NEWSLETTERS - Ama Dablam 2013

The Daily Moraine - 9th edition3 November 2013

The holidays are over

Camp 1 with Nawang and Phurba Tashi and Everest and Lhotse in the background Camp 1 with Nawang and Phurba Tashi and Everest and Lhotse in the backgroundAfter our various outings and escapades, we were all reunited and back at base camp on Saturday evening. Russell returned from Kathmandu, Hiro came back from Camp 1, Greg came down from the Col and Katharina and I returned from our little holiday in Dingboche. “I guess this is the first time that we are all together having dinner,” Russell said pointing out that it was much warmer in the mess tent with so many bodies creating all that heat. We all had a lot to tell from our various outings but of course, Hiro, who had been above Camp 1 with Phurba Tashi, Nawang and Tashi, had the most interesting tales to tell. “The snow conditions above Camp 1 are very dangerous and we finally stopped at a rock that was overhanging,” he said making us all wonder what this would mean for the rest of our expedition.

Keeping the film crew in mind, Russell announced that we would have a briefing after our Sunday breakfast to discuss the plan for the next few days – something we were all very excited to find out about. As the early November evenings are definitely getting colder, everyone was tucked up in their sleeping bags before 8pm.

The next morning started as usual with a hot towel and tea that were being brought to us by Lacchu and Gyanu, who seemed to be more wrapped up than previously. “Good sleep?” Lacchu woke us up with his great big smile handing out the hot towels, which are always an amazing treat in the mornings.

After breakfast we all gathered in the sun to find out what was happening with our expedition, but not before Russell was forced to show us the piece of firewood the rope fixing team had found just below Camp 1. “This is one of the pieces we used for fixing the North Ridge in 1980,” he said almost apologetically about having left some rubbish on the mountain. However, everyone else almost felt honoured to touch that big branch, which has been on the mountain for 33 years.

The group gathering for the briefing on Sunday

The group gathering for the briefing on Sunday

But even though that piece of wood has not changed over the past three decades, the route on the North ridge certainly has. “I could see from Hiro’s photos that the route is a lot more difficult than it used to be,” Russell explained. “Where we had snowy bulges is now steep rock, and I think it is just too hard for the average climber.” In response to Greg’s wondering whether it would have been easier without the snow masses, Russell responded: “Like many expeditions on other mountains, the snow certainly delayed us and what the Sherpas could have fixed in two days in different conditions, took them six days.” We also have to bear in mind that getting to base camp was a much bigger ordeal in the snow as it would have been without the work of the Indian cyclone. So, maybe we would have had a better chance in another year.

Russell continued his briefing by saying that he would have to eat the humble pie and admit that maybe the route was a bit too ambitious for a commercial expedition, however, Hiro added that with less snow on the ridge, the Sherpas would have had a much better chance to fix the rope. “I also believe that we would have needed more time for this route,” he said. “On the South-West ridge they have a lot more manpower to establish the route. We are only a small team and would need more time,” he concluded.

So, what’s the plan?

By now, it was obvious that the summit was out of the question, but would we get to climb on the ridge? “I would be very disappointed if you didn’t at least go up to Camp 1,” said Russell. “It’s a great route and the views will be amazing. It would also be a shame if the Sherpas had done all this work in vain.”

Ridge above Camp 1 with Phurba Tashi
Ridge above Camp 1 with Phurba Tashi
Despite some disappointment about the cancelled summit, the team seemed actually quite content with the decision as we all embarked on this trip knowing it was a new and unknown project. “I’d rather be a pioneer and do something that is a bit of an adventure,” said Greg. “On top of that I also had a premonition when I saw the Indian cyclone dumping all that snow into the region, so I was prepared.” Greg’s top priority of this trip was actually to test the endurance of his new artificial knees for next year when he intends to climb Everest with Himalayan Experience. “All in all I had a great trip. I got to know the Sherpas a bit better; I found out more about the team and I now that my knees are ready for Everest,” he said with a big smile.

Katharina felt similar about the situation and was confident that this was the right decision: “If two good Alpinists, such as Hiro and Phurba Tashi, can’t get up as they are faced with huge towers of snow, we have to be honest to ourselves and admit that we have no business higher up on the ridge,” she commented. “I am very excited that we will climb up about 1,000m on a new route and we are not stuck amidst dozens of people, like they probably are on the normal route of this mountain,” she continued. For Katharina, who had never been to the Himalaya or even Asia before, this trip was still very enriching. “Every day was an adventure for me. I saw and discovered a lot – from the man who uses his sewing machine in the middle of the trail to Gorak Shep to how learning more about the work of the Sherpas. I am very happy and content.”

Going to Camp 1

Knife-sharp ridge leading to Camp 1
Knife-sharp ridge leading to Camp 1
On Monday, Shinji, Greg, Russell, Katharina and I will leave base camp after breakfast and climb to Camp 1 at 6,000m, where we will spend the night. The rope-fixing team pitched two tents up there and left enough sleeping bags for us to be warm for the night. We will then venture out a little bit further and try to reach the end of the fixed ropes, which are at about 6,200m before we descend again to base camp while the second group, including Naoki, Hiro and Kazu will climb to Camp 1, touch it and come back down the same day.

For Naoki, who has come with a filming team and is going to be recorded for Japanese national television not getting to the summit is a bit of a shame, however, he is very realistic about the conditions. “This is a real mountain and we have to expect not to get all the way up, so it’s ok,” he said.

This schedule should put us all back to base camp on 5th November and give us enough time to pack up and leave the following day. We will then wander down to Dingboche or Pheriche, where we will stay the night before we head to Phurba Tashi’s lodge in Khumjung on the 7th. Flying conditions and helicopter availability permitting, we should all be back in Kathmandu on Friday 8th November. However, before we all leave, we will certainly publish a final edition of the Daily Moraine to inform you how we all got on on the hill.

Billi Bierling