International Mountain Guides Climbing and Mountaineering Expeditions

Ama Dablam Climb

Nepal  •  22,494'  •  6856m

2006 Nepal Trek, Island Peak Climb, and Ama Dablam Climb Trip Report

by Justin Merle

This Fall's Ama Dablam and Island Peak climbs involved several different groups with various objectives. The climbs themselves: Island Peak—a technically easy climb on a big mountain (20,280 ft.) and Ama Dablam, a varied and difficult climb to 22,400 ft. Both are beautiful climbs with great views all around. Associated with these climbs, several folks planned to trek to Everest Basecamp and to the village of Tengboche. (For more photos of the trek, please see the Nepal Everest Trek Photo Album.)

Making up the bulk of the Island Peak climbing team were a crew from Kansas: Gary and Gail Conrad, John Tatarko, Kevin Fately, Brad Seaborn, Brian Ioerger, and Dan Walker. Myself, Stephen Maxwell, and Brook Mancinelli planned to climb Island Peak as a warm up and acclimatization for more fun to be had on Ama Dablam. Everest Trekkers included Laurence Bowman, Julie McHenry, Laurie Griffith, and Dave and Stephanie Cowin, while Anya Zolotusky, Nancy Herbert and Zack Conrad planned to trek as far as Tengboche, then enjoy the Namche area. Aiding this effort were multiple top-notch Sherpa guides and support staff.

The trip kicked off with a day in Kathmandu—a tour of the temple at Pashupati and the old city of Baktapur. Later in the evening we prepared our duffels for the flight to Lukla and tried to catch some zzz's.

After a 4:30 am wake up call (didn't matter to most of us; with jet lag who know's what time it was!), we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby and were hustled off to the airport and the chaos of the domestic departure terminal. We managed our way through the mess and out to our Yeti Airlines Twin Otter and revved up for our hour long flight to Lukla. Unfortunately for us it was a mostly cloudy day and what's often a very scenic flight was only moderately exciting (how can't it be when you're landing on a two hundred yard sloping runway?)

Once we'd corralled all our duffels and made sure the porter loads were worked out, we set out for an easy day of trekking—downhill to Phakding. Along the way we saw common sights of the lower elevations—farmer's fields, laden porters, and large trains of zopkios (like yaks but with short hair—yaks get too hot down here at low elevations). We set up our first camp—tents in a field near a tea-house.

One more day of trekking brought us to Namche Bazaar, the hub of Khumbu society. The village sits on a slope in a hanging valley—it's pretty spectacular. Here we had a rest day which team members used variously for rest and visiting the local market, or what turned out for some to be a challenging day-hike over the ridge to Kunde, where we caught our first views of Everest and Ama Dablam. After Kunde we hiked on to the Everest View Hotel; by that time the views were obscured by the persistent afternoon clouds.

From Namche we cruised on up valley, but down to the river crossing at Phunki Tenga, then up a dusty hill to Tengboche. Here we were able to tour the Monastery and were lucky enough to get an audience with the monastery's Lama. He gave us his blessing and spoke Nepali for awhile with the our trek Sirdar Phutashi.

Unfortunately for us, that night the Lama's protection lapsed and thieves, running a covert operation against the Mikaru, slashed a couple of tent walls while we were sleeping. They made away with the contents of a couple backpacks and all in all did pretty well for themselves. The next morning, as we sorted things out, Brook suggested that we head over to the village and start killing children until the villagers handed over the thieves. I agreed this might just work, but nobody was up for it...

This was the first day part of our group split up: Nancy, Anya, Zack and Gail headed back to Namche as per plans. The rest of the crew walked the 5 hours or so to Dingboche, where we stayed at Phutashi, the trek sirdar's teahouse on the NW side of Ama Dablam, and a days walk west of our first climbing objective, Island Peak. We spent a full rest/acclimatization day in Dingboche—taking the opportunity to set up a mock fixed line on the grassy slopes above to do some pre-climb review. We prepared to say goodbye to another contingent of our team who planned to head directly up to Everest Basecamp: Laurence, Julie, Laurie, Dave and Steph.

The walk to Island Peak Basecamp took us up and away from most of the vegetation, over moraines and glacial debris to where the camp lies sandwiched between Island Peak and the Lhotse Shar Glacier at just shy of 17,000ft. The walk was tougher than expected, and we decided to take another rest day to let the team recover. Gary had been coughing up yellow stuff, and Kevin was showing signs of following suit. Pushing new altitudes is not the way to recover from respiratory problems...mid morning the two decided it would be best to return to Dingboche in hopes of rejoining the trek to Everest Basecamp after a couple days of recovery. After consulting with the doc's at the clinic in Pheriche the next day though, they decided it would be better to continue down valley to the moister, thicker air.

