Adventure 2017: Matt Tredway — Ousted on Ama Dablam
For local mountaineer Matt Tredway, abandoning his summit attempt on Nepal’s 22,467-foot Ama Dablam this fall can be traced to his gear bag in Kathmandu. What seemed a minor scratch on his hand at the time from the bag’s zipper was enough to derail his Ama Dablam plans a few weeks later.
Tredway planned to make the summit attempt with Steamboat Springs local Chhiring Dorje Sherpa, detouring from a 50-mile trek he helped organize for fellow local Dan Bell and Canada’s Greg Bastamoff.
“It was a great trek,” Tredway says. “It went over a few high passes, which helped me acclimate, and connected a bunch of different regions, including the Khumbu region of Everest and the Rowaling Valley. Some of our party even climbed 20,000-foot Lobuche.”
All the while, however, Tredway’s scratch had gotten infected, swelling his wrist. Add in the rigors of the trek and his immunity also suffered, giving him the “Khumbu Cough,” or an altitude-induced cold. “I probably screwed myself a bit,” he says. “If I’d been at a base camp I probably would have been sequestered and been healthy. But my hands just wouldn’t heal.”
Realizing his deteriorating health, he retreated down to 13,000 feet and spent four days recuperating at the village of Pheriche. Feeling better, he advanced again, only to see his hand swell up again. This time, he also felt his heart tighten.
A short time later, he took part in a customary puja ceremony, inviting blessings for his Ama Dablam climb.
“It was pretty surreal,” he says. “I was led into this monastery through a catacomb to a small room with prayer flags and a sole light, where a huge monk was sitting in a window. Then all of a sudden he started smacking me all over my body with rolled-up prayer flags. He said a ghost had caught me by the hand and was now trying to grow into my heart. So he was driving him out. I was pretty freaked out.”
The next day Tredway woke up feeling better, realizing maybe the prayer flag spanking was exactly what he needed. Resting for another day, he decided to head out to keep acclimating, when he met a couple of Swiss doctors, who diagnosed him as having pericarditis and gave him appropriate drugs. “I was still thinking I’d be able to climb Ama Dablam,” he says, “so I thought I’d run up to 20,000 feet on Lobuche and see how it felt. But they said that was crazy.”
That night the dreams came. “The monk said I needed to keep track of my dreams,” he says. “Usually, at altitude, I’m on Ambien so I don’t dream, but that night I dreamt about a bunch of cute little puppies.”
When he told Chhiring about his dream, his friend’s face turned ashen. “He said that the monk said if I dreamed about buffalos, monkeys or dogs, I had to get out quickly,” Tredway recalls.
Chhiring wasn’t one to ignore the monk’s advice. A few years earlier, the same monk told him not to guide trips on Everest for three years. He acquiesced, only to see two western climbers fight with Sherpas after a rockfall incident the first year; a giant serac fall in the Khumbu Icefield, killing 16 Sherpas in year two; and an earthquake causing an avalanche that tore through the Khumbu Icefield, killing 22, in year three.
Tredway heeded the doctor’s advice as well, backing off his Ama Dablam attempt. “Two highly educated western doctors and an eastern lama were both spot-on in their diagnoses — the doctors reaching theirs through 12 years of medical school and the lama through prayer flags and an exorcism,” says Tredway.
The decision proved serendipitous. On his planned summit day, an earthquake hit the mountain, killing a Sherpa and ruining several camps. “I ignored everything,” Tredway says. “I didn’t focus on my own intuition. I systematically tried to cover every base, but it was out of my hands. Apparently God’s, or whomever’s, list is more comprehensive than mine.
“It was one of the most surprising non-summits I’ve ever done,” he adds. “I completely understand having to turn back from avalanche danger or rockfall, where it’s easy to say, ‘Live to climb another day.’ But turning around because of a scratch on my hand? Sometimes the stupidest little things can change everything.”
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