10 November 2012
South West Ridge
Means Mothers necklace and is considered on of the worlds most beautiful mountains.
Ama Dablam in Nepal is considered one of the world’s most beautiful mountains. It lies between giants – Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu are all 8000 m peaks nearby. However, when people come trekking up the Khumbu valley all are drawn to Ama Dablam. The question comes, “Which mountain is that?”
At 6812 m it is not as tall as the 8000-meter giants, but Ama Dablam has its own power. Ama Dablam means “Mother’s necklace” and the hanging glacier is considered the necklace. In 2006, a part of that necklace fell off and killed six people who were staying in Camp 3. Since then, most people do not use Camp 3.
I used to be afraid of heights when I was in the mountains. I had seen pictures and, like many others, was drawn to Ama Dablam yet at the same time I knew that it was very exposed. Much more so than Everest itself. I knew that many Sherpas who climb Everest do not want to climb Ama Dablam. Hence, I did not see myself climbing Ama (as we call her). So, when a friend called me and asked if I wanted to join an expedition to Ama Dablam, I had to ask him, “You know I am afraid of heights. Do you think I can climb Ama Dablam?”
He responded, “You are so strong in the head that you can do it!” I decided to take his word for it and joined the expedition the following November.
Khumbu Valley and Fear of Heights
From Kathmandu, we flew to Lukla and trekked up the Khumbu valley to Pangbuche, a four- to five-day walk. The journey is beautiful, and we stayed two nights in Namche Bazaar at 3440 m to acclimatize on the way. After a night in the small village of Pangbuche, we continued up to the Ama Dablam’s base camp.
Ama’s base camp at 4500 m was very green and beautiful, and we could see the peak well from there. I loved that because on most mountains you do not see the peak from base camp. The first part of the expedition went well; unlike a few of our team members, I had acclimatized well and was feeling good. Up to Camp 1 at 5650 m it is more or less a trek, except for the final part called “The Boulder Field” which requires some easy rock climbing.
We were a big team and when we came to the point where we were ready to move up to Camp 2, we had to split the team in two because there is only space for a few tents in Camp 2.
My friend, the expedition leader, was in one team and I ended up in the other. In my team there was a medical doctor, so I thought it would be a good idea to tell him about my fear of heights. I mean, in case something should happen and I got a freeze or something. When I told him, he looked at me and said, “Siv, nobody with a fear of heights goes climbing on Ama Dablam.” I felt a bit stupid and didn’t want to admit that I was planning to do so, so I just said, “Nah, just kidding!” Little did he know that I’d been speaking the truth when I’d first told him.
Yellow Tower to Camp 2
Between Camp 1 and Camp 2 at 6000 m, there are fixed ropes and some good climbing with an amazing view and exposure(!) The crux up to Camp 2 is Yellow Tower (the most difficult section of the route), a 10 m high wall with mega exposure up to the very small Camp 2. When I was there, there were only five tents in Camp 2. I saw later that there have been times when they have managed to cramp in a few more tents, but they were very exposed. I’m not sure if I would have wanted to sleep in any of those extra tents! Ours was way too close to the edge if you ask me.
For it to work out with the other expeditions on the mountain, we had to take turns using Camp 2. We had three of the tents and another expedition had two, so we helped each other out, carrying half of the tents and using the camp alternatingly. That way, we could use all five tents for our rotations to Camp 2.
I had heard that the Yellow Tower was the crux of the climb and was curious as to how it would be to climb it. To be honest, it was not bad at all. Yes, it was very exposed so I did not look down on my way up. Other than that, it was all good and I did it without much trouble. I was proud of myself when I got up there. Yay!
We slept a night in Camp 2 before heading back down to Base Camp.
The days in Base Camp were a mix of resting days and preparation for the next phase of the expedition. If the weather was good, we could enjoy the sun while reading a book, writing reflections, or talking to other team members. One of the good things is that there was no cell phone reception or Wi-Fi, which created a little bubble where it was only us and the mountain.
Working on My Fear
I had heard about Mushroom Ridge before – a very exposed ridge after our last camp on our way to the summit. Mushroom Ridge is a knife-edged narrow ridge where it goes straight down many hundred meters on both sides. One’s “composure with exposure” is tested here!
