Thursday, 9 December 2010

Ama Dablam 2010

Ama Dablam Himalayan Expedition 2010

Ama Dablam Himalayan Expedition 2010
by Andy Humphrey

So, good time? Nice holiday? Seems to be the general question now I am back. Good time? Hmm, I think so. Holiday? Far from it. So what is my overall impression of this 'trip'? Well what did I do? It starts of with a quickly forgotten flight on Air India and then eases into beautiful warm days trekking through the Khumba.

After arriving in Lukla (2800m) we soon get into a trekking rhythm, up early for breakfast, mid morning break for drinks, then lunch and generally finish mid afternoon to chill out in the tea house with hot drinks and biscuits to see us through until dinner time. It may seem like I’m eating my cake but in between these essential breaks were long walks through breathtaking valleys and across spectacular rivers down to Phak Ding (2600m) for our first night in the khumba.

We then travelled up the Kosi River with numerous river crossings and entered the national park at Monjo, then the hard work began with a long tough uphill up to Namche Bazaar (3450m) but, with a rewarding first view of Everest. At Namche we all had a well-deserved treat of coffee and cake then onto Kyanjuma (3600m) to Tachi’s place for a 2-day rest with another first, glimpses of the magnificent Ama Dablam between the ever-accumulating clouds. After resting up, it’s onto Tengboche where we visit the monastery and then travel a little further up the valley, with spectacular views of Ama along the whole route, to Panboche (4000m) for our last 'comfortable' night.

From here it’s an easy stroll up to basecamp (4450m), a glorious position. Then it’s 3 days resting, procedures and generally getting use to the whole mountain set up, especially the cold nights. We also had our Puja (blessing) by the local Lama. With our own tents and a comfortable mess tent with movie nights, it was quick to get homely and to concentrate and prepare for the challenge ahead. Unfortunately, the day everyone made their way up to ABC and Camp 1 for the first acclimatization run I come down with an illness and so watch them all energetically leave BC, while I make a dash for the isolated red tent (toilet). Although I manage a load up to ABC on one of the days the combination of altitude and illness really does knock me back and is a depressing realisation that this wont be easy but, day by day I feel better and start feeling positive again and decide to get going with a night at ABC (5300m) and C1 (5700m) with a few of the other guys. For those that enjoy hard walking this amble from BC to ABC to C1 is gruelling hours of slogging up the appropriately named Shithill 1 & 2. Worst was to follow after these but I guess the ‘location namers’ didn’t want to dishearten too many with lots of uninspiring location names and so the never-ending path to ABC and the massive boulder field to C1 would just remain a surprise to those that made it this far. Admittedly, these are quickly forgotten once packs are discarded and a brew in hand to soak in the incredible scenery and inspiring sunsets.

After a couple of restless and tiring but successful nights out it was back down to BC for R&R and a plan of action for our summit attempts. A group from Keswick (5) arrive from having just summitted Island Peak and are first in the pecking order, followed by the stronger half of our group (5) the day after and then the rest (5, including me) the day after that. It would be a shame to watch everyone go first but knowing that our attempts would be imminent the excitement was hard to contain.

Our intrepid leader Tim kept his head on knowing that plans change and the comings and goings in the next week would be fully utilising his time culminating, unfortunately, on his summit day bid with a tent at C1 blowing away as he arrived. After rescuing and sorting the contents, with the help of some friendly porters, this put paid to his summit bid this year. Lucky for Tim he can have another go.

As for our group...leaving the comparative luxury of BC for our bids we hit the hard slopes of Shithill 1 and 2 and I think we all felt like passing out at ABC but, it would be another 2 to 3 hrs of boulder jumping up to C1. As uncomfortable as C1 tents were I was pleased to see them and happy to sit around and get into the routine of camp, sort tent out, get ice, melt ice, drink, melt ice, cook, eat, melt ice. A visit to the best toilet views in the world and then back to melting ice before hoping to get some sleep in this cold, harsh environment - well it would be if not for the tent, sleeping bag and the hot water bottle.

You were generally woken up each morning around 6ish to lie in your bag counting down for the sun to hit the tent and, what a feeling it was when it did. It seemed those magic rays could warm and liven you up instantly. After more collecting/melting snow, ensuring through bleary eyes that no 'yellow' snow got in the sack it was sticky toffee pudding or some other wayfayer delight for brekkie.

