Up until just 5 years ago, mountains, for Martin, were no more than a pile of stones. This 32-year old IT consultant currently based in Brussels had never done any trekking or mountaineering until his former girlfriend — a native of Tyrol, Austria — took him hiking in Zermatt in 2013. Just four years later, however, he would travel all the way to Nepal to climb the mythical Ama Dablam (6812 m).
Back in 2013, Martin lived in Geneva. Mountaineering quickly took over his free time: he would spend every weekend in the Alps where he got to climb some of alpinism’s big classics (Gran Paradiso, Mont Blanc, Aiguille du Midi, Matterhorn and Aiguille Verte, which he found to be the most challenging). He hired an IFMGA-certified guide every time and often chose to climb with Manu, from La Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix.
When Martin learned that Manu wasn’t available to climb Ama Dablam with him, he started looking around in the hopes of finding a group he could join.
He first heard of Explore-Share.com at Lecomte, an outdoor shop he likes to go to in Brussels. The team there is really friendly and knowledgeable, Martin says, and he bought part of his high mountain equipment there.
Through Explore-Share.com, Martin contacted Jyamchang, an IFMGA-certified Nepali guide. Originally from the eastern part of Nepal, between Makalu (8,470m) and Kangchenjunga (8,586m), Jyamchang has more than 20 years of experience climbing in the Himalayas and has climbed Everest, Cho Oyu, Island Peak, Baruntse, among many other peaks in the region, many of them several times. He also has extensive experience climbing in Europe, where he works three months per year.
Martin had the chance to meet up with him in Chamonix. They did an equipment check-up and discussed the expedition’s logistics. “I found him to be the kind of straight-to-the-point, smiling and organized person I was hoping to have as a guide and partner. This was an ambitious climb, above 6000 meters, which I had only performed once before, on Island Peak”, Martin recalls.
The meeting went really well and, just a few weeks later, the two would meet again, this time in Nepal.
Why hire an IFMGA guide?
“We met at the airport in Kathmandu. Then, we joined a good friend of mine and his trekking guide, who accompanied us during the acclimatization trip across 3 passes and on to Base Camp. This gave us plenty of time to get our bodies accustomed to altitude. Jyamchang and I performed a daily health check-up to monitor the effects of altitude, which I found very professional,” says Martin.
He quickly realized that, to Jyamchang, mountaineering was a lot more than just business. Martin was surprised to see him take photos of the mountains, even though he grew up in the area. He was also happy with his guide’s professionalism. “You could see he knew exactly what he was doing, you could see he is an IFMGA guide,” he says.
Jyamchang’s mountaineering ethics also surprised him positively. “As some famous mountaineer once said about his Sherpa climbing partner, Jyamchang belongs to a new generation of Nepali guides who really love to climb. And that’s the reason why we got along very well whilst attempting the ascent of Ama Dablam.”
Having to turn back (and taking it in stride!)
The long acclimatization hike came as a surprise. However, it provided a great opportunity for Martin’s body to adjust to the altitude. He also particularly enjoyed the friendly atmosphere the group shared.
Several other moments stayed engraved in his memory. “The incredible views when arriving at Gokyo and during our stay at Kala Patthar. And also the ascent to Ama Dablam’s Camp 2. As you progress on the glacier, you progressively see the most amazing landscapes, including views on Cholatse,” he recalls.
Martin had trained well and felt strong. “Jyamchang and I had agreed during our first Skype discussions that we were going to climb alpine style — that is, minimum logistics, no fixed ropes, etc. I found the idea of climbing a difficult mountain like Ama Dablam without such facilitating gear very appealing. And I appreciated that Jyamchang pushed for this approach of the climb. This was not just pulling the client to the top of the mountain and then collecting the summit bonus,” he says.
He did very well during the ascent and got very close to the summit in perfect health. But, even with the best organization, in high mountain environments nothing ever goes as planned.
The weather turned bad the day before summit day and they had to turn back.
“I quickly accepted that it was not possible. I was a bit disappointed, of course, but I know this is part of such adventures. It was just a postponement… Not a big deal, I’ll come back,” Martin says, with a smile.
On the way down, they helped a Thai girl who got sick and had to go back down. Martin was happy to see he had made the right decision by hiring a local IFMGA guide. “I found that Jyamchang’s attitude during the difficult descent, with rapidly degrading weather conditions and another party that we had to help descend, was again showing a professional and competent approach.”
Goals for the future
“All in all, we had a great time in the beautiful surroundings of the Khumbu valley. We may be climbing together again in a future expedition. I can strongly recommend Jyamchang for trekking and climbing both in Nepal and elsewhere in the world,” Martin concludes.
Apart from attempting to climb Ama Dablam again (this time in autumn when the weather is a little more stable), Martin has a few other goals in Nepal: Makalu (from where Jyamchang is from) and Pumori, in front of Everest. And this summer, he will go for the Arête de Peuterey and les Droites (North Face) in the Alps.
Martin’s experience climbing Ama Dablam highlights the importance of hiring professional, certified guides. This becomes critically important in the case of long, difficult expeditions like this one. But understanding that the unexpected is an inherent part of a challenge of this magnitude is also key.
No guide can guarantee that everything will go as planned. Good ones, however, are qualified to know how to handle changing conditions and unforeseen problems. They are key to keeping you safe!