John Black, Allan Dickinson, Warren Eva & Robby Kojetin
Pics Alex Treadway, www.alextreadway.co.uk
The first all-South-African team to summit Ama Dablam, a Himalayan giant in the Khumbu region of Nepal.
John Black (34) from Johannesburg. John has climbed six of the Seven Summits, including Kilimanjaro eight times and Elbrus twice, as well as other mountains across the globe. He completed the Drakensberg Grand Traverse aged 17 and has multiple Comrades, Ironman and Ultra Trail run finishes to his name. He was also South Africa’s 16th and youngest Everest summiteer, at 29, in 2009. John is married and has a one-year-old son.
Allan Dickinson (30). Despite this being Allan’s first trip to the Himalayas, he is at home outdoors. He has two of the Seven Summits under his belt and has completed the Somkhanda Rhino run, Mont-aux-Sources Challenge and Two Oceans.
Warren Eva (32). Warren has represented South Africa at the World Duathlon Championships, completed two Ironman triathlons, the Comrades Marathon and has numerous podium finishes in trail running. His many summits include Denali, Elbrus, Mount Kenya, Kilimanjaro, and Pisco in the South American Andes.
Robby Kojetin (36). Robby was South Africa’s 17th Everest Summiteer and has four of the Seven Summits behind him.
Height of peak 6856m
Duration of expedition 4 weeks
Risk of death High. Altitude, exposure, extreme temperatures and avalanche risk make technical climbing like this a risky business.
Highlights Four friends spending a challenging month together. Standing on the summit as the first successful South African expedition to summit Ama Dablam.
Sponsors The North Face South Africa
The 6,847m high Himalayan peak of Ama Dablam, in Khumbu region of Nepal, is one of the most beautiful and seductive mountains in the world. Yet, until recently, it had never been summitted by an all-South African team. The odds seemed stacked against them but on 17th November 2013 Gauteng-based climbers John Black, Allan Dickinson and Warren Eva rewrote the history books.
‘I remember John’s first words to me when he arrived back from climbing Everest five years ago,’ recalls Warren Eva. ‘No mention of Everest, just that he had laid eyes on the most beautiful mountain he had ever seen – Ama Dablam. That very day we decided to return to the Khumbu to climb this steep, exposed and majestic peak. Such a beautiful mountain was impossible to resist. We had to climb it.’
Ama Dablam is a technical peak which requires experience and skill. But, as with all high altitude mountaineering, fortune plays a big part. And for a while it looked as if Lady Luck was not on their side. An unseasonal tropical cyclone in India a few months prior to the expedition resulted in heavy snow fall, with concommitant navigation issues, deep snow and avalanche danger, which turned back many of the international groups.
‘It was demoralizing to see big team after big team depart each day as Base 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.’
‘We planned to climb alpine style in the purest possible fashion,’ Eva explained, ‘and it was this approach that made Ama Dablam possible for us. We avoided the commercially organised trips which fix lines, cook your food, carry your gear and set your tents. Rather we went with our own ropes, ice and rock gear and the determination to be patient and let the mountain give us our chance. The soft snow conditions made it impossible for the commercial teams to fix lines safely but our experience and gear allowed us to attempt the summit in those conditions and, most importantly, return safely. The mountaineer’s mantra is that the summit is only halfway.'
No stranger to fickle mountains, Eva (who owns Evason Software Solutions, an enterprise software company) has had his share of both successes and frustrations and knows all too well that patience is often the key to success.
‘Twice I have had to turn back within a couple of hundred metres of the summit. On the north face of Mt Kenya, a demanding, technical rock climb, we reached a point, only 100 vertical metres from the summit, where it was simply too dangerous to continue and we took the very difficult decision to retreat. Again in the Peruvian Andes, having had our approach to Alpamayo blocked by a crevasse, we were forced to turn back with only 200 metres to go, on the neighbouring peak of Quitarajo. These failures were hard pills to swallow but it’s important to have the strength to make the right choice when it counts. At altitude, turning around is never the wrong decision. As Ed Viesters, one of the greatest mountaineers of all time, quoted: Live to turn around another day.'
The North Face-sponsored team of Black, Eva, experienced mountaineer Robby Kojetin (who had summited Everest with Black) and Allan Dickinson comprised a determined and experienced team that refused to be beaten back by the elements.
Their patience was rewarded. On the 12th November, almost two full weeks after arriving at Base Camp, the team was presented with their first real opportunity to embark on the summit attempt.
It was no easy task.
Black elaborated: ‘The route from Base Camp to Camp 2 is normally dry rock and easy to navigate, but 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, an infamous, dramatic location atop a rock pinnacle, with barely space for five tents. We pitched a tent and dropped gear before descending to Base Camp to regroup and resupply ready for a summit attempt.’
Then came a blow when Robby Kojetin announced that he was pulling out. Having suffered a climbing accident a few years before, Kojetin was feeling the effects of the strain on his ankles, and this, coupled with a severe bout of bronchitis, meant that his expedition was over. ‘Obviously we were all gutted, but it was a responsible decision,’ admitted Black.
The three remaining team members waited at Base Camp for two days, then on the 15th November headed back up the mountain on their summit bid.
‘On our way to Camps 1 and 2 we passed teams that were abandoning their own expeditions,’ reminisced Black. ‘Thankfully, when we arrived in Camp 2, we found that a small team from the USA Alpenglow, and their impressive Sherpa team, had managed to summit just a few hours earlier, 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, the only way the team was going to top out on the 6,857m-high peak was to push directly from Camp 2 to the summit, a climb that would take the trio seven hours.
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 stood atop Ama Dablam.
‘After hours of hard climbing we finally had nowhere further to go,’ mused Black. 'We were on the summit with incredible views of Mount Everest and the entire Himalaya. It was excruciatingly cold and we could only stay five minutes before we had to begin the descent, a long, cold series of down-climbs and abseils back to Camp 2 in the falling darkness. By the time we reached Camp 2 we had been climbing for 11 hours, a truly epic adventure. We had fought hard to become the first all-South African team to summit Ama Dablam and were extremely grateful to 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.’
Rumour has it that, when trekking past the lofty peak on his way back from the first summit of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary announced: ‘Ama Dablam is unclimbable.’ But the team are insistent that breaking records is not the reason they climb. ‘Rather we choose our mountains because they are beautiful and challenging.’
To find out more about #ExpeditionAmaDablam, visit
The Ama Dablam team are our first contenders for Nightjar Adventurer 2014. If you know of other crazy sorts who have completed extreme expeditions in the last nine months you can nominate them by visiting www.nightjartravel.com/nightjar-adventurer-2014. Nominations close on Friday 7th March 2014.