We had 2 days at C1 to ensure the higher camps were clear for the 2 parties above us for their ascent and decent. On the second day we were able to watch both parties move from C2 to C2.9 and the others make their summit bid. This had to coincide with the worst day so far and in horrendous conditions one of the Keswick crew managed to top out. A tremendous effort.

Then came the arduous task for us, getting everything needed for the next 3 to 4 days into a rucksack. After a lot of huffing and puffing and some chuffing language I managed to get the gear in the sack. Notice I didn’t say all the gear as whilst packing you soon realise that this is not needed and you might be able to do without that and therefore it fits. The route from C1 to C2 has to be the most enjoyable. It's easy scrambling and traversing and with full packs and big boots on you feel like you are high mountaineering finally. This great section culminates in the challenging Yellow Tower, a 25m vertical wall just before C2. I found this to be a great fix line pitch and it got my juices going for what lay ahead. If C1 was clustered crowding then C2 (6000m) was precarious positioning in the extreme. 3 tents sat on an exposed ridge. Most of us arrived after the Yellow Tower grinding just to be grateful to see accommodation, without reflecting on the sudden drops on all sides. Maybe it was the tiredness or maybe we were all acclimatizing to both the altitude and the exposure.

All I can say about the next section, C2 to C3 is ‘wow’. It has everything. It will push your resolve to the fullest. I personally must have seriously pondered what to do next countless times and the abject danger is inherent throughout. It is not for some it turned out, with several backing out at certain stages along this section. Why? Well, thrown out of C2 immediately into your crampons across a knife-edge ridge then slammed into a zigzag traverse over mix terrain. You are on fixed lines but still you question whether you can do each pitch. The 'safety' is there but constantly you look below with dread. Once the traverse is past you are put into the firing line of the Grey Couloir. As a couloir it naturally acts as a funnel for all rock and ice from above so climbers must be wary and fully aware of who and what is above them. Although steep there are plenty of nice steps to rest on and all too slowly the couloir turns into a snow slope.

Trying not to relax too soon I came to my big dilemma, a single rope up a steep rock band onto a snow slope to its anchor 30m away. This I did not fancy, especially after talking to a descending climber who also didn’t like the look of this and having fresh in my mind of ropes snapping on 2 colleagues the day before,.lucky they were both on double ropes. The main issue was that I had been climbing now for 2 days on fixed ropes, all of which had redundancies, so it came naturally to jumar up one rope with another rope acting as back up. With what seemed to be a 3000m drop below my feet I became unstuck on whether it was sensible to proceed on this single rope! After radio discussions with other climbers and Tim, I waited for our Sherpa Lakpa to arrive and he nonchalantly scrambled up the rope, found some spare cord and set up another line. Although this lengthy delay turned me into an ice cube I was an extremely grateful to see that additional rope which enabled me to carry on with my bid. Unbeknownst to me, after all those mind games, the majority of the ropes from this point on would be single and there was no time to be begging my sherpa friend to find and set up extra cord for each section. You have to trust the rope, trust the work the Sherpa's have done and get on with the climb. I thought I was home free only for Lakpa to ruin this thought for me, estimating another 1 to 2 hours. Bugger. It is relentless and does not get easy at any point. After a sporty traverse that involves abbing first and then shuffling along to then jumar up to the Mushroom ridge, where the wind and cold really starts to kick in. The ridge is exposed and escape is nowhere to be seen and so you have to climb on. At one point, on seeing the tents and wrongfully thinking I was nearly there, I found refuge from the constant winds behind a rare enclave in the ridge rocks. Here I rested up for what seemed like an eternity and feasted on an Alpen bar. With renewed energy the final slopes and ridges passed in a blur with my desire to get into some shelter from the battering wind.

C2.9 (6300m) came as a blessing and I threw myself into the first tent. Once I had my breath back I soon realised that sleep was not going to come easy. The constant wind seemed to be trying harder and harder to take the tent away with me in it. After laughing this off for a while it soon turned into a plea of ‘please stop’. Just as we were thinking of how mad this could drive us the smiling face of Lakpa appeared and sweetly told us in broken English of a sanctuary from the wind just around the corner. A hurried repack and quick walk brought us to a cave area completely protected from the wind and while we made our new home Lakpa again was out in the wind bringing another tent around for our group, amazing. C2.9 what a position! Nestled into the glacier with car length icicles hanging over us and a drop into oblivion just cms away it has to be the best campsite in the world. Even collecting ice was easy, a few swings of the ice axe from the comfort of the tent and hey presto it’s all in arms reach.

