Trip Information

Looking down on Ama Dablam Base Camp
Looking down on Ama Dablam Base Camp (0)
Trip Date:2004-03-18 - 2004-03-26
# Photos:13 [View]
Countries visited:Nepal
Viewed: 4221
Expedition to climb Ama Dablam (6856m) in the Nepal Himalaya - Part 2

Early the next morning we start the never-ending climb up to the Cho La. Soon out of the cold shadows and into the warming sun and a hidden valley. The deep blue of the altitude sky contrasts beautifully with the serrated teeth of the nearby peaks. The last section to the top consists of a rough scramble over slabs and boulders and loose scree. Each of us grinds away at the interminable slope, counting our steps, breathing hard and lost in our own thoughts until at last the top is reached.

Sat in the saddle of the col is the end of the glacier and wearily I set down my heavy pack from my sore shoulders and take in where we have come from. But we have a long way to go today and can only justify a 5 minute stop before it is time to move on. Feeling a little vacant in the thin air I neglect to put on any sun block. Within 30 seconds of stepping onto the glacier I feel my nose and face begin to roast. Boy the sun is strong at this altitude and I have to stop and put some on.

At all points of this trek, as anyone who has been in the region will testify, you cannot escape the foreboding presence of Ama Dablam. Up from Namche it presents itself as an erect thumb. Now from a new angle it forms a perfect triangular pyramid and if it was possible it now looks even more formidable. It is truly one of the most astounding peaks on earth. Every waking thought was obsessed with this mountain, every dream a new adventure on it's flanks. And now wherever I looked, wherever I turned she was there. Defiant and indignant.

Descending now from the Cho La, all the great peaks of the Khumbu are laid out in front of us. Each mountain with its own personality and ability to awe its observer. The Himalaya are truly unique. There is no other mountain range on earth as epic, as grand as foreboding as these peaks that surrounds us now. On ou r right we drop beneath the mighty North face of Taweche. Steeper and bigger than the Eiger with just as much presence, I scan up the face and my eyes trace out trace out the Fowler/Littlejohn route. An ice runnel winds its way to the summit, a line that has Mick Fowler's name all over it. Audacious and commiting this was the route that where they had to endure their infamous bivouac. The hacked out a depression in the ice that allowed them just enough room to lay on top of each other. If Mick Fowler, the king of understatement, described it as awful then how bad could it have really been? Us mere mortals can only wonder.

Today was going to be a long day. Despite having hiked for 7 hours already I knew there would be several more. We were doing what would normally take two days in one to try and leave us as much time on the mountain as we could. It seemed like a good idea at the time but pushing too hard was not good preparation for what we were going to encounter.

I was split up from the group now, but when it is hard going I prefer to walk on my own. Lost in the tunes on my mp3 player, tired and achy I counted down the miles and the hours. Concentrating on every step so as not twist and ankle in my trainers I knew that all long days have to end and just as nightfall descended I reached Dingboche, a cup of tea, some food and a bed. We don't need much to be live and be happy and these 3 things were heaven to me.

We all agreed that we had been pushing things a little too hard. Instead of building our reserves we were now diminishing them. Tomorrow we were heading up to Island Peak Base Camp for our acclimatisation climb and needed to be fresh and up for it.

In the morning we ask around to find some porters, very quickly we rustle up enough suitable volunteers and load them up with our gear and send them on their way. Now particularly unburdened, carrting only camera, jacket and water we head off up the valley. Up to this point I had visited all the valleys we had passed through before and now we were going somewhere new to me, the Imja valley.

Island Peak is visible immediately like a stopper dropped into the top of the valley. To our right the immense 4000m wall of Lhotse and Nuptse dwarf everything around. As climbers are wont to do we pick out the best lines, the buttresses and ridges some going straight to an 8000m summit. A couple of these have been done, but only recently and by rock-hard eastern europeans. But many lives have been lost too. These will surely be the test pieces of the future, there is nothing to beat the sheer difficulty, commitment required and purity of line of these ridges, gullies and buttresses that will take you to a 8000m top to boot.

As we marvel at the immense face a huge lenticular cloud forms above the summit. Before our very eyes and in only a few minutes the cloud looms hugely and spins with massive ferocity. The power of the jet stream is astounding as it pounds the top, there is nothing that could survive such an onslaught.

