“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the mountains, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it”
I have been looking forward to this trip for about 2 years now, and then finally, after all the days of training and preparation, I am standing in front of the mountain I have always been dreaming of.
It is early October 2013, and I am wandering outside in Pangboche, looking at the cloudy giant we are going to climb in a few days: Ama Dablam. I am absolutely blessed to be here, but at the same time terrified and wondering how the hell you can climb this thing.
The adventure started a week or so earlier, in Kathmandu: capital of Nepal and our home-base before and after the expedition.
I just flew in from Delhi and touched base somewhere in the morning. As always, everybody is standing almost ON the carrousel to retrieve their bags. I am on the lookout for a big red duffel, and crossing my fingers it made it to the freight-room of our plane.
Yes ! Success, all intact and ready to go. My driver picks me up and brings me to the hotel. Off course he had some distant relatives in Antwerp. Nothing much else to talk about. After 30min. in the organized traffic of KTM, I arrive at Hotel Tibet, and more important: I am meeting Chris again and my other team-mates ! I present you the core team:
– Lakpa, our lead climbing Sherpa (Nepal)
– Chris, 8000m lady and good friend I met on Denali (AUS – NZ)
– Candace, Chris’ friend and able to hack every ATM if she wanted (CAN – AUS)
Hashtag: what a team !
Not much time to fool around, because my gear needed to be checked, organize personal loads and most important: eating and sleeping. My shower and toilet visit in the evening was a last goodbye to civilization, because things were only getting rougher from now on. Starting with my (not so) favorite part: flight to Lukla: the n°1 most dangerous airstrip in the world. I have done this before (cfr. Island Peak 2011), but it will always be frightening. I see a woman squeezing her husband’s leg when the pilot puts the nose down and prepares for landing. The flight is really bumpy, even for Lukla standards, but we all made it.
The following few weeks we will trek 12 days to Ama Dablam basecamp, including a climb on Kalapathar (5550m), rotations to camp I & II followed by the summit push somewhere early November.
Oh yes, there was 1 uninvited guest: Cyclone Phaillin, who will shape the fortune of us all on this expedition.
Our first big stop was Namche Bazar, at 3440m, capital of the Sherpa people. And there was something I have never seen there before: rain. Pouring down. My shorts were quickly replaced by softshell pants and goretex jacket. I even bought an umbrella and new shoes. At that time, I thought it wouldn’t last long, so we took shelter at Café 8848: with hot chocolate and pasta arrabiata. Heaven. Like on every expedition in the Khumbu region, Everest en Lhotse included, Namche is an important stop to acclimatize. Get some rest and let your body get used to the elevation gain. What I was hoping that would last a few hours: it rained non-stop for the next 72 hours. We even had to stay an extra day in Namche. Never seen this before in years. Rumours got confirmed that it snowed 1,5m at Ama Dablam basecamp. For the records, this is supposed to be dry-season. And it all because of cyclone Pailin. Nothing to worry about at this point, since we have 3 weeks left to climb Ama Dablam.
After 4 days we are moving again: we are heading to Debuche at 3900m. Finally, we have our first views of Everest, Lhotse and our lady Ama Dablam. The mountain is so impressive, I am not sure we can get up this thing without getting really scared. The closer we get, the bigger it looks. Chris and Candace almost lose their pants underway to an Australian footballplayer, I have no clue who he is, but he looks famous. We stop at Tengboche for chocolate cake. Lakpa is having red chillies for breakfast, crazy. We get blessed by the Lama in Pangboche. A very special moment. The spirits it the team are very high and we a lot of fun the next day on our way to Dingboche at 4300m. There is LOT of snow. We continue the rest of the trek in our big double boots and trek to 5000m to acclimatize. We are staying here for the next 2 nights.
We carry on to Lobuche at 4950m. I salute fallen comrade Scot Fisher on the way. I see a Paris Hilton look-a-like in jeans on trainers, walking her dog. Yep, that really happened. We are eating cheeseballs and ketchup in the Eco Lodge. Chris is teaching me how to count to five in Nepali: ek, duy, tin, char, paach….got it ! We continue our trip and climb Kalapathar at 5550m. We have the best views on Nuptse and Everest. Ama Dablam is in the distance. We have a quick sleep in Gorak Shep. We are on schedule and prepare for the trek to Ama Dablam basecamp.
To be continued…