After having endured several weeks of hard work and technical climbing in thin air, Marcus and I left Camp 3 going for the summit....
Almost everything in our tent was white of rime and snow when we woke up in C3 at 6300m. None of us cared about melting water, because we had sufficient water supplies from yesterday evening. Thus the breakfast mainly consisted of biscuits and chocolate bars. There were long discussions between the two tents, because of Sue's worsening HAPE condition. Tshering finally volunteered to assist her down to C2, while the rest of us prepared for the summit. Marcus was the first to leave camp at 08:15am, while I left half an hour later (08:45am). Stu and Brad J left after 9am, but the latter one soon got problems with his crampons and had to turn around and descend to C3.
The steep slopes between the Mushroom and the Necklace (the two hanging glaciers on Ama Dablam), was rather boring because I was slowed down by an Italian team of 3-4 climbers (I think they were Italians). They walked only 10 metres between each rest, and I simply hate that kind of movement. I prefer a slow and steady pace at higher elevation. I waited many times for them to move on, and my toes first got very cold and then numb. There was no chance of bypassing them on the single fixed rope. Secondly I had major problems with my sunglasses. They fogged up all the time because I was wearing a balaclava and a down-hood on top of that (goggles would have been a better choice for this setup). When we arrived the lower part of the Necklace, there was a small snow ledge, where the Italians had a longer rest while I easily could bypass them. Beyond the ledge it became very steep and exposed. On my left side I had the ice-bulk (Necklace) towering above me, while there was a rather nasty drop into a couloir on my right side. This was probably the most exposed pitch above C3. Then the slope abruptly ended in an ice-wall where I easily traversed left and onto a leveled area. I was now standing on top of the Necklace, and I decided to take a rest on the windless and sunny spot. The numbness in my toes slowly disappeared because of the sun, and I also had to unzip my warm down-jacket before I continued up the easier slope. I could see that Marcus had slowed down a bit and I estimated that I was only 10 minutes behind him at this stage.
The easy angled slopes above the Necklace soon ended because of a crevasse and a 2-3 metres high ice-wall on the other side of the crevasse. Almost immediately after I had hauled myself up the near vertical ice-pitch, I started to feel lethargic, probably caused by the combination of altitude and the fact that I was wearing too much clothes in the sunny weather. Still I continued with my down-jacket on, simply because it would be too much work to take it off and put it in my backpack. After a while I reached some rocks, which can easily be seen as a black dot in the snow from BC. I continued up the steep (55 degree) snow slopes, but I had to take rests rather frequently. Marcus had a steadier pace than me and finally he disappeared out of view. I moved really slowly the last 100 metres, and when I reached the summit at 11:55am I actually felt more exhausted than happy. Marcus told me that he had been waiting for me almost half an hour on the summit, and that he was starting to get immensely cold. We took some photos, before Marcus quickly started to descend. I decided to stay a little bit longer, so I could marvel at the breathtaking view from the summit. Everest, as well as Makalu looked splendid from this angle. I really enjoyed this moment in solitude and the exhaustion I had felt before was no longer there. I only felt happiness standing on the 6856 metres summit, a new personal record in terms of elevation. The Italian team joined me after a while, and the summit started to get crowded. Then it was time for me to leave the summit.
I clipped into the rope with a biner, and started to walk down. I walked forward (face out) but I had one hand on the rope in case I should start to fall. Using a rappel device would probably be the safest arrangement here, but I felt no need for it and that it would be too time-consuming when bypassing other climbers or, more frequently, when bypassing knots and anchors. I almost ran down the steep slopes and after a short while I catched up with Marcus. We bypassed the Adventure Consultant team and later Stu, who seemed to be slow and exhausted after his sleepless night. The rest of the descent to C3 was pretty straightforward, and we only rappelled a couple of places. We arrived C3 at 13:30pm, and found Brad J relaxing in one of the tents. He kindly offered us hot water. He told us that he had managed to repair his crampons, and that he was aiming for the summit tomorrow. He also said that a big group was on their way up to C3, and that there would be no room for us in the tents. Thus his task was to serve us plenty of warm liquids, in order to revive us, so we could head safely down to C2. And he did a splendid job. Without his effort I think I would not have been able to continue down to C2, simply because I had become too dehydrated during the day.
