James Gracia climbs Ama Dablam in aid of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
James Gracia undertook a gruelling challenge in climbing Himalayan mountain Ama Dablam in aid of the Gibraltar Alzheimer’s and Dementia Society.
So far Mr Gracia has raised £2,600 of this £3,000 target, and is still accepting donations.
Retired Major James Gracia was unable to summit Ama Dablam due to weather conditions and the passing of a fellow team member.
The mountain stands at 6,812 meters, in the Himalaya range of eastern Nepal and is known as the mountaineer’s mountain because it is so technical.
“It was a great experience, enjoyed it thoroughly. I have been to Nepal before and I have walked a lot of the trails before but it is always a different experience every time. Different people and the guys on the expedition were mostly very experienced,” he said.
There were 13 climbers in his expedition plus the leader, Sherpas, kitchen boys, yak wranglers. One of the climbing Sherpas had climbed Everest 22 times.
The leader has 16 years’ experience on Ama Dablam, summiting six times, and has also summited Everest three times.
Unfortunately, due to reasons out of his control Mr Gracia didn’t summit.
“The weather windows were not in our favour and we had a death,” Mr Gracia said.
An experienced climber, a 47-year-old American, suffered a high altitude pulmonary edema, which was fatal.
The highest Mr Gracia did reach was 6,000m.
“We made it to Camp two and that was the highest we got as the weather windows were not in our favour.”
He added if the death of his fellow climber had not happened, they may have risked more.
“We stayed for the full expedition, we just did not get to the summit,” he said.
“To be honest I felt strong, so I am sure we could have summited if we had had the opportunity but saying that on summit day you start at maybe midnight or one o’clock in the morning to give you enough time to get to the top and back. At 1.45 there was a big rock fall in the area and we would have been on there if we had been summiting and there was 120 mile an hour winds as well.”
Base camp temperatures were minus ten degrees on average at night inside the tent, but in the day in the sun it could be up to 20 degrees in a tent with the greenhouse effect.
Outside the tent it would be zero, as soon as the sun set the temperature would drop dramatically.
“From Camp one to Camp two it is very interesting, technical climbing,” he said.
“If you didn’t have any mountaineering experience you would probably just leave it at Camp one, as Camp one is quite steep anyway.”
“Camp two is on a pinnacle and there is only enough space for about ten tents.”
He and his fellow climbers are clipped into ropes and attached to the mountain for the most part.
Mr Gracia described the hardest part of the challenge was acclimatisation and rotations.
“We are not designed to live at that altitude unless you are a Sherpa and you have been genetically modified over thousands of years,” he said.
“The headaches, the general feeling of unwellness, the difficulty breathing, the sleep apnoea when you are trying to fall asleep.”
“That happens pretty much straight away when you get to base camp which is at 4,500 metres which is already higher than anything in Europe and you struggle there for the first couple of days and then you recover and then you go to advance base camp and the same thing happens again.”
You have to keep going up and down between each camps to acclimatise to the altitude.
Prior to setting off up the mountain a Buddhist ceremony called a Puja was performed to spiritually celebrate the event.
This was done by a local lama, who blessed the people taking part in the expedition as well as the equipment that will be used.
The ceremony takes two hours and during that time the prayer flags are also unfurled, rice and flour is thrown up in the air as an offering to the gods, there is chanting and banging of drums and cymbals and they drink chyaang [a potent rice wine] and rum.
“It is important for the Sherpas to have a successful expedition,” said Mr Gracia.
In addition, the lama gives a scarf to those taking part.
“Basically, you get the scarf and you offer it back to the lama and it has got some money in it and you get the scarf back and the money has mysteriously disappeared,” he said.
“He puts the scarf over your neck and you can’t throw it away. You can gift it to someone else and you can tie it to a bridge or a monument,” he added.
His scarf is draped around a picture frame at home. He received others on his journey from Sherpas and he tied these to a bridge he will see when he returns to conquer the mountain next year.
He spent three weeks on the mountain, spending some time in Kathmandu, the walk in is four days and the walk out was two.
Mr Gracia is taking the rest of the year off from climbing but has done some surfing. He will return to his training in January.
Mr Gracia served in the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and became the Battalion Second in Command before he retired. He presently runs his own outdoor adventure company Ultimate Rock Adventures.
You can donate to his Just Giving page on https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/amadablamgads