|Main character in this post, this too may be the actual most beautiful mountain in the world. Ladies and gentleman, I present you: Ama Dablam. Give it a good hug. It wants it.|
AS USUAL, AN INTRODUCTION
It all started in Peru. The partner I had in july, Craig, was already heavy into making fun of me as mid july approached and I had sworn to myself I would decide what to do with my life by then, and as the middle of july approached I still had no idea. All I knew was that I wanted to keep travelling, but that doesn´t mean much. Among friends this turned into a daily joke, and eventually people started suggesting I should climb in the Himalayas. This sounded pretty unlikely to me, because of flight ticket prices, the whole expedition style of climbing, crowded mountains and also the fact I had no partner. In any case, before heading to the beach I did a price search and found some acceptable numbers, and when I told some people about them on my way back to Huaraz everyone demanded I buy the ticket immediately, and so I did as told! In an instant I had a ticket in my hands and 2 months and a half in Nepal and no plan.
I can name most mountains in the Cordillera Blanca but I confess I´m quite ignorant when it comes to the Nepali Himalayas. I´ve heard of most of the 8000ers and some others but the really interesting, technical ones that pro climbers aspire to climb I´m completely unaware of. Craig mentioned he would one day like to climb Cholatse, a mountain that is not too high and quite technical, aside from not being crowded (yet). I looked into it and figured it could an option, but being not so well known it could be difficult to find a partner for it so I decided to have Ama Dablam as second option. Both of them obviously, I would want to climb alpine style from base camp.
So after a record number of messages from interested people I decided to go with R., a pretty accomplished rock climber who´s been on El Cap and in Patagonia, and had some altitude experience. I thought we´d be a pretty balanced team and our skills would be complimentary. I had already looked into agencies and prices and so did he: we put together all the info and decided on Monterosa, a budget nepalese company recommended by me by a few basque people, and with a pretty good price. We also decided to climb Island Peak first, not only to acclimatize better but also to see how the partnership would work and make any necessary adjustments.
So after super long airplanes rides and layovers, I arrived in chaotic Kathmandu where I had the biggest culture shock of my life. It lasted two days and then I already wanted to leave. While I waited for R. to arrive I organized some more stuff and bought some supplies we´d be needing in the mountain. It´s worth saying I never before had so much difficulty finding information on route before, which was presage to many things that would happen once we actually got going. There´s no climbing guide, no info on the internet, sherpas won´t tell you anything and there´s no climbing community in Kathmandu to look for assistance. So on October 10th, we boarded one fo those sketchy planes to fly to that sketchier airstrip in Lukla.
|Thamel, the tourist neighborhood of Kathmandu: a messy labirinth of alleys, electric cables, annoying street sellers, and an overdose of smells. This was a quiet one.|
|Yo! Now I got dreadlocks too! Seriously!|
|Many temples, everywhere.|
|And some monkeys as well.|
THE APPROACH IN THE KHUMBU VALLEY
The flight to Lukla, as everyone knows, is an event in itself. First because few minutes after taking off it is already possible to see a huge amount of immense mountains above the clouds that shade the Kathmandu valley. Before I left Brazil one of my friends told me that the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca would be “dwarfs” in comparison after I climbed here. I didn´t agree at first (I´m super biased as I considered the Blanca my own dearest range). But just by seeing those mountains from the plane I already felt super small. I had no idea how big they would be but definatily some were above 7000 m, although aesthetically, not as pretty as the Blanca (again, I´m super biased…) After some 25 minutes of flight and drooling on the window, we approached the Lukla airport and began saying farewell to our lives before the airplane would hit the huge cliff wall at the end of the runway. That didn´t happen though, and we disimbarked alive and kicking although a tad scared and already wondering if there were other options of getting out of there aside from flying.