Marcus and I spent almost 2 hours resting in C3, before we continued down at 14:45pm. I walked in front and I was terrified when we reached the fragile stretch of cornice. I crossed it very slowly and then I sat down for Marcus to join me. I anchored the loose rope in my ice-axe in case Marcus should fall. And he almost did. The snow collapsed under one of his feet, and he ended up sitting on top of the knife-edge crest of the cornice, with his feet dangling on each side of it (like sitting on a horse). It took him a couple of minutes to get out of this awkward position and continue down. Then we rappelled down the vertical ice pitch and shortly after we met the big group consisting of Lhakpa, Marc, Sophia and Brad B. They seemed rather slow-moving but they still had plenty of time to reach C3 before darkness. Further down we also met Greg and Bob from the Colorado team. The two ultra marathoners looked fatigued, especially Greg. At several occasions we had to wait for other climbers coming up, and we wasted a lot of time in waiting. Many of them came all the way from C1, and would not be able to reach C3 before darkness. We felt utterly sorry for those climbers who had to fight against darkness, wind and cold weather in order to reach C3. We had a beautiful sunset as we rappelled down the Grey Tower. We finally reached C2 at 17:30pm, and it soon went completely dark.
Marcus slept in Sue's tent so he could monitor her condition, while I had to sleep alone in the tent that was erected on top of the shit central. The smell was awful and it killed my last bit of appetite, so I went to sleep without having dinner. I had not eaten a proper meal the last 24 hours, but I simply didn't care.
I slept most of the night, despite of the bad comfort in C2. I felt tired and dehydrated when I finally woke up at 7:30am. I drank my last bit of water and ate some biscuits. Sue was very slow this morning because of her condition, so we were not ready to leave C2 before 9am. I rappelled easily down the Yellow Tower and waited for Marcus and then Sue to come after me. It got really bad when Sue turned upside down in her rappel, probably caused by her huge backpack. She was screaming in panic, but Marcus and a Sherpa managed to help her out of the awkward situation. She got some minor injuries, but was able to continue down on her own, with some assistance from Marcus. Further down she became so sluggish that Marcus almost had to carry her. In C1 we were greeted by Mike, Herb and Anthony who all were ready to set off for C2. Mike, the paramedic, gave Sue some water and decided to stay with her, while Anthony and Herb headed off for C2. Marcus also stayed with Sue, while I continued down alone to BC. It was an arduous hike down, and I picked up supplies in both C1 and ABC to be ferried down to BC. I think my backpack was close to 25 kilos when I left the tents at ABC and I had to rest several times on my way down.
Well down in BC I talked to Vanessa in order to get an update from the higher camps. Vanessa had already spent several days in BC after her climb, and was constantly on the radio. She told me that Lhakpa, Marc, Brad J, Brad B and Sophia had reached the summit during the day. Bob from the Colorado team had also reached the summit, while a shattered Greg had to descend from C3 after a terrible night up there. Further down Sue was feeling better and Mike and Marcus had left her alone in C1, the first one aiming for C2 and the latter one descending to BC. During the two last days, Vanessa had actually been ready to carry oxygen up to Sue if needed.
Later in the evening we heard about the drama that was going on between C1 and C2. Anthony had made it to C2 before darkness, but Herb and Mike had to turn around somewhere below the Yellow Tower. Stu actually ordered them to turn around because he believed they were too exhausted to climb the taxing pitches ahead, especially the Yellow Tower. Left in the dark and cold environment between C1 and C2, the party of three climbers descended the numerous pitches. Herb was completely shattered and Stu had to support him most of the way. They did not arrive C1 before 9:30pm.
