At the foot of the peak

Climbing: Long nights give way to the final scramble up Ama Dablam.

Dispatches From The Himalayas

November 15, 1999

A group of climbers led by Maryland's Chris Warner spent the weekend climbing Ama Dablam, a 22,584-foot peak in the Himalayas.

Unlike most climbers in Nepal, Warner's group has an online audience: children from several elementary schools in Maryland are following the trek via the Internet and e-mail as part of Shared Summits, a nonprofit educational venture of Earth Treks, the climbing center in Columbia.

Readers of The Sun can also follow the expedition through periodic excerpts from the climbers' journal on the Earth Treks Web site, earthtreksclimbing.com.

Here are portions of the last week's journal entries by Warner. The most recent entry is from Friday, before the group's final push to the summit of Ama Dablam:

Nov. 7: The last few days have seen us traversing nearly every trail in the upper Khambu. ... We climbed to the summit of Kala Patar, an 18,400-foot peak above the village of Gorak Shep. Despite a few members of the group feeling the effects of the altitude, everyone summited. The views from there were fabulous. Kala Patar is a small bump on the ridge of Pumori, a 22,000-foot peak. We were perched right below its impressive east face. Starting with Pumori, the scene unfolded to include Mount Everest, Lhotse (the fourth highest peak in the world), Nuptse (25,000 feet), Ama Dablam, Tawoche, Cholatse and a handful of smaller peaks.

... We were a motley crew the next morning. The long hike, the climb of Kala Patar and the lingering effects of so many days at (high) altitude left us in good spirits, but weakened. This was our day to head 2,000 feet downhill to Pangboche, then climb 2,000 feet up to Ama Dablam's base camp. ... We arrived in the late afternoon. ... Sitting below Ama Dablam, knowing we will soon attempt to climb it, is very powerful. ... We each feel a bit inferior, it stands so tall above us.

Nov. 9: (Yesterday) Geoff, Seth, Jimmy, Khamsu, Furtemba (our cook), Dorje (a porter) and I set out for camp. We were told that it was a four-hour walk and the campsites were at 17,700 feet. I have (had) ... a cold and sore throat for five days, and felt horrible within an hour. The rest of the gang split up my load and I headed back to my sleeping bag.

The others set off again at a brisk pace, thinking they were 25 percent of the way there. The trail dragged on and on. They crested a moraine and followed that for a few hours. Then they reached the southern flank of the southwest ridge and headed straight up through a [snow-covered] boulder field. Crossing ... took up to two hours, with each step carefully placed to avoid a broken ankle. It was serious terrain, leading them across a snow field and finally to a knife-edged ridge. ... The climbing of Ama Dablam has begun.

... Today, I headed up to Camp 1 with Dorje, a powerhouse, who's made the trip two days in a row. Tomorrow will be his third trip up. He beat me by more than an hour, despite carrying a heavier load.

Nov. 10: The team is reunited. Geoff, Seth, Jimmy and Khamsu arrived in Camp 1 at 2 p.m., after a five-hour hike.

... It is 3: 50 p.m. and we are preparing for the night. The temperatures will dip below freezing by 5 p.m. and by 9 p.m. it will be well below zero in the tents. Any meals need to be cooked in the next half hour. Our tiny stoves are cranking away, trying to melt the snow in our pots.

Nights are long here. We will be burrowed in our sleeping bags by 5: 30 (p.m.) and won't crawl out until the sun hits us at 6: 30 a.m. Our thin mattresses (barely half an inch thick) offer us little comfort in the night. Luckily we are all tired. ... Three of us may begin a summit attempt tomorrow.

Nov. 12: ... The two halves of our group were of one opinion. We would go to Camp 2 on the 12th. Khamsu would stay at Camp 1 to support us. At 4 a.m. on the 13th we would leave for the summit, carrying super-light packs. We hope to reach Camp 3 at 6: 30 a.m. and the summit at 10 a.m. If all goes as planned, we will be back at Camp 2 by 4 p.m. on the 13th. That will be a solid 12 hours of climbing. If anyone has any gas left in their tanks, they can continue to push for Camp 1.

All of us should be back at base camp on the 14th. To get our gear back as well, Khamsu and Dorje will be coordinating the transport of as much gear as possible to base, while we are climbing. This will mean Dorje gets to show off his superior strength while collecting a lot of cash.

... It is time to finish packing. We hope to leave for Camp 2 by 9 a.m. That should put us there around 1 p.m. After a session of brewing hot drinks, we'll be tightly packed in our tent by 4 p.m. and trying our best to sleep until our 3 a.m. departure. Wish us luck!!!

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