Around 9 a.m., in the wind and freezing cold, Cory, Chhewang and I stood on top of Ama Dablam at 22,348 feet. The sun was just cresting the summit and the wind made it feel frigid and inhospitable. Around us, we could see amazing views of Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and many other beautiful Himalayan peaks.
We had left Camp 2 at 3 a.m., and headed up through the first rock climbing section, the Grey Tower. The rock was mixed with snow, and at places was really loose, so we had to ensure we weren’t too close to one another. After a few hours of climbing through that gully, we crested Camp 3. The sun was lighting the surrounding mountains, but only casting a cold shadow on Ama Dablam. We stopped only long enough to switch gloves, add our Peak XV Down Jackets and keep moving.
My hands were so cold on the fixed lines that I could only take a few steps and then I would have to stop to swing my arms to warm them up again. It was very slow going, but then, we were above 21,000 feet.
As I took the last few steps to the summit, it occurred to me that this had been an enormous challenge. The climbing was much steeper than almost any point on Everest, and certainly more exposed. I kept thinking that mountains don’t care what other mountains you have climbed, and today, that was certainly the truth.
It took us 6 very cold hours of climbing to reach the top, and the descent was steep (and it really wasn’t warming up too much). We all agreed to descend slowly and watch out for one another, as good climbing partners do. Chhewang and Cory were both feeling really strong, as was I, but we all know that strength is only part of the equation—there is always chance.
After a few hours we were safely back at Camp 2, and we all agreed that base camp sounded rather nice. After a quick cup of tea, we packed all our things and continued the descent, through a series of rappels and tricky traverses (especially while tired). At last light, about 7 o’clock, Cory and I stumbled into base camp, welcomed by Chhewang and a yak steak (which might just as well have been sushi, because it wasn’t ramen noodles).
The satisfaction of a summit is little in comparison to the satisfaction of a safe return. Cory and I both thanked Ama Dablam, and I cannot describe how much it felt as though we were talking to a friend…Thank you for letting us pass safely and thank you for giving us the gift of an experience that we aren’t even fully aware of.
One my Sherpa friends, Ang Tshering, said to me that I am very lucky: the mountains are kind to me. I reflect on that now, and I hope that I am always able to return that kindness, for in my life, the mountains are my teachers, my friends and my home.
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