|And in the distance we start seeing the immensity of the Himalayas.|
|The downward landing strip of Lukla airport. Scary!|
|The main street of Lukla.|
|One of the first views of the mountains, on the second day of the trek.|
|One of the many dal bhats of the trip.|
|The famous double bridges on the way to Namche Bazaar.|
So, we begin walking towards Phakding, our first stop, and the first thing I notice is the demographics on the trail: mostly people the age of my parents and a little younger. I thought this was pretty awesome, all this active older people, cuz you don´t see that much in Brazil. So I hoped that when I stop climbing and settle down, I´ll be like that. I scouted the crowds to see if I could identify any other climbers, but aside from two spanish “boys” I saw at our hotel the day we left, we were the youngest and only climber-looking people. That can be either a good sign, or a bad sign.
|Namche Bazaar, a jewel in the Khumbu valley.|
|Our frst view of our main objective. Nuptse´s south face sits on the left.|
So we spent a night in Phakding, then two nights in Namche Bazaar. In our rest day in Namche we went to a viewpoint where we had our first views of Ama Dablam and its open arms that look like they´re ready to hug you, as well as Everest, Nupte and Lhotse. Then we headed to Khumjung, another village where we visited a budhist monastery that had a very interesting relic: the scalp of the Yeti. Seriously. And you had to make a donation to see it, and we happily did. Then we went to visit the Hillary school, founded by Sir Edmund Hillary and nowadays maintained by donations of several mountaineering associations from around the world. It was in Namche that R. started presenting some altitude symptons such as a persistant migraine, and eventually coughing and some chest pain.
After Namche we headed to Pangboche, then Dingboche, and Chukkung, where we ascended Chukking Ri, a small “hill” of 5550 m, as acclimatization for Island Peak. These two days were under snow storms, the same that hit the Annapurna region and killed and stranded several trekkers. Fortunately in the Everest region they were just uncomfortable. From that summit we had a super close look at the face that impressed me the most in the valley: the south face of Nuptse.
The following day at noon we headed to Island Peak base camp. Because of the snow storm everything was completly covered and it felt as if we either were much higher than we actually were, or were in the north pole. I confess it has been the first time I´ve seen snow covering absolutely everything around us.
|Arriving in Island Peak base camp.|
|A bleak and beautiful landscape on the way to Island Peak base camp. Nuptse is on the left, and Island Peak can be seen a little to the right.|
|Myself and our sirdar Raj on the way to Chukkung.|
ISLAND PEAK, 6189 m
After a few hours walking we arrived in base camp, at around 5100 m. R. was slowly getting worse although insisting it wasn´t altitude sickness. Even though he was taking medication, the headache wouldn´t go away and the cough was ever present. I feared we´d start the route the next day and turn around shorty after.
In the same eating tent as us was a spanish couple on honeymoon, and a japanese client who´d never been to a moutain before. I envied her brand new gaitered boots. I always wondered what these people´s reactions would be if I suggested they donated their boots to a poor climber like me after they were done. I´ll do that someday. Mine were worse than in the Blanca this year, and I was afraid they wouldn´t make it to Ama Dablam. But I woudn´t think of that now. Anyways, I tried talking to some people and some sherpas about the route, as I would to to any climber in a climbing area normally, but the clients were mostly unable to give good info and the sherpas simply would turn their back on me, which gave me the impression they kinda wanted payment for the info. Anyways, I went by myself to check the beginning of the route, came back, had dinner, got all the equipment sorted out, went to bed.
We got up at 1 h, had breakfast and set out about an hour later. Some people were already pretty high up on the route when we started. I´d say 80% of the route is actually switchbacking on an easy moraine with the eventual scramble, quite boring, until we reach the glacier. R. was walking on a good pace but stopping several times with worsening symptoms. I asked a few times if he really wanted to go up, and although I knew it wasn´t the best idea, it´s hard to convince a grown up adult of certain things.
We reached the glacier and roped up. In front of us a rope tem of 8 and in front of them a rope team of 6. The glacier is quite straight forward with very visible crevasses and just one steep step. When we got to the bottom of the headwall there was quite a lot of people in the fixed ropes already. Our initial plan was to simul climb it because it is not that steep, but with R. being so weak and dizzy, and not wanting to turn around, I felt it´d be safer to put him on belay. So I started the climb taking care not to get in the way of the fixed ropes too much. Still, a few people almost rapelled butt first on my face even though I warned them I was standing bellow, and some sherpas did not like us climbing there at all. While leading the fourth pitch and yet to place a picket for protection, one of them actually started pulling my rope because it crossed over the fixed ropes – even though I did so not to get in the way of the clients once they got to the summit ridge. It´s really annoying climbing with a lot of people, even worse if it´s a bunch of ignorant and/or inexperienced clients and sherpas. Yes, sherpas, because they don´t seem to have many climbing skills.
