Practice Run No.3: The Objective

In Practice Run No.3by Steve

Objective: Ama Dablam 6812m, Nepal (and Lobuche Peak 6119m and Island Peak 6189m)

Hello again.

It’s been a few months since I concluded Practice Run No.2, it’s now time to kick off Practice Run No.3.

Objective: Ama Dablam, 6812m.

Practice Run No.1 took me to New Zealand with a climb of Mt Aspiring 3033m.

Practice Run No.2 took me to Peru with climbs of Yanapaccha 5460m, Chopicalqui 6354m and Alpamayo 5947m, and a failed attempt on Quitaraju 6040m (that one still hurts).

Now I find myself sitting once more at Perth International Airport, this time headed for the Himalayas to attempt Ama Dablam, 6812m.

Ama Dablam, which means “mother’s necklace” in the local Sherpa culture, is a mountain on the eastern side of the Khumbu Valley. The same valley that snakes its way up through the Himalayas and culminates with the Khumbu glacier and the infamous Khumbu Icefall on the southern slopes of Everest.

Why “mother’s necklace”? Well, according to the local Sherpa culture, the mountain, when viewed from the valley floor, looks like a sitting mother “Ama” with her nurturing arms stretched out by her side, and a hanging glacier wrapped around her upper slopes resembling her necklace “Dablam”. Sounds all rather pleasant and inviting doesn’t it? Well, I am under no illusion, I know reality is going to be a very different story.

I first saw Ama Dablam in January 1998 while trekking the Khumbu Valley, back when I was just a young 16 year old. For three weeks as I trekked from the small mountain village of Lukla, up to Everest Base Camp and return, Ama Dablam stood towering above, forever keeping a watchful eye.

I read that back in 1953, Ed (later to be knighted and become Sir Edmund Hillary), while trekking through the Khumbu valley on his way to Everest, looked up at Ama Dablam and described her as “unclimbable”. Here was a bloke about to become the first person to summit Everest, and yet he believed Ama Dablam was “unclimbable”. That in itself speaks volumes as to the technical difficulty of this climb. It wasn’t until 1961 that Ama Dablam was first climbed proving it was actually possible.

This may sound stupid, but in 1998 as I trekked through the Khumbu Valley, I can remembered thinking that the surrounding peaks, including Ama Dablam, were reserved for an elite few in our population, extraordinary people with superhuman skills. At that time, I didn’t even dream of climbing Ama Dablam as I thought that for an ordinary person like myself it was simply impossible. I was intrigued, but never believed it was within my reach. 18 years on, I am now returning older, and I would like to say wiser, but that’s debatable, let’s just settle with older. But, while I may have missed out on wisdom, age has taught me one thing. There is no such thing as superhuman people, there is no such thing as superman. I even went back and double checked the periodic table, there is no such thing as kryptonite either. So since at the basic anatomical level we are all the same, why can’t I climb Ama Dablam? Well, I don’t know if I can, but there is only one way to find out.

For this trip, I am joining a small British team. We’ll be sharing logistics and base camp facilities, but once on the mountain we’ll be moving independently. Since I’m going by myself, I’ll be pairing up a climbing Sherpa and he’ll be my climbing partner for the trip. The ideal climbing time is September / October but we won’t be on the mountain until late November. Climbing late in the season as it heads in to winter means it will be significantly colder and weather more unstable, but hopefully less people. The route on the mountain is very narrow with significant vertical exposure and limited camp sites so it can’t accommodate many people at one time. We are opting to battle the cold as opposed to battle other people on the mountain. Knowing how well (i.e. not so well) I tolerate cold, I am not sure if this is the right decision. Time will tell.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story….”