Cho Oyu — In the Land of the Heights, the Goddess of Turquoise Dwells (2)
In the immortal words of George Mallory, “Because it’s there.” That would be the classical answer, part philosophical part flippant.
Oddly, I don’t actually get asked that question very often. Is that because everyone gets it and don’t need to, or they don’t think they will and are afraid to? I tend to think it’s more the former, but for those who fall into the latter category, here goes:
Because of the moments when one pauses, possibly more than a little exhausted from physical exertion and mental focus, looks around, and is rendered speechless and moved to tears by the magnificence around you. When you realise that the piece of the world that you are seeing is hard earned and comparatively few are fortunate enough to see it for themselves. When you realise just how small and fragile you really are.
For most people, mountains are beautiful and awe-inspiring, even if they never really get to see or experience them in an up close and personal way; they are more abstract and less real, living, breathing, growing, evolving pieces of the world around us. It’s not hard to trawl through pictures and videos of past travels and find shots and clips that blow people away. It’s easy to appreciate a wild picture from the mountains, it’s even more awesome to have taken the picture, and recall the incredible experience and level of effort and technical difficulty that it took to be there, in that place and at that time, and all the great people whom you met and whom you journeyed with along the way. Beyond the sheer physical beauty, it’s hard to convey the deeply personal context that lies behind the digital moments.
I was never the sporty one in the family; as kids, that was definitely more my older siblings. I never particularly enjoyed PhysEd in high school; looking back, the focus was far too much on team sports, which to this day I do not particularly enjoy, and a general assumption that everyone was already pretty fit. Of course, climbing is still a team sport, but the focus is much different, and you can’t beat the context. I hated going for runs, largely because they pushed the group too hard, too fast, which isn’t great when one doesn’t already have some sort of useful base. Physical achievements were just things that other people did, and it never really occurred to me to think that was something I, too, could do. Then one day, literally, I discovered that I could. Along with that, I discovered the satisfaction that come from setting a challenging goal, working hard to try and get there, and the rush of achievement (or the introspection and learning from failure).
But why Cho Oyu?
For many, Cho Oyu’s biggest draw is as a training climb for Everest. It’s not a destination unto itself, it is a step along the way. Unlike most of the people I am likely to encounter there, I am not on a road to Everest. Probably the most common question I get is if I will go there some day; I’ll never say never, but I do not have the same draw to stand at the world’s highest point in the way that many others do. But I do not begrudge those for whom this is a life goal, and to do so is an incredible achievement.
First and foremost, I want to know how the world looks and feels at 8000m, and not through the abstract looking glass of an aircraft window. It’s an itch I’ve wanted to scratch since I started my journey into the mountains. There are only a few places in the world to go on such a journey. Of all of them, Cho Oyu is one of the safest and “easiest”. As much as that, I am thrilled and excited to experience a piece of China I have not yet seen, the mystical and culturally vibrant Tibet.
I don’t know what I will find there, but the only way to know is to go and try, and experience the journey and the moments along the way.
Two long weeks to go!
A precious and awe-inspiring moment in the mountains. Pausing to rest and reflect on the beauty of the Earth and the strength of the human spirit. Looking north along the spine of South America from “The Cave” at ~6700m on Cerro Aconcagua’s normal route, February 9, 2013. The rising bulk of the Andes visibly divides the continent, falling off to Chile on the left and Argentina on the right.
The ascent across the open slope of the Gran Accareo up to this point was the hardest part of summit day for me. There were many points where I wasn’t sure if I would make it. Looking back, I was woefully under-trained and still find it hard to believe that I found the strength to keep going when so many others turned back. Once I reached this point, stopped and took in the moment, I knew I would make it to the summit. I stopped the stressful doubting and began to enjoy every step. It allowed me to enjoy the gulley of La Canaleta above and ride the euphoria all the way to the summit at 6961 metres above sea level and the highest point of the Americas.
Follow the journey on social media:
Instagram: @spacealpinist (https://www.instagram.com/spacealpinist/)
Twitter: @spacealpinist (https://twitter.com/spacealpinist/)