Camping above the clouds
© Red Bull

Big goals and unexpected events for David Lama in the Himalayas

David Lama returned to Nepal with another attempt to climb Annapurna III, but after acclimatising on Ama Dablam, the expedition took a sudden turn. So what happened? We find out from the man himself.
Written by Thomas Wernhart
5 min readPublished on
At the tender age of 27 David Lama can already look back on an impressive mountaineering career with some impressive alpine climbs under his belt. In 2016 he attempted the unclimbed south-east ridge of Annapurna III, but the attempt ended in failure. Not to be defeated, he went back to Nepal once again in this autumn to pay tribute to the 7,555m-high giant. Hansjörg Auer and Alex Blümel, who were also involved in the 2016 attempt, accompanied him again, but this time the boys approached the climb very differently. Read on to hear Lama's account of what happened.
You went to Nepal with the aim of returning to Annapurna III?
Yes. I was there in spring 2016 with Hansjörg Auer and Alex Blümel and we had a good attempt at the unclimbed south-east ridge, which had been our goal. After three days on the climb we had to retreatfrom about two thirds of the way up. The weather wasn't what was predicted and we found ourselves in a snowstorm every afternoon. The climb is long and difficult, truly appealing, and with all the knowledge we had gained, we planned to give it another go this year.
The Annapurna III expedition crew.
Hansjörg Auer, Alex Blümel and David Lama
Same team, same strategy for 2017?
Yes, same team, but our strategy was very different. One big thing we learned from last year's expedition was not to attempt the mountain in spring. We hoped to find better weather in the post-monsoon season, so in autumn. With less humidity in the air and cooler temperatures, we knew that the potential of snowfall would decrease and this would maximise our chances of summiting.
The Annapurna III expedition meets some local wildlife on their way to Ama Dablam
Company high up in Nepal comes in all forms and sizes
Apart from that major change we also decided to not acclimatise in the Annapurna III region again. The basecamp from which you climb the south-east ridge (of Annapurna III) is at about 4,600m, but unfortunately there aren’t too many possibilities to acclimatise well for a summit push. The lines that you can take to reach a decent height from basecamp are either extremely long, technically difficult or simply too dangerous. We therefore decided to travel to the Khumbu region and acclimatise on Ama Dablam.
Ama Dablam as seen from base camp on the south-west side.
The soaring ridges and steep face of Ama Dablam
And did the plan work out?
Ama Dablam is a mountain that’s stunningly beautiful and that’s been on my 'bucket list' for quite a while. We climbed it via its south-west ridge; a steep, but technically not-too-difficult route. It allowed us to make quick progress and we summited Ama Dablam on October 15. We spent the night right on the summit at an elevation of a little over 6800m - a perfect ending of our acclimatisation.
Hansjörg Auer, David Lama and Alex Blümel huddled together and covered up by sleeping bags on Ama Dablem.
Acclimatising in the tent
Did you feel perfectly ready to take on the challenge of Annapurna III after that?
Actually yes, but after summiting there was a very sudden turn of events. After descending from Ama Dablam it became apparent that as a team we didn’t feel ready to take on the challenge of Annapurna III again. This feeling came from the others rather than from myself, but of course their decision needed to be respected and this meant the inevitable ending of our expedition.
David Lama climbs Ama Dablam in less than perfect conditions.
Climbing conditions were not exactly perfect on Ama Dablam
So the expedition ended before it really started?
Yes. After the eventful happenings on Lunag Ri last year, and especially after my solo attempt on that mountain, I felt super-exhausted and also mentally drained for quite some time. This trip to Ama Dablam and then on to Annapurna III was going to be my only expedition for 2017 and that’s where I put all my efforts in to be in shape. Before leaving for Nepal I felt as strong as ever before and ready to give it my all. Looking forward to such a project for this long and then having to step back without even giving it an attempt was harsh, especially knowing that we were far better adjusted to the high altitudes than the year before.
What came about to make the ending inevitable?
Mountaineering can generally get your mind working and if it's such a great project that’s at stake, then things get even more special. The time in the mountains makes you reflect and potentially makes you question things you didn’t question before. A turn like this was something new to me though and I must admit it hurts.
The Himalayas in Nepal in all their beauty.
The view from Ama Dablam camp
Sounds like a challenging time. What are your thoughts about Annapurna III now?
Often in mountaineering you depend on circumstances that you have no influence on. It requires patience and determination to climb routes like the south-east ridge of Annapurna III and to me this expedition doesn't feel like the end of this project. I guess I haven’t cleared my mind enough on when and how I want to return yet, but the mountain’s still there and I want to go back!
What are your plans for the winter?
Obviously this trip isn't something you can just tick off, so my mind is still on Annapurna III. It'll take time for the grief about this unfulfilled expedition desire to fade. At the same time though I’m looking forward to some skiing and some winter climbing in the Alps.
Watch the full story of David Lama's 2016 attempt of Annapurna III below:
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