Ama Dablam’s Fall Season Ends With a Close Call

The fall season on Ama Dablam ended a couple of days early. It left sweet or bitter memories, depending on whom you ask. Seven Summit Treks has listed a total of 89 summits. (Some Sherpa staff summited twice.) Now SST prepares to welcome the first winter teams. Tim Mosedale’s group, still trying to squeak in a summit during the last days of their fall permit, finally had to call their climb off due to dangerous conditions in the Grey Couloir.

Last summiters

Sophie Lenaerts and Stef Maginelle of Belgium were likely the last to summit Ama Dablam this fall, topping out on November 26. They only hired base camp logistics and fixed ropes. They coordinated their climb with friends Tom de Caluwe and Francis Coudere, who went up a day ahead of them. The Lenaerts-Maginelle pair used the tent that the others had pitched at Camp 3, then retrieved everything on the way down.

Stef Maginelle (left) and Sophie Lenaerts on the summit of Ama Dablam last Saturday. Photo: 8000 Unlimited

 

Again, sh*t piling up on the route

It was a good call because one thing that Ama Dablam does not need is more trash. Several climbers have noted that the mountain’s growing popularity has inevitably led to more garbage, especially human waste.

“Camp 2 smells like a urinal,” Tunc Findik of Turkey told ExplorersWeb. “The mountain needs a good clean-up.”

Findik summited Ama Dablam for the third time on October 26, with Malgorzata Zielinska from Poland and Ongchhu Sherpa. People were already on the mountain, but these three pushed for the summit before the bigger teams were ready.

“We got there already acclimatized from Island Peak,” said Findik, “so we were able to summit in a single push, on a quiet day without too many people and in the best conditions I’ve ever seen there.”

Previously, Findik summited Ama Dablam completely alone, in the COVID-stricken winter of 2021. “It was not a solo climb, because I used ropes that had been fixed by others, but I was on my own on the summit push,” he said.

Findik’s climb passed unnoticed because he kept a low profile. (He was mainly preparing for Nanga Parbat.) At that time as well, audiences were fully focused on the historic winter K2 climb.

 

Alarm at the Grey Couloir

Last Saturday’s summiters were not only fortunate to reach the summit, but they made it safely down the Grey Couloir, just hours before a bad rockfall swept through, UK guide Tim Mosedale reported today.

The Grey Couloir is a 100m long, 70º section of mixed terrain shortly above Camp 2, according to Jon Gupta in Sidetracked. It leads to the so-called Mushroom Ridge and Camp 3. Read more about this route in ExWeb’s Ama Dablam Climbers’ Guide with Kenton Cool.

On Sunday, Mosedale‘s team left Camp 2 on their summit push well before dawn.

“When they arrived at the bottom of the Grey Couloir, they saw that one of this season’s ropes had been severed,” Mosedale wrote on Facebook. “Pinju [one of the Sherpas] made a tentative attempt to continue climbing using some of last year’s ropes.

“This morning, Pinju Sherpa and Pyla Sherpa went for another recce and saw that actually another of this year’s ropes had been cut and that there’s also significant damage to the older rope,” added Mosedale. “There’s also danger from further rockfall, which is still occurring.”

Mosedale also noted that the Grey Couloir takes a long time to ascend. The whole time, climbers are directly in the line of fire. This posed an unacceptable risk, and everyone eventually retreated back to Camp 2. With the imminent end of the season, they would not have time for another attempt.

Better in winter

Chhepal Sherpa, who guides year-round on Ama Dablam, told ExplorersWeb that rocks do fall periodically in this delicate Grey Couloir. He also noted that climbers going up and down may trigger the rockfall. As winter comes, the risk will lessen because of fewer people, he said.

A traverse on Ama Dablam in winter, on ice and mixed terrain… Photo: Tashi Sherpa

 

…and the same traverse one month ago, on October 26, post-monsoon. Photo: Tunc Findik

 

Tunc Findik agrees. “Winter is great, as long as you wait for a day with low wind to attempt the summit,” he said. “In winter, winds at 7,000m may reach 150kph and temperatures could drop down to -45ºC. As for conditions in the Grey Couloir, when I was there in winter, it was completely dry. It had no snow and no rockfall either.”

Here is a video of Findik rappelling down the Grey Couloir in January 2021. It does look very dry, compared to conditions this past weekend (feature image).

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.