Picking up where Part 1 left off.

Our little encampment occupied a nice quiet spot at the top of the meadow, with unobstructed views of the imposing face above. This would be home for the next two weeks, so we spent the next couple rest days making ourselves comfortable & enjoying the majestic views. At base camp the nights were cold & clear, with overnight low temperatures dropping to around -10 to -15 degrees Celsius. Our camp would typically be up & moving well before the sun had risen above the surrounding ridges. We’d congregate in the dining tent for a hearty breakfast, all of us wearing multiple layers of puffy down clothing.  My rest days were spent reading, journal writing, napping & wandering around a particular ridge where a tiny bit of mobile phone reception could sometimes be found.

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L: Waiting for the sun to warm up a frosty morning at Base Camp. R: Our humble home away from home.

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L: Rijan lugging a load up towards Advanced Base Camp. R: Tent life at Advance Base Camp.

Before we could become too relaxed however, it was time for the first acclimatisation haul up to Advanced base-camp (5400m). This walk was long & grueling, particularly when carrying a load. Over the following week we made two trips up the ridge, sleeping at both Advanced Base Camp & Camp 1 (5650m), plus climbing as high as Camp 2 (6000m). After Camp 1 the climbing becomes steeper, increasingly technical & more exposed. There were fixed ropes in place from Camp1 all the way to the summit & these are replaced at the beginning of each season. It was also at & above Camp 1, that we began to feel the strain of so many climbers sharing the same route. Tent space was at a premium & once on the fixed ropes it wasn’t unusual to run into regular traffic jams of climbers passing each other. Alas, we knew Ama Dablam was a popular mountain & sharing it with other teams was all part of the experience. With considerable help from Mingma & Lal we prepared the high camps for our final push, leaving tents fixed at Camp 1, plus sleeping and cooking gear. Then it was back to Base Camp for some much needed R&R before our impending summit attempt.

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Sunset over Advanced Base camp

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L: Self portrait at Camp 1. R: Kevin traversing between Camp 1 & Camp 2.

By this stage I’d been in Nepal for just over a month. The continuous trekking, living at high altitudes, acclimatisation climbs & a nasty bout of gastro had begun to take their toll. I was feeling drained, physically but also mentally. Doubt begun to creep in & I questioned both my ability, but also motivation to make the final climb. We were all feeling the strain, but some of us clearly more than others. As is important within any team, we aired our concerns, weighed up options & made a game plan. I really came to appreciate the necessity of rest days too, with both my strength & determination increasing daily. The generous meals being served up three times a day also helped significantly.

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L: Scotty enjoying some R&R at Base Camp. R: Dinner time in the dining tent.

Our final summit push commenced on the 30th of October. With a bulging pack, I set off feeling both refreshed & optimistic about the climb ahead. The first day we reached Camp 1, then carried on to C2 the following day. Situated on a narrow & exposed section of the ridge, Camp 2 is a sight to behold. Tents are lashed seemingly precariously to the rock & ice, with plummeting drops often only inches away. Given the very limited space & a busy mountain we had little choice but to wrangle a couple of borrowed tents for the night at Camp 2.  Scotty, Rijan & I crammed into our allotted tent & begun melting water for several hours, well until the stove broke anyway. With nothing left to do, we settled in for a few hours of cramped & restless sleep, which is all one could expect at 6000m.

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L: Rijan catching some morning sun at camp 1. R: Deano climbing between Camp 1 & Camp 2.

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L: Full house at Camp 2. R: Scotty melting snow before our summit bid.

Somehow all three of us managed to sleep through the alarm, so getting ready to leave by 11pm was a tad rushed. Despite this, our party of seven was on the route first, slowly jugging up the fixed lines into the blackness above. The first few hours involves pitch after pitch of steep mixed climbing. It’s actually quite exposed, but this was hidden in the darkness of a cold night. For many hours my world shrunk to a small circle of light illuminated by a trusty head-torch. Deano had been suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) throughout the trip & after feeling the onset of more symptoms, he made the difficult choice to turn around at about 6300m. Sometime later, probably around 4am, I climbed over the Mushroom Ridge & broke onto the upper face. The faintest glow had begun to spread across the mountains, signalling the impending arrival of a new day. After a long cold night, this was a very welcome sign. It also revealed the mountain above, and just how much further I had yet to climb. What little blood hadn’t drained from my extremities was threatening to leave, with constant painful, thumping, wriggling & rubbing required to keep my digits functioning.

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L: First light whilst climbing above mushroom ridge. R: Climbing into the sun on the upper face.

About an hour from the top Rijan & Mingma passed on their way back down, having pushed ahead & reached the summit first. We bid each other well and I carried on upwards. Slowly the sun begun to reach the surrounding mountains, but the western face that I was clinging to remained in shadow. For most of the climb I’d stayed doggedly on Scotty’s tail, so at about 9:15am when I finally burst into the sun & realised there was nowhere further left to climb, he was there waiting for me. We embraced & celebrated having reached the summit, enjoying the impressive 360-degree views of many of the world’s highest peaks. Several other climbers, including Kevin & Lal from our team arrived at the top, each reveling in their personal achievement & taking in the breathtaking beauty all around.

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Standing on the summit with Scotty

Alas, as tempting as it was to linger, my time on the summit only lasted about 20 minutes. As every climber knows, reaching the top is only half the journey. Without going into much tiresome detail, my descent involved many hours of tedious rappelling on fixed ropes, finally arriving at C1 in the darkness with a rapidly fading headlamp, some eight long hours later. The following day, after packing down our camp, I shouldered my 25kg pack and trudged slowly back down to base-camp. Arriving to find a warm welcome & much congratulating from our Nepalese staff was quite moving. I recall a strong feeling of relief knowing the hard work was finally over.

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L: Rijan welcoming Scotty back to Base Camp. R: Packing up our camp.

The next day we broke camp & begun the journey back down the valley. All was going very well, that is until Mingma insisted we take a teahouse stop mid-afternoon. Several jugs of Chang (a local fermented booze) later we were permitted to continue. This set the tone for the remainder of our return journey to Lukla, which was basically a three-day pub-crawl down the Khumbu valley. Miraculously we all survived both the mountain & the walk out.

Reflecting on the trip now several months later, I have to appreciate just how fortunate our expedition was. For most of us, it was our first foray into the realm of Himalayan mountaineering. At times it felt like I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but we were blessed with a great team, excellent weather & a lot of luck. Ultimately the mountains showed us favour & I feel very fortunate to have been granted safe passage through the Himalaya’s icy embrace.

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Scotty & Rijan celebrating a successful climb during the walk out, Ama Dablam in the background.

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

    Thanks for the report, really enjoyed it and imagined the hard work.
    The summit looks surprisingly flat, when from below it looks such a pointed peak.

    Reply

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