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Asia, Nepal, Ama Dablam in the Post-Monsoon

Ama Dablam in the Post-Monsoon. As the season began, the Nepalese authorities expected 16 teams to come to Ama Dablam (6812m), but they continued to grant permits to everyone who asked for them, and by the time autumn ended, an all-time high number of 30 teams with a total of 201 climbers had been there from 18 nations. (The previous highest number of teams in the same season was 19 in the autumn of 1996.) Furthermore, all of this autumn’s expeditions had chosen to climb the same route up the southwest ridge, which is quite narrow in some sections. At the busiest time, in mid-October, there were 17 teams at Base Camp or above. An American leader reported counting 130 tents pitched at Base Camp on one day.

Some teams found themselves having to set up their base camps lower than they had planned because of the crowding. And more problems arose at times as climbers competed for space on the mountain. Queues sometimes formed at constricted spots on the ridge: a five-man Russian summit party had to wait in their descent from the top for one hour while others moved in the opposite direction (they were able reach their last camp only well after nightfall). A pair of American and Canadian climbers had to make an unexpected bivouac because of too many people on the route. Another American “got caught up in the traffic” while coming down from the summit and had to spend the night in someone else’s completely empty tent while waiting for daybreak. Lack of space for camping at the site for CII at around 6000 meters forced several expeditions to skip pitching tents at that altitude and carry on somewhat higher to make their “CIII.”

Many teams found their total climbing time was much shorter than they had expected since the route had been fixed with rope by the earliest expeditions from bottom to top. In fact, the multiplicity of ropes was actually a source of complaint; at one place there were nine ropes, and elsewhere “an unbelievable amount of useless rope,” as one climber reported: thick ropes, thin ones, short ones, long ones, old ones and new ones, in a “mess.” Nevertheless, despite the problems, the success rate was excellent. Twenty-nine teams sent a total of 160 people (including 13 women) to the summit.

On their return to Kathmandu, some leaders advised officials of the Nepalese tourism ministry, who give permission for expedition climbing, that there should be a limit on the number of permits issued for Ama Dablam in any one season. Ministry officials said they planned to seriously consider this suggestion, but there is room for doubt that the bureaucracy will actually put such a new rule into effect. Officials may intend to make recommendations to their superiors, but office-holders are changed so frequently that often nothing gets accomplished. Furthermore, ministers like to be able to reward relatives and hangers-on with money-earning posts, and since every team has to take with them and pay a government-appointed liaison officer, there is reluctance to reduce the number of these lucrative jobs.

Elizabeth Hawley