Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Summit of Ama Dablam (6856m)

(photos not currently working but will be uploaded shortly, check @bonitanorris on twitter for pics in the mean time...)

Having had a few days back in the UK i've finally had some time to digest what has been an incredible expedition to Ama Dabla, which was kindly sponsored and supported by Karrimor and Tag Heuer, and a trip that has never made me feel so alive and so grateful to be a mountaineer.

Ama Dablam is truly the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen, and being face to face with it- climbing that perfect Granite, was just WOW.

The trip didn't really start off this way however!

After long delays in Kathmandu nerves were building, by the time myself and my team (emma, rosamond and tim) had made it into the Khumbu and were spying Ama we were absolutely terrified- looking at it, you'd think it was almost impossible to climb.

I said to myself again and again: "this will be the last, no more expeditions, just finish this and then get a normal job which has a higher chance of survival"

It made me feel better to think that I would never have to endure the suffering that was about to unfold again. I KNEW what was coming, i think that was the problem.

We finally made it to base camp and Ama loomed over us- at night it's white flanks were illuminated in the moon light and the stars shone about it. It was always there. Even lying in my tent at night i was aware of its presence and was thinking: "will this be the one where my luck runs out?"

The route takes a never ending rocky ridge line up the the summit fields- where the angle is steep to the point of needing to front point on your crampons. The hanging glacier (dablam) sits precariously to the left, and the final top out is a straight push up steep ice and snow. The summit is crevassed and will one day collapse. The entire route is fixed with anchors which in the UK i wouldn't dream of using as protection- the mushroom ridge for instance, boasting stakes wobbling like jelly in loose, sugary snow.

The day before the summit push i had a wash at basecamp, i emptied out the bowl of dirty water, turned around and saw a familiar face: "lakpa?" it was lakpa Wongchu! The climbing sherpa who had been with me on Everest summit day, without his help would i be here today? Not sure. I owe him and others my life. We hugged, and then i duly burst into sobs of tears. Nice.

This trip had made me realise just how much that day still haunts me- more than anything i wanted to climb this mountain to prove to Lakpa and to the people who helped me that day that i was capable of descending without getting injured. It's a vulgar word but this mountain for me was about 'closure'... putting an end to the demons that have haunted me ever since the 17th May 2010.

The real climbing on the mountain starts after camp 1. When it comes to expeditions i am very anal- if we say we're leaving at 8am i am walking out of camp at one second past 8. Luckily, Lakpa Wongchu was also ready and thus we had a great head start on the way up to camp 3- nobody in front of us for the entire route, no waiting around at anchors. Just the two of us climbing in unison and moving quickly over the terrain that Lakpa new so well.

I said to Lakpa that if he took lots of photos he could have my cannon 500D, which he happily agreed to- so all these photos are his, and he did an awesome job.

The climbing from camp 1 to 3 is great fun- lots of rock, the most perfect granite i have ever seen and if this mountain was at sea level it would have some fantastic climbing routes on it in the VS to HVS range.

The route follows the jagged ridge line up to the bottom of the summit pyramid. Theres lots of traversing, short pitches of climbing and also the infamous yellow tower (HVS rock climb) and grey tower (scottish grade III gulley)both were exhilirating- especially the top of the yellow tower where you are presented with an overhang- i threw my hand over the top, found a hold and just hauled my body over onto the platform, thousands of feet of air and cloud beneath me- just wow.

The grey tower was more exhausting- by this point we had put on crampons and whilst this had its benefits it also made my intuition when trying to climb a little confused- anyway, i scratched my way up and used the jumar to ascend when i had the energy- though generally wherever possible on the mountain i tried to use my hands and feet to get higher- jumaring reguires far too much brute strength and i find that after 2 or 3 (sometimes 1) pull on it and i am gasping for breath- plus it aggravates my back, so i climbed as much as possible, using the jumar as a safety and anchor for resting on route- which is nice!

Throughout the trip i was using a karrimor X-Lite rucsac which was perfect for this terrain- the lightest pack i have ever used and very slim so that it didn't get in the way of the climbing. I was also wearing a Karrimor baselayer (pink) which is quite a novel colour in the hills!

Finally made camp 3 and the morning dawned on summit day- we decided to leave at 8, and so we were- bang on. Lakpa and I moving at our steady pace, soon we were ahead and had nobody infront of us all the way to the summit- looking up, the mountain was all ours.

The climbing in the early hours was tough, the altitude (now above 6000m) was beginning to bite, and the blinding exhaustion as lactic acid builds up in your body after a few moments of effort started to become the norm. it was also very cold- but i had my headphones on (playing chase and status, naturally) and could see the halo of the sun up above me, I could also see the golden tint to the snow up ahead which signalled warmth- it drove me on, and i climbed as fast as i could until i was bathed in that beautiful sunlight.

