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Ama Season Wrap-Up

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition
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One last update from the Ama Dablam 2013 team…to add a little detail to the fantastic effort put in by Adrian and the Sherpa to open the route to the summit, and by the climbing team in achieving a 100% summit success.

As mentioned before, this season, the route to the summit presented a number of technical difficulties that other years have been less significant or not there at all. Many teams early in the season had worked hard to fix the ropes between camp one and camp two – which includes the technical “Yellow Tower”- and then between camp two and the “Mushroom Ridge” -which includes the loose and dangerous “Grey Tower”. Alpenglow’s team were extremely grateful for the sterling effort and great job that had been done up to that point. These teams had been unable to continue beyond the Mushroom Ridge so thereafter there was still work to be done: work that Alpenglow’s owner and lead guide, Adrian Ballinger, and head Sherpa  Dorji Sonam and his team took pleasure and pride in carrying out. 

Ultimately, the opening of the route was completed over two days; the first with Adrian and Neal Beidleman as part of the fixing team, and the second, the day right before our climbing team planned to summit, and just with our three Sherpa moving fast and light to make a trail and fix the ropes to the top.

We had of course spent a lot of time speculating as to why the route to the summit had remained unopened until such a late stage in the season: and what Adrian and Dorji found to be the reason was a “mother of all Mushroom Ridges”…! As the name suggests, this ridge is formed by dramatic mushroom shaped accumulations of snow that teeter on a thin rocky ridge with thousands of feet of empty abyss to either side. In more “normal” years, the snow eventually forms a firm enough base such that ropes can be fixed to snow pickets deeply anchored to a solid snowpack. This year, the “mushrooms” of snow, were so heinously huge and eclectic in shape, that traversing them demanded a series of acrobatic climbing moves and nerves of steel, rather than just the straight forward cramponning and tolerance of exposure required in other years. 

On that first day of fixing above the grey tower, Adrian led across the ridge, anchoring the fixed ropes and using his decades of climbing experience and skill to overcome the challenge. The ridge ends at the site of camp 2.7 where just one more pitch of steep and technical climbing over an ice bulge puts you on the flat plateau where camp 3 is usually found. Thereafter on that first day of reconnaissance of the conditions, Dorji Sonam took the sharp end of the rope and led a few hundred metres up the summit face….”just to see what the snow was like”..! The rest of the summit face was led and fixed by Dorji with Pasang Renji and Tenzing Gyalzen supporting him the day before our whole team climbed to the top. They became the first three summiters of 2013 when after 8 hours of solid climbing they topped out on a pristine summit on the 15th of November. 

Despite a solid success and an open route all the way to the summit, the conditions dictated several changes from Alpenglow’s usual itinerary. Normally on an Ama Dablam summit push, team members spend a night at camp 1 and a night at camp 2.7 from whence the climbing on summit day is a fairly straight forwards ascent of a steep snow face. This year, because of the technical climbing required to negotiate the Mushroom Ridge, the Sherpa and Adrian felt that carrying big loads to make a camp at 6300m where camp 2.7 is usually placed, was out of the question. It would entail too much risk for the Sherpa to do this. This meant that our team members were required to spend the night before their summit push at camp 2; thus adding a significant distance and altitude gain to their summit day. Also, simply the difficulty of the terrain that they were going to have to climb demanded a lot of nerve and skill that had we not had a small, competent, strong and dexterous team, we would not have endorsed. The fact that our team consisted of two professional climbers, two physically strong and competent athletes, three Sherpa and Adrian himself, put the overall skill and safety balance of the team as a whole well into an acceptable realm. Had this not been the case this unique year, we would perhaps have renounced the summit in the interests of safety and assumption of acceptable risk only.

However, once again Alpenglow’s stars were aligned and we were offered the opportunity to take a great team of climbers to the top of this beautiful Himalayan peak. It is no mean feat to summit a mountain like this in mid November let alone in conditions like those encountered this season; and judging by the expressions, fatigue and emotion shown by our group when they arrived back to base camp on the evening of the 16th after a solid 14hours of climbing in strong winds and frigid temperatures…I think they all appreciated the magnitude of their achievement.

The images speak for themselves; it is beauty unsurpassed.

As with every successful expedition, reaching the summit transitions at unfathomable speed to packing up, leaving base camp, arriving in Katmandu and dispersing to the four corners of the world again to carry on with whatever life involves for each of us. I’m writing this blog as I sit on the first of three flights that will take me back “home”.  The rest of the team left Kathmandu before me and the Sherpa made it to Tengboche in time to celebrate their yearly autumn festival. 

I’d like to wish the remaining teams on Ama Dablam this year good luck and safe climbing…not something there is a place for most years, but given the nature of the route this year it feels right to do so. I hope that the ropes put in to the summit over technical terrain offer a chance for more people to summit, but I also hope that the decision to climb is not taken lightly….just because there is a rope there, doesn’t mean it’s safe to proceed. 

Thanks to our summit team; Greg, Emily, Jim and Neal for being strong, skilled, tenacious and patient: and thanks to Adrian and the Sherpa for once again doing such an excellent job at leading people to the outlandish places they want to go!

We will be back in the Himalaya in the spring of 2014, and until then the Alpenglow team will be all over the globe, guiding, working, climbing, skiing and living life.

Thank you for supporting our team!

Monica Piris
Alpenglow Expeditions