Posted on: October 29, 2015
First Alpine Style Ascent South East Ridge Ama Dablam, 6856 meters.
Also called the « Lagunak Ridge » of Ama Dablam
Nepal, Khumbu Himal
05th – 29th October 2015
Summit Ama Dablam on 25th October 2015 at 10.20 a.m.
Seb comes back on their climb:
" Initially we wanted to climb Pumori West Face, but then the earthquake struck, destroying houses and killing more than 9,000 people in Nepal.
We didn’t know what to do, whether we should go, not go, or go somewhere else..
We looked for a while at Kangchenjuga an area less afftected by the earthquake, but the group couldn’t agree on a common objective.
After much discussion, we finally decided to repeat the French Route on the North Face of Kwangde Shar above Thame village. Easy access, easy way out and excellent steep technical mix climbing.
But 3 days before our international flight to Kathmandu, we heard from some friends on another expedition that our route would probably be unclimbable due to generally very dry conditions in that part of the Himalayas.
Before our arrival, there was almost 3 weeks of sunshine and warm weather and it probably dried out our route that should have been mainly covered with ice and snow on slabs.
So we had to move fast and we went for the suggestion of Tomas Jakofcic, a route he tried Alpine Style a few years ago with his wife Tina but had to bail off due to bad weather.
The South East ridge of Ama Dablam, a superb line between the Normal route and the East ridge. It’s a 1250 meter high line offering various terrains including rock and mixed climbing, snow, ice flutes, and mushrooms. A perfect meal for us !
Our expedition team consisted of 4 members, two men and two women. All of us don’t have much experience in expeditions, and the reason of doing this all together was to build experience for later go on more adventurous projects above 7000 meters in the Hymalayas.
Damien Tomasi, French, 29, UIAGM Mountain Guide at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix
A strong climber, with an extensive list of hard climbs in the Alps, including Gousseault Demaison NF Grandes Jorasses, NF les Droites, Pilier du Freney, Brown Patey and he’s also climbed in Alaska and Patagonia…
Fanny Schmutz, 28, French, Aspirant Guide at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, an experienced climber and alpinist who has been to Patagonia and Peru.
Fleur Fouque 29, French, Aspirant Guide at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, also a very experienced climber and alpinist, who’s been to Peru and Pakistan.
And myself, Sébastien Rougegré, French, 35, UIAGM Mountain Guide, ski instructor, owner and Director at Chamonix Experience Guides (chamex.com), with little experience on expeditions, (Patagonia, Everest, Peru, North Pole) and some hard climbs in the Alps including North Face of Les Droites, North Face of Grandes Jorasses, Integrale de Peuterey, Drus.
As I was the eldest, it was decided that my name would be written as the expedition Leader. But this was irrelevant to us as we were here in Nepal all as friends and equal climbers.
But the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism expect us to have some sort of formal leader.
On the ground, each member acted and climbed as a leader and there was no difference between us.
The Ama Dablam is A 4 – 5 day TREK from Lukla Airport.
After reaching Pangboche in Khumbu valley at 3900 meters, we met with some friends, Helias and Benjamin Guigonnet who were trying to climb Nuptse South Face and Ueli Steck and Colin HALEY were also there to try a pilar on Nupste.
From Pangboche we headed East towards our target Ama Dablam.
We decided to acclimatize in the area of our climb to maximize our chances and observe our route and options.
From our base camp, we started climbing to the Yak camp which is the advanced base camp (ABC) of Ama Dablam normal route.
We decided on a strategy. Stay in the nice lodge at Nima’s at 4600 meters, acclimatise from there with several rotations up on the normal route and in the process, carry loads to the Yak camp.
From the Yak camp, we would head East again and walk for 4 hours to reach our advanced base camp at 5600m.
Few days after our arrival at BC, all our technical gear is stored in duffle bags at the Yak camp ready to go.
Unfortunately my 3 felows are all going to fall sick during the acclimatisation and it is going to be a slow process. But Damien, Fleur and Fanny are super motivated and by the 18th October everybody is ready and keen to go.
Our weather man, Yann, based in Chamonix announces a nice period of good weather with low winds for the 23, 24, 25 and 26th of October.
Decision is made, we are leaving on the 23rd for our ABC
It’s 1.00 a.m when the alarm goes off at ABC, after some light breakfast and some warm tea we decide to set off for our adventure. It is 2.00 a.m when we leave our camp.
We estimate it will take us about 90 minutes to reach the bottom of our climb carrying between 18 to 30 kg bags.
It will actually take much longer as we encounter some grade 4 pitches en route.
We start our real climb at around 5.00 a.m
We all agreed that Fanny and Fleur will lead on the first day then Damien and I will lead the second and potential 3rd day.
Fanny starts leading in the dark on easy rock with occasionnally some grade 4+ pitches. It was still hard with the heavy packs. We are making good progress and it is nice to be climbing after so much trekking !! Fanny is climbing efficiently and it is a great start of our climb.