This last pitch, out of 4, led us to the summit ridge where I set up belay and brought R. up. From there he went to the summit first where he anchored himself and I left this anchor in place for rapelling down on the way back. The summit was pretty crowded, and people didn´t seem to realize that more people were coming in and the earlier ones should leave after a while… but oh well, we managed to take some pictures and admire the beauties around us. Nuptse´s south face kept smiling at me, and I confess it is one of the most impressive walls I have ever seen, if not the most impressive. I knew Jason Kruk was attempting it and I kept thinking how that was going.
|Yeah! On the summit! Pointing to our next objective.|
|The south view from the summit, with Ama Dablam in the distance.|
So I broke my altitude record with this summit. I was feeling strong, well acclimatized and able. R. was not, and so we began our descent. I don´t know what was going on on him during that part, but he messed up all the rappels and I had to re-set them, which took us quite a long time. At the base of the wall he was feeling apparently so bad that he could hardly stand up. I guess I had a taste for what it´s like being a guide with a completely incapable client, because that was the situation at the moment. I got pretty angry at times because obviously he shouldn´t be there in that state, and more than one person had been telling him that for days. It was dangerous for him and for myself, but thankfully we got out of the mountain without any major incidents. I´d say that climbed free this is an AD route, somewhat similar to Yanapaccha, in Peru.
Once on base camp we ate a bit and headed back to Chukkung under another snow storm. As we went, I started feeling really tired. Although not physically challenging, this was a climb that was very draining mentally because of R.´s health, or lack thereof. We were supposed to head to Ama Dablam base camp next day but I was decided to have a rest day. I was also decided to have a very serious conversation with R. about the climb we had, and how that wouldn´t work on Ama Dablam. That turned out to not be necessary though: during breakfast he told me he was giving up. I felt relief for him finally admitting to himself he was sick and should have descended already. Felt relief also for not having to go through the same situation on a much harder mountain, but also quite worried, for now I´d have to climb Ama Dablam alone.
AMA DABLAM, 6812 m
We decided to rest on Pangboche because it is at a much lower altitude than Chukkung, and that would be good for everyone. On the following day Raj would drop me off at base camp, and R. wanted to tag along to check it, and then head back to Namche with Raj. We arrived on BC on October 20th. Raj introduced me to the group: Lhakpa, the Sherpa leader, Karma the cook, Stohan, the permit leader, and two Germans, Christopher – who had lost all fingers on his hands on a climb on Dhaulagiri – and Zepp. Neither spoke much English, if any. Also around were Andy and Darko, a German and Slovenian. They were all on their 60s, and were all expedition climbers, most having been in some 8000 m mountains before, expedition style.
|The base camp from my tent. Quite a city.|
I felt quite weird with the whole atmosphere of the “expedition”, the size of the tents, the exaggerations, the amount of food and comfort… especially me, used to climb with my Black Diamond Firstligh which is super small. In any case, that was the BC situation only, and from there up it´d be all as it always is.
While Raj talked some bureaucratic issues with the Sherpas, I noticed one of the Spanish boys was in the base camp right next to us. So I couldn´t help it, and went there to introduce myself. It was Alfonso, and soon his partner Dani joined us thinking I was Spanish as well. Tell had arrived several days earlier and done some carries to C1, and were telling of several absurdities that were going on, especially because them, as I, had no climbing Sherpa, no western guide, no porter, no money: fixed ropes had just been put up and people were already summiting, a guy had to be rescued for injuring himself on a boulder in base camping while learning to jumar, a woman was injured on a fall in between C1 and C2, and the worse, there was sort of a black market going on, negotiating tent space and tent use on all camps. That is to say, there was no space for new tents in any of the camps except for ABC, and even though most of them were empty most of the time, if you wanted to sleep in them, you´d have to pay. They got offered a tent on C3 for US$ 150 dollars, and later on I got offered a tent on C2 for US$ 100. We all refused happily saying we had very small tents that could pretty much be pitched anywhere. Even though there is a serious space problem, most groups use those huge North Face Mountain 25 tents and similar even on C2, and sometimes as individual tents.