At around 10am i got a call over the radio, Lakpa passed it to me. it was Henry from BC, he said: "Bonita, you're about to pass a dead body. Please remember that there's nothing you can do- the soul has gone. Stay calm and go past it, just stay calm. I'm here if you need me."

I could see him up ahead, on the route, tied into the fixed lines. He had died 48 hours previously. All i could think was: his family. And then: 'i want to speak to my dad. I can't do this until i've spoken to him.'

Lakpa, patted my back and signalled for us to carry on. When we got above him at an anchor we both said a prayer and poured water into the snow as an offering. Then we carried onto the summit, i couldn't stop crying.

Finally, we made it- Lakpa and I stook on the top of Ama Dablam at 11.45 on the 17th November 2011. We had made it 3.45minutes out of camp 3- a great effort, but in the back of my mind i was already thinking about the descent- we were halfway.

First of all we sat and ate chocolate, then stood up on the big, flat plateau that is the summit and took photos of each other. I put on my karrimor down jacket to keep warm whilst we weren't moving so much.

When we sat down again we were looking at Everest. I said to Lakpa: "you saved my life over there, i know that" He didn't look me in the eye, but nodded. It was closure, finally- exactly 18 months to the day since it had happened.

We descended back to camp by abseiling and arm wrapping in around 2 hours, and the next day back to base camp.

I came into base camp ahead of the others for no other reason than that i wanted to walk alone. When i arrived in the evening twilight Pasang Tempa grabbed me by the bum and lifted me in the air! Henry said to me: "Bonita, you've done a 360- the difference between this and Everest is a 360, well done"

That night i got into my tent and laid down on (wait for it) a thin tent mattress, karrimat and a thermarest- it was THE most comfortable bed i have ever lain on and as i sunk into it all the stresses and worries and doubts that you take with you on the mountain melted away. I was blissfully happy. it was a perfect ascent and i had Lakpa and Henry to thank for it. I thought about the man we had passed, said a prayer and then thanked God that i was still alive.

As we flew back to Kathmandu a few days later from Lukla I surveyed the Khumbu from above- this little known part of the world has become by chance the most important of places in my little life. I know i will visit again, many, many times.

I thought as we flew away from the Himalayas and back to the city- this trip, this mountain, this country- taking the risk, knowing that i could fail utterly- but getting to climb with Lakpa and thank him for what he did as we looked across at Everest from the summit of Ama Dablam- the whole experience has simply bought me back to life.

I'm ready and psyched for the future, my love affair with the hills has been re-ignited and I can't wait to take on more challenges in the mountains in the years ahead.

Taking the risk on Ama bought me from the dark back into the light. Never give up on what you love. There will be good times as well as bad- and both are needed to truly live.

It begins again in the spring! Lhotse is calling.

Standing by for now...


Thank you to Henry, Lakpa Wongchu, Jabu, Dorje, Pasang Temba, Kumar, Kame, Emma Tim and Rosamond for this incredible trip, one which I will never forget.

Thank you to Karrimor for supporting this expedition and for providing kit which i wore throughout.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Base Camp

After delay upon delay due to bad weather over Lukla, my team and I (Emma, Tim and Rosmund) decide to charter a helicopter from Katmandu to a lower village in the Khumba. Reports are 300+ trekkers and climbers stranded at both ends due to the stagnant cloud, meaning that domestic flights are grounded. Today (9th) flights have finally resumed. We, the lucky ones, are now at our base camp at the foot of Ama Dablam (6812m). It's a spectacular mountain- absolutely beautiful. Base camp is at 4600m and we're all feeling great. It's fairly cold- I'm wearing my karrimor down jacket, especially in the evenings. The sun disappears behind the mountains and a chill settles- the clouds fall and the moon rises over Ama Dablams left shoulder.

We've seen shooting stars and the Scorpio constellation (my birth sign) dominated the night sky. The days- we have high pressure so brilliant blue skies and little wind. The sun rises and finally tips over the peaks at about 8am and the air temperature rises rapidly. Last night, the first in my tent at BC, was particularly cold and despite my minus 40 sleeping bag I was kept awake by the night time freeze.

Today we had our Puja and went through kit for the hill. Things will start to move fast from now so I won't have a chance to write again. I'm feeling strong- no coughs, colds or injuries yet and no headaches or altitude related problems so I'm optimistic about going higher. The route looks very cool, and nothing like I've seen before on Everest or Manaslu- so a whole new challenge awaits.

Standing by for now