Climbing Ama Dablam: Facts & Information. Routes, Climate, Difficulty, Equipment, Preparation, Cost

Andrew LyleOctober 28, 2018

Traveling through Nepal, you may hear whispers passing through various climbing circles. Word of “the Matterhorn of the Himalayas.” The legend of a steep and indomitable peak that, while under 7,000 meters, is as technical and challenging as an 8,000 meter expedition. A summit so alluring for its exposure and raw aesthetic beauty. It seems the stories are all true: Ama Dablam is a life-changing ascent.

Located in the Himalayas of Nepal, Ama Dablam is a daunting peak rising 6,856 meters tall. It is a popular mountaineering challenge among alpinists for all of the above reasons, including the exhilarating challenges that accompany the ascent. The mountain belongs to the Upper Khumbu region of the country and has become one of the defining climbs of eastern Nepal.

This trip places you in the striking Sagarmatha National Park, with awe-inspiring views of the regions most notorious peaks. This includes the park’s namesake, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), Lhotse, Cho Oyu, and Pumori. The region has an expansive forestland, ranging from pine and birch trees to bamboo and the iconic wild rhododendron.

 

Technical ascent of mixed climbing. Photo: Pemba Ongchhu Sherpa.

 

Ama Dablam will test the mettle of any climber brave enough to scale its crags and conquer its peak. Here is a closer look at this magnificent mountain and what it takes to reach its summit.

Climbing Routes

 

The mountain has a few different routes. Nearly all of the treks and excursions ascend through the Southwest Ridge Route, which is undoubtedly the most popular route up the mountain. It was first climbed in 1961 by an American and New Zealand team. Since then, this has been the route of choice for almost all expeditions. This route, while challenging, will deliver unprecedented mountain views every step of the way. Other routes include the North Ridge Route, which was first successfully climbed in 1979, and the Northwest Ridge Route, whose one and only summit occurred in 2001.

It is worth noting that the descent can be risky, so take extra care when heading down from the summit. Even though this is the most popular route, other expeditions can drop debris and rocks while making their way back to Base Camp.

 

On the road from Namche Bazaar. Photo: Jerome Bon.

Starting Point and How to Get There

 

The expedition begins – like most other trips in Nepal – in Kathmandu. Keep in mind that you will need a visa, which you can currently receive at the airport upon arrival. It is possible to receive a 90-day trekking visa for around $100. Permits are also required – it is your responsibility to check with your guiding team to make determine what, if anything, you need to provide for this. Flights into the Kathmandu arrive daily, so it should not be any trouble finding a way into the country.

From Kathmandu, you can expect a flight to Lukla before beginning the trekking portion of your trip. Flights here can be delayed and altered because of the weather. A long but gratifying approach ensues. It is a visually stunning trek that immerses you in the high altitude of Nepal and the amazing landscape of the region. You will pass by an important monasteries, sherpa villages, the Namche Bazaar, and other cultural gems that will enhance your journey. The expedition will ultimately take you to Pangboche, the closest village to the Base Camp.

 

The Ama Dablam Base Camp. Photo: Jyamchang Bhote.

Once the expedition team arrives in Pangboche, it will move roughly four hours to the Base Camp. The following days will be spend slowly getting acclimatized to the elevation, with trips up to each camp before descending back down to the Base Camp.

Duration of the Ascent

 

The summit push last four to five days. Depending on your specific program, you may attempt a summit from Camp II without moving to Camp III. This ascent will include an additional four hours or so of climbing time on summit day, as well as an additional 850 meters. It is certainly a reasonable feat, but it should be discussed as necessary with the other members of your team.

Base Camp to Summit

From Base Camp, each day will last four to eight hours. The elevation from Base Camp to Camp I is just over 1,000 meters, which you can manage in about four to eight hours. You will also pass Yak Camp (5,100m), an advanced base camp that may or may not be used. Once at Camp I, you will prepare for the technical part of your climb.

Camp I to Camp II covers just over 300 meters in two to five hours. You will make your way over granite blocks and head to the Yellow Tower, which features modest 4.11- and 5-Grade climbing. The exposed ridges are exciting and will fill you with the necessary adrenaline to take on the Yellow Tower itself. From bottom to top, you will make 5.8-grade climbs. Once you top out, you are practically at Camp II.

 

Between camps en route to the summit. Photo: Jyamchang Bhote.

Camp II to Camp III is a three to six hour endeavor and arguably the most challenging of your trip. It opens with an exposed ridge traverse to the Grey Tower, a loose but short multi-pitch. This portion of the climb is as challenging as it is fun. The next airy traverse leads you to Mushroom Ridge and a thin ridge walk. Camp III sits at 6,277 meters.

The final push from Camp III to the summit is another four to six hour affair. This is a great combination of mixed climbing that will reward you for the hard work (and any slogging) you had to do in the previous days. Fighting the cold, you don’t have to worry about any false summits before hitting the peak and looking out over the immense landscape below.

