Between April 22 and May 7 Philippe Gatta and Jean-Marc Wojcik have climbed the Southwest Ridge of Ama Dablam (6 856 m / 22,493 ft). They have been very quick; only 16 days round trip from Katmandu. They were only two, climbing without Sherpas. They carried out all they gear from / to the base camp and at the end of the expedition they took down all their rubbish leaving nothing in the high camps.
They climbed the Southwest Ridge which has been climbed first by Mike Gill, Barry Bishop, Mike Ward and Wally Romanes. Grade: VI 5.9 60°, 1500 m (see detailed description below).
Fixed ropes and anchors: overall the route was rather “clean” up to camp 2; there was one rope under C1 (100m long). Between C1 and C2 there was one rope in the traverses and steep sections (2 ropes in a few cases). There were some pitons, especially in the pitch below the Yellow Tower. Nuts and friends are rather useless in this pitch.
From C2 to the top of the Grey Tower it was a mess, sometimes there were up to 10 ropes, most of them burned out to the core… On the Mushroom ridge it varied; there were some “clean” sections and a few others with some ropes. Overall it depends on the glacier moves which probably break the ropes and anchors every year.
Above it varied again; around the rocky sections it was a mess with many ropes for a few meters. In the ice pitches there was one rope at most which probably doesn’t last for long.
Overall, the mountain was in dry condition. The upper part (above 6300 m) was in blue ice. The route was dry when they went up to the camp 2 but the snow falls after that has covered the whole mountain, making the climbing of rocky sections painful. The snow didn’t stick to the upper icy slopes, except the last 200m where Philippe had to break the trail.
As often in spring, there were very few climbers; Jean-Marc and Philippe, 6 Russians and 3 French along with 3 Nepalese.
The expedition starts with a short flight from Katmandu to the village of Lukla at 2850 m. Then the trekking starts at Lukla up to the Ama Dablam
This great trekking goes up and passes the villages of Phakding, Monjo, Namche Bazaar, Sanasa, Tengboche and Pangboche. The trekking takes at least four days to allow a good acclimatization. The base camp is at the bottom of the South face at 4 600 m / 15,090 ft in a grassy and pleasant area. This spring there were only 7 tents there.
Thursday April 22th: Katmandu
Philippe and Jean-Marc arrived at Katmandu. In the afternoon they finalized the trip and bought some food.
Friday April 23rd: Katmandu - Lukla - Monjo
Philippe and Jean-Marc took the plane to Lukla this night and walked up to Monjo at 2850 m. There are very few people and no yaks (that's good news since the yaks makes the trek VERY dusty). Weather is nice with some wind. In a few days they will reach the Ama Dablam base camp at 4600 m via the known Sherpa capital Namche Bazaar.
Walk: 3h05. +515m (440m/h) / -530m (460m/h).
Altitudes between 2 496 m and 2 795 m.
Today, Philippe and Jean-Marc arrived in Namche Bazaar (3450 m) after only 2 hours of trekking. So they walked up to Khumjung (3860 m) to see Ama Dablam for the first time before heading back to Namche to spend the night. Even though it has been snowing this night the route they will climb looks dry. Like yesterday, it is a strong south-west wind and cloudy.
Walk: 3h10. +1120m (550m/h) / -545m (670m/h).
Altitudes between 2 738 m and 3 746 m.
They arrived at Tengboche after 3 hours trekking from Namche. The weather was great in the morning with clouds coming in during the afternoon. There is a huge cloud and strong winds over Everest that is visible from Tengboche, but Ama Dablam has a clear sky with the summit visible. During the coming days it will be an ok weather but a lot of snow coming down the days just before the planned summit day... Tomorrow they will try to go up to base camp and bring up equipment higher up the following day. They are in great shape with an O2 saturation of 92%!
Walk: 2h55. +800m (480m/h, 600 in the last climb) / -380m (640m/h).
Altitudes between 3 245 m and 3 788 m.
