Trekking Peaks of Nepal: (Island Peak) A Self Organised Climb

Trekking Peaks of Nepal - The Summit of Island Peak Imje TeseFor the adventurous traveler, or those who’ve previously been to Nepal on a trekking holiday, why not try something a little more challenging. Have you ever considered the prospect of climbing one of Nepal’s lesser peaks, commonly known as ‘trekking peaks’. For those who think it may be beyond them, I can tell you that it is possible to achieve, at any age. With a good level of fitness, competent Sherpa’s and suitable equipment. These peaks open up a whole new world to those with an adventurous spirit, with little or no previous climbing experience. Climbing these peaks does not have to be an expensive exercise, and if you have time on your side and put in some hard work pre-planning, you can self organise your own expedition, and climb one of these peaks at a fraction of the cost some of the big adventure outfits can charge.

Please don’t get me wrong when I use the word ‘lesser’, and don’t be misled by the term ‘trekking’, as although a good portion of these peaks in mountaineering terms are non technical, there are others that are extremely challenging to climb. The Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) currently has 33 peaks classified as ‘trekking peaks’. Ranging from 5650m to over 6500m (18,537-21,325ft), with many of these appropriate to combine within a trekking program.

A View of Mt Everest From The Top of Gokyo Ri

A view of Mt Everest from the top of Gokyo Ri. The summit of Gokyo Ri at 5357m, serves as a perfect acclimatisation trek before climbing higher peaks in the area.

If you’re on your own then it may be a little difficult to organise (you could advertise in your guest house in Kathmandu, or even possibly on the Internet for the additional people to split the cost’s) but if you have a party of 3 or more, then it is well worth your while, self organising your own expedition. There is no better feeling than tackling a grand challenge like this with a group of like minded friends or family. Although meeting new people on organized tours can be rewarding, we all know what its like to be stuck with that girl or guy who just drives everyone insane.

Believe me, if your bogged down in a tent at 6000m, with freezing temperatures and a howling gale, your probability of having a sense of humor failure is multiplied by a factor of five.

The 33 peaks are broken down into two groups, with the first 15 peaks listed as category ‘A’. The permits to these costing a little more, as they were newly listed in 2002, with the remaining 18 original trekking peaks falling into category ‘B’. To climb a mountain in Nepal you need permission. The Nepal Mountain Association handles all permits for the 33 trekking peaks, and they are issued with little fuss and minimal bureaucracy, compared to the bigger ‘Expedition’ peak permits that are handled by the Nepalese Government. The Nepal Mountain Association is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation, working as a National Alpine Association to promote mountain tourism, climbing sports, protect mountain environments, as well as preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Nepal’s mountain people.

The permit cost’s are listed below, and a permit application can be downloaded here. Although not extremely busy, these peaks are becoming more and more popular, each and every year. In the 1996/97 climbing season, there were 623 permits issued with a total number of 3319 climbers. Compare that to last season where 1210 permits were issued and 5576 climbers were registered, you can see that numbers have almost doubled in the last 15 years, and it won’t be long before they cap the number of permits issued.

Fee Structure For Category “A” NMA Peaks

Royalty for up to seven members $500.00 USD
Royalty for each additional member up to 12 person $100.00 USD

Fee Structure for Category “B” NMA Peaks

1-4 persons $350.00 USD only
5-8 persons $350.00 USD plus $40.00 (per person)
9-12 persons $510.00 USD plus $25.00 (per person)
Note:Maximum number of members per team is 12.

All 33 Peaks Require A Garbage Deposit

An amount of $250.00 USD should be deposited to NMA as a garbage deposit.
The refund shall be made as per the provisions outlined by the NMA.

Liza next to tent at Gokyo fifth Lake Nepal.

Liza, freezing cold and standing next to our tent after a very cold night near the fifth lake at Gokyo.

Once you have your climbing party numbers finalised, your next objective is to put together the remainder of your team. First and foremost is finding a reputable Sirdar to lead your party. The role of a Sirdar is to assist the climbing party with recruitment of porters and other staff, control of porters, local purchase of food, etc. A Sirdar will most usually be fluent in English and be able to solve most problems that may arise, to the best of his ability. Unless your are experienced climbers, you will also require the assistance of a lead climber. The lead climber will fix ropes on any steep sections of snow and ice, and when roped up for crevasse crossings, the lead climber will be in front, and the Sirdar will be at the rear of the group. The lead climber will also give instructions on the use of the various pieces of technical equipment, such as ice axes, harnesses and jumars (ascenders).

