NEWSLETTERS - Ama Dablam 2013

The Daily Moraine - 10th edition6 November 2013

North Ridge offers thrills without topping out

Billi, Katharina and Shinji

The whole team is now back down in the village of Dingboche at the relatively low elevation of 4,300m. Since our last edition of the Daily Moraine a lot has happened and we all had an amazing time despite the fact that we didn't reach the summit of Ama Dablam. "I have had the most magnificent couple of days and I think I have done some of my best climbing ever," Greg said with tears in his eyes. So, what made this expedition to the North Ridge of Ama Dablam so special? Let's go back a couple of days.

Greg traversing

After Russell and the team had decided that a summit bid would be impossible and actually too dangerous due to the deep snow higher up on the ridge, we still agreed on climbing to Camp 1 to at least get our hands on the North Ridge as well as paying dues to the hard work of the Sherpas, Shinji and Hiro. "It was hard work to put in the route but now it is in good condition and you will have fun," said our Sirdar Phurba Tashi. The Sherpa team had put in a lot of effort to open the route and according to Phurba Tashi they established between 65 and 80 belay points and fixed about 1,600 metres of rope.

The ridge

In order to have fun, Katharina, Greg, Russell, Shinji and I left base camp at the convenient hour of 9.30 on Monday morning and ambled up towards the saddle, which was, of course, at Baje (I do apologise for having spelt it incorrectly in the previous editions of the Daily Moraine) speed. After putting on our crampons, harnesses and, very importantly, our helmets, we climbed up the first three pitches to the saddle from where we started climbing the ridge. Katharina, who was still suffering from her cough, was very excited to finally get her hands onto the North Ridge of the 'Mother of the Jewels'. "Even though the coughing still slows me down, I am very excited to be here. This is probably better than climbing to the summit of any other peak," she said with a big smile on her face.

Billi on the edge of the ridge

Russell took the lead and it didn't take very long and he was gone, literally climbing up memory lane. "Even though my last trip was 33 years ago, I can actually remember some parts of the climb and it was great for me to go up there to see what my team was doing and have a look at my Sherpa's rope fixing, which I was very happy with," Russell said after his climb. "We gave it a good bash and I am happy with what we have achieved. Getting any higher would have been too dangerous."

Katharina and Shinji traversing

Our little team was very lucky with the weather and even though we were very exposed on the ridge, we had very little wind. The climb turned out to be very demanding and we were all very aware of the fact that without the fixed ropes we would not have been able to climb the route, which was mixed climbing over rock and ice. "There were certainly some good moves up there," said Greg, who owns several climbing gyms back in the United States. Everything went pretty smoothly and after about six hours, all five of us had reached Camp 1, which we called "Russ' Roost".

 Russ' Roost with Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse in the background

Camp 1 is perched on a tiny little ledge at about 6,050m and offers a great view of the Nuptse wall, Everest and Lhotse towards the North, Makalu towards the East and Cho Oyu towards the West. "I have no idea how we managed to find this spot 33 years ago but it is a great place for a camp as it is very protected," Russell said. After having provided us with a hot drink, which he had made during the hour he was waiting for us, Russell went back down to base camp as he was keen on getting a good night's sleep. "If I stay up here I will probably wake up in Germany or Austria again," Russell said referring to Katharina and me incessantly chatting in our mother tongue in the mornings.

Russell on his descent

Cramped sleeping bags

The advantage of Russ' roost was that the sun lingered around a lot longer than at base camp, however, once it disappeared behind the mountains the temperature dropped significantly. Thanks to our Sherpa team, two tents including warm sleeping bags, cookers, stoves and sleeping mats were already set up and all we had to do was grab Russell's hot drink and slip into our warm bags - that is if we found space among all the stuff we put in there to keep warm. "I don't know whether I'll find my things again tomorrow but I have everything from camera to head torch, inner boots, radio, batteries, gloves and everything else that needs keeping warm in here," said Katharina struggling to find a comfortable position to lie down.

Billi, Katharina and Shinji on the ridge

After having exchanged a few last words with our neighbours Greg and Shinji, who sounded as if they were forced to cuddle up due to the drooping position of the tent, Katharina and I tried to eat some soup to keep us hydrated. "Billi, this is the best minestrone soup I have had in my life," Katharina said after we literally forced down a cup of the instant soup Lacchu had given us. The night was relatively quiet and fortunately nobody had to go outside in the dark as one false step would have meant a long drop down on either side of the ridge.

The ridge

The next morning we waited for the sun to wake us up and even though some of us were keen to go down and get the sixty odd abseils over and done with, some of us wanted to go up to the end of the fixed lines. "Let's go up as high as we can and have a look around the corner," Greg said all geared up as usual to go higher. After we had climbed another three pitches including an iffy traverse, we reached the end of the fixed lines, which almost felt like a little summit as we ended up on a platform, once again, offering the most amazing views. Greg, as gung-ho as he is, straddled up another little ridge for his personal summit photo: "Coming back from the high point and going down for the first time, made me feel a bit uncomfortable as the snow was a lot softer than in the other places. And even though my knees were holding up nicely I did not want to fall over in front of the girls," he told Katharina and me afterwards.

Belay point

After having spent a good half hour at our view point, we started our long descent - at first back down to Russ' roost and then back down to base camp. We all bore Russell's words in mind when he told us over the radio to be careful as there were more than 60 change overs for our abseiling. "You must be concentrated all the time and make sure that you are never detached from the rope." Keeping absolutely focused for the next three hours, Shinji, Greg, Katharina and I abseiled back to base camp, while Naoki, Kazu, Hiro, Lhakpa Nuru and Gyalgen climbed up the steep North Ridge to get some good footage for Naoki's episode for the adventure series for Japanese Television.

Everyone was back at base camp for dinner on Tuesday night and even though we did not reach the summit of Ama Dablam, we were all more than content with our achievements. "Other than the great climbing, one of the best things of this trip is that we didn't see anyone else apart from the three Mexicans at the beginning of the expedition," Katharina said. When we were just about to have our 'Spotted Dick' for dessert, Greg suddenly got up, looking a bit nervous. "I have never done this before but I would like to give a little toast and thank everyone for this amazing trip," he said emotionally and captivated us all with his heart-felt speech, which perfectly pinpointed everyone's qualities and personalities on this expedition.

If you are interested in Greg's speech, check out this website for yet another edition of the Daily Moraine.

Billi Bierling