(Title photo above by Bruce Gormley. The South-West Ridge follows the right-hand skyline)
These notes have been prepared for Needle Sports by Tim Mosedale, a qualified mountaineering instructor who leads commercial trips to Ama Dablam. They are intended to assist the climber who has already gained some knowledge of mountaineering and is fully aware of its risks but still wishes to climb mountains. They are brief and not designed to be comprehensive in any way.
Ultimately climbing is a dangerous sport and claims many casualties each year. One of the guiding principals of British climbing and mountaineering is that it is the individual climber is responsible for his or her own safety. If you cannot accept this then this site and probably climbing in general is unlikely to suit you. May we refer you to this very interesting site instead.
Q: Where is Ama Dablam?
A: It is located in the Everest region of Nepal. Ama Dablam stands head and shoulders above all the other mountains around it. Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse are all to the north but the views in The Khumbu are captivated by Ama Dablam.
Q: How high is it?
A: It is between 6812m and 6856m (that's 22,343 to 22,488ft in old money) depending upon which map you look at. But it's definitely over 22,000 feet.
Q: How do I get there?
A: You could walk in from the roadhead at Jiri but most people fly to Lukla (approx 30 mins from Kathmandu and US$190 return in 2004). From there you follow the Everest Base Camp trail through Namche Bazaar (3,440m) before heading up to Base Camp from the village of Pangboche. It's around a 20 mile walk to base camp (4,350m) and takes around 4 to 6 days to get there.
Q: How hard is it?
A: It's reasonably technical. If approached in a pure style then the rock climbing comes in at around HVS (5.9) for the yellow tower (about 12 metres) which leads to Camp 2. Prior to this there is brilliant extensive scrambling on superb rock. After Camp 2 there is the grey tower (which is more of a couloir) where there is some mixed climbing at around Scottish Grade III. Having said that there are fixed ropes on both of these sections if you want to safeguard yourself or make the route a little more accessible. You really need to have ice and rock climbing experience and be happy in the vertical environment.
Put yourself in the picture! Tim Colquhoun at Advance Base Camp (5300m), prior to his successful summit attempt (Colquhoun coll.)
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: Autumn is the best time of year as the weather is becoming more settled as you move away from the monsoon. In December it starts to become quite cold so Oct/Nov is the best time. In Spring, whilst it is becoming progressively warmer the weather is also prone to being more unsettled with increasing cloud and decreasing visibility due to the haze.
Q: How should I prepare myself for this mountain?
A: Since it is technical, you will need to focus on aerobic capacity, muscular strength and mental attitude. The altitude will be trying and will stress your lung capacity as you try to provide oxygen to your muscles. You will probably end up carrying quite heavy loads down the mountain after the summit, so make sure you have good stamina. You should also become totally acquainted with your gear and technical equipment so that everything is second nature.
Q: So what kind of gear do I need?
A: Ama Dablam is a technical route so you will need karabiners, ropes, ice axes, crampons, ice screws, harness, helmet, belay/abseil device and jumars (ascenders). Also extra clothes, warm mountain boots, water and food. It can get a little chilly up there so you need good gear and clothing to protect from the cold and the wind.
Q: What kind of clothing?
A: Lots of layers are the way ahead as this then gives you lots of options. Trekking in from Lukla, you can wear shorts and a T-Shirt (I personally favour long trousers to protect a) me from the sun and b) the locals from my knees). Around basecamp you'll be getting up and putting your down jacket on only to take it off again when the sun hits camp after breakfast. From Base Camp to Camp 1 I tend to just use my trekking clothing as the terrain is reasonably straight forward (although the altitude will take its toll). Generally the starts on the mountain aren't too horrendously early and so it isn't bitterly cold. I take a Primaloft top for my days on the mountain as I find Down to be too bulky and a lot heavier.
Q: What sort of sleeping bag?
A: I would advise you to take two sleeping bags if you can afford it so you don't have to carry one up and down the mountain all the time. A 4/5 season bag for the mountain and a 3/4 season bag for base camp depending upon time of year and how warm a person you are. A silk liner and bivi bag are necessary too.
Q: What about food and water?
