American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Khumbu Region, Mahalangur Himal, Ama Dablam, Crowds on Normal Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Ama Dablam, crowds on normal route. In the view of many, there were too many people on Ama Dablam (6,812m) last autumn. Some Ama Dablam teams were very small with just a member or two and perhaps one Sherpa. And not all of the 29 expeditions were on the mountain at the same time—they were spread out over a month—but they did bunch up at times. Two expeditions consisted of 30 and 31 members each; the larger one, led by American Dan Mazur, was assisted by nine Sherpas.

Mazur’s expedition sent a total of 38 people to the top over seven days. On a single day, October 24, which was just when a number of other parties were also summiting or trying to, this team put seven members and three Sherpas on the summit.

Henry Todd, the British leader of the second largest team, had 30 members and two Sherpas in his party. The members arrived at base camp and left the mountain at different times, and of his 19 successful members, plus two Sherpas—who went to the top three times—18 summited on six different days between October 26 and November 17. He said he tried to minimize the impact of his sizable group by, for example, not pitching tents that would be left empty much of the time while taking up space badly needed by other climbers, and by having his members summit in relatively small numbers each day. Furthermore, his team was based at a camp apart from others’ bases. Finally, when some of his members arrived at Ama Dablam, other expeditions had already moved off the mountain.

Nevertheless, there were complaints. At one bottleneck a German team’s leader and Mazur’s deputy leader attempted to speed up the progress of slow clients by hauling their rucksacks up by rope. This problem greatly delayed the German team’s arriving at the second and third camps. Also, an American climber was almost been hit by a falling rock loosened by a climber above him. His own group could not pitch a second or third camp because no space was available; they were not only ones who had to skip a camp, usually camp 2, sometimes making for debilitating long summit days, and long waits at the mountain’s bottlenecks.

The leader of an international expedition, Luis Benitez from the U.S., summarized the general situation on Ama Dablam in harsh terms: “too many teams were not led properly or responsibly [and] too cheaply.” He said that some teams’ Sherpas took food, fuel, and even a set of crampons from others’ tents for their own members. One leader reportedly apologized for the stolen crampons, but others were apparently unaware of what their Sherpas were doing. Benitez says that the Nepalese tourism ministry must restrict the number of Ama Dablam permits it grants in a season because the mountain is getting so overcrowded that it has “almost reached critical mass.” However, the government is most unlikely to act on his advice, since the fees are a major source of its foreign exchange earnings, and foreign climbers’ expenditures are extremely important to their Sherpas, to the trekking agencies who assist teams, and to the many lodge keepers in mountainous areas.

In contrast, there were nearly twice as many teams on Cho Oyu (8,201m) but they did not have this kind of crowding problem. There was a lot more space, with none of Ama Dablam’s narrow-ridge bottlenecks to confront them.

Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal

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