Well, from the moment R. told me he wasn´t going, I didn´t hesitate in going alone. My biggest fears were actually regarding the cold because my equipment isn´t that good (and I´m Brazilian, so, I´ll never be able to withstand too much cold, it´s genetics), have some serious altitude problem higher up in the mountain, and… have to deal with inexperienced clients who could cause trouble and put in risk the safety of others, in this case, me. Aside from that, I was very confident on my technical skills, feeling strong and well acclimated. I´d have to use the fixed ropes now (originally we were going to climb alpine), so technically speaking it wouldn´t be (that) hard.
So I made a plan: because I´d be carrying all my stuff myself, I´d go to advanced base camp (5400 m) first, than C1 (5800 m), then I´d do a long day and camp on C3 (6300 m) due to lack of space on C2, have a short summit day, and then descend everything. The Spanish boys had a similar plan, but they´d skip ABC, and they would leave a day before I did. So we agreed I´d use their tent on C1 and bring it down with me when I was done.
|Carrying the load to camp 1, at around 5700 m. I hope I never have to do this again but I know I will.|
|Advanced base camp in the distance, a welcome sight.|
So after setting up a strategy of collaboration with the boys, I went for a walk around BC, observing the whole expedition circus, over the top apartment-like tents and shiny new equipment. I questioned my decision of chosing this specific mountain, as I already did not felt welcome. Sort of like, “yes you can climb this commercial mountain, but not your way, and it you wanna do it your way, you have to go somewhere else”. In a way, this mountain is private property. The sherpas and their incessant gossiping and dropping in on other people´s conversations (thankfully they don´t understand spanish), had radioed the entire camp and soon enough I had sherpas all over me asking me where my climbing sherpa was, who was my guide, my porter, how come I was going up alone, as if I was doing something subversive. Dani and Alfonso had already gone through the sherpa rage, so they told me to get used to it.
All this just made me want to finish this climb as soon as possible, and gave me a strong longing for true alpine climbing. But I was there already, the mountain is gorgeous and it´s not its fault that this mess is going on. So the next day I left for ABC with about 26 kg on my back. As I was leaving, a helicopter arrived to drop the body of an american who had fallen to his death after the ropes “broke” between C1 and C2. Nice view and very engouraging for someone in my situation, but I was firm on my stance to climb it and I´d rather see the ropes with my own eyes and make my own conclusions (clients were saying they were very bad) than believe the opinion of people who probably never saw a proper climbing rope before. I know this sounds arrogant, but my experience when meeting guided people tells me they tend to exaggerate things a lot.
Román, a spanish guide whom I met in Kathmandu through a mutual friend, had arrived on my rest day and was going up to set up camp with two clients in ABC on the same day as I. They obvisouly ascended much quickler and on their way down allowed me to use their already set up tent for the night. This was a hard day, it took me 4h30 to go from 4600 m to 5400 m, which pretty much equals my highest carry but with less weight (thanks to a super light weight backpack, Mountain Hardwear´s South Col 70, highly recommended). So this battle was won, but next day´s battle worried me more, because I´d be going to 5800 m, and I wasn´t sure I could make it. 5800 m is almost a Kilimanjaro! But I focused on a good pace for my steps and went very slow, until finally, after 3h30, I made it to C1. There was one free spot on the bottom of the camp, but it was “reserved” (with a bag of potatoes with the the name of an agency written on it, seriously), so I kept going up towards the Spanish´ tent, and nearby I found a platform where my tent would fit perfectly. I spent quite some time preparing it (it had a lot of snow in it), and after setting up camp, just sat to relax. I was pretty tired and feeling some pain on my back from a lesion I had this past July, exactly for carrying too much weight. So I decided to have a rest day there, since the next two days would both be very long.