From Basecamp, the climbing team woke at 1 am for a 2 am departure for the summit. An hour of climbing scree trails brought us to camp 1—it was looking to be great weather for a summit bid (quite cold though). After another hour of climbing on rocky terrain we found a nice platform at which we took our shoes and hiking boots off and traded for plastic boots. A few more minutes of walking brought us to the snow, sun-up, and crampon terrain at 19000 ft. At this point Brian decided to head down, and the remainder roped up and spent about an hour wending our way up the rolling slopes of the Imja Glacier to the base of the fixed lines. This was a popular day for climbing, so our sherpa team fixed a second rope on the headwall to improve the flow of "traffic". Here the climbing became steeper for about 100m to the spectacular summit ridge. We had great views of Lhotse Shar, Makalu, and Ama Dablam, and fairly comfortable weather (not much wind, but quite cold). After awhile spent snapping summit photos we took off for an uneventful few hours of descent.

We woke up in Basecamp still fatigued from our hard climb the day before, but packed up and walked down to Dingboche in a light snowfall to where the air's a little thicker and again stayed in Phutashi's guest house there. The next day took us up some wandering yak trails to Ama Dablam Basecamp, again walking in some cold and damp weather. Brian stayed in Dingboche with hopes of kicking a nagging cold. In the morning we woke up prepared for the Puja ceremony to build some good juju for the climbers—spent an hour or so waiting for the Lama to show up from Pangboche... After Puja, we again said goodbye to the Island Peak climbers who were heading toward Everest Basecamp today.

After one more rest day in our "totally buffed out basecamp" we took a big hike up to camp one to spend the night. The day took us about 5 hours, and up 4000 ft., and we were all a little drained. We spent the night there at 19000, and woke in the morning with plans to climb a little higher, then either spend another night at Camp 1 or descend to BC for more rest. Brook had gotten little sleep and just wanted to crawl in a hole and die—Steve and I climbed about an hour up toward Camp 2 then returned to rally Brook down the hill to Basecamp for another couple days of rest before our summit push.

After these two rest days in basecamp, we repeated our long climb to Camp 1 and spent a more restful night there than on the previous rotation. Next day we woke up to the same standard great fall weather and began our climb to Camp 2. Everything went fairly smoothly—lots of snow on the ridge this year, punctuated by fun low 5th class climbing. At the Yellow Tower, the route's one 50 foot steep section, there was a back-up of climbers that slowed us by a half hour or more: All in all the day took 4 hours and was a bit more strenuous for the guys than we expected. Our hope had been to climb from Camp 2 to the summit and back, skipping any nights at Camp 3; at this point we wavered as to whether or not this was a good idea. In the end, though, we stuck with the plan to climb from C2.

Three o'clock wake up, everybody feeling good. After the standard summit morning delays we began climbing at 4:30am in beautiful weather. Easy traversing out of camp brought us to the Grey Tower—steep climbing in conditions that vary between snow and ice and rock for about 100m. This year the climbing was more rock for these first hundred meters—awkward and strenuous climbing in the dark, but certainly doable. After this climbing we took a needed short rest before continuing up the snow and across a thin, airy snow traverse. More climbing brought us to the spectacular ridge leading to Camp 3. We were making perfect time, reaching Camp 3 just as the sun hit it, around 8am. At camp we took a longer break to refuel and enjoy the scenery.

From Camp 3 the route ascends steep snow to the upper ice-cliff. This year there was a way around the ice cliff on steep rolling terrain to the upper shelf and base of the fluted upper snow slopes. The climbing above is all straightforward, but still steep and strenuous.

We climbed above Camp 3 with no major difficulties, watching the beginnings of typical afternoon clouds build (a little early this morning). About 15 minutes before we hit the summit the clouds closed in and we summited in a benign snow storm that obscured the great views of Everest and Makalu that we'd been anticipating. We took about half and hour for photos and resting on the summit, then began the long descent. After too many rappels and too much down-climbing, all through the same light snow, we finally reached the "comforts" of camp 2 and took a much deserved night of rest.

We descended from Camp 2 in the morning, glad to have the climb out of the way—especially since the weather seemed to be deteriorating. At Camp 1 we packed up all our stuff and carried it down 1000 ft. to where a couple yaks were waiting. We were glad to hand over our gear to the Sherpas, who loaded it on the backs of the yaks. Light packs on the way down were great! Halfway down to Basecamp we were met by Tak Bardu bearing juice and sandwiches—another bonus! We arrived in basecamp looking for a good night in the thick air of 15000 ft.

Our trek out from basecamp was uneventful—we occasionally practiced our yak-hearding skills, and during a detour through the village Phortse to see some of our sherpa team I had a bout of binge-tea-drinking, but for the most part we just enjoyed seeing the greenness of the down-valley and the feeling of thick air in the lungs.

—Justin Merle, IMG Guide

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