Nepal 22,000' peaks | Adam Towel

1.  You recently went on a pretty big expedition, where did you go, what was your objective? 

This November I was fortunate to be invited on a 4 week expedition to climb Ama Dablam in the Everest region of Nepal. I went with my old climbing buddy Tim Horvath and his son Henry who is 18. When I say Tim is my “old” climbing buddy I allude to the fact that we climbed together in the Tetons and Winds for 5 years (02’-07) although I could also be referring to his (and my) ripe age of 52.

       Our objective was Ama Dablam (6800m, 22,300 ft) which is often called the “most beautiful mountain in the world” but the trip was much more than that. First we would trek for 3 weeks to acclimate and climb Lobuche (6000m, 19,700’) which actually turned out to be quite challenging with mixed rock and alpine ice at altitude.

2. When did you plan this trip, and how long did you train for it?

Tim invited me to join the trip in early June. I had no prior experience in the Himalayas. In fact, I had never been above 15,000 feet so I was skeptical at first. Tim however, is an experienced Himalayan mountaineer with multiple 8000m peaks under his belt including Everest and Kanchenjunga. We had a fantastic climbing history together and he knows my abilities, strengths and weaknesses so the fact that he was confident I could pull it off gave me the confidence I needed to go for it.  The one caveat was: Training.  I needed it. 

So I approached Crystal in June and let her know that we needed to switch up my Surf-Fit routine to "Don't-Get-Killed-In-The-Himalayas-Fit" routine. She kinda laughed but I think we both knew this was much more serious than my previous 2 years of training.

She immediately switched things up to focus on what I would need to whip my ass into big mountain shape.
Of course I combined her program with as much Teton Time as possible (big climbs in the park), quick hikes up Glory and Taylor post workout, all the while running my ass off behind the bar at the Knotty Pine 4 nights a week.  It was a big summer.

3. What did your training program entail getting ready for this? Days in gym, days in the mountains?

Basically I kept a pretty strict program of Thursday Friday private sessions with Bret, Victoria and/or Anika while attending Saturday class. After each workout I would pound a protein shake, eat a PBJ and head up Glory or Taylor as fast as I could before going to work. Sunday I would rest before work, which could be a workout in itself considering I would be on my feet for 8 hours and then Monday-Wednesday I would try and get in the park and climb. I did the Grand a couple of times. Teewinot, Owen and some smaller peaks but the weather as you know was less than ideal last summer.

4. What were your gym workouts like?

The workouts that Crystal and the trainers put me through were fantastic due to their focus, but also their variability.  Sometimes I would come in Thursday wiped out from big days in the park. Some FridaysI was wrecked from working post- Music on Main at the Knotty until 3 am and honestly I needed some help putting Humpty-Dumpty back together. Those days would be a lot of mobility and some strength.
Once we started getting closer to my departure date, and I was climbing less on my days off, the workouts turned up the heat and got kinda intense.
Step-ups with a weighted pack. Lots of strength reps, Amraps, pull-ups and hangs on the board.  Very effective.

5. What were your mountain workouts like?

Of course the best training for mountaineering is, mountaineering! We are so fortunate to live right next to the park so I made a point of getting up there as much as I could. There's no better training than a 16 hour day going car to car on the Grand.  Or a 2 day traverse with an overnight pack from Teewinot to Owen.  The long days of constant motion, moderate climbing on rock and snow, the exposure and route finding have no substitute. Real mountaineering in our backyard. Plus it's fun as hell.  However, due to weather and other summer activities/plans my bread and butter was hiking Taylor or Glory 3-4 times a week. With a close proximity to the pass and some solid vertical at medium altitude, I think this was clutch.

6. Did you feel physically ready, therefore mentally ready?

By the time that October rolled around I was feeling physically and mentally confident. There was no doubt that I had put in the time and I was feeling good. Of course I was nervous but at least I had put in a big effort. It's funny though.  I bumped into my friend Mark on Taylor who was training for Everest and he had just been up and down Taylor three (!) times with a forty pound pack! That made me think that maybe I was still a little soft, but that's the thing about living in the Tetons. We are surrounded by super-athletes and I am happy to be just an average Teton Joe athlete.

