I did not summit – but kept my promises
In September I wrote about my upcoming Ama Dablam expedition in November 2017. My primary objective was to climb in good style and secondarily to summit.
Well, I did neither of these as I got ill on the mountain losing my sense of balance in between camp 1 and camp 2 in 5.900 m.
So, if you are looking for nice pictures of me on the summit you will be disappointed.
I could not stand balanced on my two feet without support by hands and ropes. I had sensed that I was staggering a bit on the way up and did not have the strength I had earlier on the trek in to Base Camp.
Now I could not even stand up on two weak legs.
I did not climb in good style
Firstly, despite my wish to “climb in good style” not using the fixed rope, I grabbed the first rope I saw and hauled myself up as I was not able to climb in normal way. Realizing my critical situation being in high altitude in real rock climbing environment, it became a dangerous cocktail.
I decided to crawl slowly back to camp 1, slept one night there as my naive hope was that things would get better.
Next morning no improvement and I had to be supported and partly carried down by sherpas to get safely down. First to Advanced Base Camp and later a long walk down to Base Camp.
I could barely walk, so my good friend Ben stayed at me all the way with physical and mental support. Asking for help was not easy for me.
Ask for help
I am used to be able to get out of problems in mountains and in life generally on my own.
Luckily I have got more end more used to ask for help and did that immediately. On the mountain it got me down !
Would you ask for help or try to deal with it yourself ?
I did not summit
Hoping I would get better for a second round up the mountain for the summit push I rested in Base Camp, but without any improvements the next days.
End of story: no summit push and no climbing in good style.
Have you ever been in same situation ?
I kept my promises
My wife sent me off to Nepal from Hamburg airport. We had talked a lot about the challenging, but relative safe climb, but still she was quite worried. Because of the long separation and because of the objective risks of the climb due to altitude and difficulty of the mountain.
When saying – and kissing goodbye in the departure hall she asked me: Do not take any chances – and get home safe.
That I promised her – and kept it.
Would such a promise influence your decisions and what you would do?
I must admit that the promise itself worked for more reasons: I was not capable of going on in a safe manner. Acknowledging that my self-perception as a strong man got a crack showed me my vulnerability and mortality.
When coming down to BC with my self confidence at a low point I was shaken over what had happened.
At the same time I felt a deep gratitude for what really matter in life: My wife, family and friends and all the good moments still to come – maybe in a slower pace and perhaps less dangerous.
A wake up call or a well timed break for thoughtfulness in the journey of adventures? At least I realized that just pushing on was not worth risking all what is important in life.
Did I prepare in the right way ?
On the trek in to Base Camp I was in great shape. I had climbed higher mountains and more difficult routes before. Therefore, the problems I experienced was a big surprise and a mental set back and challenged me.
I have had a pretty good preparation for the expedition. Done a lot of climbing and mountaineering in high high altitude all the way until departure for Nepal.
My physical training had been extensive with a lot of strength, endurance and aerobic exercising with good recovery the last 3 weeks before the expedition. So what else could I have done to prepare better and avoid my problems? not much.
In fact, no preparation or training would probably have mitigated the illness that caused my off balance.
How I re-defined my objectives
Other expedition members that earlier in the expedition realized they would not summit had left base camp immediately.
I was not able to walk safely out of camp by myself and I also felt like sneaking out in my time of failure. When it became clear for me that I would not summit or even climb, I had to find my driver for staying and change my objectives for the trip.
Which learning points and experiences could I gain when not climbing ?
My wife Gitte supported me in staying in camp and get the most out of it.. Encouraged I spent my energy on getting on my feet, checking out all my gear and clothes. What works fine, what is obsolete or at least less necessary on such an expedition, what else would be good to bring another time, how to keep yourself organized – and stay relatively clean.
In late November temperature and light change dramatically from direct sun to night in a few minutes. Your forward looking preparation will be tested when it comes to organizing you and your gear in due time. Remembering warm layers, your head light, emptying the pee bottle, having your sleeping system ready and a lot of other stuff. You will not be able to do more of this before the day after if not done in warm daylight.
Would you stay or would you leave when your primary objectives would not materialize?
I guess it may depend on whether you are intending to do other mountaineering stuff or only went for the summit.
I spent far too many days in BC as I was not able to walk further than a few hundred meters up a small ridge hoping for signal to phone home.
However, these days also gave me a flavour of how camp life is impacting your mental condition during a longer expedition. Despite very good food, snacks and treats in BC – well arranged by Tim Mosedale – days are long and boring and you get flicks. Hopefully this learning will be valuable another time on expedition to a big mountain.
This, my first real, longer expedition experience turned out to be more challenging than expected. Both dragging on my physical, mental and emotional strength and capacity. Both challenging and also giving me a lot of valuable learnings.
Would I go back again ?
Definitely YES !
Despite my problems on the mountain. The acknowledgement of my vulnerability not being able to achieve my objectives. Despite the emotional considerations I did on values in life I would still be motivated to go back to this mountain and others as well.
It is the ultimate test of preparation, skills, endurance, weather and pure luck in a well blended cocktail. I fully believe I have the right mix of those. Now I just need health and weather to match up timely to fully enjoy the next adventure.
Key take aways
- Do not underestimate the skills, condition and stamina you need to climb Ama Dablam – it is a serious mountain
- If your objectives can not be met – be prepared to change these and achieve new learning points and experience
- Do not only go for the summit – enjoy the whole experience and learn – stay in the game for the mental training
- If in trouble, acknowledge that you can be weak – ask for help immediately – otherwise you can get killed
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Thanks for the clear and open account of your experiences. It takes a lot of strength to write what you wrote.
I myself had a lot of scary situations in climbs and in the Alps. In the end there are a few things that actually mirror what happens in business.
1) the hardest thing is to turn back or change course when you invested so much in one direction. Do not underestimate your inner power in making the call to go back to BC
2) on the mountain you need a team. My (late) climbing partner who summited Everest 2x and climbed the highest peak on every continent, freely admits it wouldn’t have happened without his team
3) preparation is one thing but you need luck with many external factors. Coming back down gives you the chance to try again. The mountain will still be there.
4) there is no business decision I took that compared to decisions I took in the mountains. The decisions you took up there will stand you in good stead in the future. Climbing mountains may seem futile to some but we know it’s a huge test of a person’s character.
Thank you Jan for your very wise comments. With your track record and insight in climbing as well as business your words give even more weight and value.