|This is camp 1 in Ama Dablam. Camp 2 was even worse.|
So I was sitting there taking pictures and doing nothing when I see Alfonso coming in through the passage that leads to the route to C2. I ran towards him asking about the summit, and he told me that in fact they did a carry to C2, for Alfonso was having a persistent headache everytime he left BC, and they did not know whether to go for the summit or do another rotation. As adviced, having a larger experience in altitude, I told him it wouldn´t get better if he went down to BC and that if he had no other symptoms he should just shoot for the summit. In any case, I told them I was having a rest day and then heading up. In 15 minutes of chat we decided to go up together. Whoa! I went from going up alone to going up with the coolest people in camp in the shortest period of time and I did not see this coming. But then we decided to change plans. Since they had been to C2 they told me there was no more room for tents, and camping in C3 was definatily not in the plans because of exposure to the serac. Their plan was to bivouac in C2, going up and going down. I promptly agree, and started preparing myself psychologically for the deed.
|A view from high up on camp 1.|
|The view from my tent.|
At 9 in the morning the next day we left for C2. This is definately one of the prettiest parts of the route, and mostly on rock – mainly some dihedrals, some traverses, and a few exposed snow ridges. Once you leave C1 you walk on snow for a while until you reach some rocky traverses, to finally reach the first two dihedrals, probably around 5.6. Much easier to climb them instead of pulling yourself on the fixed ropes as the sherpas and most of the clients do. And it´s a beautiful section. After that a very short, almost overhang 5.9 dihedral (hard to overcome with a heavy pack), some ridges, and then finally the Yellow Tower, which is another beautiful climb at around 5.8. From there, some more snow ridges and then we finally arrive at C2. After the accident, a catalan group replaced the korean ropes with Beal ones, so rope quality here was pretty good.
|A closer view of the upper part of the route, between camp 2.7 and camp 3.|
|Myself and Dani approaching the Yellow Tower.|
|Myself on one of the earlier traverses after leaving camp 1 to camp 2.|
|The beginning of the route towards camp 2.|
|One of the dihedrals of the route between camp 1 and 2.|
|Dani and Alfonso approaching camp 2 in between the clouds, around 6200 m.|
|A look down at one of the exposed ridges before reaching camp 2.|
C2: this garbage and feces dump. You can smell the stink from afar. And once you get there, it is revolting to see the amount of litter, food leftovers and other nasty things. Considering that most of the people that climb this mountain have a pretty good financial standing in life, this is pretty sad.
As expected, C2 didn´t have room for any more tents. So, Dani, Alfonso and I arrived, organized some gear and just sat there looking sorry and waiting for night to arrive. Surprisingly, Tenzing, one of the climbing sherpas for the germans, radiod base camp and got us permission to use one of the empty tents. For a split second I wondered what kind of favor would be expected in exchange for this gesture, but that didn´t last much. We happily jumped in and started cooking dinner and melting some water. Outside the other group was discussing which time they´d leave in the morning and we decided to leave after them so they´d get the ice out of the ropes for us.
Summit day, 2 a.m.: we got up, melted some water, and ate some energy bars. We left a bit before 3 a.m., which was a wrong decision and quite late: right after the first traverse after C2 there´s a long vertical section and the germans were already holding us up there. We kept seeing the Beal ropes the catalans installed here, which was a relief.
|Sunrising on the Himalayas. A special moment never to be forgotten.|
|Alfonso looks up… yes, there´s still a lot to go.|
|Buttshot on one of the very vertical pitches of the route.|
|The few traverses were very much like this, very exposed, aeriel, hard to place protection.|
For the most part, before reaching the bottom of the C3 serac, the route is a vertical mix of ice and rock, with traverses on snow in between. With the sun rising, we reached camp 2.7, around 6200 m, with three tents pitched under a serac and some pretty big icicles. I don´t know whose idea was this but I´d never sleep here. After this spot, there´s another long, pretty technical and vertical section and here were the germans holding us up again. From here till the top of the C3 serac lies the most technical ice/snow sections, one of them being an overhang and the only moment I really used my ice axe and wish I had both of them with me. This is one of the most exposed parts of the route, with seracs on top of you the entire time. As much as you want to climb as fast as possible, you´re way over 6000 m and it is not easy at all. Honestly, if I was in another range I´d hardly be climbing a route with this much objective danger. I don´t think most clients have an idea of how dangerous this route is.