Vanessa left her BC responsibilities to Marcus and me, as she waved goodbye to BC and started on her 3-4 days recreational trek in the Khumbu valley. The two of us had a rather lazy day in BC, but we were soon joined by some other team members. I hardly recognized Herb when he stumbled into BC together with Sue. He looked so different from two days ago; thin, weak and pale. First then it occurred to me how much he must have suffered during the two last days. The same applies to Greg, Lori and Ryan from the Colorado team. I have rarely seen so many shattered and beaten people. Maybe it was a combination of exhaustion and the fact that they never reached the summit. The comfort of BC, however, made them feel much better after some few hours.
Marcus and I left BC for a recreational multi-day trek, while most of the team members still were somewhere up on the mountain. Two of them were Anthony and Tshering, who was on their way to C3.
Anthony and Tshering finally reached the summit of Ama Dablam.
I returned to Namche after a short trek up to Dingboche the day before.
Dispatch from Stu Remensnyder in Namche Bazar:
Hello to all of the family and friends following our expedition this season on Ama Dablam! Overall we had 9 members and 2 Sherpas reach the summit in 4 different waves, Vanessa first (with Tom from RFM), Marcus, Lyngve and Stu some days later (the 3rd), then Brad J, Brad B, Marc, Sophia and Lhakpa (the 4th) and finally Anthony and Tsering on the 7th. Sue made her way to camp 3 before turning back and Mike and Herb reached as high as camp 2 on the 6th while both battling sickness and simply running out of days. Brent reached as high as ABC.
I am happy to report that all of our members have safely reached Namche Bazaar and are in good health and spirits. Anthony has a sore toe and Stu has old achy knees but otherwise we seem to have returned unscathed! We cleaned our base camp yesterday with a flurry of activity on a clear and cold morning and headed out for a final time. The weather has been increasingly cold in the last week and it was with considerable joy that we descended into the warmer climes of Thangboche and the late fall crunch of the rhododendron leaves underfoot. Peeling layers as we went and enjoying the lack of sharp wind and the easy conversation which always emerges without the cessation of constant threat of summits, rock fall, steep snow and frostbite which has held our thoughts for the last three weeks.
As Anthony and I walked we joined up with Bob Manthy and Greg Keith of the RFM team (who had decided to escape the cold winds of Gorak Shep) and we eased into the tea shops sunny garden in Thangboche where we ate and drank leisurely. Sitting next to us was Inaki Ochoa de Olza who I had met on Broad Peak in 2003 (he summitted with FTA member Alex Txicon) and we had a fine time catching up on 2 years of climbing. He is a Basque from Navarra and one of Spain's truly great climbers and had recently attempted Shishapangma, Dauhlagiri and others and he kept our attention recounting his escapades. His girlfriend Corrine was just on the FTA K2 basecamp trek led by Casey Henley and was enthusiastic about her experience on the trek including a crossing of the gondogoro la. "It's a small world" seemed inadequate to describe the moment!
The walk to Namche seemed longer than any of us had remembered and we ended up arriving by moonlight walk in Namche where the team was all assembled at the Himalayan Lodge for dinner. Along the way we had a fine time watching the last sunsets on Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Everest. The colors on the mountains and then the colors behind the mountains kept our attention for a good hour as reds, pinks, purples and blues danced and shuffled. In Namche our cook staff had prepared a fine meal of Yak curry, fresh steamed vegetables and hot pineapple and we stuffed ourselves accordingly. After dinner a small group headed out to a local pool hall where a few beers and a tough local pair conspired to keep us from winning many games!
In a few minutes we will all depart from Namche for the final walk to Lukla and a morning flight to Kathmandu. We find the talk of home and family and food and comforts driving us more rapidly than ever to say our thanks to the Khumbu and get on with gift shopping and flight arrangements. Little things like the 20 minute gas powered hot shower in our hotel give us tastes of the ease of things to come!
Clients on summit: 7 of 10 (70%)
Guides on summit: 2 of 3 (67%)
Sherpas on summit: 2 of 2 (100%)
Total members of main team on summit: 11 of 15 (73%)
Colorado team members on summit: 2 of 6 (33%)
Total members on summit: 13 of 21 (62%)
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