Yak got a fantastic night sleep. However when I woke up, my bed was littered with ear plugs, water bottles, walking poles, crampons and other hard objects. Apparently Sherpa didn’t appreciate my snoring.Having shaved the ice from the inside of our window, we discover that 2 inches of snow fell during the night. The scene that greeted us was spectacular. Every inch of the mountainscape was stark white, lit by a pleasant sun rising into an azure blue sky.
Having washed the crown jewels with a miniature baby wipe, we get dressed quickly and leave the frigid bedroom for the heat of the food room.
I lock the door and turn to follow Sherpa down the poorly lit corridor when suddenly the sharp lines of the corridor and Sherpa ahead of me disappear.
I am frozen to the spot and blink wildly before looking again. Blurred vision. One of the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness.
Oh no! Not now.
Internally, I flicked the safety off my panic button and was prepared to hit it hard.
Before doing so, I check myself over. Breathing is normal, heart rate is a little elevated but seems ok, headache is no worse than normal.
Then it hits me – my contact lenses have fallen out!
Peepholes corrected, I join Sherpa for a breakfast of porridge and boiled eggs with instant coffee. We than separate our gear and leave the non essential items with the Bean an Tí until we return. She is a friendly faced jovial woman who appears to have an army of teenagers working for her.
Sherpa rightly remarks that the cleanest and best tea houses that we have experienced have all been run by women.
One nil to Nell McAfferty.
Having loaded up our rucksacks heavy, we follow Ang Kami out into the snowy wilderness. The overnight fall has obscured the trail so we would rely on his knowledge of the area. Kami leads Padraig & I and Puba brings up the rear. We march slowly and methodically uphill towards the towering face of Island Peak.
As we climbed, the bodies again started to feel the pressure of altitude and the impact of the exertion.
Our bodies screamed – “What the heck? We’ve don’t this up stuff before, and it hurts. Why are we doing it again?”
The only answer that I could think of is one that every Irish man will understand. “I don’t care if it hurts. It’s paid for, so we’re doing it”.
Onwards and upwards, through a rocky valley, along a sharp ridge, past frozen lakes and through a dry river bed until finally, after 4.5 hours of hiking – to gain 300 m of elevation – we spy a motley collection of brightly coloured tents. Island Peak Base Camp.
It does not have the drama of Everest Base Camp but is a very welcome sight. This will be our home for the night.
After a delicious lunch of spaghetti and cheese, Kami takes us on a short hike to acclimatize. We hike out of base camp and climb to the crest of a non-descript ridge. When we reached the crest, the sight on the other side was amazing.
A 2 km long frozen lake with a glacier at its head and snowy mountains along its shore. It was wondrous. We trekked along the high ridge for some time with Kami appearing to levitate over the side at times. Fear of heights is not his problem.
On returning to base camp, our bags have arrived and we shuffle off to solve the puzzle that is fitting us, our sleeping bags, our duffel bags and our rucksacks in the miniature tent.
Dinner is served at 7pm. Vegetable soup followed by Rosti potatoes and fried eggs. The dining tent is freezing. It is hard to describe the cold felt in our extremities. Even with two pairs of socks and hiking boots my toes ached in pain. Polartec gloves could not protect my fingertips.
Dinner finished, we grabbed some hot water in our nalgenes and headed for bed at 8am. Not because of tiredness, but our sleeping bags are the warmest real estate for about 100 miles.
Camp tonight is at 5000m+ and we ‘re both doing better than when previously at this altitude. Our previous exposures to altitude on the way to EBC have certainly better prepared our bodies for low oxygen environments. The night sky is alive with bright stars and snow capped mountains. The weather is clear and calm.
Tucked up and toasty, the kindles are the weapons of choice. A good read helps to relax the mind and hopefully lay a path to sleep.
Tomorrow is training day again. We will be given instruction in ascending, descending and managing our safety harness with fixed ropes.