7. How did it go?

Well the climb was definitely an adventure of a lifetime, and there is no way I can chronicle it all here. But here it is in a nutshell.  The 3 weeks of trekking in the Khumbu region was probably the highlight. The massive valleys, soaring peaks, immaculate Sherpa villages, monasteries in the cliffs, Zen-Buddhist vibe -all lent to a shockingly gorgeous experience. Hiking over Renjo La pass (17600 feet) and getting a view of Everest, Cho-oyu, Makalu and Lhotse was just overwhelming to the point of being emotional.
Every mountain aficionado should see it to believe it.
After weeks of trekking and sleeping above 15000 feet we were well acclimatized which is key.  In fact it was essential. You could be the baddest-ass triathlete or marathon runner but if you don't put in your time acclimating you will get worked, sick and sent to the benches.
So we showed up at Lobuche strong and eager and had a great climb. It was good to sink our crampons into some ice and get on a rope. We summited  in 5 hours which was 2 hours faster than average! Not to mention the summit was spectacular and exposed. This really boosted my confidence for Ama as we headed to base camp.

8. Highlights/ lowlights, most ahh inspiring moment, funniest moment, hardest moment?

What unfolded was a true mountaineering Saga. You can't make this shit up! The story is way to long to present here so for the benefit of the reader I will attempt to be brief.
The good was the rock climbing (5.6)on golden granite at 19000 feet was absolutely sublime and the exposed knife edge ridge amidst the Himalayan Giants was phenomenal.
The bad and the ugly? Well I don't need to go deep into detail about the problems with commercial climbing in the Himalayas. It's well known and fortunately all true. Camp 2 is a vile, fetid place littered with human waste and garbage which was disturbing and sad to me. While resting there amongst the waste we were called on radio to assist an inexperienced and over-zealous "climber" stricken with HACE (High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is a rare, life-threatening altitude disease and is a severe form of acute mountain sickness (AMS). It is caused by leaky capillaries in the brain, which causes fluid accumulation and brain swelling. 

He was in dire straits at camp 3. Our efforts to help were successful but left us exhausted after being up all night at 21,000 feet and dealing with a heli-rescue.
Henry sent the summit with a couple of cool dudes from Colorado while Tim and I headed down to Camp 2 to rest up.  Henry is the youngest American to summit Ama so I count that as a win for the team! At camp 2 while resting up I  made the mistake of boiling some snow likely contaminated with poo- for a quick minute.. I should have boiled it longer.  And that was it my climb was over. My epic wasn't through as I spent all night alternating between diarrhea and vomiting at 20,000 feet. Sounds kinda funny but it got really scary as I knew I was rapidly dehydrating and freezing while hanging it all out (literally) of the tent.
This is where I truly believe my training saved the day as I had enough strength to descend 6000 feet to base camp amidst multiple rappels and dangerous exposure to base camp the next morning where I spent a couple of days recovering and eating Ciproflaxin like tic-tacs.
It was an emotional time for me, but I am happy to have just been able to be part of it all! I've been denied many summits, but that was usually on my own terms . For me the summit is just a bonus, the climbing is what its really all about and I gave it my best shot! I went in as strong as I could have and fully acclimatized, just to get kneecapped by extrenuous circumstances. The rub is I feel that the state of Commercial Climbing in the Himalayas is irresponsible and over capitalized which jeopardizes safety for the average climber, while detracting from a sacred experience due to the unchecked degradation of the environment.
I was able to come to peace with it all however, on the week of hiking out alone which was fantastic, and a few days of raging in Kathmandu.  Both are highly recommended!

9. Anything you would do different?

A lot of people have asked me if I would do it again.  Honestly I am not sure.  I absolutely would go back just to trek, but if I were to climb it would be a un-commercial mountain like Cholatse or Baruntse.
But who knows.  The feeling of vulnerability yet moving strong at altitude amidst the greatest climbing arena in the world is simply unmatched for me.  Just have to try to stay in shape and refuse to get old!

10. Extras
The Sherpa Olympics.

Anyone who has trekked in Nepal has certainly been awestruck by the incredible strength of the Sherpa people.

Our porter Padang (23 years old) carried all 3 of our 40lb duffle bags wrapped together with a strap around his forehead!  This was for 70+ miles up and over 17500 foot passes  wearing Adidas and sweat pants!

One beautiful sunny day in Dzonghla, which is one of the highest villages in the world at 16000 feet, we decided to get Pasang and Pemba to join us in some yoga.  After the yoga I decided to do some clap-push ups. Then some squats, and suddenly I was involved in the Sherpa Olympics at 16,000 feet!  The fact that I could even hang with those guys is a solid testament to the effectiveness of the Wright Training Program, even if I only took the Bronze Medal!

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