There are many agencies in Kathmandu that can organise your Sirdar, permits and other details. If you have time before your arrival, your best bet its to do some research on the Internet and get some prices, as these will change dramatically between particular outfits and their experience, and what peak you wish to climb. For most people on there first climb, this will probably be either Island or Mera Peak, the two most popular climbs. Island Peak (or Imje Tse) is a little more technical, and requires some small crevasse crossings, as well as a moderately steep section of snow and ice to advance, before heading up the summit ridge and on to the summit.

Mera Peak is a more straight forward climb, but with an extra 400 or so meters of altitude, it’s the extra height that presents the challenge on this particular peak.

Nepal - Trekking and camping near Gokyo after some light snowfall.

Standing arround and waiting for the sun to warm us up. Camping near Gokyo fifth Lake after a very cold night.

With most of these peaks being over 6000m, acclimatisation is paramount to your success. As we were climbing in the Solukhumbu region, we arranged to meet our pre-arranged climbing party on a certain date in Namche Bazaar (main village of the Solukhumbu region). This enabled us to complete a 3 week acclimatisation program, before heading back to Namche Bazaar (altitude 3440m) to eat well, and rest for a couple of days before beginning our trek to Island Peak base camp, and in turn our climb to the summit.

This acclimatisation period, was extremely beneficial in many ways, besides the physiological ones. It gave us time to do some normal trekking through the various valleys of the Solukhumbu region, staying in the usual tea houses along the route. Also as we were self sufficient, we did some camping at higher altitudes completely amongst the elements, surrounded by glaciers, and towering 8000m peaks. Looking back now, this was almost as rewarding as the climb itself, as there was one night we were caught in some light snowfall, and when we awoke the next morning the whole area was lightly covered in snow and made for a spectacular sight. This feeling was also magnified by the fact that we were completely on our own, a couple of days walk from the nearest settlement, the village of Gokyo.

Before undertaking any of the tasks above, you need to prepare yourself mentally for the challenge. Only then will you be able to commit to the physical training required to enable you to make a safe and memorable climb. Obviously the fitter you are, the effects on your body by this harsh environment will be lessened. You don’t need to be out running marathons every weekend, but building your fitness by long walks or cycling will be of great benefit, and will make your experience a little more enjoyable.

Nepal - Climbing for the Summit of Island Peak (Imje Tse)

After all of the organisation, and many weeks of training, it all came down to these final few steps heading for the summit. (Thanks to Alex Doyle for this great photo of myself)

The next thing you need to do is to organise your basic equipment (such as boots, jackets and sleeping bags), and this is where you can get a little carried away, if you’re not careful. We brought nearly everything from Australia, and only hired the technical climbing gear in Nepal. If you’re an outdoor kind of person, You may already have many items required for such a trip, and this may help the budget. I suppose it’s a fine line as to how much you spend, as you want to be comfortable, but you’re not climbing Everest either.

Wishing you had spent that extra $100 on the better model sleeping bag when your half way up a mountain, is not going to do you any good. My tip is to buy the best gear you can afford, as it will make your climb more enjoyable. Many items are available in Nepal, but please be very careful when buying any items in Kathmandu, as there are plenty of Cheap Chinese knock offs, that look the goods, but are not the real deal.

This post was to merely wet your appetite, and to hopefully encourage others to attempt to climb one of Nepal’s trekking peaks, whether they were not sure if they were up to it, or couldn’t afford to pay the high cost’s of one of the major outfits. Further reading on the subject is vital, and I highly recommend the books listed below to continue your planning. Just remember that organising your own expedition can be done with little hassle, and can save you a great deal of money. The mountains of the Himalaya are simply breathtaking, and nothing can prepare you for the day you stand on the summit of one these mountains, even if it’s only a smaller peak, it is still a great achievement.

Further Reading on this Subject.


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     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  • GlobalButterfly

    Gosh, I wish I liked the cold, I would add this to my bucket list!!!

  • Anonymous

    Looks gorgeous and well worth all the efforts you must go through for a climb. Great information.

  • Jason

    Suzy, It was a bit of work to organise, but not to time consuming. The climb was well worth the effort, and something that you will remember to the day you die. I hope the information above, will inspire others to take on the challenge, of a self organised climb.

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