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Asia, Nepal, Ama Dablam Attempt and Tragedy

Ama Dablam Attempt and Tragedy. Until April 8, everything was going perfectly. All six members, American Tom Dickey and Canadians Geoff Pow- ter, Peter Roxburgh, Charlie Eckenfelder, Rory McIntosh and I, were fit and well in Camp II atop the Red Towers. We had enjoyed two weeks of perfect weather and had moved up faster than planned. By March 26, our sirdar Kansha had gotten us to a good Base Camp at 16,000 feet, which gave access to the south ridge. One trip with yaks had established a cache at 18,100 feet, just before the 3rd-class section of the ridge. Camp I was occupied on March 29 at 18,900 feet. Situated just below the 4th-class climbing, we found ready-made tent platforms. We then fixed all the ridge to the small hanging glacier on the east side of the ridge, large enough to chop two tent platforms for Camp II at 19,500 feet. All climbing to there had been in rock shoes. As soon as the line was fixed, loads moved up quickly as team members could go at their own speed on their own schedule. It was possible to go from Base Camp to Camp II and back in a single day. Dickey and Powter led the crux pitches on the Yellow Tower, wearing Fires on a delightful 5.7. The top of the Red Towers had perfect tent platforms on dry ground and so we moved Camp II from the rapidly melting platforms. Dickey, Powter and I fixed the mixed pitches on the Second Step. Because of the exceptionally dry winter, much of what should have been ice was steep rubble. Powter put in a tense day leading the worst of this but was rewarded with fine, steep ice leading onto the Mushroom Ridge. By April 9, we had fixed halfway to Camp III and all were acclimatized and ready to go in Camp II. That day, Eckenfelder and I went to the top of the fixed ropes and fixed the Mushroom Ridge and the Ice Step. The latter was easier than expected, never exceeding 60° but the weather was changing and by the time we had finished, we were in an electrical snowstorm. But now only a 2000-foot 50° slog separated us from the summit. Eckenfelder started the 500-foot rappel while I waited for his signal to follow. After a long wait, I presumed the wind had prevented my hearing and I started down. Switching ropes three times, I suddenly found that the rope had been completely severed. Panic grabbed me as I looked 600 feet down and saw a shape in the snow. Powter and McIntosh took the difficult task of reaching the body. It was well past dark when they returned. Shock, apathy and the weather prevented us from moving the next day. On the 11th we all returned to Base Camp. Dickey and I returned to the mountain on the 13th. The snow was falling, but we had to try again. We gambled that by the time we were set up in Camp III, the weather would have cleared. The first night we made it to Camp II, but the storm gathered in strength. The next day the Ice Step was plastered with snow and we had to jümar the whole way to the Mushroom Ridge. The storm was still raging the next morning but with no food reserves, we decided to give it a go. After plowing our way past the only major crevasse system, Dickey started the pitch below the Dablam which would take us to the ice flutings leading to the top. The snow was still falling and avalanche conditions extreme. We wondered whether the summit was worth three lives. We abandoned our attempt at 21,700 feet.

Stephen Langley, Alpine Club of Canada