The South West ridge of Ama Dablam is a Himalayan classic and involves some steep, exciting climbing one of the worlds most beautiful mountains. “A near perfect climb on a near perfect mountain”, was how American Sue Giller described her ascent of the SW ridge in 1982. This route was the line of the mountains first ascent in
1961 by Ward (UK), Bishop (US) and Gill (NZ). The expedition was led by Ed Hillary who had earlier declared it “unclimbable”, later modifying this to “fantastically difficult”! Today, with fixed rope in place, it is considered a much more reasonable proposition and has become a popular mountaineering route.
The mountain is well named. Ama Dablam means Mother’s Charm Box. Ama (mother) refers to the two great ridges above base camp, they are like the enfolding arms of a mother. A Dablam is a pendant worn by Sherpa women that contains pictures of the Buddhist gods – this refers to the huge hanging serac high on the West Face. Our route is essentially the ‘mothers’ left arm.
Base Camp (4450m) to Camp 1 (5700m)
This is quite a long walk and may take five to six hours on the first journey. This is likely to reduce considerably with improved acclimatisation. Unusually there is no glacier approach and you can walk in trainers along pleasant grassy ridges that curve around behind the SW ridge. As you gain height superb views open up to the whole of the Western Himalaya, most notably Cho Oyu (8201m), Numbur (6859m) and Taweche (6367m). Just before reaching camp 1 we cross a granite boulder field and scramble easily up some huge boiler plate granite slabs.
Camp 1 to Camp 2
Camp 1 is situated at the foot of the SW ridge and so you embark on the climb as soon as you leave camp and clip into the fixed ropes. Initially there is some quite easy traversing of rocky terraces and snowy ledges. Then there are some superb compact granite slabs to cross and these lead into equally enjoyable slabby buttresses to ascend. Just before camp 2 is reached The Yellow Tower must be climbed / jumared and this provides the technical crux of the whole route. The climbing is extremely enjoyable but it is hard work at this altitude. Three to five hours.
Camp 2 to Camp 3 (6400m)
As soon as you leave camp 2 you start gaining height. It’s hard work but the climbing is good and the ascent of The Grey Tower provides the next obstacle. Easy snow and ice then leads to the ‘Mushroom Ridge’, the corniced snow crest that links the mixed SW ridge below with the summit snow fields above. Your ‘composure with exposure’ will be tested here! However the ground is not technically difficult, Scottish II, and you will soon reach the broad snow shelves that provide the site of camp 3.
Camp 3 to Ama Dablam Summit (6856m)
The site of camp 3 is quite cold, high and exposed and you are unlikely to have a great night’s sleep! As we are now essentially on the West Face the sun does not arrive until around 9.30am. We will probably set off from the high camp at around 7.30am and be aiming to reach the summit after about 3-4 hours of ascending the fixed ropes up the grade I summit snow fields. There is one short steep section over an icey bulge that provides a welcome contrast in climbing style!
The summit of Ama Dablam is a truly outstanding viewpoint. We would aim to descend as low down the mountain as possible after summiting, ideally camp 1 or if you are going really well, Base Camp!
The Post-monsoon and pre-winter conditions experienced from October into mid- December are usually very fair, dry and stable. Daytime temperatures are pleasantly warm in the valleys (20-30C) whilst cool to very cold (especially with wind chill) high on Ama Dablam. Night-time temperatures are cold to very cold (possibly as low as minus 25C)