Ama Dablam as ever dominates my thoughts as it towers over the left side of the valley presenting yet another precipitous face. Equally as imposing and as step as the others and ewaully as intimidating. How can one mountain present so many different faces and so many different moods?

Entering a large plateau we finally arrive at Island Peak Base Camp. Set in amongst a sand flat and a boulder field at 5100m the top of the mountain is not visible from here. Two of the group go off to recce the beginning of the route to make sure we can find our way in the dark. The rest of use also want to contribute to the groups progress so we drink gallons of tea and eat several packets of biscuits. Suman and Raj Kumar and already made camp so there was little to do but sit around and relax in the warm sunshine and chew the cud.

Up to this point Suman had been a constant companion but we had seen very little of Raj Kumar. Although he had been trekking with us as they both needed to acclimatise too we would never see him of an evening. Now he was sat down with us we quizzed him on where he had been. All he could do was grin.

Now Raj Kumar was a very good looking, young guy. Always wearing shades and walking with a swagger it seemed he was never short of a bed to sleep in wherever he was. If there is a Tibetan reincarnation of Cassanova then he was it. Suman told us, while Raj Kumar sunned himself and grinned, that upon entering any village the locals girlies would grab him and drag him inside for some tea and crumpet. Bear in mind they don't eat crumpets in Nepal. The swagger he exhibited, it was now becoming clear, was not just that of a confident young guy but the swagger of someone who had just got laid! If I had had as much luck as him then I think I would say very little too, but I would definitely grin and swagger!

There was no-one else in base camp and for a very popular and relatively easy peak we were suprised. But as the sun began to set we saw some figures marchign towards us. A Korean woman armed with a huge video camera arrived and then a Nepali guide. He told us that they were all strong and really good climbers. A university team who were preparing for the North side of Everest. A couple more Koreans arrived and we greeted them only for them to put on giant duvet jackets and get into their sleeping bags, shivering with chattering teeth. This image was a little incongrous with the hard climber image. It wasn't cold! And we were sat around in light jackets soaking up the sun. They didn't brew up, eat anything or doing anything but just lie there. An hour later their porter loads turned up. Again the just lay there as the Sherpas put up there tents and once erected they got in not to be seen again that night. To be honest the didn't look like they had ever been near a hill before.

As usual I am awake well before I need to be counting the minutes of sleep I am missing out on. Just as I drop off again it is time to get up, extricate myself from the sanctuary of my sleeping bag and fumble around in the dark putting on layers and my feet into my boots. Reluctantly and bleary eyed we go into a seemingly abandoned mess tent and swig mugs of tea and force down some unpalatable breakfast. Gear as always was packed the night before and it is a relief to hit the path. Walking one behind the other the onkly sound to break the silence is the hacking cough of reluctant lungs and the crunch of boots on the loose scree. The sky gradually turns midnight blue and only the brightest stars remain visible. Behind and below us the huge glaciers appear, the bulk of Baruntse, a popular first 7000m peak, appears out of the gloom and the ever present pointed spectre of Ama dablam looms across the valley.

Above us a line of headtorches bob, it's the Koreans just going onto the glacier. They had left a couple of hours before us I hadn't heard them but in the night Adam was restless and had gone to kip outside. The best flat area he had found turned out to be the path and the Koreans got a fright as they tripped over him on their way to the climb. We left the zigzags of the approach path and as the rock began to narrow into a slender ridge a couple of juggy handholds had to be found to keep ascending. We came to the foot of the glacier at the crest of the ridge.

Up to now we had climbed in walking boots and trainers and so we stopped here and donned boots, crampons and dumped our packs for the final 100m to the summit. The glacier was very easy going, the crevasses obvious and only inches wide and we had soon caught up with the slow moving Koreans.

We didn't bother to rope up, Jarlath found an easy step across the 'schrund and we all soloed up the easy 80m headwall, 60 degrees at the most. The ice had melted into penitentes and it was as easy as climbing a step ladder. Meanwhile the Koreans meandered back and forth looking for an easy place to get onto the face.

Close to 6000m now the going is breathless and extremely hard but soon enough the headwall is breached and we are on top of the summit ridge. there are only a couple of 20m steps between us and the summit.

All moving at different speeds we carry on until finally we are all standing on the summit. The view is absolutely spectacular, after trekking in the valleys only being able to look up we were now treated to a glimpse of the immensity of the Himalaya.

