Trip Report

Climbing Ama Dablam, Nepal

After breakfast at Paradise Lodge in Lukla, we started trekking. Our first overnight stop was not at the usual suspect Phakding, but at Monjo, which is just 10 minutes walking from the Sagarmatha National Park entrance gate. The benefit of this was to beat the crowd to the entrance gate the next morning, so we wouldn't have to walk up to Namche Bazaar in a train of other hikers.

The trail from Lukla to Everest BC is a well trodden path and mostly in good condition. You cross 5 or 6 suspension bridges.

The second night we stayed in Kyangjuma, which is a fairly long day of trekking. Usually trekkers stay in Namche after this day, but we pushed it for another hour and a half to Kyangjuma. We stayed at the very nice Ama Dablam View Lodge & Restaurant, where we were well looked after by owner Tashi and her family. From the lodge you have your first great view of Ama Dablam (hence the name).

After our stay of two nights at Tashi's lodge, we moved on to Pengboche, via Tengboche, where we made the obligatory stop at the bakery. It's unbelievable how good the coffee and cake tastes at a place this high up the valley. We slept in a proper bed one last night at the Sonam Lodge at Peng, as the next day we would move to basecamp.

We reached Ama Dablam Base Camp on november 9th, after an initial puja at the monestary at Upper Pengboche. The puja ceremony is for luck on the climb.

After a few hours of walking we arrived at our home for the next few weeks. When you go on an expedition you know you will be going back to a more basic lifestyle. However, our BC was pretty good. One personal tent per member, dining tent, supply tent, shower tent, and 2 toilet tents (affectionately know as Turdis (don't ask if you don't get the reference).

The first day at BC we had a 'technical training session', where we reviewed the required techniques of going up and down the mountain safely. Of course nobody learned anything new (this would not be time or place for that), but it felt good to finally do a bit of climbing and ropework. Expedition leader Tim ran the session and has been to Ama Dablam over 10 times, so I felt I was in good hands.

The next day we had our Base Camp Puja. A monk came to BC (at 4450m) all the way from Tengboche monestary for this blessing. The ceremony took about an hour and a half, but luckily you're allowed to walk around a bit. 

Because the puja was in the morning, we had time in the afternoon to familiarize ourself a bit with the first part of the route, so we went for a hike and a gear carry up to Advance Base Camp (ABC) at 5350m.

I only took a few light items like my sleeping bag and -mat for the high camps, as I didn't want to overexert myself. However, I was still pretty tired when I got to ABC! The first part of the route goes over a ridge of what I think is an old moraine which tops out at 5000m. After that you lose a little altitude and then you get to a gently angled slope which seems to go on and on (and on...). You can see ABC from when you get on the slope, but it's a long way away.

After our first time up to ABC, we started our rotations to get acclimated. In a rotation you sleep at a higher camp, climb a bit higher the next day, but sleep at the same camp, and then you descend again. The goal of the first rotation was to acclimate to the altitude of ABC and get a few nights sleep there. The day after the first night there we went up to Camp 1 for the first time, which meant getting on the ropes for the first time. The fixed lines on Ama Dablam start at the slabs below Camp 1.

On Ama you actually have mobile phone reception at camps 1 and 2 if you get up on top of the ridge (which is only a few meters scrambling), because of at those points you have sufficient altitude for a line of sight to the repeater station. So I was able to phone my girlfriend, which she appreciated!

For the next rotation we slept at ABC for one night and moved to Camp 1 (5800m) the next day. The plan for the day after that was to go up the route to Camp 2 (5950m), but I decided to stay put at C1. There's not much vertical distance between C1 and C2, so no need to acclimate to the higher camp. So I had a rest day. I was brewing and eating the whole day. Well, as much as you can at atlitude, anyway.

2013 was a bit different from other years on Ama Dablam. Mid-october the tropical typhoon Phailin had hit India, which also caused a lot of snow to fall in the Himalayas. Up to 2 meters more then usual at some points, and there was snow all the way down to BC. To put it in perspective, in a normal year you can go up to C1 and not set foot in any snow!

Because of this the route to the summit could not be fixed until very late in the season - 16 november. In fact, I had just settled in at Camp 1 when the route setting sherpa's (from Adrian Ballinger’s Alpenglow team - thanks guys!) came down. So only from that day it was possible to summit. This proved to be perfect timing. On 18 november we descended back to BC, after which we had a rest day. On the 20th we moved up to C1, and then to Camp 2 on the 21st. By that day, most climbers that had been waiting for the route to be opened, had gone up and summited, and so it wasn't too busy high on the mountain when we were there.

So on the 21st of november I was in a position to try to get to the summit of Ama Dablam. On the 22nd we left Camp 2 around 4 am, which meant we had to climb the Grey Couloir by the light of our headtorches. Luckily the moon was fairly bright, which helped. By the way, when I say 'we', I mean Lhakpa and me. Lhakpha was the sherpa that climbed with me, to the summit.

The Grey Couloir is a bit mixed, but mostly ice/neve. There can be a lot of blue ice here, but this season (probably due to the snow) not so much. After the couloir comes Mushroom Ridge, so named because of the shape of the snow on the ridge. This ridge was the main difficulty in the route fixing, so we were very careful here. Mostly because of these 2 elements the climb of the normal route on Ama has an alpine rating of AD. Not too difficult, but at almost 7000m…

After that we moved past the location where Camp 2.9 is located some seasons (weather permitting), then past the Dablam (the hanging glacier wich gives the mountain it's name) and up the summit slopes. Just before noon we reached the summit (6956m).

On the summit I sent a tweet, called my girlfriend, took some pictures, almost coughed my lungs out and then it was time to descend. Because most of the ropes were free when I got to them, I rappelled a lot, only using an armwrap on a few sections. This way I the descent was fairly quick, and I was back in my tent brewing a cup of tea by four in the afternoon.