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Ama Dablam Wrap-up and Photos

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition
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It’s been a couple of whirlwind weeks since we left the Khumbu Valley for home, and it’s taken a bit of work to sort through the more than 2000 images from the climb. But finally, here are a few from our summit push. We were fortunate to have incredible weather and almost no one else on the route. This meant we could move quickly on our climb and descent, and really enjoy each of the stages on the route, without hold-ups on the ropes or fear of falling rock and ice from above. The team, after plenty of acclimatization and then 4 days of rest, was ready to move. 

We left basecamp on October 4 after a final big lunch from our fantastic cook Lacchu. He pulled out all the stops, treating us with fresh baked bread, fresh green salad (with lettuce, tomatoes, and other goodies brought up from Namche Bazaar), and buff burgers. That gave us plenty of energy for the 4,000 vertical foot climb to Camp 1, where we spent the night. From there, an early start got us on the fun rock climbing from Camp 1 to 2. Since we had all covered this terrain before while acclimatizing, we spread out and climbed efficiently, reaching Camp 2 above the Yellow Tower in less than 3 hours. Making Camp 2 habitable again was one of our big goals of this year’s cleanup expedition, so some of our members and staff spent quite a bit of time here removing trash, used toilet paper, and abandoned tents. This part of the cleanup was not as fun or challenging from a climbing perspective as removing old ropes, but it is equally important. Special thanks to the effort of Phurba Tashi Sherpa and Dan Protz for their hard and dirty work in both Camps 1 and 2. 

After an hour of rest, we continued moving to our highest camp on the mountain, named Camp 2.7. We have used this camp, perched on the exposed Mushroom Ridge just below the traditional Camp 3, since 2007. It avoids the risk of icefall from the Dablam and makes for a cozy night tucked in out of the wind below the ridge’s cornices. The climbing to Camp 2.7 includes the route’s hardest mixed and ice climbing and was a challenging section for our climbers. Meanwhile the guides and sherpa spent the afternoon cleaning old ropes from the Grey Tower, one of Ama Dablam’s famous features, at almost 21,000 feet. In places we found up to 40 old ropes left behind on the tower. Hours of work made a dent into removing these ropes, but there is a lot more to be done. We all arrived by 2pm, giving us plenty of time to rehydrate, eat, and enjoy the views before our summit bid.

Summit day, October 6, was perfect. We left the tents at 5:30 AM with cold temperatures and a 20 mph wind. Climbing kept us warm, and we knew the sun would eventually reach us. The climbing on summit day is quite a bit easier than the previous section on the mountain, and all of our climbers moved well, despite bulletproof blue ice on the entire route to the summit. Between 9:30-10:00 AM eight members of the team reached Ama Dablam’s summit: Daniel Protz, Alec Turner, Chad Peele, Adrian Ballinger, Dorji Sonam Sherpa, Ang Rita Sherpa, Tashi Sherpa, and Namga Sherpa. The views from Ama’s summit are inspiring, and give me dreams of many future Himalayan climbs; from the summit you have perfect views of 6 of the fourteen 8,000 meter peaks, and endless smaller peaks. 

After an hour taking in the summit and our achievement, we began our descent. The group was feeling strong and motivated to get back to Lacchu’s cooking, so we decided to push as far down the mountain as possible. As we passed our camps our packs got bigger and bigger, carrying our personal gear, group gear, and trash from the mountain. We reached Camp 1 just as it was getting dark, but with some energy left, decided to throw on our headlamps and continue the descent. 2 hours later, at 8pm, the entire team arrived in Base Camp, with everything pulled off the mountain! We were done with another successful climb of Ama Dablam! And, as it turns out, just in time. Our forecast predicted a big storm coming to the Himalaya, so after a day of rest, we descended in a 24 hour push all the way to Lukkla, and caught a flight back to Kathmandu an the same day we hiked and arrived. Word is, the next day the storm hit the Khumbu, and climbers and trekkers have been waiting in Lukkla for their flights ever since, 9 days at last count!

I would like to thank our entire team for their effort on Ama Dablam, both climbing and cleaning. I would also like to thank all of our donors and sponsors that made this expedition possible, especially Marmot, Kaenon, Edelrid, Cleanwaste Systems, Alpenglow Sports,  Axon Wealth Management, the Swiss Alpine Club, Joe Suntum, and Larry Siu. This expedition would not have been possible without your contributions! Our team’s efforts have restored Camps 1, 2, and 2.7 to a state in which I would be happy to use them. It remains to be seen if teams still on the mountain continue this effort or create new trash where we cleaned. 

We also donated and taught the use of human waste bags to most teams on the mountain, and more than 1/2 of the teams agreed to use the bags and remove their human waste from the upper camps. 

And the route between Camp 1 and 2 now has only this year’s new fixed rope, backed up where necessary with 1 to 2 ropes from last year. The route between Camp 2 and the top of the Grey Tower is the same. Above the Grey Tower to the Mushroom Ridge, there are many more ropes to be removed. High rockfall hazard due to a recent avalanche led to our decision to stop work in this area. On the Mushroom Ridge to Camp 3 we were able to remove all the old rope, again leaving this year’s line along with a second line when necessary. And above Camp 3, we look forward to doing more work on old ropes in future years.

We are already planning logistics and accepting climbers for a second cleanup expedition to Ama Dablam in 2011. Please consider joining us on the climb, our support trek, or by donating to the clean-up effort. Our focus will be rope work above Camp 3, on the section below the Mushroom Ridge, and on continuing to encourage and support the use of human waste disposal bags by all sherpa and climbers. Don’t hesitate to contact us with questions, to donate, or to join the team! 

Thanks again to all who joined us and supported this year’s climb and clean-up.

-Adrian Ballinger, Alpenglow Expeditions