Dani was speeding ahead and passed the slovenian and his climbing sherpa. Alfonso was coming behind, complaining about some headache and dizziness, asking me to keep an eye on him. So we kept checking on each other for most of the route.
After we gain the C3 plateau, we reach the only flat part of the route. Because the slovenian and his sherpa were right in front of us and this too, is a very exposed section (right under the huge serac, the “Dablam”), I decided to stop and wait a little bit for them to move, so that if we got stuck waiting it wouldn´t be right under it. Alfonso joined me, we ate some chocolate and drank the last drops of our waters.
|Dani awaits near camp 2.7, at around 6200 m, while the germans ascend some of the most technical and vertical pitches of the route. Would you sleep here? Not me!|
|Alfonso nearing the camp 3 plateau.|
So we crossed a small bergshrund and started the first half of the headwall, at 60 degrees, with huge steps caved in. Another steep short sections with some technical climbing and we´re finally above the giant serac, having close to 200 m of climbing to do. At this point we´re already exhausted: for every 6 steps I would stop and count to 60 so that my heart rate would go down and I´d catch some breath. I was super thristy and did no exitate to eat snow, which actually helped me a lot.
Soon enough we saw Lhakpa descending with Christopher and Zepp with some strange knots… it wasn´t a rappel neither was he lowering the two guys, and the boys didn´t understand it either. Alfonso asked me what time I thought it was and I answered that by the sun, it definately was early afternoon. “What do you think?” he asked. “Let´s try to get to the summit!” Alfonso had been supportive the entire climb because I was very tired, so this was my turn to be a good partner. 40 minutes later, we saw Dani looking down and smiling at us: we were few meters away from the summit, and then finally, at the summit!
I threw myself at the snow at first, but quickly got up to try to take it all in. I couldn´t, and I knew that when this moment came I would not be able to understand it. There were we, less than 200 m from the 7000 m mark, on the highest point of this beautiful peak shaped as a hug. I was in a state of absolute joy, having overcome so many personal boundaries at once. First thing I thought when I got there was how much better prepared for this I was because of the months I spent in the Blanca this year – physically, psychologically, technically. If it wasn´t for everything, good and bad, that happen this season in Peru, I probably wouldn´t be there admiraing the Himalayas from such a priviledged point. “I made it, finally” I thought. I broke the 6000 m barrier twice, and in great style and shape.
|Myself some 15 meters away from the summit.|
|The million dollar shot: myself, Alfonso and Dani, sangre latino on the summit of Ama Dablam, 6812 m. Nuptse, Everest and Lhotse stand on the back.|
It was around 14h30 when we got to the summit. We quickly did everything we had to and in 15 minutes started preparing for the long descent. But as soon as we did so, some of our problems started, and Tenzing put his client on the rope right before us. Problem was, his client (who´s climbed a few 8000 m before) couldn´t rappel. The three of us were stuck in the summit for close to 1h30 begging for this arrogant little sherpa to let us through. I got so pissed at one point that I down climbed the first section to reach Tenzing (the boys didn´t speak english). Eventually Dani passed them, and another 30 minutes later or so, we reached the client by himself, begging for water and food, exhausted and wondering where his sherpa was. Alfonso and I didn´t have anything else, so I told him to eat some snow and I´d be looking for his sherpa, which I found admiring the landscape at the flat section underneath the headwall. I promptly reprimended him for leaving a client in that state by himself. He didn´t care much.
