After two comfortable days of rest in basecamp, I've finally decided to go for the summit. I'm certainly aware of my limited time spent above basecamp so far (2 nights only), but the weather forecast is good and so are my health. No reasons to wait it out any longer.....
I left BC in the morning, and I was really happy that my summit push finally had started. I met Tom and Vanessa on my way up, and I congratulated them with the successful summit yesterday. I found Mike sleeping in one of the tents in ABC, still suffering from mild AMS. He was planning to spend one more night in ABC, and was waiting for Herb to join him later in the afternoon. I ate my lunch in ABC before I continued on to C1. There I met Marc, Brad B, Brad J, Stu and Anthony who recently had arrived from ABC. They were all planning to stay for the night, and it was going to be crowded up there. But we had 3 tents in C1, so it was not a big issue. Sophia had returned to BC earlier in the morning, so we were now 6 persons left in C1. I shared a tent with Marc and we collaborated in terms of melting snow and boiling water for dinner. Marc was definitely one of the best climbers in our team, and he had loads of experience from peaks all around the world. He had also been in western China, climbing very remote peaks together with a mountaineering club in South Africa.
I woke up to a beautiful sunrise, but I had really no idea what to do this day. No one seemed to be ready for a summit push together with me. I really wanted to continue up the mountain, and I would be confident to do it solo if needed. But Stu had a lecture about safety, and that he preferred that I teamed up with someone, at least to make a rescue easier if something happened up there. I also knew that Marcus was only one day behind me, and we have had many talks about summiting together, if the schedule allowed us to. None of us needed any kind of guidance, we would simply be happy to go on our own. I considered Marcus to be the most experienced alpine climber on the entire team. He was presently living in Vancouver, and had done hundreds of alpine peaks in the rugged and remote parts of Canada. Thus I decided to stay one more day and night in C1, waiting for Marcus to arrive. That would also allow me to do a load carry to C2. The climbing to C2 would really be easier if I could bring some stuff up there, instead of going with a huge backpack the next day.
There were fixed lines all the way to C2, and I just clipped into it for safety. The climbing between C1 and the Yellow Tower is mostly class 3-4 scrambling with some few pitches in the lower 5 (YDS). I clipped on to the rope with a biner in the less steep parts, in addition to a jumar (ascender) in the steeper parts. But I only used those devices as a backup in case I fell off when climbing (not likely). The ropes and anchors were of bad quality in some parts, so I really didn't want to put weight on the rope. It was much better to do the climb unaided (e.g. no jugging with my jumar). But the difficulties increased when I reached the Yellow Tower, thus I actively used the fixed ropes to get up there, jugging like hell on the vertical 5.8 pitch. I had my jumar on one rope and a prusik on the second rope, in case the first rope would snap. It was a tremendous exposure with several hundred meters of vertical space below my feet. I had a 15 kilos backpack, and the jugging was really hard work in the thin air. I breathed like hell when I finally pulled myself over the edge and peered down the rock wall. 10 minutes later I reached C2 at 5700m and stuffed my supplies in one of the Marmot tents. So far only Vanessa and Marcus had been to C2, so I was the third one to make a visit to the exposed situated camp. I stayed there for less than one hour, before I started to descend. During that hour I also talked to the Italian climbers in C2 who I met some few days ago in C1. They were a lazy bunch of climbers, as they had several high altitude sherpas carrying all their food and most of their equipment to C1, C2 and perhaps C3 as well. That was not a fair way of climbing Ama Dablam, but it would increase their chances of reaching the summit.
The rappel down the Yellow Tower was one of those exhilarating ones. You never know if the frequently used rope would break or not, so I felt a great deal of fear when I peered down over the edge. There were two ropes hanging down from the tower (plus a rope for hauling backpacks etc) and I chose the newest one for my rappel device (figure eight). I had also a biner running trough both ropes, but that would in worst case only reduce the fall to the bottom anchor, which was 20 metres below. The end of the rappel was also tricky, because the rope curved a little bit into the bottom anchor.
I was surprised to meet Stu, Brad B, Marc and Brad J when I came down from the Yellow Tower. They had started right after me, but seemed to have moved in a pretty slow pace. They decided to turn around before the tower because they were running out of time. They stored their supplies underneath the tower and joined me down again to C1. Later in the evening I met Marcus and we decided to team up and go for C2 tomorrow, C3 the day after, and then the summit!