Monday April 26th: Tengboche - Ama Dablam BC (15,090ft)
Philippe and Jean-Marc went into "radio silence", but just before he sent an SMS saying that they were at 4300m on their way to basecamp (4600m). The only ones on the mountain are 6 Russians that are already in camp 2, 3 french and 3 sherpas.
Walk: 2h50. +903m (470m/h) / -222m (610m/h).
Altitudes between 3 721 m and 4 600 m.
Tuesday April 27th: BC (15,090ft) - Camp 1 (18,865ft)
SMS from C1 : we were supposed to take a day off to acclimatize today before going to C1, but as bad weather is expected, we changed our schedule and proceed with our load carry. We went up to C1 today with 25kg packs. We decided to sleep at C1 and go back to the BC tomorrow to rest during the period of bad weather. Unfortunately we went from 3 850 m to 5 750 m in only 2 days and we're exhausted. I had a O2 saturation of 60% and Jean-Marc a bit more. I didn't eat at all. It improved a bit during the night tough. Anyway it was good to do this load carry before the storm.
A Russian team reached the summit late in the afternoon.
Walk: 5h40. +1230m (320m/h) / -77m (280m/h).
Altitudes between 4 600 m and 5 756 m. Pack +25kg.
Wednesday April 28th: Camp 1 (18,865ft) - BC (15,090ft)
5h30 the sun rises and ends this long and painful night. I don’t know why I had a terrible pain in the back all night long. My O2 saturation is now at 75% but Jean-Marc’s is still below 60%. We take a quick breakfast made of noodles and biscuits. We put the food, gas and climbing gear inside the tent. We take the tent down and put some rocks on top to protect it from the wind and snow, then we slowly start our descent.
At 5000 m we see a part of the Russian team taking their BC down and leaving. We continue and reach the BC in 2 hours with the feeling that BC and C1 are very far away.
In the afternoon the clouds are back and at 4pm it snows with thunderstorms.
Thierry and Suman quit their expedition, they went up to 6250 m where they saw two Russians stuck at C3 for 4 days.
SMS from CB: Yesterday it was snowing down to 4300 m and we have our first rest day since Katmandu in base camp. If the weather doesn't become worse, the 30th we are going up to C1 (5750 m), the 1st up to C2 (6000 m) that is a rocky part of the route, the 2nd we go from C2–summit–C2 that will be mixed until 6200 m with ice above. The 3rd we go back to base camp.
Yesterday the Russian couple who was at camp 3 for more 4 days called for help. Some of their friends went up. This morning they all were back at the base camp and the couple has been evacuated by helicopter to Katmandu.
Friday April 30th: BC (15,090 ft) - Camp 1 (18,865 ft)
SMS from C1: We have arrived to C1, felt as long as the first time with 1150m+. The weather is pretty nice since we are just above the clouds, it's beautiful. We have had some equipment stolen: half of our food, gas and thermos. Tomorrow we continue up to C2 (6000m), still with a 25kg heavy ruck-sac. There is no-one here but 2 other climbers a little higher up. The last 500m of the route have "blue ice". Let's see... We are both well!
Walk: 4h00. +1190m (390m/h) / -62m (380m/h).
Altitudes between 4 600 m and 5 750 m.
SMS from C2: This morning they arrived to C2 at 6000 m. The route up to C2 is on perfect granite, technical sometimes and carrying a heavy ruck-sac made it slightly difficult. Weather is perfect and even warm with no wind at 6000 m. If it holds, tomorrow they will aim for the summit going up light since they will go back to C2, skipping C3. They plan to get up at 4am and leave at 5am.
The two Russians are at camp 3.
Climb: 2h50. +315m (210m/h) / -75m (190m/h).
Altitudes between 5 750 m and 6 000 m. Rucksac +25kg.
O2 saturation: 75%. Heart beat max: 157bpm. Vo2: 53ml/kg/min.
