Cho Oyu, Tibet

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Cho Oyu, 8200 m / 26,900 ft

My first adventure to the Himalayas was in 2006, trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal before climbing Island Peak, 20,300 ft. After this four week expedition, I needed to return to this fantastically beautiful and impressive mountain range, exotic villages and beautifully colorful  people of this region.

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In 2010 I decided to return to Himalayas. This time I joined a 6 weeks expedition to Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest mountain, in Tibet.

But, even after my decision was made, doubts and some fear crept into my mind that I am not mentally prepared and that I don’t have the technical skills needed for a successful climb of  this giant mountain.

In the months before my departure to Kathmandu/Nepal, there were many moments when I considered to bail but thanks to the encouragement from my wife, I overcame my dark thoughts and I started enjoying the experience of preparing for a real big climb, outstanding adventure and once in a lifetime experience.

The preparations for such an expedition take months. There is the physical preparation. Running, hiking, core and weight training. Some people must have thought that I am crazy when I walked on the gym’s treadmill with a heavy pack.

An expedition to the world’s highest mountain range requires a lot of personal equipment, clothes, and all sorts of stuff including  “Ricola” cough drops, playing cards, bottle insulators, baby wipes, medication, batteries, hiking boots, heavy climbing boots (for extreme low temperatures), down suit etc. I made lists and drew pictures of what clothes I  need to buy and bring for which body part.

The most cost and time effective way to reach Kathmandu from New York was by way of Doha/Qatar with Qatar Airways. These long flights and layovers gave me lot’s of time to think; why do you have to do this trip; it’s great to be in the Himalayas again; you’re so lucky to be able to do this. A rollercoaster of thoughts. In Doha I had a 5 hours layover in the middle of the night and I never felt lonelier. After exchanging a few emails with my wife, I realized that for my family at home life continued as usual.

Apart from its temples, I don’t find Kathmandu to be an inviting town. It’s dirty and dusty. I just wanted to leave it healthy without bringing any sickness with me to the trail.

lighting good luck candles at temple before departing Kathmandu
Burning good luck candles at a temple in Kathmandu

On a rainy, monsoon like, morning, the expedition left the cozy environments of our hotel in a bus to the Tibetan border town of Zhangmu. The rains caused landslides on the poorly maintained and narrow road from Kathmandu to the border of Nepal.

Road from Kathmandu to Nepal/Tibet border
Road from Kathmandu to Nepal/Tibet border

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After a pretty good Chinese lunch in a not very appealing restaurant, we crossed the border into Tibet. We had to cross a bridge one by one before being thoroughly inspected from head to toe by the Chinese border guards. The luggage had to be opened and the guards checked for unregistered satellite phones and other contraband. The scene reminded of a spy exchange during the cold war.

The trip continued in jeeps on excellent roads from Zhangmu to Nayalam and Tingri. In each town we spent a f ew days of hiking and acclimating in – at that time – rather primitive hotel rooms. To avoid touching the bedsheets, we spread our sleeping bags on top of the bed.

Tingri "Riz"
Tingri “Riz”

In Nayalam, a reasonably pleasant town, we found an “international” restaurant with some typical Tibetan houses and a small street market.

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Cho Oyu - 1 (3) dried yak dung outside the window used as “fire wood”

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Not all Tibetan towns are as neat as Nayalam. Tingri, for instance, was a filthy village with one main street with stores but also used as toilet and garbage dump.

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In Tingri, the last town before moving to the driver’s base camp, we got our first glimpse of Cho Oyu:

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At our last acclimatization stop in the driver’s base camp, our loads were transferred to yaks, carrying our entire expedition stuff to the actual Cho Oyu advanced base camp.

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Ten days after leaving Kathmandu we finally made it to ABC (Advanced Base Camp), altitude 5700m/18700ft,  with its unbelievable  views:

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We had a reasonably comfortable base camp. Each climber had his/her own tent. Meals were served at the mess tent. For our international communication we used a satellite phone and a laptop for sending/receiving e-mail messages was also available. This is one of the highest, if not the highest, base camp for climbing one of the 8,000 meter peaks. Every movement at this altitude requires a big effort. Food has not much taste. You have no appetite. The body slowly deteriorates.

We took daily acclimatization hikes before going up the mountain to sleep at Camp I, then II, III before summit day. After each rotation, the climbers returned for recovery to base camp. Going up and down the mountain is exiting on the first rotation but becomes “old” the second and third time.

Most of the time at ABC I was sick. It began with a severely sore throat which turned into a hacking cough and then bronchitis. Curing these illnesses at this high altitude in the dry, cold, thin air is virtually impossible. Before having to terminate my summit dreams, I made it up to the ice cliff between camps I and II at approximately 21,000 ft.

There were no summits during this season. The monsoon never ended and kept dumping snow on the slopes of Cho Oyu. A number of  Sherpas were caught in an avalanche and were seriously injured. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

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Between Camp I and II at approx. 21,000ft.

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