The Czech Ascent of Ama Dablam’s West Face: Pioneer Chris Warner Speaks

Until recently, it has been a rather dull season on Ama Dablam, with many summits but nothing extraordinary. But Zdenek Hak and Jakub Kacha’s recent climb up the vertiginous West Face harks back to older times, when young badasses jumped on Himalayan faces, determined to push the limits and to have fun.

No wonder that when we posted our story about the Czechs’ repetition of the difficult ‘American Direct’ route (with some variations), the first one to congratulate the guys in a comment under the piece was Chris Warner, one of the route’s first climbers. He and Glenn Dunmire completed ‘American Direct’ on December 21, 1990.

The Czechs climbed Ama Dablam’s West Face in pure alpine style. Photo: Climbing Technology CZ

Warner’s comment

“That line is so obvious and aesthetic that it had to be repeated,” Warner wrote. Then he noted that the Czechs’ finish, which differs from the American original line, is “the logical one”.

“Glenn and I had run out of fuel and food on day two,” Warner explained. “On our 4th day, after bivying in the crevasse atop the Dablam, we went right, finishing on the normal route. We were motivated to get up and off as quickly as possible…After climbing pitch after pitch of frozen rock in light gloves, I had frostbite on nine fingers.”

Hak told ExplorersWeb that they actually combined ‘American Direct’ and the line soloed by fellow Czech Yaroslav Smid in 1986.

Hak provided two topos for comparison: “[On the left], green is the American Direct and red is the Smid. On the right, you can see our route’s combination,” said Hak.

The climbers left Ama Dablam Base Camp yesterday and are heading home today.

Ama Dablam’s previous routes by Alpine Sketches, left, and Hak and Kacha’s recent climb, right, provided by Zdenek Hak.

Why is this climb so important?

It is important because it has taken 30 years to repeat that aesthetic, direttissima route. Moreover, The Himalayan Database‘s stats on Ama Dablam show that since the turn of the millennium, there have been more successful ascents but a dramatic decrease in the number of teams attempting anything but the normal route.

The last successful climb up Ama Dablam’s West Face was the ‘Free Tibet’ route (which shares its lower part with the Japanese line), opened by Francesco Fazzi of Italy and Santi Padros of Spain in 2008.

“Back in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s, Ama Dablam was the scene of such great alpinism, with the normal route largely ignored,” Chris Warner wrote. “It was the era when “style trumped summits” – to quote Alex MacIntyre. With so many great climbers [around], Ama Dablam was almost too popular, which was why we went there in winter (seeking solitude). Glenn and I were the 89th and 90th people to summit the peak.”

American Chris Warner is still climbing, guiding, and lecturing. Photo: Chris Warner


While Warner is still active on the Himalayan giants (he was on Annapurna last spring), he admits that he is “no longer capable of climbing in the style of Zdenek and Marek — alpine-style climbs on extremely technical routes — which makes me even more proud of their accomplishments.

Style trumps summits

“Luckily for all of us, even sucking Os and jumaring fixed lines can be soul-enriching,” he added. “I still believe in MacIntyre’s philosophy that ‘style trumps summits’, but the quote I repeat most often is, ‘don’t reach the peak but miss the point’.

“Congratulations to Zdenek and Jakub for reminding the rest of us mountaineers that how we climb is more important than what we climb.”

Zdenek Hak and Jakub Kacha after climbing Ama Dablam’s West Face. Photo: Climbing Technology CZ