For the first time I can see massive peaks hundreds of miles away as we are above some of the nearby ridge lines. The chance to take this all in is fleeting, the wind on the summit is getting up and is bitingly cold. It is 10am and the strong sun is turning the hard crust to slush, It is time to go down. We down climb the first step and stop above the second. It looks a lot steeper from above than when we came up. It looks awkward to turn around and reverse as there is a huge drop below that gets steeper and steeper, a slip would be fatal. Hamish is understandably nervous and asks Jarlath to to use the 25m of badly faded 7mm cord he has to protect the down climb. Jarlath agrees and goes first. At this point we are not quite sure what is going on. Jarlath down climbs and then is out of sight. Hamish and I wait for a couple of minutes and we still have no clue what is going on. Nick and Adam have already descended this section, I turn to Hamish and say "I am getting cold I need to go down" he says okay and I down climb the step. Hamish follows but he is not happy.

We are at the top of the headwall now and the Korean's guide literally runs up to where we are standing on his front points. This guy makes Reinhold Messner look like a slouch. He says to us now, in stark contrast to his statement last night on what good climbers the Koreans are, that they are clueless, have no idea how to climb and shouldn't be anywhere near this mountain let alone Everest. He has fixed a rope for them and each in turn jugs up the 7mm twine. Obviously out his depth the first Korean belly flops on to the flat are standing on and lays there gasping for air like the proverbial fish out of water. It takes him a good five minutes to regain some composure and be able to stand. As he does so he stands all over the rope in his crampons and cuts the twine in a couple of places. I tell him to watch what he is doing and he just dismisses me. Clueless is an understatement, these muppets are downright dangerous. Too proud and stupid to accept any advice, I leave the Koreans to it as Hamish has now caught up so we both begin to go down the headwall.

I am feeling very knackered now the exersions of ascending 1100m to over 6000m taking their toll, I am starting to become unsteady on my feet and take extra care to not slip. Nick is waiting at the bottom of the glacier to make sure we all get down okay, where we change back into walking boots for the long slog back to camp.

Suddenly Hamish blurts out "don't ever do that again Jarlath, I told you that I wanted to be belayed down that step and just left me there. I have got a young family and this is just not worth it if I have to climb with idiots like you who I cannot trust. I am finished, I am walking out of here that is me done with this trip." Jarlath looks seriously taken aback and immediately starts defending himself. I have to defend Hamish, Jarlath did just leave him and left him to make his own way down after agreeing to help. It is plain to see why he failed to become a guide. But here is not the time and the place, we are all very tired and need to go down. With more unfinished business and all feeling a bit bemused at the situation, the argument now having taken off the shine off the pleasure of reaching the summit.

My energy levels are rapidly depleting now and a strong wind has built up and is now blowing up the slope straight into our faces. I just want to get down now and the wind keeps knocking me over. I have a major sense of humour failure. The slopes back down are interminable enough without these irritating gusts of wind.

Like all these things the strain of the descent finally ends and I sink into an exhausted stupor the type where you are so tired you cannot actually sleep. Dehydration kicks in and a mild altitude headache begins to throb. Everyone seems to be in the same state and barely a word is swapped between us. After a couple of hours Jarlath comes to our tent with an interesting proposition. He tells Nick and I "you have a choice either you hike back down to Dingboche now or you can wait a few hours and then you will have to carry all your own gear plus the tents and all the cooking gear." Nick and I are absolutely flabbergasted. Where had this fantastic arrangement suddenly come from? The words F off came to mind.

Jarlath is adamant so we have little choice but to get up now and hike down. It takes 4 hours to hike back down to Dingboche and the whole way I curse Jarlath and his ridiculous ideas, there is no way he could make himself more unpopular with the group, I thought, but he was to prove me wrong again.

After climbing Island Peak, followed by the unnecessary hike down from camp we are all feeling very tired with our energy reserves quite low. We are now going to head to Ama Dablam Base Camp and in order to hang onto any reserves we do have, we ask the lodge owner if he can rustle up some porters for us. After half an hour 3 young lads turn up, the oldest at the most 14, and the youngest probably 10. We ask them how old they are and they all lie saying they are 16. Even though it is very hard to tell exactly what age they really are they are obviously younger than that and 3 lads carrying 4 25 kg packs is just not on (Jarlath is happy to carry his own). Porter loads are done by weight around here and the lads look worried that they won't get the job and make any money. We ask them if they have a friend so they can split the weight between 4. Again they look worried as though they are going to have to split their wages 4 ways instead of 3. We assure them that we will pay them all the same each regardless of how many there are. For some reason they still look gutted. We divvy up the gear and send them on their way. We soon follow but of course they are much faster than us.

