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Ama Dablam 6812m

Jon Gupta

Ama Dablam, to me, is quite simply the world’s most beautiful mountain. Every face and every ridge is steep, high and laced with beautiful ice sculptures and impenetrable rock bands.

Arriving into base camp fully acclimatized, having been in the Khumbu for nearly 30 days, I decided I needed a few days of rest to recover, refuel and prepare for the climb ahead. I had a plan and it was going to require a lot of energy. I’ll be honest with you, I was intimidated by the mountain, by the unknown that lay ahead and by the sheer beauty of its southwest ridge. The long sweeping line soars high into the sky like an eagle, from the edge of base camp to the summit of the mountain. I could feel its pull like a magnet drawing me closer.

I had made the decision to climb alone on Ama and to climb fast. I wanted to totally immerse myself in the climbing and focus everything I had on a safe and successful climb. I left base camp around mid-afternoon and, after saying goodbye to the rest of the team at base camp, I set foot towards camp 1 for the very first time. I put my music on as the cold clouds enveloped me and the mountains disappeared – I suddenly felt very alone. Being fully acclimatized, I was keen to push myself and after just 2 hours I was nearing the base of the ‘slabs’ below camp 1. As I entered the boulder field, a vast expanse of huge boulders scattered carelessly across the mountainside, the final light from the day faded away as I rummaged for my head torch. Up above I could see a few tents glowing a deep warm orange as the occupants, warm inside their sleeping bags, melted ice and chatted anxiously about the day ahead.

I crawled into my tent half an hour later and quickly set about getting sorted. It was slightly later than I had hoped. Snow in pot, stove on…sleeping kit out, get in sleeping bag…unpack bag, crampons, axe, helmet, harness in porch ready for the morning…clothes, gloves, hats inside ready for the morning. Once I was all sorted, I set about eating and drinking as much as I could, melting ice is a laborious task but hydration is essential. Confident that I was as prepared as I could be, I switched off my head torch, changed the batteries and drifted off to sleep, excited about the next 24 hours.

With just the lightest puff of wind, I entered into the dark night. It was just after 04.00 as I left my tent and clipped in the first of the fixed lines. I drew a long deep breath and looked around at the surrounding peaks sparkling and glistening under the bright stars, and began my ascent. The climb was intense and unrelenting; between camp 1 to camp 2 I rarely stopped for a minute. All the southwest ridge is steep, to both sides and above and below, but with 7000m boots and good kit on I felt safe and protected from what ever the mountain could throw at me. But the mountain remained quiet for now, letting me silently climb higher and higher up her slopes. The rock is some of the best granite I have ever climbed on and at times it is quite technical; Yellow Tower giving a superb pitch at around HVS if led. The short patches of snow and ice were hard packed, wind blown rime and neve, allowing my crampons to grip it like a fork in sticky toffee.

I was intimidated by the mountain, by the unknown that lay ahead and by the sheer beauty of its southwest ridge. The long sweeping line soars high into the sky like an eagle, from the edge of base camp to the summit of the mountain. I could feel it’s pull like a magnet drawing me closer.
Mt Ama Dablam
Being alone on the mountains is a unique experience and one that can be very powerful. It gives you a chance to think, a chance to forget the trials and tribulations of everyday life and, for a short period of time, you are completely free.
As I pulled up and over a short rock section to camp 2, the sun was just beginning to rise and the faintest glow of morning promised to bring warmth and hope to the day. At camp 2, half a dozen precariously pitched tents probably housed a number of climbers from all corners of the earth, most of them making their way to camp 3 later that day. They were still sleeping and I passed them quickly and quietly, then took 5 minutes to refuel and enjoy the sunrise. Being alone on the mountains is a unique experience and one that can be very powerful. It gives you a chance to think, a chance to forget the trials and tribulations of everyday life and, for a short period of time, you are completely free.

High above, I could see camp 3 and I knew it was going to take a further 2 to 3 hours to reach it. Remaining clipped in for the duration of the climb, I was constantly having to assess the fixed lines and switch ropes, adding and removing jumars and caribinas as I made my way further up the ridge. Shortly after camp 2 there is a fabulous section of snow and ice called the Grey Couloir – 100m or so at 70+ degrees. My calves screamed as I my front points dug deep into the snow, but superb conditions allowed me to make good time and I soon found myself at the foot of Mushroom Ridge. The climb was really getting exciting and I could feel myself smiling, I even looked around to see if anyone was watching…obviously not! Mushroom ridge is a sensational winding narrow crest which rises like a serpent connecting the Grey Couloir and camp 3. With careful haste, I made my way along the ridge, a fall along here could have catastrophic consequences.

