An unexpected turn
David Lama on Ama Dablam and an unexpected turn in his 2017 expedition
You went to Nepal with the aim to return to Annapurna III.
Yes. I was there in spring 2016 with Hansjörg Auer und Alex Blümel and we had a good attempt on the unclimbed south-east ridge, which had been our goal. After three days on the climb we had to retreat about two thirds up. The weather was not like it’s been predicted and we found ourselves in a snowstorm every afternoon. The climb is long and difficult, truly appealing, and with all the knowledge we had gained, we planned to give it another go this year.
Same team, same strategy?
Yes, same team, but our strategy was very different.
One big learning from last years expedition was to not attempt the mountain in spring. We hoped to find better weather in the post monsoon season, so in autumn. With less humidity in the air and cooler temps we knew that the potential of snowfall would decrease and this would maximise our chances to summit.
Apart from that major change we also decided to not acclimatize in the Annapurna III region again. The basecamp from which you climb the south-east ridge (of Annapurna III) is at about 4600m, but unfortunately there aren’t too many possibilities to acclimatize well for a summit push. The lines that you can take to reach a decent hight from basecamp are either extremely long, technically difficult or simply too dangerous. We therefore decided to travel to the Khumbu region and acclimatize on Ama Dablam.
And did the plan work out?
Ama Dablam is a mountain that’s stunningly beautiful and that’s been on my „bucket list“ for quite a while. We climbed it via its south-west ridge, a steep, but technically not too difficult route. It allowed us to make quick progress and we summited Ama Dablam on October 15 and spent the night right on the summit at an elevation of a little over 6800m - a perfect ending of our acclimatization.
And so you felt perfectly ready to take on the challenge of Annapurna III?
Actually yes, but after summiting there was a very sudden turn of events. After our descent from the summit it became apparent that as a team we didn’t feel ready to take on the challenge of Annapurna III again. This feeling came from my partners rather than from myself, but of course their decision needed to be respected and meant the inevitable ending of our expedition.
So the expedition ended before it really started?
So to say. After the eventful happenings on Lunag Ri last year and especially after my solo attempt on that mountain I felt super exhausted and also mentally drained for quite some time. This trip to Ama Dablam and then on to Annapurna III was going to be my only expedition for 2017 and that’s where I put all my efforts in to be in shape. Before leaving to Nepal I felt as strong as never before and ready to give it my all. Looking forward to such a project for this long and then having to step back without even giving it an attempt was harsh, especially knowing that we were far better adjusted to the high altitudes than in the year before.
What came about that made the ending inevitable?
Mountaineering can generally get your mind working and if it is such a great project that’s at stake then things get even more special. The time in the mountains makes you reflect and potentially makes you question things you didn’t question before. Such a turn though was something new to me and I must admit it hurts.
Sounds like a challenging time… What are your thoughts about Annapurna III now?
Often times in mountaineering you’re depending on circumstances that you have no influence on. It requires patience and determination to climb routes like the south-east ridge of Annapurna III and to me this expedition feels not like the end of this project. I guess I haven’t cleared my mind enough on when and how I want to return yet, but the mountain’s still there and I want to go back!
What are your plans for the winter?
Obviously this trip is nothing you can just tick off, so my mind is still on Annapurna III. It will take time for the grief about this unfulfilled expedition desire to fade. At the same time though I’m looking forward to some skiing and some winter climbing here in the Alps.
Annapurna III – Unclimbed