Ama Dablam comes with an extensive packing list; a strong mental game tops the most essential gear as she leaves no space for a wandering mind. Most variables on the mountain are beyond my control yet which direction the voices take is up to me.

Part 2: Ascending, Body and Mind

With endless variables, plans must remain loose in mountaineering; blueprints I tend to say. Our acclimatization started steady and smooth yet had become anything but straightforward or predictable yet I let it be. Beyond my control, I accepted the fact with unusual ease. Occasional utters of disbelief and episodes of emptiness yet, tapping into the truth of existence, transient and ever changing, onward and upward, I hiked back towards Base Camp.

Connecting trails with a massive team of European climbers and their support crew high off their Lobuche summit as we crossed the Imja Khola, I welcomed an unfamiliar calm. Such encounters tend to trigger panic and self doubt yet on this windy November morning, nothing was up for a race. With slow steps and deep thoughts, I found myself engaged in inner dialogue with Dad. Rather than sharing time scrolling through pictures since my last visit, he was now with me. He sees the mountains I climb and will cheer when the inner ones feel too much. I smile.

The following 4 days were spent training mind and body between Ama Dablam Base Camp and Camp 2. Each stage its own mini escapade yet having the Mother’s Necklace all to ourselves equated to scheduled rest, no time pressure, line up for fixed ropes or accommodation obstacles where, in a usual season, traffic is chaotic and real estate at C1 and C2 competitive.

Investing in wifi access at Base Camp was breaking my own rule however getting the play by play back in Northern Ontario helped craft the stories of wonder and keep my wandering mind at ease. With that connection, we were privy to the most reliable weather forecast. With a new weather system, any rest would have to wait. The optimal weather window for a safe summit was tight. Go time.

Our first morning started early with the intention of endeavouring straight to Camp 2. Hours of sleep were low yet motivation was high as I stuffed my final bits of gear by the light of my headlamp before savourving hot coffee and the last of luxurious Base Camp fuel.

Our steps were steady along the moraine ridge towards Yak Camp as dawn began to break . Himals as far as my eye could see felt completely ours alone while the sun began to warm body and spirit. We hiked with lighthearted laughs. Dad cherished silent mornings. He would be smiling.

A few hours in, the pace and jokes flowing, a hydration and snack stop was followed by an inexplicable wall. From a full tank to unfathomably empty. The mountains of my mind began to rival the size of those that surrounded me. Could it be the concoction of sleepless nights and appetite upheaval playing out? I could not speak to the battle; no excuses, no signs of weakness. Simply empty.

Emptiness is hard to hide at 5 500 m. They say crossing the boulder field to get to Camp 1 is dodgy for the fair sighted. My depth perceptions’ nemesis, I prefer to see it as an opportunity yet with my legs hollow and my heart empty, doubt began to layer the talus traverse. Endless.

The final 200 m to Camp 1 are climbed using fixed lines up a scarped rock face. Steep was the self judgement leading to the iconic rock platforms that house C1. This was only to be the first of our 2-part day.

Though I wholeheartedly believe that adversity creates opportunity, my interest in climbing into another chapter of affliction on Ama Dablam was nil. With high hopes that this rest stop would instill my belief in breaks, even just a fiver,  I crawled into our tent and assumed the fetal position.

The tangible product staring down from 6 812 m was every reason to fight the historical demons of forced nutrition yet the calories were not translating to the essential energy required for the technical climb above. Calculating the time and numbers of the weather forecast, we could stay the night and still summit before the forecasted windstorm.

Stormy thoughts were tempting as the night was restless. Thankful for a weather window that opened slightly, we chose a day of rest as the most likely option for a healthy summit. My mind opened up with the decision and, a week on from the phone call, Friday the 13th was a gift.

Though hardly a wink of rest, waking to Camp 1 with the company of only Himalayn crows amidst clear sky was invigorating. Despite questionable energy based on the unfavourable combination of rest and input and the notorious technical route to Camp 2, having the summit looking down on us as we sipped coffee sparked my smile. With no competition for C2 real estate and nothing necessary beyond calorie consumption and sleep before the final summit push, there was no pressure as the air thinned.

Notorious for her beauty and technical features, Ama Dablam leaves no space for a wandering mind. Focus is essential with any deviation carrying potential for critical danger. No dissecting the past, no trips into the future. Though the altitude gain from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is a mere 400 m, nearly every one of those meters includes fixed ropes with short sections of up to 5.8 where climbing is technical and requires roping. Any misstep could be fatal.

The essence of the entire climb is found in the final approach to Camp 2, the notorious Yellow Tower. With strength that has come as a gift of life experience, dismissing its hype and renowned reputation, I smiled with every pull on my jummar seeing the neighbouring himals, any ground far, far below and Vinayak looking down with an encouraging grin from above. How cool was that Dad?

Camp 2 graces more web home pages, magazine centerfolds and coffee table book covers than any prime Hollywood property or idyllic island off the coast of Spain. The revered ridge was vacant.

Attempting to sleep turned into a rhythmic cycle: sit up, sip water, lay down, turn left, turn right, look at watch, sit up and repeat to the sounds of Vinayak sleeping until the clock struck double digits and it was time to spark the stove, convert ice into coffee and attempt a smorgasbord of random rations.

The exposed ridge traverse from Camp 2 toward the Grey Tower is a loose but short multi-pitch, however endeavouring upon the section in the black of night, with views coming from the combined power of 2 headlamps and, otherwise unnoticeable reflective tape on boots, pants, and packs, the scene, unrecognizable. In the darkness, altered voices emerged with doubt as we silently climbed.

Moving along the open traverse leading to Mushroom Ridge and a narrow walk leading towards the former Camp 3 nothing physically hurt. There was gratitude for safety and sunshine as we climbed past the site of historical tragedy. Considering time and location, it was evident why the location would be an ideal rest camp. Atop feelings of fortune and clear, blue Himalayan sky, not my pack, not my boots, only my thoughts were heavy. Darkness hovered.


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  1. Thomas Stevens says:

    Jill has such a unique voice and perspective. This and her other adventures could easily be expanded into a book that would inspire many.