We kept on descending on the dozens of rapels. Then, right after passing camp 2.7, Alfonso and I had one of those moments only climbers have, and we never get them on camera. The sun was already setting, and the mountains were already a black silloouete against a faint yellow strip weighed on by a gradually dark blue. We sat on an exposed ridge, one leg to each side, to switch batteries on our headlamps. It was cold, we were tired, hungry, thirsty, and just wanted to get to camp. But we sat there as if it was a summer afternoon in a park, as calm as possible, switching the batteries in the slowest possible manner. Then we´d stare at the landscape, and talk almost in a whispering voice, so as to not interfere with the sleep of the stars, that started to pop up as the sky got darker.
Then we woke up from the trance and realized there were still a million rappels to go. At 20 h we arrived in C2, completely spent. We got space in another tent, this time smaller. This meant we we´d sleep almost on top of each other, I wouldn´t be able to stretch my legs and my pillow was a rock, but anyways, much better than a bivouac. We didn´t have any food anymore aside from some energy bars and chocolate. Gas was enough for a few liters of water so we´d save it for the morning after. I went to sleep super cold and had to put hand warmers in my sleeping bag to warm up my feet. Dani, at 42, was super fit, while Alfonso at 34 and I at 33 were exhausted and had one of the worst nights, or the worse, in the mountains, ever. I spent the following 10 hours awake without being able to even feel sleepy, dreaming about the food I had in C1 and the gas for melting tons of liters of water.
We got up the next day, melted some water and began descending. In camp the slovenian had arrived from his night in camp 2.7, and Christopher was happily taking pictures with his no-fingers hand and orange camera. We stopped in C1 to eat the food I had there and take down the tents. We ran into Zepp around ABC, and he looked quite strange, as in anesthetized, with a lost glance. After ABC we encountered Román and after a quick chat he put me through a deja vu moment when he said “someone from your permit died”. I said it couldn´t be because I had seen them all alive when we left C2. I just couldn´t believe or bear the idea that after what happened in Paron this year I would have to go through all of that again. I spent the rest of the descent trying to figure out what happened with no success. To round things up, already close to BC I slipped on the snow and twisted my knee.
I arrived in BC and was received with some applause from some of the spanish guys from Román´s group, who´d been cheering for me the entire time. That was really nice and joyful. They invited me to celebrate and have dinner at their tent that night with 5 other spaniards that had arrived. I went to leave my stuff at my tent when Karma came to me and asked me to go to the kitchen tent with him. I tried asking about the dead man and he did not reply. When I got to the tent, Zepp was there soaking his blackened fingers in warm water and in complete chock.
I was forced to postpone my rest, the celebration dinner, and even eating. Karma didn´t know what to do and Zepp was in chock. A spaniard or other sherpa would walk in to see what was going on but no help. Eventually, with the people watching, I ordered one of the sherpas to look for a medic in the big expedition camps, and although no doctor was found, they got Xavi, a spanish UIAGM guide who had arrived next door that same day and had some good experience in the Himalayas. He took over Zepp´s treatment, sent someone to look for a shot he could take immediatly and set a schedule for soaking. Zepp wanted to wait for the slovenian guy to get down from C1 because according to him, he too had frozen fingers. Lhakpa came down from C2 late at night (he was preparing the body for extraction the next day), and said the slovenian was ok. In any case, Xavi having not been able to locate the shot in other camps, we advised, and eventually convinced Zepp that he needed to fly out back to Germany as soon as possible.
Another Slovenian and German, friends of Zepp, were in camp and didn´t climb, but were also in chock. Seemed like they couldn´t organize themselves, so I took up the task of organizing them, setting up a schedule and pretty much telling them what to do, in terms of getting ready for the extraction the next day.
After some tentative talk with Zepp, I finally understood that it was Christopher who had perished in the mountains, and whom I had seen taking pictures that morning. He had a heart attack right after leaving C2, in the exposed snow ridges.
I tried eating with the Spaniards for dinner but myself and the two Spanish guides had to keep leaving to go check on Zepp, soak his fingers, dry them, put gloves on, feed him… we then got up at midnight and six as well to go on with this procedure. I was only after breakfast when there was a lot more people willing to look after Zepp, that I finally had a chance to sit down and eat something. Shortly after, the helicopter came to pick up Christopher´s body.