After several hours of leading on the ridge, Fanny hands over to Fleur who leads the 4 pitch section on the actual ridge. The rock is stunning and we are all enjoying the perfect conditions.
I am amazed how these two girls are acting so strongly on a remote mountain carrying big bags and climbing at very good pace. They probably carry around 15kgs on their back and they only weight about 55kgs. Proportionnally I am thinking this is much harder for them.
Damien and I took as much as we could but still they are carrying a lot.
At 3p.m, Damien takes the lead to do a harder pitch grade 5/V and finish with two pitches on mushrooms. This snow terrain brings us to the bottom of a steep mixed ice and rock section that we called from the bottom the « dry tooling section ».
We knew from Tomaz back in ’03 , that there should be an ice cave at this altitude, an ideal place to set a bivy.
Unfortunately we never found this cave, and we believe it has melted and that the face is much dryer now
We find a patch of snow where we manage to dig half a platform and we can sort of erect one tent.
Fanny and Damien will spend the night there.
For myself and Fleur the night is going to be a nightmare, as there is no other option OTHER than to rest on awful unstable rocks on a tiny ledge.
To make things more difficult, as darkness falls, it starts to snow…
Luckily the snow fall stopped after an hour and there’s only a dusting of snow amounting to a few inches.
The night was long and not really restful.
In the morning Damien stepped out of his tent to get some snow and boil water, and he sees Fanny sliding with the tent down the snow ledge. He only has time to catch her. She was attached to the belay, but the tent containing all their gear wasn’t !! Tired, Fanny forgot to secure the tent to the mountain the night before.
Ouf !!! Not a good screaming to hear…
Awake at 11 p.m…awake at 11.30 p.m…. 1.00 a.m… I just can’t get comfortable and I would rather be climbing than looking at my watch.
At 3 am I can’t take it any more, I call out for Damien and ask him to get ready so we can start rolling.
It takes us a good hour to pack up and we can’t wait for the sun to come up.
It is super cold and everybody stuggles to start climbing.
Damien takes the lead to climb two tricky pitches in the mixed zone, with bad rock.
I respect him for taking the first lead that morning, I had such a bad night, I think he saw I had almost no sleep.
80 meters above our bivy I take the lead for a good part of the day.
After two scary and awkward traverses on mushrooms and mixed terrain, I belay on bad rock at the bottom of the couloir descending from the final ramp.
This couloir is surrounded by huge mushrooms that we use for anchors and belays with ice screws.
Everybody can feel the altitude, and this 50° slope is challenging with 25cms deep snow.
I keep putting the track in and reach the bottom of the final ramp at 02.30 p.m
Damien and I decide together that I will carry on leading on the first technical pitch of the ramp, a superb 60 meter mixed climb.
I quickly lead the first pitch of 60 meters, putting in good anchors and not wasting time so Damien can finish the ramp with day light.
After that mix pitch, Damien takes the lead for an easy traverse left in mixed snow conditions.
Damien finishes with two beautiful pitches on ice flutes traversing, and a section of black ice, and for the « cherry on the cake » a nice 20 meter ice climb with grade 5 for 4 meters of vertical ice.
From there a gentle couloir leads to the ridge on the normal route.
Fanny and Fleur finish the last vertical pitch in the dark with their head torches on. They reach the ridge as the wind starts raising. They have done so well, not an easy day.
Every body is exhausted and we decide to bivy 50 meters above the huge serac of Ama Dablam.
The wind is strong around 50Km/h and it’s getting cold. Our shoes and clothes are wet so we need to get in the shelter of our tent asap.
The team digs two platforms and not with no difficulty we install our two tents which this time we will secure very well with ice axes and snow flakes.
At least on that night we can sleep on a flat surface at 6600 meters
Outside the tents, the wind keeps blowing hard.
Time to melt snow to make water and recover from these two days of challenging climbing.
We wake up in a very cold atmosphere with a lighter wind. Around 30km/h
After making some tea we start getting ready for our last 250 meters of climbing.
Crampons on and with one ice axe each, we reach the top of Ama Dablam after 2 hours of hard work. Our bodies are feeling the altitude and we are paying for our efforts over the previous two days.
But the top is such a reward with some amazing views on the South Face of Lhotse and Nuptse, Everest, Makalu, Chamlang. In the distance we can see Kangchenjuga and the North face of Janu.
It is all very emotional.
We are lucky too as the normal route is deserted that day and we have the summit to ourselves.
The descent on the normal route is long and not particularly nice with all the ropes and mess left by commercial expeditions. It will take us 6 and an half hours to reach our lodge at BC where Nima, the lodge keeper, is waiting for us with a warm meal and a few celebratory drinks !
I am glad we climbed this mountain this year as it was not as crowded as normal due to the earthquake. Not sure I would have fancied seeing 300 climbers which is usual every year on this route."
Sébastien Rougegré UIAGM Mountain Guide
Owner and Director Chamonix Experience