Ama Dablam 2018 Wrap Up
Words and photos by lead guide Chad Peele
Arriving in the Chaos of Kathmandu
It’s been two years since I was last in Nepal. Arriving at the Kathmandu airport was the same uncontrolled chaos as always. Confusion surrounded us with hoards of people trying to locate bags so they could get out as fast as possible. This time luck was on my side and my bags popped up quickly, promoting a speedy exit!
Over the next several days, I worked on recovering from my jet lag and prepping for our upcoming adventure into the mountains. This year we had three climbers and five trekkers. Both teams would all begin the journey into the Khumbu together.
Getting into the Mountains isn’t Always Easy
As usual, exiting Kathmandu wasn’t a gimme and after many long hours waiting in the airport our flight to Lukla was announced only to take off and turn around 20 minutes later. The clouds and weather in Lukla where we would begin our trek was socked in and shut down. We returned to our hotel with all of our bags only to attempt it again the next day.
Things went smoothly the second time around and we had an enjoyable flight into Lukla with a classic “hot” landing – meaning we came in fast and braked even harder!
Let the Ascent Begin
Once we all got settled in and sorted our bags for the porters, we started our hike to the village of Monjo. On arrival to this cool village we sat around the fireplace drinking tea and playing numerous rounds of cards. Having a larger team truly does increase the experience and conversation!
The next day brought significant elevation gain, suspension bridges and amazing views as we turned the corner into Namche Bazaar. Situated at 11,300ft (3445m) this village (more like a small city) bustles with life. Everything you could possibly want you can find here! Coffee shops, bars, grocery store, massages… everything.
Given the altitude we spent two nights here while doing a short day hike up to the Everest View Hotel where we got our first solid views of the valley including.. you guessed it, Everest!
Several more days of scenic trekking brought us to Dingboche where we spent two nights and completed a day hike up Chukung Ri at 18,200 ft (5547m). At this point everyone was acclimatized and ready for more altitude. The climbing team said goodbye to the trekking group who would proceed onto Everest Base Camp while the climbers parted ways to head to Ama Dablam base camp.
Heading into Ama Dablam Base Camp
After a wild creek crossing we left the crowds behind and took a less travelled trail along the river and angled up towards the Eastern side of Ama where the ever increasing tent town of base camp annually pops up.
Numerous rest days later, we made our way onto the mountain to get some altitude and cache a a little gear followed by a move/ sleep to “yak” camp at 18,000 ft (5486m) and then to Camp 1 at 18,400 ft (5608m).
First Rotation on the Mountain
From Camp 1 and higher we are truly “on” the mountain with limited camp spots, exposure everywhere you look and fixed lines for security. It was a really dry season this past year and we were forced to carry water up from Base camp as no snow was present in or around camp 1. Although our team can easily deal with this it was just one more mountain logistic to figure out and one more reminder of how our mountain surroundings are changing.
A solid first day run on the fixed lines to Camp 2 is always a great experience. Seeing the entire route for the first time of the season, checking anchors & conditions while feeling the excitement of the scenery and exposure is truly breathtaking.
After a short wait beneath the Yellow tower we made our way onto the fixed lines and completed the steepest part of Ama Dablam which holds a rock climbing grade of 5.8. On top of the granite tower we are greeted with a small tower of rock and approximately 8 tents where we enjoyed the sun, rested and dropped off our technical snow & ice gear. Everything above this point will involve mountaineering boots & crampons.
Back to Base Camp – Weather on the way
Upon returning to Base Camp, it became very clear that a wave of low pressure would be coming to the mountain bringing very cold temps and high winds. We accepted that we would have several more days here than we had anticipated. Although this didn’t effect our departure or flights back home, it just meant we needed to be more creative with our entertainment!
After five days of internet browsing, movie watching, eating and day hikes we finally received our window and began our ascent back up towards camp 1. Unfortunately, a bad sickness had been floating thru the valley for some time and most climbers in Ama base camp had the sniffles or cough of some kind. The lucky ones acquired it early and recovered before their summit push but unfortunately several of our team members got hit at the last minute which ended up costing them the summit.
Those of us who avoided the Khumbu “plague” continued our ascent past camp 1 and back onto the yellow tower and camp 2. Since camp 2 is incredibly small with real-estate being at a premium and sanitization being rock bottom, we generally skip C2 and established a high camp at camp 2.7 or 3 around 21,000 ft (6400m).
The terrain between C2 & C3 is fantastic with steep rock, snow and ice with tons of exposure that leads to the the famous Mushroom ridge. This picturesque ridge narrows to the width of a sidewalk and one truly feels the exposure and height of the mountain! The good thing is that camp, warmth and rest is just above you!
After a decent night of sleep we woke up in the dark and started our final ascent of the steep snowy face at 4 a.m. Three and a half hours later we were on the summit congratulating each other in the sunshine with clear skies and prefect views of the entire Himalayan range. This was a first summit of Ama Dablam for several members including our Sherpa staff and all were very excited to be on top with each other. There’s nothing like topping out with friends!
With food and water in our bellies and sunshine out in full force, we began the long descent with a goal of safely returning all the way to camp 1. After hours of arm rapping and traditional rappelling we quickly made our way down and upon arriving at camp 1, we found that we had time to spare and plenty of daylight. We proceeded to continue all the way back to base camp. Doing this made for a very long and tiring day but the reward was a quick finalization of the mountain and with all technical objectives behind us we were able to put on cotton clothes and truly kick it with another amazing meal from our kitchen team!
We rested for a full day in base camp and then charted a helicopter to bring us back to Kathmandu shaving off a minimum of two, possibly three days. Once back to our hotel we went poolside, rested and did the obligatory late night run of Thamel exploring the varied restaurants and bars before catching a crazy taxi ride back to the hotel. The next day we all flew out and the rest is history!