our team lead tried everything to put them back while we hung from the ropes at a 60 degree angle. Two support staff stood at the top of the ridge managing ropes. I had to beg them to come down and help me. After trying a few times, they resorted to pulling me up from my waist. Like a dead body. No lies.
This was my third 6000m peak. I have saved enough money renting gear over the years. It’s about time I bite the bullet and buy a pair of good mountaineering shoes and crampons to go along.
- Insulated hydration pack
While I was hanging from the jumar at 20,000 ft it dawned on me that it had been a while I had a sip of water. You know what happens next. Exactly, the water in the exposed part of the pipe had frozen. Even though my water bladder had enough water in it, the frozen pipe won’t allow me to reach it.
I looked up a few feet and there was Sam, happily sucking away from his insulated water bladder.
Man, I need to get me on of those! One that has a insulation cover for body and pipe.
- Study return itinerary
Namche > Phakding > Deboche > Dingboche > Lobuche > Gorak Shep > Lobuche > Dingboche > Chhukung > Basecamp > High Camp > Island Peak
I had the above climbing route memorised. In the obsession of reaching the summit, I never even bothered to check what the return route looked liked. How many days would it take to get back to Kathmandu? How many buffer days did we have if weather did not cooperate?
I only had one thing in mind - October 6th, reach summit of Island Peak by 8:30 am. That’s not how an experienced mountaineer should carry himself.
Once we returned to Chhukung, it dawned on me that I was clueless about the next steps. Bad weather, chopper leaving us midway, flights delayed - all these events would have still happened. I just would have been better prepared, had I known what I knew much later.
As the famous song from Rod Stewart goes ‘I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger’.
- Wrong day backpack
Oh man! Not a day went by that the team didn't remind me what an idiot I was for carrying an army tactical bag as my day backpack. We had offloaded most of our belongings in an expedition duffel, only carrying maybe 5 kg weight on our shoulders.
I had opted for not spending money to buy a new backpack and instead use an older one with no back support and lack of functionality. What can happen, I thought? It’s only 5 kgs.
Sure, it had worked well in previous short treks. But, this was a 3 week long expedition.
I would finish the day, everyday, complaining about back and shoulder pain. It sucked, because the moment I would complain, I would hear ‘bola tha, khareed le bag’.
I am paying for my mistake as I am still nursing my right shoulder, two weeks later.
What’s the idiom? Penny wise, pound foolish. Yup - that’s me.
- Not enough clothes
I ran out of clothes. Usually I run out of underwear, this time I had enough of those. I could have used an extra fleece or two and few extra quick dry t-shirts and a few more base layers.
We didn’t have any buffer days either where I could wash my clothes and wear them again.
Rain, snow, sweat - my clothes were a nice cocktail of moisture that would take forever to dry. On top of that, I had lost my deodorant in the jungle patch approaching Namche on day 1. This made for a special odor that could not be treated. Yes, I could have bought one in Namche but the inflated prices of goods had really turned me off. Instead, I had opted for Candid powder which had zero effects against the odor. Again, trying to save money!
I don’t know what happens to me in the mountains? I turn into a big miser. Maybe, it’s the primitive DNA telling my brain to survive on bare minimum?
- No summit photo
There’s group photos, there’s multiple videos with me blabbering but not a single summit photo of myself on top of what consumed my life for 8 months!
Granted the Island Peak summit is hardly a few feet wide. Just enough to accomodate 6-8 people. Also, I’ve never been crazy about taking photos. But this is the summit we are talking about. No, I’m not climbing it again just for a selfie.
This expedition was a reminder that investing in gear is crucial if you want to avoid problems at high altitude. At those heights where even a small headache can put doubts in your mind about your abilities, it is of extreme importance that you equip yourself with the best gear you can afford.
Time to call friends abroad!