In what seemed an expedition destined to be forced home without a summit attempt, Gauteng-based climbers John Black, Allan Dickinson and Warren Eva have become the first all-South African climbing team to etch their names into the Ama Dablam history books with an impressive and historic climb of “The Mothers Necklace” in the Khumbu region of Nepal on Sunday November 17th, 2013.
An unseasonal tropical cyclone in India a few months prior to the expedition meant that heavy snow fall had created unforeseen obstacles at higher altitudes, a factor that had already sent many international teams home prematurely.
“It was demoralizing to see big team after big team depart Base Camp each day as the camp rapidly emptied,” said expedition leader John Black. “Many advised us to cut our losses and go trekking, but we had a team meeting and decided to soldier on and remain focused on why we had come.”
However, on the 12th November, almost two full weeks after having arrived at Base Camp, the team was presented with their first real opportunity to begin a summit attempt, which meant a climb to Camp 2 to allow them to set up and drop off much needed gear before returning back to Base Camp, the norm in mountaineering.
Black continues: “The route from Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp, and on to Camp 1 and Camp 2 is normally dry rock and easy to navigate. However deep snow and hidden ice layers made progress hard and slow, especially with heavy loads. Our decision not to use Sherpas to assist us made our task all the more difficult. After 10 hours of climbing, we arrived at Camp 2 [6100m], an infamous location atop a rock pinnacle, with barely space for 5 tents. We pitched a tent and dropped gear, and returned to Camp 1.”
Returning to Base Camp on the 13th November allowed the team to regroup and resupply, however a blow to the team materialised with the announcement from forth team member Robby Kojetin that he would be pulling out. Having suffered a climbing accident a few years prior, Kojetin was feeling the effects of the strain on his ankles, and, coupled with a severe bout of bronchitis, meant that his expedition was inevitably over.
“Obviously we were all disappointed, but understood Robby’s decision,” said Black.
Having waited at Base Camp for two days, the now three remaining team members set out at 7:00am on the 15th November in a bid to climb directly to Camp 1, bypassing Advanced Base Camp, a tough feat in any climbing conditions, again without the support of Sherpas. After a nights sleep at Camp 1, the team then pushed onward to Camp 2, retracing their steps from a few days prior.
“On our way to the spectacular Camp 1 and 2 we passed teams that were abandoning their own expeditions,” reminisces Black. “We arrived in Camp 2 thankfully however to find that a small team from the USA, and their impressive Sherpa team, had managed to summit just a few hours prior, a huge relief for the three of us. Their advice was to wear everything we had, move quickly and try to stay warm as it was very cold higher up!”
With the hazards of heavy snow and ice, coupled with exceptionally low temperatures, still looming, the only way the team was going to successfully reach the 6857m high peak was to push directly from Camp 2 to the summit, a decision that would once again see the trio climbing for in excess of 7 hours.
However, at 2:50pm local time on the 17th November, having avoided potential frostbite and the perils of the exposed rock face of Grey Tower, the team succeeded.
“After hours of hard climbing we finally had nowhere further to go,” muses Black “and were on the summit with incredible views of Mount Everest and the entire Himalaya. It was excruciatingly cold and we could not stay more than five minutes before we needed to begin the descent, a long and cold trek back to Camp 1 in the falling darkness. A special mention must be made of the Sherpas from the various teams that assisted to break trail in the last days of the season, ultimately allowing us to achieve our goal.”
Article By John Black