I was dreading it.
The conditions on the ridge vary from year to year. It can have nice snow conditions or it can be blue ice. I was hoping for nice snow conditions as trying to kick my crampons in blue ice while crossing the exposed ridge would not have been fun. The rumors had it that this year there were nice snow conditions, but the fixed rope across the ridge was very loose and was hanging one to two meters down on the side of the ridge.
In my mind, I could imagine that if I fell, that would be a major problem(!)
My first instinct was to ask if someone could fix the ropes across the ridge but I knew that that was not an alternative, so I did not ask about it. Okay, then, it was time to take out my own tools. Not long before leaving Norway, I had learned a technique called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) also called “tapping”. It is a technique that tells the nervous system to calm down and is often used by athletes.
I sat in Base Camp in my tent and did the tapping, visualizing myself successfully crossing Mushroom Ridge. While some of my teammates packed their gear two and three times, the tapping was my most important preparation for the summit push.
(If you want to learn how to do this, book a one-hour session with me and I’ll teach you.)
After a few days in Base Camp, the weather forecast was good. I had done my tapping and was ready, including having packed my gear. We headed for the summit push.
The first part up to Camp 2 went smoothly. The other team in our expedition was one day ahead of us. When we arrived at Camp 2, they came by, on their way down from the summit heading towards Camp 1, and then Base Camp. They had a 100% summit rate so that was very inspiring to us.
Because we needed all the tents in Camp 2, they had to continue onwards to Camp 1, but one of their team members did not feel well so we agreed to let him stay the night with us before going down. He ended up in my tent. He said that he was feeling fine, just a bit tired. As the evening and night went on, he developed a very bad cough that got worse through the night. I realized that he was not as well as he’d said, or even believed he was.
In the morning, we radioed down to Base Camp and asked them to send someone up to meet him when he came down. Later we learned that after he’d returned to Base Camp he’d had to be evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu for further treatment.
Summit Push Continues
From Camp 2 we headed straight into an airy traverse to Gray Tower, a 75-degree steep exposed part mixed with ice and rock. At the Gray Tower, it is very loose so we had to be very careful so we didn’t have any accidents.
After Gray Tower, there was another airy traverse and some nice climbing up to our 2,6 Camp. This camp had been dug out of the snow and had only room for three tents. So, all of us had to cramp together into the three tents for the night. For me, it meant that I shared the tent with two guys. Not a problem, just a bit tight. However, there was so little space outside the tent that when I had to get out of the tent to pee before going to sleep in the evening, I basically had to do so just outside of the tent and I could hear one of the sherpas yell “Be careful” – safest thing would have been to rope up for going to the toilet.
We had a very early breakfast and were then ready for the summit push. When three people in a tight tent have to get ready at the same time, they need to be a bit considerate and flexible. One of them was so eager to get ready and start that he was basically sitting on the other two of us, so in the end we just “gave up” and agreed to just let him finish and get out of there so we could get ready without having someone sitting on top of us. It was a relief when he disappeared out the door!
The Dreaded Mushroom Ridge Before the Summit
As previously mentioned, Mushroom Ridge is a very exposed ridge after the last camp on the way to the summit. It’s the ridge that links the mixed SW ridge below with the summit snow fields above. Once I could see the ridge, I believed I could do it. I had already seen myself doing it. I took a deep breath, attached the jumar, and took steady steps across the ridge.
Wow! It was a victory to climb across it. After that, I knew I could manage the rest of the climb. I felt strong and the weather was very good.
After Mushroom Ridge there are two easy pitches of dramatic but very solid 40+ degree snow-ice on the right side of the Dablam. Above the Dablam, there are easy and solid 30–48-degree snowfields to one of the summits in the world with the best view. The others are the south face of Lhotse, Nuptse, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Pumori, Shishapangma, Makalu, and the Khumbu Himal.
For me, it was a victory to be standing on the summit, looking over at Everest and the rest of the Giants, including Cho Oyu that I had climbed some years earlier. I had managed to climb this very exposed peak despite my fear of heights.