As I climbed the final slopes to camp 3, I realized that I was now in the sunshine and beginning to feel warm for the first time since starting out nearly 6 hours ago. I radioed down to base camp to report my progress and take the opportunity to lose a layer and take on some water and food. Above camp 3, I could see 4 climbers en route to the summit who had left camp 3 only an hour before. Already they looked tiny, small dots on the gigantic white summit slopes that reared up above camp 3, an imposing face of thick ice.

Once past camp 3, the summit slopes unveil themselves and present some of the steepest and sustained climbing on the mountain. On steep snow and ice, unrelenting for nearby 4 hours, I climbed though small weaknesses in the face up and up until I got to the final snow ridge. I passed one climber who had called it a day and was descending and, then higher up, I passed another, but this one was not moving and had not done so for 4 days. I had known that I going to encounter this body and had no idea how I would feel about it. So, focused on the summit and the ticking clock, I passed by, desperately aware that only a few days earlier he had been alive. Why had he diedI kept asking myself, why? At nearly 6800m, I took a short break to allow the climbers I had seen from lower down to pass me on their descent from the summit. I sat facing out looking across a vista of mountain giants. I could name only a few and the peaks seemed to extended to the furthest corners of the earth in every direction. Why do we do this, I thought, as I looked down the 2000ft face below me and then back to my thin 8mm cord that was my life line and back to the very long fall I would take should I come off. Why put myself in this position? Before I had time to answer my questions, the climbers were beside me and with an exchange of a nod and smile we continued in our opposite directions, I was only too aware that available time to me was running out.

Alone again at 6800m, I found my rhythm, one step and four cycles of breathing, one step and four more cycles of breathing, I had been moving for nearly 10 hours non-stop at above 6000m. I was tired, of course, and I was alone and had the entire mountain to myself. With the energy slowing seeping away from me, small elements of doubt crept into my mind but finally, at 14:40, I stood on the summit and fell to my knees. I had done it!

Mt Ama Dablam
The views are quite simply breathtaking and, standing on the summit, I took time to take it all in. I had climbed alone to the summit and I suddenly realized I had not spoken a word all day. I gave a nod of approval towards Everest, not sure why, perhaps a sign of respect or a message that she was next! I couldn’t tell you now what emotions I felt as I stood up there alone but it was a very special moment for me. I looked out across the vast expanse of mountains that I could only dream of climbing one day and with that thought turned to go down.

Only too aware of what was still to come, I began the descent. I was tired but very much alert and focused and the words of Ed Viesturs sounded loud within my head “Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory”. The descent was slow and laborious and full concentration was required as it is steep and unforgiving – a single mistake and no one would ever see me again. With a combination of arm wraps and abseils, the descent towards camp 3 did not take too long and an hour later I was starting down the final ropes of the summit face.

I endured a long cold night at camp 3 and, just after sunrise, continued on the descent, retracing the steps I had covered only 12 hours before. Almost immediately I fumbled and dropped my abseil device, and it was gone. I watched it slide down the mountain at an incredible speed. I hung on the mountain side clipped in and cursed myself. From here on, I was forced to abseil dozens of fixed lines using an Italian hitch, a more time consuming method. Nonetheless, it was amazing seeing the route I had taken only a day before from a different angle and in a new light. Abseil after abseil, I carefully descended the mountain until eventually, just before midday, I arrived back into camp 1.

Removing my crampons, helmet and harness was like taking a shower after a day in the hills. I felt refreshed, lighter and a little energy crept back into me. I knew I was safe now and the walk back to base camp would be easy. Later that evening, at base camp, I took some time out to sit and watch the mountain change as the sunlight faded to mark the end of another day and the stars slowly appeared in the sky. I looked hard at the mountain, almost willing it to talk to me and, as I turned to walk away, I smiled and nodded my head. Ama had been kind to me, she had allowed me safe passage and calm weather and the ultimate goal – the summit – and I thanked her for that.

The climb was everything I had hoped for – intricate, dedicated, committed and enthralling – I had never in my life felt so alive.

The climb was everything I had hoped for – intricate, dedicated, committed and enthralling – I had never in my life felt so alive.


Jon Gupta

Jon loves nothing more than high altitude and at only 25 has racked up some impressive ascents (often guiding people at the same time!): Elbrus 5642m, Kilimanjaro 5895m (5 times), Denali 6192m, Cotopaxi 5897m, Island Peak 6189m (3 times) and of course Ama Dablam 6812m

Jon runs JCG Expeditions, providing a professional and personal service on expeditions to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Island Peak in Nepal. You can find Jon on Twitter @JonGupta or on Facebook

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