As if I needed reminding Ama Dablam is now staring us straight in the face. Behind us the view is quite unexpected. Peaks not normally seen from this side of the valley start to appear as we gain height. Pumori, Lobuche East and Taweche seem to stand alone and appear to grow ever taller the higher we get. The peaceful trek in is only interupted by Suman taking a fancy to some baby yaks. Yaks have two operational speeds. Absolutely still and rushing around madly. Believe me, they might look quite docile but these buggers can shift. I've come very close to being pushed off the trail into a ravine by a yak so I didn't fancy Suman's chances as he charges maniacally towards 10 of them. Much to my suprise, the yaks must think Suman is madder than themselves, and they scatter in all directions fearful of their lives.

We cross over a boulder field, the remnants of the bottom section of the Mingbo glacier, and enter into an almost completely flat valley and head straight towards the base of Ama Dablam. Within a few minutes I spy some tents and see Nima excitedly waving at us. At last we have arrived and base camp is an unexpected haven. Set below the soaring SE face of Ama Dablam on a flat, open plain. Our 5 tents are all that is here, we don't have to share this idyllic suntrap with anyone else. I can't quite believe it, isn't this supposed to be the 2nd most popular expedition peak in Nepal?

The boys turn up with our gear and we pay each of them 500 rupees and give them a Snickers bar to fuel their walk home. At last they look very happy and march off down hill with beaming smiles on their faces.

Even though Jarlath insisted that we fly around the approach trek as fast as possible in order to get to Base Camp as quickly as we could, it seems we are 3 days too early. We have exhausted ourselves for nothing and Nima still has one carry to do to stock Camp 2. One day up, one down and then we have to have the Puja ceremony before we can safely set foot on the mountain. Nima insists that we can't go anywhere until the Gods have been placated, we need all the luck we can get so, of course, we respect his wishes. Nima tells us that the climbers we saw reaching the summit on the first few days of the trek were from a strong Russian team and most of them had made it to the top. They had just left Base Camp and were on their way to the North side of Everest. They were going to attempt a new route directly up the mighty North face to the summit and Ama Dablam had been their warm up climb.

Suman now shows us what an amazingingly inventive and industrious chef he is. From first light to dusk he is tucked up in the canvas cooking tent manning 3 large, loud kerosene stoves. Raj Kumar is periodically sent down to the river to get water and Suman doesn't appear at all. Like a mad professor he seems happiest holed up in his lab surrounded by bubbling pots.

We had nothing much to do around Base Camp but wander off to take some pictures, do some bouldering, sleep and try and play rugby. Ball games are not easy at 4850m and the games were quite short. I have played some rugby, Nick is quite a good winger, Hamish being a Kiwi has played a lot, but Jarlath is the first Australian I have ever met with no interest in sport, a shame after we had just beat them in the Rugby World Cup! Ironically then it is the Yank, Adam who has brought the rugby ball. He loves rugby, coaches a female team and is a pretty good player. He does much to disspell the view that Americans only love sports that noone else plays. However, now I am tripping over rocks, feeling very light headed and exhausted I am cursing his love of rugby!

The hours of the first 2 days tick by slowly, interspersed with several 5 course meals rustled up by Suman. We aren't really doing any exercise and he is making far too much food, and at this altitude we are having trouble eating even a quarter of it. He makes, swiss rosti, boiled potatoes, pizza, chocolate cake, jelly, curry, bread and much more. Unfortunately it is all mainly stodge, laced with a huge amount of calories. I have heard of carbo-loading but this is ridiculous. There are no fresh fruit or vegetables either. All day we sit around and listen to music blasting out from my minidisc player and the speakers we bought in Kathmandu. The only exercise involves hiking up to the toilet block.

Early the next morning Nima and Chumba appear on the trail having come back from Camp 3, looking tired but pleased to be down. Eager for any news, to relieve the boredom of Base Camp, we quiz them on how everything is looking. They said it had been very windy but had calmed down and now the weather was good. We would have the Puja ceremony in the morning and then begin the climb.

