We did it! We summitted Ama Dablam the morning of November 16, 2013, climbing all the way from Camp 2, a 2500 ft elevation gain on steep, technical, and tenuous terrain. It was a glorious day of climbing, although incredibly cold and strenuous as well. We woke at 1:45am on the morning of the 16th, left camp 2 at 3am, were on the summit by 8:30am, and went allllll the way back down to Basecamp that day, arriving after 7pm – a 17 hour effort that left us all physically and emotionally exhausted yet satisfied.
Tenzing and I on the summit
We were the first ones!
Summit Panoramo (Left to Right): Nuptse ridge, Everest, Lhotse Shar, Lhostse, Makalu
Adrian, Greg, and Pasang Rinji reaching the summit
Jim Morrison, Greg Penner, Tenzing Gyalzen, Me, and Pasang Rinji on the summit
Usually the Alpenglow team sleeps at camp 2.7 on the eve before the summit, making for a relatively short and straight-forward summit day; but the sketchy conditions on the Mushroom Ridge this year made it risky for our Sherpa team to carry heavy loads to make a camp any higher than camp 2. Taking into consideration these risks along with our team’s overall strength and competence, we decided to try to summit from camp 2. It would be a massive day with several hours of extremely technical and demanding climbing, much more than if we were able to climb from 2.7. Adrian and Monica noted later that if our team had not been so small, fast, and strong; we may have had to abandon any attempt at summitting due to the strange and dangerous nature of conditions this year.
Camp 2 seen from above
We owe our success mainly to the experience and strength of Adrian and Alpenglow’s three Sherpa: Dorji Sonam, Tenzing Gyalzen, and Pasang Rinji. With Adrian leading, the four of them fixed the route through the sketchy Mushroom Ridge that no team had been able to navigate prior to their attempt, thus unlocking the crux and giving us the hope and motivation we needed to realize that this mountain could be climbed safely this season. Then, the three Sherpa also fixed the rest of the route to the summit on the 15th – the day before our summit attempt. They returned to camp 2 that night and Tenzing and Pasang climbed with us again on the morning of the 16th – giving them each 2 summits of Ama in 24 hours. An impressive effort to say the least, even though they are supposedly some of the best high altitude athletes in the world – they’re still human and such a feat requires an enormous amount of skill and stamina. Without them we could not have accomplished a fraction of what we did.
Dorji Sonam did most of the leading on the day fixing to the summit
Pasang and Tenzing: 2 summits each in 24 hours
Neal Beidleman on the Mushroom Ridge
The Mushroom Ridge – kinda sketch!
It is also worth mentioning that other teams who arrived earlier in the season and failed to reach the summit did put in the massive effort to put the route in up to the Mushroom Ridge. Without their efforts, our team most likely would not have had the strength to climb up higher. Climbing a mountain like Ama Dablam requires a sort of teamwork that most people don’t realize if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. There are alot of moving parts that come into play, logistically and otherwise; but ultimately every team on the mountain must work together in order to achieve success.
Monica wrote a wonderful and more detailed recap of our ascent on the Alpenglow Expeditions blog. I won’t go into too much more detail about the specific climb because Moni did a really good job of that already and you can read it if you’re interested. I will say though that this accomplishment meant alot more to me personally than I had anticipated, both because of the challenge the mountain presented and the mental barriers I overcame throughout my time there. I knew that the climbing would be more technical and exposed than on Everest, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect mentally because I am still very new to alpine climbing and dealing with altitude. I’d forgot how brutal and unforgiving just existing up high can feel, and I also didn’t anticipate it to be quite so cold. This season was not only difficult because of the climbing conditions, but also because the temperatures dropped well below zero every night at basecamp and were even more frigid on the mountain. I don’t remember ever feeling so cold for such long periods of time on Everest.
Ama Basecamp with lenticular clouds in the distant = cold & windy
In many ways, I had a harder time on Ama than on Everest: the cold, wind, extra long summit day, as well as the mental hurdle of facing the fact that most teams had already bailed due to the danger left me emotionally and physically wrecked in a way I’ve never quite experienced before. But now I look back on it with a smile and positive memories of the place and the people and I want to do it all over again – it was truly was a Type 2 kind of fun and I look forward to my next adventure in the mountains, whenever that will be. Right now though all I want to do is feel real rock again and focus on something a little more mellow and familiar: sport climbing!!
Alpenglow Team before leaving for the summit