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Cho Oyu

 

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Fall 1998


Part 1


Well, I'm still here. Actually, I am back in Kathmandu. What a wild
place. Its at the same time both the most magical and most disgusting
place you could ever imagine. And chaotic. It makes Mexico City look ike a quite suburb.

I have to apologize. I had really expected to be able to provide you
with consistent trip updates throughout the expedition, but as I said
in my last email, the technology gods were frowning on us. We had the set up all ready to go at Advanced Base Camp (ABC), but there is a little thing called a surge protector that we didn't have and the Honda generator blew the whole system. A $20 part could have saved someone a $5000 investment. Oh well. One other team had a system which you should have received an email from me on, but that highly edited email ended up costing me $86. I would have sent a lot more, but not at that price. Our sat phone worked fine, but at $25 per minute to the Chinese govt., I hope none of you are too offended that I didn't call you personally.

So I am back in Kathmandu getting ready for my second climb which will be Ama Dablam which is up the Khumbu Valley near Everest. I will be leaving on Sat morning and be in there for about 3 weeks. This peak is smaller than Cho Oyu, but highly technical.

Let me bring you up to speed on the down and dirty details of the Cho Oyu Expedition. If my spelling/grammar is off here its because I am typing fast and not correcting - (its 20 rupees a minute for internet time in Kath.).

A few details about the mountain. Cho Oyu is one of 14 of the worlds
8000 meter peaks. At 8201 meters or 27100 ft, it is the 6th highest peak in the world and one of the sister peaks of Everest. Everest is typically climbed from either the north on the North Ridge via China/Tibet or the south on the South Col. route via Nepal and the Khumbu Valley. Cho Oyu which is the next set of valleys over in both countries is typically only climbed on the west face via the China/Tibet side. You used to be able to access the route from the Nepal side via the Nang Pala glacier valley, but due to China's somewhat restrictionist policies, this is no longer allowed to be crossed (although we did see a few yak herders crossing via moonlit
nights, no doubt seeking asylum in Nepal....the Chinese are very hard on the Tibetans....FREE TIBET!!!! - sorry, I'll keep the political commentary to a minimum). The mountain sees about a half a dozen or so expeditions each season (spring and fall). A little less than 50% of the teams that try the peak will get someone on the summit, and less than 30% of all individuals will succeed in reaching the top. As of 1995, 10 Americans had summitted Cho Oyu, although I am sure that number has increased several fold in the last few years.  Historically, an average of 1 in 25 climbers has died trying to climb this mountain.

There are two strategies for attacking the big Himalayan peaks. The first, and less common is to climb by what the call Alpine Style, which is fast and light. Typically, a small team of 2-4 climbers and maybe a high mtn climbing sherpa will take very light loads and plan to climb the mtn as quick as possible. This is quite risky as typically you have less gear and food to wait our storms in which you may get caught and you will most likely have less fixed lines on the mountain to facilitate a retreat if necessary, but has the added advantage of allowing a team to move extremely quick, as well as cause less environmental impact on the mtn which is becoming a large concern in the Himalayan. The second, and our adopted strategy is to take the mtn by Siege Style. Lots of gear, lots of resources, lots of fixed lines and lots of food. This enables us to establish permanent camps high on the mountain, each with loads of food and fixed lines between the camps for hauling loads and retreats if necessary. Thisway, if you get caught in a storm, there is no problem waiting it out. As an example, for 12 climbers on our team, we brought 48 - 2&3 man tents and probably close to three or four tons of food (130+ yaks at 70-80 kilos per yak, probably 1/3 of that food....someone do the arithmetic). By the way, speaking of food, I now know why we decided to leave England and colonize the states.....it was the food. British food sucks....they just don't know how to cook. Anyway we would have the following permanent camps on the mountain: 

Chinese Base Camp (CBC) at 15200 ft
Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 19000ft
Camp 1 (c1) at 20000 ft
Camp 2 (c2) at 24000 ft
Camp 3 (c3) at 25000 ft

CBC would be non manned and left up in the event that we needed to evacuate a team member to a much lower altitude. ABC would be our primary base camp and all operations would be staged from here.  One of the interesting things about climbing big mtns is that you end up actually climbing the mountain many times over. When you climb say a rainier or mt. blanc, you climb up to a certain level with a load, spend the night and then the next day go higher. You do this until you reach the summit and then turn around and go home. On a peak like Cho Oyu, you spend a tremendous amount of time carrying/ferrying loads up to the high camps and then coming down to rest, and doing it again. In trying to fortify 3 high camps on the mountain, each member will probably make between 5-8 trips between abc and c1, 3-4 trips between c1 and c2, 2 trips between c2 and c3 and finally one attempt on the summit. Carrying the loads to build the camps is by far the most time consuming part of the trip, but this also serves the very important purpose of helping us to acclimatize on the peak. Acclimatization is the process of the body getting used to living in an oxygen deprived environment. Using sea level as the standard, the o2 level at 20000 feet is less than 50% and at 26000 less than 30%. They call the level above 18000 ft the death zone, because every second you are there, the body is dying. Cells are not regenerated and over a period of over several months, the body would simply wither away. Cuts do not heal, chapped hands go on bleeding for weeks on end. A simple cold can become deadly. Your immune system has almost zero ability to fight off anything including even the simplest of afflictions. Everything you seem to take from granted in the city, can become a major ordeal up there. If you had a sore throat, runny nose and a slight fever in the city, you may still slip in dinner and a movie without a thought.  At altitude, that combination could be absolutely deadly (no exaggeration), and any one of these individually could certainly end a climb for someone. Over 25000 ft, the death zone becomes extreme and this period of several months, becomes several days. The few people in the world who have spent a single night above the Hillary Step on Everest (about 28000 ft) are exceptionally lucky to be alive. Hi altitude is a very unforgiving place to the human body. Hands down it is the harshest place on earth for man to survive.  Anyway, that was the plan, and overall, I think we executed it quite well. I thought it would make sense if I would pull a few pages from the latter sections of my journal to share with you how the rest of the trip went. The tenses are probably a little screwed up because I was writing it first person/real-time and not really paying attention, so please bear with it. By the way, would someone forward this on to Galin. He sent me an email saying he's not getting these. He's in my distribution list, so I must have the context wrong or something.  Thanks.

As an FYI, it is important to note that early on in the trip, I had been delayed behind the rest of the team for a few days due to some sort of parasite or ghiardia that I had picked up most likely in the town of Tingri (sp) where we spent two days acclimatizing prior to cbc. It didn't hit me until cbc where it totally debilitated me and I spent a couple of days there taking antibiotics and recovering prior to moving up to abc. The drugs seemed to work and the parasite seemed to subside....I would find out just how well as I moved higher. You really need to be cautious of the food and water in these countries.  We take alot for granted in the states, but here its just one giant breeding ground for nasty, gut wrenching, parasites.

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End Part 1

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