That afternoon we sort all our kit, work out what to take and pack only what we need. We then go to bed, early excited to be getting on with it at last.

Next morning we gather together for the Puja ceremony. The altar has been constantly smoking since we arrived in camp, aromatic juniper branches have been smouldering 24 hours a day whilst Nima and Chumba have been on the mountain. Suman and Raj Kumar would make sure it never goes out when we are up there too.

Next morning we gather together for the Puja ceremony. The altar has been constantly smoking since we arrived in camp, aromatic juniper branches have been smouldering 24 hours a day whilst Nima and Chumba have been on the mountain. Suman and Raj Kumar would make sure it never goes out when we are up there too.

Chumba is stand in Lama and we are all given fistfuls of rice and chang (rice beer) and at the approriate moment throw the rice and drink the chang. Feeling blessed with good luck we say goodbye to Suman and Raj Kumar, who both look worried for us, and begin the long trudge to Camp 1. Camp 1 is situated at the beginning of the SW ridge at 5850m. We need to ascend 1000m today and it is a long walk to get there.

Things do not start very well. The combination of a too exhausting trek in and too much sitting around eating stodgy food has left us all feeling very lethargic. It is almost soul destroying trying to get up each successive hill. Adam is struggling so
much that he is very close to jacking it in. He is very strong but his morale is low and he now doesn't think he is capable of this climb. Jarlath adds to everyones woes by displaying yet another, now legendary, pep-talk. He attempts to lift everyones spirits by generally shouting at us, insisting that we don't rest and should be moving faster. He thinks anyone who can't keep up should go down. We have all had enough of his ridiculous attitude and I say as such. I tell him to go on on his own as we are perfectly capable of looking after ourselves. I sit down with Adam and try and talk him round. I tell him that we are all suffering and that he is just having bad day. Don't give up, you will regret it. He knows all of this anyway, I don't think he really wants to give up so he gets up and carries on. He is way behind everyone else but I stay and walk with him, there is no need for him have to fight through this on his own. The hike up to Camp 2 seems to go on forever and takes many hours of toil, the air getting ever thinner. The only reward we have is the prospect of reaching camp and now the first view of the route up the SW ridge. The ridge rears up alarmingly and looks gnarly as hell. Scott Fischer's remarks from when he climbed the SW ridge "woh, that thing gets steep!" resound in my ears.

We cross a boulder field and up to the left, above a long series of sloping slabs we can see small colourful dots that are our tents at Camp 1. Nick is really struggling now, he is complaining that he cannot feel his legs at all and really looks very ill. After another quickly grabbed rest he stands up too quick and smacks his head straight into a boulder. It looked like he must have concussed himself. Nick is absolutely nails though, a new routing cave-diver, and carries on. Little did I realise at the time how bad things must been for him for him to be struggling this badly. Hamish and Jarlath seem to be going okay though and Hamish comes back down from camp to give Adam a hand. Adam
refuses his help and tempers become a little frayed. I believe Jarlath has instilled a false sense of what is right by insisting that if you cannot carry your own stuff to camp then you shouldn't be here. I am sure that is why Adam refused Hamish's help. We will all be stronger as a team if we can pull our collective strengths together. This is not a good omen for a challenging climb. Nima and Chumba are already here and we split into 2 2's and a 3 and separate into different tents to brew up and eat. Jarlath and Nick are in one tent. Myself, Adam and Hamish in another and Nima and Chumba in the last. Hamish and I divide up the jobs while Adam just rests, he looks absolutely spent and has had a total mare just getting to here. The tent is pitched on small broken granite slabs with very sharp edges. Very uncomfortable and uneven so time is well spent sorting out the sleeping area. Hamish brews up handing us all hot mugs of liquid. Feeling satiated there is nothing to do now but watch the incredible sunset and peer down the precipice of the SE face, at the bottom of which we can see the tiny dots of our tents at Base camp. Nick has completely crashed out, he looks like he is on his death bed. Nick has camped at this height before but he appears to be really suffering from the altitude, there seems to be no other explanation. Nick explains later that Jarlath does a singularly poor job of looking after him, he apparently didn't brew up once and offer Nick a drink. Too out of it to care at the time Nick does nothing about it, but it is obvious to all that Jarlath is only in this for himself. The worst type of climber's ego.

To be continued...