A: One key issue is to drink P L E N T Y. If you become dehydrated you will not only suffer a marked decrease in your performance but you will also be more susceptible to the affects of altitude and be more prone to frostbite. It's not so high that people suffer with being put off their food (as can happen when camping above 6,500m) but you must get in to the habit of forcing yourself to eat and drink even if you can't be bothered. When at Base Camp you should chill out, rest, eat, drink, eat, drink and rest some more.
Q: Which route do you do?
A: The South-West Ridge is the most popular. There are other routes but they are far more technical and generally objectively quite dangerous too.
Q: How long will it take?
A: I run a 4 week itinerary which allows for a few days in Kathmandu, a 5 day trek in, just over 2 weeks on the mountain and about 4 days to get back to Kathmandu. You shouldn't really try it in less time unless you are fresh off an 8000er. And even then you have to be careful you don't get re-emergence High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (from going back to altitude after a rest of a week to 10 days).
Q: What kind of weather conditions will I experience?
Nick Cox climbing between Camp 2 and 3, ca 6200m (Gormley coll.)
A: Generally in autumn the weather is more settled than in Spring. As you move in to November it does get colder but it's not bitterly so until December. Standing alone, it can be reasonably windy some days. Temperatures can drop to -10C to -15C at night at base camp but by day it usually quite pleasant. Above Camp 1 it can get to -25C at night but the starts aren't too horrendously early so it's not usually that cold when you are climbing.
Q: What about altitude sickness?
A: Acute Mountain Sickness can be a problem when going over 3,500m (although some folk start to suffer at 2,500m!). The itinerary has been designed to maximise everyone's chance of getting to Base Camp in a fit state (I know of one group who went from Lukla to Namche in one day, and then to Base Camp the next! Needless to say that after a few days at Base Camp some folk bailed as they were too pooped to think straight. The company they were with, in my mind, had been totally irresponsible and should have given them their money back). When on the mountain there are plenty of days built in to the itinerary to allow people to acclimatise steadily. There are a few rest days and even a few spare days built in just in case. One of the key things at altitude is to move s_l_o_w_l_y and to drink PLENTY. If you have a headache - taken Paracetamol. If it doesn't go away - don't go any higher, maybe have some more paracetamol (no more than 8 in 24 hours), chill out and drink fluids. If it still doesn't go away then descend. Have a good old rest and then go back again - s_l_o_w_l_y. Diamox is often used by people to kick start the acclimatisation process and I don't have an issue with that - for some it works really well. But if you find yourself reaching for Dexamethasone or Nifedipine then I would say that you have overexerted yourself, overextended your stay and potentially have a BIG problem. It is definitely time to go down. In fact why didn't you go down earlier?
Bruce Gormley and Sherpa Dolne on the summit of Ama Dablam ca6850m with Everest in the distance (Gormley coll.)
Q: What is the biggest problem most people face?
A: Ama Dablam is a daunting looking mountain but the route is more amenable than it first appears. However there is exposure, and L O T S of it. You should be happy in the vertical environment and used to using technical equipment with gloves on. There is an extensive amount of scrambling and easy grade climbing involved. Then there is the yellow tower just before Camp 2 and the Grey tower just after. And you are at altitude with a heavy sack. It is not a pushover.
Q: Can I do it?
A: If you have the experience with mixed climbing and altitude then Ama Dablam could well be for you. Some folk will manage even without previous experience at altitude. With proper preparation and a positive attitude, you can do it! But if you don't try, you will never know. Ama Dablam is one the most beautiful mountains in the world and commands the Everest region. It is the one mountain that everyone who treks in The Khumbu will remember. But remember that standing on the summit is not the achievement - it's getting down safely.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Yes - don't get too focused on the top because that's when people start compromising their safety, and therefore the safety of those around them. One key factor is to have FUN. If you are with a group of people who don't get on then even if you get to the top you won't necessarily have fond memories of the trip. If you are with a great bunch of folk, and having a cool time, then the summit will just be the cherry on the icing on the cake.
Q: How much will it cost me?
A: From £3,100 to £4,600 depending upon which company you go with.
Please click for more information on Tim Mosedale's climbing trips to Ama Dablam.
© Tim Mosedale 2004
Tim and Ali also run their own Bed and Breakfast in Keswick, Elm Tree Lodge.
Photo: Namche Bazaar, en route to Ama Dablam (Tim Mosdale)