It landed right in the middle of camp, and while the rescuer got ready I noticed a familiar face: it was Freddie Wilkinson taking shots. I think he mistook me with some friend and we striked a short conversation, he was doing a piece on rescues in the Himalaya. Anyways, the helicopter lifted up with the rescuer hanging from the cable, and about 20 minutes later, came back with the body. We thought Zepp was going to be taken in the same helicopter and were all there, and unfortunately Zepp watched it all from very close, the body being brought, wrapped and put into the aircraft to be taken to Lukla. This was a really hard moment on everyone, especially the Germans and Slovenians. One of the spanish boys was pretty shaken too, having never seen death in a mountain so close. After everything that happened this year and especially in Peru I thought I´d hold up well but I too, couldn´t help and cried my eyes out. As much of this as one may sees in the mountains, it never gets any easier. They loaded it up with bags as well, so Zepp had to wait until it came back to pick him and the accompanying german up.
|Drying out equipment on of the last days on base camp.|
So after the extractions were over, Dani, Alfonso and I went for a stroll around base camp for the millionth time, checking out the fancy two-room tents from other camps, the new people arriving, and so on. The next day the boys went down to Namche, I wanted to wait for the Slovenian in case he did have frozen fingers, to repeat the procedure and sent him out in helicopter, as well as giving my knee a break (it was hurting a lot), so opted to stay another rest day. The Slovenian came down fine from C1, so no need for a rescue. I did have time to take my first shower in 19 days though. Román´s group left early for Namche as well, and Xavi´s group went to C1, so things were pretty quiet. At dinner we had chicken sizzler, beer, wine and even chocolate cake to celebrate.
The next day I went down to Namche, and the other day to Lukla, where I waited for a full day for my bag to arrive on the yaks. I cruised the main street about 500 times, watched some other 500 landings and take offs in the airport, and just watched life pass by.
|The Korean ropes used as fixed lines. Look more like clothes lines to me.|
Looking over the airport fence there, I had a hard time understanding everything that had happened. I had arrived there over 20 days earlier with no certainties about anything, but many doubts and questions after such an intense season in Peru. I had no idea what would happen in the coming weeks, but I was finally happy to be there, 3 weeks later, with such a positive outcome. I had overcome important psychological limits, broken some personal records, and climbed some two very nice mountains pretty much in the manner I like climbing (except for the fixed ropes on Ama Dablam, but since I was on my own, it was either that or no climbing). Aside from that, I met some incredible people whom I know I will be friends with for life. I had negative experiences as well, with a huge disappointment as to how “climbing” is handled in the Himalayas, with the ability of some rich and non sense people to pollute the mountain, with companies that explore and promote this type of tourism, and overall with the dynamics of a business that I can´t help but see as immoral, unethical and irresponsible.
Negativeness aside, I start to understand things a bit more everyday, and maybe in a few months it will be crystal clear in my head how close I was to 7000 m in such a demanding route. The challenge here is, having fixed ropes, all physical, since it is steep all the time and you hardly ever get a break. Being it such an aesthetic and technical mountain, having fixed ropes takes away the challenge of the actual climbing process: route finding, anchoring, strategy… so it seems that the conquest isn´t wholesome, somehow. But that´s my point of view, and how I feel it. In any case, this mountain that hugs its base camp has taught me some very important things, and has given me as a gift some very special people. The more I climb the more I have the impression that the most amazing people we meet we do so in the mountains, maybe because in that environment, we´re bare of everything. We are what we really are, and are at our purest.
|Perfect partners. You guys were awesome!|
THANK YOUS, GRACIAS, DANIEBAG
Altamontanha.com for space and recognition.
Friends and family for the emotional support.
Our sirdar Raj, who dropped me in base camp but throughout the entire trek made everything possible and impossible to makes as comfortable and chilled as can be.
Thanks to R. for the partnership on Island Peak, and on the whole trek.
Finally, many thanks to Dani and Alfonso, my partners on Ama Dablam and inseparable friends during our last days in Kathmandu. The way mountains bring together like minded and like spirited people keeps amazing me everyday. And as they say it of three people that get along super well “vaya tres patas pa un banco!”