SMS from C2: Here are the news: it was snowing the whole night and it keeps snowing. There are small avalanches and the snow covers the whole route. The choice is simple; we can neither go up, nor down. As some of our food has been stolen we cannot wait here for more than 2 days. If the weather improves, we go for the summit tomorrow, otherwise the expedition is over. I took an old piece of rope yesterday. Added up to our rope, we have 100m, enough to rappel down from the summit 50m by 50m.
The route doesn’t look better below C2 either. When I see the slabs below us full of snow, I am not in a hurry to climb down with 25kg on the back.
Anyway, this C2 (6000 m) is on a small shelf of 10 x 3m. We can't put up the tents correctly so we sleep 1 person / tent. On each side there is a 600m and 800m vertical drop, nice view and good reception for my mobile to receive SMS :-)
At 4pm we can see the two Russians reaching the summits between snow showers. That’s the first summit this season.
SMS from C2: Jean-Marc and Philippe left the C2 at 6:20am. There was a light wind and some clouds but it was not too bad. The fresh snow from the previous days made the climb up to the top of the grey tower slow and demanding. The route condition on the mushroom ridge was a bit better but the wind was blowing. They met at this point the two Russians on their way down. Jean-Marc and Philippe arrived at the location of the camp 3 at 6300 m at 11:15am. Jean-Marc decided to turn around and Philippe continued alone. The climb up to the Dablam (serac) was in grey ice. The section to the right, to avoid the serac, was exhausting: deep snow and some crevasses. Above, the fresh snow was deeper and Philippe had to break the trail up to the top. The weather deteriorated; clouds, snow, wind and a windchill of -26°C. Philippe reached the top in poor visibility at 3:15pm, making the 3rd ascent this year, using the ropes fixed by the Sherpas and the Russians the previous day. He started the descent less than 10 minutes later and arrived at C2 at 7pm. Jean-Marc safely reached the C2 several hours before.
Climb: 12h30. +1270m (240m/h) / -1270m (500m/h).
Altitudes between 6 000 m and 6 856 m.
O2 saturation: 73%. Heart beat max: 151bpm.
Philippe and Jean-Marc took a plane in the morning from Lukla to Katmandu in not so good weather conditions. The atmosphere in Katmandu was very tense after 6 days of general strike initiated by the Maoists. Everything is closed down, the population, the military and the police are in the streets where they can feel the tension. The taxi driver was scared and recommended them to not get out of their hotel. Fortunately they found a flight for France the same day. That’s the third time that Philippe leaves Nepal under these circumstances…
Leave the base camp (4 650 m / 15,255 ft) and follow the grassy moraines toward the South-East. Join a broad saddle at around 5 100 m / 16,732 ft and continue the climb toward the Southwest ridge till the bottom of the large boulders at 5 400 m / 17,716 ft. This is the location of the advanced base camp. Climb the large boulders and the following slabs toward the North to reach the camp 1 at 5 700 m / 18,700 ft.
From the camp 1 continue the climb staying below the ridge on the East-Southeast face. There a spot for an alternate camp close to the two rock fingers. After this first section of snow or easy rock, follows steppers steps and slabs. Traverse to the right to the first 5.6 pitch. Join the ridge which is very exposed on both sides. Follow the ridge in mixed terrain to the right to the bottom of the yellow tower. Climb the yellow tower, 5.9 up to the ridge. Traverse to the right to the exposed location of the camp 2, 6 000 m / 19,685 ft.
From the camp 2, continue on the ridge very exposed to reach the bottom of rock buttress. Go to the right and climb a few pitches of very steep mixed ground. Join the bottom of the gray tower, go the left of the tower (West face) and climb a gully up to the top of the tower and the mushroom ridge. Climb the mushroom ridge; horizontal and short step sections (60°-70°) up to the flat area of the camp 3 at around 6 300 m / 20,670 ft.
From the camp 3 climb the steep ice slope on the right of the serac (Dablam). On the top of the serac, go to the left and climb the snow slope and ice flute toward the summit (40°-60°).
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