NEWSLETTERS - Ama Dablam 2013

The Daily Moraine - 3rd edition22 October 2013

Walking down memory lane

After waking up to beautiful sunshine in Phortse at 3,800m, we said goodbye to Phurba Tashi's wife and his two twin sons Sonam and Phinzo and embarked on our trek to Pheriche, which would finally take us higher than 4,000m. However, we could not go before Katharina had packed her much-loved bright-yellow Thermarest seat - she does not go anywhere without it - and Greg put on his knee braces (he has had two knee replacements and it's actually amazing to see him walk so well). As usual, we were struggling to keep up with 'Baci' but it is always useful to walk with him and listen to his tales from the 'old days', which he seems to remember along the trail.

At one steep section on the trek, we met a big herd of yaks, who decided to turn around when we were coming toward them, putting the yak herder into trouble as he was already far ahead. All of a sudden, we heard a loud whistle and Russell seemed to have taken on the job of the assistant yak herder, literally showing them where to go. "When I once trekked from Namche to Lukla, our yak herder got too drunk to get his yaks down the hill, so I took over his job," he said. Keeping the yaks together was not the problem, according to Russell, but the real danger was waiting on the suspension bridge across the Bhote Kosi River. Russell got attacked by a yak belonging to a different herd and barely escaped being impaled by its horns. "The yak managed to rip my trousers from my leg up to my crotch and back up the other side, but I was unscathed," he remembered. Once in Lukla, he quickly delivered the yaks and went straight for the first tailor to avoid being the laughing stock of the village.

Shinji and Greg in front of Ama Dablam seen from Shomare at 4,100m

On our own trek, we stopped for lunch in Shomare, which offers great views of Ama Dablam and allowed us a good first glimpse of the North Ridge, which looked pretty steep and serious. "I knew the ridge would be steep but it looked intimidating from Shomare," said Greg. "But hey, I have not yet put the batteries into my knees, so you have seen nothing yet," our bionic man said jokingly. 'The Mother of the Jewels' was towering above us for the whole trek from Phortse to Pheriche, slightly changing perspective as we walked along.

Cup of tea in Pangboche

Broken Glass

As our team is strong and fast, it didn't take us long to arrive in Pheriche, where we settled down in the Snowland lodge featuring WiFi and a flat-screen television. "Well, I remember when I came to Pheriche 34 years ago...." - ah, here goes another 'Baci' story and I perked up my ears. In 1979, when Russell was on his first commercial trip to Island Peak, he stopped in one of the five stonehuts that were teahouses back then. "When Russell came in, I had just put my son Ongchu to sleep," said Ang Urken, who was running that teahouse at the time. "I can't quite remember what exactly happened but he pulled something off the shelves and dropped a crampon on my precious vase, which made a loud noise," said the now 66-year-old jolly woman. The first thought that came to her mind was her baby; even though Ongchu was her first son, he was not her first-born. "I had lost three babies - two sons and one daughter - to cot death before and when I heard that loud bang I was worried that my son would be harmed," she remembered with tears in her eyes.

Fortunately, the crampon did not harm the baby, but completely destroyed Ang Urken's precious vase. "I was very angry at this man and demanded money. He gave me 16 Rupees and left," she said. However, what goes around, comes around and little did Russell know when he met the staff for his Ama Dablam North Ridge expedition one year later. "I first came across Russell in Kathmandu, when I was hired as his Sirdar for this expedition," Nawang Karma told me. "We got on very well but when we arrived in Pheriche and I walked towards my modest house, Russell looked a bit worried." As it turned out, it was the house where Russell had broken the vase one year earlier. "I felt very worried but when I entered the house, Ang Urken was laughing and seemed happy to see me again." They have been very good friends ever since and did not look back to the vase incident. As a matter of fact, Russell actually became one of the first curtain providers in Pheriche. "I guess, I still felt guilty and when Ang Urken said that she needed curtains for the lodge, I was happy to bring them from Kathmandu."

Russell and Phurba Tashi looking at the route on the North Ridge of Ama Dablam

Nawang Karma and Ang Urken are now the proud parents of five boys and one daughter and Nawang Karma still works as Russell's head yak herder and looks after his gear store in Pheriche. While the three were telling me the story in the warm dining room of the Snowland lodge, our Sirdar Phurba Tashi and Gyalzen Sherpa had come down from base camp to pack up some more equipment and get it ready to be transported up the hill by Nawang Karma's yaks. "The snow is still about knee-deep up there but our base camp is up and running," said Phurba Tashi, who also seems excited to climb the North Ridge. We have also been able to establish contact with Naoki and his team, who are now near Makalu base camp and have abandoned their plan to cross the passes. "It is far too dangerous to cross the Amphu Laptsa in these conditions, so they are better off taking a helicopter to Ama Dablam base camp," Phurba Tashi continued. And this is exactly what they will do, but not before our team has built a helicopter pad at base camp.

Russell and Nawang

In order to be well acclimatised, we will stay in Pheriche (4,280m) for a couple of nights before we head straight to Ama Dablam base camp, which is at about 5,100m. "I think we should concentrate on our climb on Ama Dablam, however, if we get bored there we can always nip up Island Peak in a couple of days," Russell said. Apparently it is possible to get to Island Peak's Camp 1 from our base camp in one day and then continue to the summit the following day, but with the current snow conditions it is probably better to wait for a bit. In our case waiting is actually not such a bad thing as it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of Russell's summit success of Ama Dablam via the North Ridge; which was on 21st October 1980 - a fact we actually only found out by reading the book 'Hall & Ball - Kiwi Mountaineers' in our lodge in Pheriche.

For more tales from the past and news from our expedition, keep on checking for the next edition of the Daily Moraine.

Billi Bierling