The Daily Moraine - 1st edition18 October 2013
Ama Dablam North Ridge - a New Challenge
Himalayan Experience is off again, but this with a smaller team than usually, which is due to the fact that we are on a journey that is partially taking us into the unknown - the North Ridge of Ama Dablam. This 6,856-m mountain in the Everest region, which is often called 'the Matterhorn of Asia', has been a very popular climbing peak for the past 10 years with most expeditions ascending up via its South-West ridge. "When I decided to lead a commercial trip to Ama Dablam, I knew that I did not want to go via the normal route. There are just too many people and there is not enough space on the camp sites up there," Russell told me on our walk to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital at 3,300m.
For Russell, the North Ridge of Ama Dablam is not completely new, as he and five other Kiwis (including Rob Hall) became the second team to climb this steep route in 1980. "It was very different back then. It took us 14 days to walk all the way from Lamasango to Lukla and we even had to have two porters to carry all our money as back then most of the Nepali Rupees were only available in coins. We didn't have any communication and the only way to get messages across was through a mailrunner," he said. At that time, the team was still new to rope fixing and did not have any of the high-tech gear, climbers use today. "When we ran out of snow stakes, I had to run down to Namche, cash in some traveller's cheques and buy some. We also used some firewood as snow stakes, which apparently are still somewhere on the route," he said.
Russell first set his eyes on the North Ridge in 1975, when he came to Nepal to help Edmund Hillary build the hospital in Phablu. "When I saw that line I knew that I wanted to climb it one day, however, it took another five years for me to get a team together and go for it." Thirty-three years ago, it was certainly a journey into the unknown, but the team was successful and all six of them reached the summit without Sherpa support.
Times have changed and the 2013 expedition looks a bit different. We are five members, two guides as well as Russell, who usually orchestrates his expeditions from base camp but said that he would climb with us this time. "I am very excited to go back to this beautiful ridge, and leading it commercially is certainly a new challenge for me." This is the first time ever that a commercial expedition is attempting this route, but of course not without the help of the Sherpas. Phurba Tashi, Russell's long-time Sirdar and 21-times Everest summitteer, will support our climb together with Rita Dorjee, Nawang Tenjing, Gyalzen Dorjee, Nigma Tsheri, Tashi Tshering and Lhakp Nuru, who will be fixing the rope and looking after the members on this expedition. "After having climbed Nuptse this spring, which was good training on new and technical terrain for our Sherpa team as well as the first ever commercial expedition, they are now excited to go and tackle this technical and steep route on Ama Dablam," Russell explained.
But it's certainly not only Russell, who is thrilled about climbing this beautiful mountain. The whole team, consisting of Katharina from Austria, who has been threatening to tell us all about her 'catastrophic' experience from her expedition to Denali in May 2012 in 20-days-time, Greg from the US, Kazuya, Naoki, the guides Shinji and Hiro from Japan and myself, Billi from Germany, is looking forward to setting foot on this mountain. But before we get to base camp, we all have to prove that we are fit enough to keep up with our expedition leader Russell, who sometimes calls himself 'Baji' - the Nepali name for 'granddad'. So, we ended up walking up the notorious Namche Hill in 'Baci Speed' leaving all of us paffing and panting behind our great expedition leader and making it in about 1 1/2 hours from Monjo, where we spent last night.
On Saturday, we will go down and visit the weekly famous Namche market to have a look what exciting goods the Tibetans have on offer. Afterwards we will go over to Khumjung, which is only a one-hour-walk from Namche Bazaar to stay in Phurba Tashi's lodge and acclimatise a bit more for a couple of days. We will then head towards Imja Tse, a 6,186-m-peak that stands on its own like an Island in the midst of gigantic mountain ranges and is therefore called 'Island Peak', where we will do an acclimatisation rotation before we tacke Ama Dablam.
But for the time being, we are enjoying the gentle trek up the Khumbu absorbing the beauty of the surrounding snowy peaks, which are well covered at the moment following the recent cyclone from the Bay of Bengal that affected Nepal and dropped snow to a very low level and delayed the departure of our Sherpas to base camp. It is also a joy to see the colourf Buddhist culture and for those, who spent some time in Kathmandu, to breathe some clean air - and all this with the great support of Lakchu and Loppsang, who have worked for Russell since 1994. At Ama Dablam base camp, Ganu and Phuri will help Lakchu to spoil our taste buds and make sure we will be strong enough for this new challenge.
Keep on checking our website for the next edition of the 'Daily Moraine', which will be published shortly.