This was it, after six months of researching, planning, training, trekking & acclimatisation; I was finally at the pointy end. The temperature was easily below -20 degrees Celsius, but the wind & spin drift meant it felt colder. My painfully frozen fingers served as a constant reminder just how vulnerable I was. The single 9mm fixed line I was slowly sliding a jumar up was my sole connection to this mountain. Behind me the world was slowly coming into view. The soft light of the new day spreading across the surrounding peaks, hinting at the warm sunlight that was certain to follow. Looking up I could make out the summit, it seemed so close but in reality was still another 4 hours distant. Mountaineering at high altitudes is not a fast moving activity.

Rewind half a year to February 2016 & I’m in New Zealand enjoying some summer alpine climbing with two mates Scotty & Deano. As is customary both during & especially after any climbing trip, we’d been doing some serious scheming about future challenges. Our focus was decidedly drawn towards the Himalayas & more specifically Nepal. Nepal seemed like the ideal place to test the skills we’d learned climbing in Australia & more recently the NZ Alps. Ama Dablam was already firmly in the sights of some, so after some further consideration it was decided as a realistic albeit considerably lofty goal. Upon returning home to Australia, we begun to put the wheels in motion & started planning an expedition in earnest.

Map of the Khumbu region with Ama Dablam & Island Peak to the East.

Map of the Khumbu region with Ama Dablam & Island Peak to the East.

Standing at 6812m in the Khumbu region of Nepal, Ama Dablam is a striking & undeniably aesthetically captivating mountain. It stands quite apart from other peaks in the area & is very prominent. Most parties choose to climb the South-West Ridge, expedition style using several high camps & fixed ropes. The route is known to be steep, exposed & requires long days of the mountain. Certainly more than enough of a challenge for a group of Himalayan rookies like us. Through a recommendation from several friends we contacted & employed the services of Nima T. Sherpa to act as our agent & organise the logistics in Nepal. Planning a mountaineering expedition is a huge task, and we entrusted Nima to take care of hiring staff, purchasing supplies, booking transport & much more. Back home our team grew to include six climbers; Myself, Deano, Scotty, Rijan, Kevin & Phillip. Respectively each of us begun training, armed with the knowledge that this was set to be a considerable physical challenge.

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Packing for the trip, all 40kg of my checked luggage allowance was required!

Slowly the pieces fell into place. Leave was granted, flights were booked, clothing & equipment sourced, bags packed. Our expedition was scheduled to start just like countless before, in the bustling & chaotic Nepalese capital of Kathmandu. Early in October we made a rendezvous at the Marshyangdi hotel & sadly lost a member of our team before the fun even started. Phillip suffered an unexpected heath issue & unfortunately had to return home to Australia. Our team was now five, plus Kevin’s wife Fiona who would accompany us as far as Namche Bazzar. After a completing a few final preparations, including a visit to the Ministry of Tourism to secure our climbing permits, our rag-tag group of five Australian’s & a token American found itself boarding a small plane bound for Lukla Airport. The adventure begins right away when flying into Lukla, one only needs to glance out the window to spot souring snow-covered peaks. That, coupled with a dizzying final decent towards an alarmingly short & uphill runway, is more than enough to get anyone’s heart racing.

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L: Tip, on the flight to Lukla sit of the left for the best views. R: Coming in to land

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L: Our Dzo being unloaded at the end of the day. R: One of many swing bridges.

In Lukla we met our expedition staff, climbing Sherpas Lal & Mingma, Cooks Dev & Silah plus head Sherpa Sonam. Together with a herd of fully loaded Dzo (a study yak & cow hybrid), several porters & overall high spirits, we started the trek up the famous Khumbu Valley. October is generally peak trekking season in Nepal & this year was no exception. Droves of trekkers, many tackling the Everest Base-Camp trek joined us on what is a very well traveled trail. After two days we reached the busy village of Namche Bazzar, where our party would spend two nights to acclimatise. The following day we went for a hike & had our first peek of Ama Dablam in the distance, with all of us agreeing that not only did it look stunning, but also somehow even steeper & more imposing than expected. Alas our spirits remained high & the next day our little caravan continued onward.

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L: view from my tent at Namche Bazzar. R: Khumjung, which is over the hill from Namche.

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L: View of Ama Dablam & the trail heading out of Namche. R: Our fully loaded dzo climbing towards Tengboche.

After Namche, the changes in the landscape occur rapidly. The dense jungle filled valleys widen & the trees don’t grow as tall. By the time we reached Dingboche two days later we’d pushed above the treeline. The terrain is harsh & unforgiving, which belies a little of why the indigenous Sherpa people naturally have such a tenacity for toughness & climbing big mountains. At Dingboche we took another acclimatisation day, using the time to climb the ridge above town to a new high-point of about 5000m.

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L: Early morning view from Deboche. R: Imja Tse through the clouds in the distance.

Since spotting it near Namche, we’d gradually moved closer to Ama Dablam, only to carry on past & keep walking further up the valley. Ama Dablam would be our final objective on this expedition, but first we had a date with Imja Tse (Island Peak). Standing at 6189m, with much less steep technical climbing, Imja Tse was set to be our ‘warm up’. After two nights in Dingboche we pushed onward to Imj Tse base-camp which sits at 5087m. Not wasting any time, we packed our bags & settled in for an early night, with alarms set to begin climbing at 1AM.

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L: The Milky Way over Imja Tse base-camp. R: Pre-dawn whilst climbing Imja Tse.

Until this point we’d been joking that given the amazing meals our cooks kept producing, that this was actually a relaxing culinary tour of the region, not a mountaineering trip. That notion was quashed after our 1-day base-camp to base-camp jaunt via the summit over 1000m above. Whilst the majority of the climb wasn’t too steep or technical, the rapid gains from an already high altitude had us moving at a snails pace. Upon trudging back into base-camp, I for one was thoroughly exhausted! Reaching to top of Ima Tse is certainly an achievement within itself, however I remained wary of relishing too much in the accomplishment. Bigger challenges were still to follow & our true objective was not yet realised.

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L: Roped up heading towards the final snow face. R: On the summit of Imja Tse.

The following morning our group packed up & headed back the way we’d come. Enjoying the increasing oxygen levels for a change, after over a week of continual gains in altitude. Two days later we turned off the main trail at Deboche to follow a side path up towards Ama Dablam. A few hours further we arrived to find a considerable tent city filling the broad flat meadow that is the site for Ama Dablam’s Base-Camp (BC). It was clearly going to be a busy mountain.

Keeping reading Part 2 of this article.

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L: The trail leading towards Ama Dablam Base Camp. R: Home for the next two weeks.

About The Author

Lachlan Gardiner

Lachlan works as a freelance photographer, writer and videographer. He loves spending time in the outdoors whenever possible - be it hiking, mountaineering, climbing, or just being on the road - He'll take any excuse to get into the mountains! He also works in our Paddy Pallin store in Fortitude valley, Brisbane. Drop in and say hi!

2 Responses

  1. Ilse harris

    Look forward to Ama Dablam Expedition part 2.
    20 years ago I did a 30 day trek from Jiri, via Namche Bazzar to Everest BC home via Gokio Lake to Lukla.

    It was the best holiday ever.Now I am 80 and can’t walk far any more because of back problems. That’s why I so enjoy the wonderful trek report. Thanks !!

    Reply

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