Mountain Huts

 

There are no mountain huts on the ascent to the summit of Ama Dablam. Mountaineers will be setting up their own camps, usually in three places along the route. Sherpas and porters will help advance the camp throughout the trek.

The Base Camp of Ama Dablam is at 4,600 meters, one of the reasons for the long approach and acclimatization trek through the Khumba Valley and along the Dudh Kosi River. It is extremely accommodating, often considered one of the best in the region and arguably the world. It is set in a lush meadow that includes a brook, with access to outhouses and a tea house down the road that is known to prepare hot meals and even offer beds.

 

The elusive peak of Ama Dablam. Photo: Pemba Ongchhu Sherpa.

 

From there, Camp I will be established on snow and rock at around 5,650 meters. Camp II is an additional 350 meters up at 6,000 meters on snow and rock.

The next camp is established at 6,277 meters (Camp III) and is the final stop on the way to the summit. Camp III is controversial; it is considered by some alpinists to be a superfluous and unnecessarily treacherous portion of the expedition. The summit can be – and has been – successfully attempted from Camp II as well, so coordinating this with your guide will allow you to be on the same page.

Physical Requirements and Technical Difficulties

 

This is considered a taxing climb with substantial technical challenges. It necessitates the full repertoire of climbing equipment as well as the experience and mental fortitude to endure the obstacles. You should have high altitude experience as well as practical knowledge of technical objectives. Aba Dablam requires acclimatization, so expeditions should plan on extended time in the Himalayas getting used to the environment and atmosphere.

The climb itself is graded at 5.7, though it can feel much more difficult. With the ice, some of the cruxes of your climb will present tiring hazards, so remain calm and patient. Some points along the route may be relatively easy in grade (4.11, give or take), but it is always recommended to follow safety protocol and rope up as necessary. Always.

 

Peaking above the clouds. Photo: Pemba Ongchhu Sherpa.

 

Expeditions like Ama Dablam are the reason a professional, serious, and certified guide is essential in every single way. In compromising situations for a month-long stretch, knowing someone is qualified to support and encourage you is more important than any other aspect of your program.


When hiring a local IFMGA guide is key: read about a climber’s experience in Ama Dablam


Climate

 

Climbing Ama Dablam requires every advantage possible for a successful summit. This means preparing for weather, which can be notoriously fickle and volatile. Planning an ascent around the monsoon season (think summer, June and July) will make or break your trip, and also allows you some wiggle room depending on what type of climb you are interested in.

An April to May (pre-monsoon climb) will feature more capricious weather. You can expect to come across all of the elements, from snow and ice to heat and warm rain. The spring will have more snow and ice, though the actual temperature may feel more toasty than chilly.

After the monsoon, the atmosphere stabilizes and changes the dynamics of the ascent. Mountaineers should plan on more rock climbing and less snow and ice, though all aspects of mixed climbing will be present and prevalent. The temperature is warmer in September and can get downright cold as you enter the later season. The classic Southwest Ridge Route is highly recommended during this time, as is the more-perilous North Ridge.

 

Sunset over Ama Dablam. Photo: Valcker.

Equipment

 

Because of the technical difficulties and the extended time period of the trek, Ama Dablam expeditions require the full kit and caboodle. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Mountaineering boots
  • 65-liter backpack
  • Helmet
  • Harness
  • Ice axe with tether
  • Crampons
  • Ice screws
  • Figure 8
  • Jumar (ascender)
  • Carabiners (locking and gate; plenty of both)
  • Repair kit items
  • Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
  • Sun protection (hat, lip balm, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Cold-weather cap
  • Base-layer tops and bottoms
  • Lightweight fleece bottoms
  • Fleece top
  • GoreTex tops and bottoms
  • Additional personal clothing (socks, long-johns, and undergarments)
  • Small backpack
  • Duffle bag(s)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First aid kit
  • Personal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Documentation (passport(s), visa(s))
  • Urine bottle (and funnel kit, if necessary)
  • Waste containment kit

Depending on what is included with your expedition, be prepared with any additional climbing and camping equipment. Also include personal food and drink(s) that you will want or need on the approach and during the ascent.

Estimated Price

 

As with many other month-long expeditions, the price will be greater. Almost all programs travel along the Southwest Ridge Route, with slight variations in the total duration of the treks. This is possibly because of extra days added to the itinerary for adverse weather or acclimatization.

Generally speaking, an Ama Dablam excursion will cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000. This can change based on the number of days in the mountains as well as the number of climbers in your party. Keep in mind that meals, permits and fees, porters, and accommodations are usually taken care of. The logistics of a large-scale trip like this may nudge the price tag in one direction or the other.

 

Approaching Ama Dablam, which can be seen in the clouds. Photo: Pemba Ongchhu Sherpa.

Ready to be the best mountaineer you can be? Grab your gear and head straight to the Himalayas to take on Ama Dablam, one of the most compelling and rewarding climbs in the world!

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