Yet another beautiful morning in C1. To my astonishing surprise I could see Sue starting off from C1 with a huge backpack, planning to stay in C2. Later Marcus passed my tent, and he told me that Stu would follow Sue and Brad J to C2. They were basically on the same schedule as us, e.g. planning to summit Nov 3rd. I headed off from C1 right after I had packed my remaining stuff, and I bypassed Sue halfway up to C2. It was pretty crowded between C1 and C2, and I feared that many other expedition teams had the same agenda and schedule as us. There were a lot of people at the base of the Yellow Tower, and it took hours before Marcus and I could climb up. Marcus tried to climb the tower unaided with his big plastic boots, but he had to give up just a few metres below the top, where he pulled himself up with his jumar. I used both my jumars, including a foot loop. Lhakpa and Tshering had been waiting for us in C2, and they told us that there was a brand new North Face tent waiting for us in the far end of C2. The tent was pitched on a very exposed terrace and Marcus, the engineer, told me that the platform was very unsafe and prone to collapse. Secondly it was stinking like hell, and we suspected the platform had previously been used as a toilet. Several hours later Stu, Sue and Brad J finally showed up. Before we went to bed we had to put on our harness. We tied ourselves into a rope which was anchored to a rusty piton.
All people in C2 were feeling quite well this morning, except from Tshering who had suffered from a bad cold during the last few days and Sue who seemed to be quite lethargic. But we were all ready to move up to C3. We had the most challenging and sustained climbing on the entire route in front of us, so we decided to start right after breakfast. The difficulties started immediately after C2, and we had to put on our crampons in order to climb a steep pitch of rock and ice. By this time, the team had automatically divided into two; Tshering, Marcus and I in the first team, and Stu, Sue and Brad J in the second team. Then we did a traverse to reach a corner that lead into a rock and ice couloir below the Grey Tower. In recent years most of the ice has actually disappeared from the couloir, making it more difficult and dangerous because of the loose rocks. The angle was averaging to 70 degree and it was 3-4 rope lengths of interesting climbing before we reached the snow ridge above the couloir. None of the ropes in the couloir could really be trusted, still we felt pretty safe because we belayed ourselves to at least two of the ropes. Then we started on a traverse directly under an intimidating rock wall of the Grey Tower, and the exposure increased as we worked our arduous way up a very steep snow and ice couloir. Here it was only one 6mm rope, and I used my jumar as backup in case I should fall. Then we reached the ridge again, and we started on an exposed traverse with a lot of rock and ice climbing. The progress abruptly stopped when we reached a wall of overhanging ice, 6-7 metres high and more than 90 degree steep in the middle. Last year there had been no such obstacles on the ridge, but the route is changing from year to year because of the dynamics of snow and ice. Tshering was tired, so he gave up after a couple attempt to scale it. Then it was Marcus' time to try, and he just moved smoothly up, as expected from a Canadian ice-expert. Marcus hauled our 3 backpacks to the top, and Tshering and Lyngve climbed up as well. I expected that it only was an easy snow plod left to C3, when I surprisingly found myself on top of a very fragile ridge of cornice. This was the most nerve wrecking moment on the entire climb. I peered down on both sides, and looked skeptical at the poor snow anchors. The rope would perhaps save me if I fell off the ridge, however, I did not count on it. But if the cornice collapsed, I was pretty convinced that the rope would not take the weight of me and all the snow. Fortunately we had no incidents on this exposed stretch of the ridge.
We arrived C3 shortly after, and the entire climb from C2 had taken us approx 4 hours. Two tents had been carried up to C3 a couple of days ago, but they were not erected. So Tshering, Marcus and I started immediately to dig out two platforms for the tents. After one hour of digging, Tshering had to leave in order to help Stu with his exhausted clients Sue and Brad J somewhere below C3. Leaving only me and Marcus to do all the work in C3, was really bad for our exhausted bodies. We also had severe troubles with our fluid balance, and we really needed water as fast as possible. It took ages before we had two platforms ready and the tents pitched, first then could we go inside and start to melt water for our dehydrated bodies. In the afternoon the cold wind picked up in C3, and it was really nice to be inside a shelter.
Later Stu approached C3 and he told us that they had some difficulties. He was really upset because Sue had managed to loose her only ice-axe in an attempt of climbing the ice-overhang. We were quite surprised when he started to walk down again, because we believed that Tshering and Brad J would be able to help Sue up to C3. Stu looked very exhausted at this stage, but still he did everything in his power to make sure that his clients were safe. It took one more hour before Stu returned to C3 together with Tshering, Sue and Brad J, all of them being extremely exhausted. While a coughing Tshering crawled into our tent, Stu and his two clients took place in the second tent. Stu continued his hard work of melting snow to revive his two clients, especially Sue. Later we heard that he had stayed awake most of the night in order to monitor Sue's condition, which was deteriorating because of HAPE.
It was a cold evening and night so I decided to sleep with my down-jacket inside the sleeping bag. But I woke up after a couple of hours and had to take off my jacket before I got a heatstroke. Being 3 persons in one tent created a lot of warm and humid air, eventually resulting in rime and snowfall from the inside of the roof. I slept fairly ok, but I probably woke up at least 20 times during the night, each time being disappointed about the slow moving time.
Journals from this expedition:
Intro to the Expedition
The Expedition Team
Part 1 - In Kathmandu
Part 2 - From Lukla to BC
Part 3 - Acclimatizing
Part 4 - To Camp 3
Part 5 - Summit Day