Teams continue to arrive in Kathmandu from afar. Many are proudly posting pictures of receiving their Everest climbing permits, but as of today, the pace is way off what we saw only a few years ago or even last year. In this post, I talk about the first time I thought about climbing Everest, back in 2002.
By early April 2021 Nepal had issued 222 permits for 23 teams, but this year that number is 176 on 19 teams as of April 6, 2022. It looks like Everest will get somewhat of a respite this season with less than 300 foreign climbers. And that is good news for the mountain but bad news for Nepal tourism. We are seeing a lot of pictures of the trek, most feature Ama Dablam – perhaps one of the most recognizable mountains on earth since almost every climber and trekker takes a few hundred each year – not kidding! I have hundreds myself!! But Ama is a special peak for me as it was on her summit that I first considered climbing Everest.
There are a few reports of weather delays flying into Lukla, but this is par for the course. Everyone will eventually get there is not by fixed-wing but by helicopter. With the Everest climbers still en route, most of the climbing action is on the other 8000-meters peaks.
First Everest Thoughts
Climbing Everest is a strange phenomenon. You spend more money than a really nice car costs, you train for a year, then you leave your family for two months with no guarantee that you will summit, and about five people die each year. So why do this? And don’t give the “because it’s there” answer! 🙂 I am always intrigued to learn when people first thought of climbing Everest and how that thought became a reality. For me, that moment is etched clearly in my memory.
Ama Dablam – No Way
My first introduction to the Himalayas was in 1997 on a trek to Everest Base Camp. As I often say, it changed my life. But, I was hooked and wanted more, so I trained on Mont Blanc while living in Geneva, Switzerland, and reached 8000 meters on Cho Oyu in 1998.
My passion for alpine climbing was set despite not reaching Cho’s true summit so I joined an Adventure Consultants team for Ama Dablam in 2000. Learning from my experience on Cho Oyu, I trained hard in Alaska, the Grand Teton, Ouray, and New Zealand. As a result, I honed my rock and ice climbing skills plus now understood how my body reacted to altitude.
I remember that summit on Ama Dablam and a conversation that set my life on a new course like it was yesterday.
Leaving High Camp at 5:30, am I was nervous and apprehensive because of my experience with Cho. Could I do this?
Only a few years earlier, when I first saw Ama Dablam, I laughed out loud, “Does anyone climb that?” I was told yes, many professional climbers have. And with that, I dismissed this beautiful peak as something far beyond my capabilities.
Now, three years after first seeing Ama Dablam, I was almost to the summit in the dawn light. I paused to look around. The view was breathtaking. I was climbing Ama Dablam. I was climbing a peak I never thought was within my ability. My gaze dropped to my boots as I let this sink in.
I made steady time up the steep snow slope just above the infamous Dablam. In previous eyars, climbers had died when it released. I picked up my pace. I felt good, not tiring as quickly as I had on Cho. The snow was firm and supported each step. The sun had risen, but we were climbing in the mountain’s shadow, and it was very cold.
I looked down the slope and saw Dave Hiddleston, the lead Adventure Consultant’s guide. He smiled, pointed up, and shouted, “summit.” I smiled back and gave a thumbs up. I then knew that I would summit. The emotions were growing.
Another steep slope, and I could feel the summit. I continued to take each step carefully. Suddenly, my left leg went limp in a soft, deep snow patch. This is not what I needed when I am so close. I gathered myself and reset my position on firmer snow. I focused and became very deliberate with each step, and then it was over.
On the summit, the top, no higher to go.
At 10:30 am on October 26, 2000, I summited Ama Dablam, only three years after seeing it for the first time and declaring it unclimbable for me. I hugged my teammates and looked around. Makalu,an 8000-meter mountain. was standing proud in the distance. The view was filled with seemingly hundreds of snow-covered 20,000-foot peaks. And as I looked to the North, I saw it. Mount Everest.
In 1997, I saw Everest from the top of Kala Patar, an 18,500-foot trekking peak on my trek to base camp. My eye followed the skyline, wondering what it would like to even try the world’s highest, but I was grateful to just see it in person, albeit from six miles away.
I dismissed any dream of climbing Everest – too high, too much time, money, and lacked the skills. It was impossible for someone like me.
Now from the summit of Ama Dablam, I looked more carefully at the profile. Again, I traced the route from Tibet and from Nepal. I closed my eyes to let that image become part of who I was. I smiled, let out a deep breath, and was satisfied with my summit. I needed nothing else at that moment.
We returned to base camp and began the trek out. As Dave Hiddleston and I were hiking the high ridges in the Khumbu, we paused for a break. Dave then said the obvious. “So mate, you did well on Ama; now it’s time for Everest.” And with that, the seed was planted.
The Seed is Planted
Sadly Dave died on Mt Tasman a few years later, but I never forgot that moment. He believed in me, felt my love of the mountains, and understood that anyone who climbs the Himalayas has a good chance of wanting to climb Everest.
Only two years later, I found myself hiking up the Khumbu, with Dave, on my way to attempt Everest for the first time.
That first Everest attempt did not go well. I underestimated that 22,494-feet on Ama Dablam did not translate to the upper flanks of Everest. I should have trained harder in hindsight, but more importantly, I lacked the mental discipline to summit Everest.
As I talk about in presentations, there are 1,000 reasons to stop and only 1 to go one. So I focused on the 1,000. After two more attempts, I finally summited on May 21, 2011, at age 54.
So, what is your story? When did you first begin to dream of Everest and tell us the moment that dream became a reality, and what is your plan? Please leave your thoughts as a comment.
Nepal Permit Update – Slow and Low
The permits for Everest are coming very slow as expected. I’m looking for 300 total, but at this rate, I may reduce it even more. 2021 was a record year with 408 permits issued to foreigners. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism posted these foreign permit tally as of April 6, 2022
- Everest: 176 on 19 teams (20+ teams with under 300 members expected)
- Lhotse: 47 on 5 teams
- Nuptse: 23 on 3 teams
- Manaslu: 9 on 1 team
- Annapurna: 26 on 4 teams
- Dhaulagiri: 21 on 2 teams
- Pumori: 0 on 0 team
- Makalu: 15 on 1 team
- Ama Dablam: 39 on 4 teams
- Gangapurna: 2 on 1 team
- Himlung: 16 on 2 teams
- Thapa (Dhampus): 6 on 2 team
- Bhemdang: 8 on 1 team
- Pokhar Kang: 9 on 1 team
Here’s the video podcast version of today’s update:
The Podcast on alanarnette.com
Memories are Everything
If you dream of climbing mountains but are not sure how to start or reach your next level from a Colorado 14er to Rainier, Everest, or even K2, we can help. Summit Coach is a consulting service that helps aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of consulting services based on Alan Arnette’s 25 years of high altitude mountain experience, including summits of Everest, K2, and Manaslu, and 30 years as a business executive.