Cho Oyu — In the Land of the Heights, the Goddess of Turquoise Dwells (3)
With just days to go, the inevitable last-minute frantic running around has begun. No matter how many times I do this, there’s always a ton of little things to do at the last minute, and there’s always a couple of inconsequential gear decisions that seems to cause more stress than necessary (it’s a bit of a necessary ritual, it seems). ;)
So here’s a rough outline of the plan:
The team will meet up in Nepal, in Kathmandu. This will be my third time there. I will fly out from home on August 25, going the “long” way, transiting via Hong Kong and a nearly 16 hour non-stop flight that I’m looking forward to; time to catch up on sleep!
Our team consists of a grand total of four people: two guides, two clients. Happily, I already know both of the guides, whom I have climbed with on previous expeditions.
Oswaldo “Ossy” Freire is from Ecuador; I first met him and his family in 2013 on a “mountaineering school” trip. He wasn’t my guide for that trip, but we stayed several nights at his “Hacienda Rumiloma”, an incredible and luxurious hotel at 3,500m altitude high up above Quito on the slopes of the volcano Pichincha. It’s hard to imagine a better place to acclimatize or rest in between adventures; the accommodations are gorgeous and incredibly comfortable, the food is stellar, and the grounds are awesome, including a bird refuge with dozens of different species. I got a chance to climb with him on my second trip to Ecuador in 2016. Incredibly strong and skilled, definitely a people person and always with a smile on his face, he has seen the summit of several eight-thousanders himself, including Everest without oxygen.
Lam Babu Sherpa is from the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. I met him in the post-monsoon climbing season in 2015 when I spent a month with him in a climb of the beautiful Ama Dablam. He definitely falls into the “superstar” category, with numerous eight-thousander summits and many other lower peaks, having worked his way up through the ranks from porter all the way to expedition Sirdar. Incredibly strong and a often-quirky sense of humour, I’m not sure he actually broke a sweat during our climb (while I was panting my way up at a snail’s pace). Not content to simply guide in the mountains, he has been involved with the Nepal Mountaineering Instructors Association, teaching important skills to aspiring Nepali mountain guides. I remain convinced that he knows literally everyone in the Khumbu Valley.
We will spend a couple of days in Kathmandu, sorting out various logistical details such as our Chinese visas, before taking a flight up and over the highest mountains in the world to the gateway to Tibet in China, Lhasa at 3500m altitude. This will be my fourth time to China, but the first time I have been fortunate to visit this incredible part of the world. We will spend a couple of days in Lhasa sorting out logistics and seeing the sights. Once we arrive in Lhasa, our acclimitization begins.
From Lhasa, we drive west for several days, passing through small villages and visiting local sights along the way, to arrive at Cho Oyu’s “Chinese Base Camp” at around 5000m altitude. The name is a bit of a misnomer, since we only spend a couple of nights here to acclimatize and take a day hike up higher.
From here, it is a two day trek in to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 5700m altitude where we will spend most of our time. ABC is only slightly lower in altitude than the summit of Kilimanjaro and we will spend four weeks here and higher up on Cho Oyu’s slopes.
The route we will be climbing is the “normal route”, the route of first ascent, aka the West Ridge-West Face route. We will set up three camps on the mountain: Camp 1 at ~6400m, Camp 2 at ~7000m, and Camp 3 at ~7450m. We will follow a classic expeditionary climbing approach where we make several “rotations” up the mountain to higher camps to acclimatize and stash gear each time, before returning to ABC to rest and recover. Once the rotations are done, we wait for a good weather and conditions window. On the summit push itself, we will spend a night at each of the three camps on the way up, and likely a night at one of the higher camps on the way back down, though the goal is to get as low as possible safely, for a total of four nights and five days. The main sections of some technical difficulty are an ice cliff/serac wall between Camp 1 and Camp 2, and a mixed rock band known as the “Yellow Band” above Camp 3.
With a lot of luck and sweat, we will stand on the summit of the world’s sixth highest peak at almost 8200m sometime in late September, and gaze upon the immensity of Everest’s West Ridge and stare deep into the Western Cwm at the famous Lhotse Face, with the splendor of the Himalaya spread out around us.
The plan is to return to Kathmandu overland on or about October 4. From there, I will fly to Seoul, South Korea, for a couple of days of R&R, and then to Victoria, BC, for some more R&R with some good friends. I will then return home on October 9, after nearly seven weeks away. Phew!
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