Summit day. So maybe it’s not the best campsite in the world. The sun tantalises but does not quite reach us ensuring a cold morning start. Still, today’s the day and after getting fuelled up we are raring to go. A grateful bonus is that we will not be carrying heavy packs today and after climbing the first ridge to the Mushroom platform. I am absolutely drained and cannot see how I can take another step and this damn wind just won’t go away. Looking up the slope to the Dablam it’s a little crowded with other climbers so at least there is no rush to get going. Composed again we set off. The slopes are easy, great climbing and situation as long as you avoid the spider web of ropes and ensure you are attached onto the newer fixed in ropes then it’s all about pacing yourself and moving up the mountain. Apart from the slow, hacking parties that we had to overtake it’s a wonderful climb up past and through the Dablam then onto a relentless ridge. The last pitch was truly put there for a final test of stamina. It gets steep and then you have a snow bridge over a bergschrund. Then just as you think you cannot go on any further you are celebrating at the top (6856m). The view is truly amazing and includes Cho Oyu, Pumori, Nuptse, Lhotse, Makalu, Kangchengjunga and of course Everest. It is hard to take it all in and thankfully, before anyone gets emotional, we get on with the task on descending. With a figure 8, big mitts, frozen hands and a tired body we start the endless abseils. We were happy, exhausted folk on arrival back at C2.9 for a brew.

I managed not a wink of sleep that night. I was buzzing and my mind was racing about, not helped with a constant waterfall of snow and ice falling on the tent from climbers descending during the night. It was a relief to see daylight and get the stove on in the morning. Packing up was a depressing task, mainly because we were tired and the sacks felt so heavy, but also that that was it, There was now nothing to look up to or look forward to, only 2000m of vertical descent. We left C2.9 and with only one mishap on the way down; a tangle in the ropes where Lakpa had set the extra rope for me. One of our group didn’t realise this had a knot in it half way down. Crisis over, we made C2 in good time and feeling optimistic that we could be in BC in no time. Spoke too soon, as no sooner had we left C2 one of us started feeling unwell and had to go slow in fear of passing out and so our ‘go quick’ policy turned to ‘go slow’ and we took our time over the many traverses and abs. Arriving at C1 I started feeling weak due to dehydration and with no water left I decided to go ahead to reach BC before I got any worse. Arriving in camp was pure relief as darkness developed.

With no time to adjust back to our home base we were packed and heading down the valley the very next day but not before saying our farewells to all the team who had looked after us so well. What can I say about these Sherpa’s? They are legends. The trek out was hugely enjoyable, with 3 days to travel out we all managed to take in the sights, move around with an abundance of energy for the first time since arriving it seemed. We were all able to enjoy a beer or two and have a shower for the first time in an age, something I wouldn’t want to make a habit of. It was with sudden sadness that after taking one more corner Ama Dablam disappeared from view but the memories will remain and the photos to remind me of this majestic mountain and area.

With news of flights being delayed and Lukla airport filling up with travellers, we were all relieved to get on our flights just as the clouds were gathering and the queue at Starbucks was becoming unacceptable. All that was left was a couple of day’s downtime to relax, drink and buy gifts in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu.

On reflection, any regrets I ask myself? It was a big decision to go. Escalating costs, time consuming, a few whatif's and doubts. No, absolutely none (unless a better immune system counts). These trips inspire, they become unforgettable, great memories, once in a lifetime ‘holidays’ (Well I hope not). Climbing mountains is not for everyone, but one can be in their environment to enjoy the beauty and feel the atmosphere. Trekking and climbing in the Himalayas has something for everyone who loves the outdoor world.


Note about our expedition leader, Tim Mosedale. From meeting up in Sam’s Bar, Kathmandu to saying farewell at the airport he was exceptional. I found him approachable, good humoured and organized. Everything was sorted, he was wealth of information, an expert in all fields (shame, as I would of liked to win occasionally at Connect4 and cards). I have no hesitation in recommending Tim if any of you are planning any trips to the Lakes or further a field. He currently runs Ama Dablam each year and is guiding Everest this year.

1 comment:

  1. Wow :) That's exactly the kind of inspiration I need...I'm thinking to go to Nepal long time...I still don't know when...but now I definitely know how :)