This year, I hired a climbing Sherpa to carry the loads, and I arranged to have more time (23 days) at the advanced base camp (ABC). However, shortly before I was to depart for Kathmandu my agency, Thamserku Trekking, put back my departure from Kathmandu by 5 days so that I could share transport with three Italians. This meant I had only 18 days at ABC, about the same as last year. Again, I planned to use oxygen for the summit day (because it makes the climb easier, safer, and more fun).
Reached Kodari about 11:30, and were mobbed by people wanting to earn 100 rupees (about $1.40) to carry our baggage about a mile over the Friendship bridge to a truck on the Chinese side.
Anti-SARS measures were still vigorously in force at the border --- evidently, news that the SARS virus had vanished hadn't reached this remote outpost of the Chinese empire. Temperatures were being taken with a gun-like device pointed at the forehead, the insides of trucks were being sprayed, and baggage was actually being opened. The first was a little disconcerting --- "there is a problem with your visa," pow! --- while the last resulted in all our cheese and meat being confiscated. Attempts by later Thamserku groups to smuggle it through failed.
Reached Nyelam about 4:30.
Two of the Tibetans
Diego gave half his lunch to the Tibetans, but I was hungry and ate all mine, from which the Tibetans concluded that he was a very good man and I was a very bad man. So I made a circuit of the holy lake Dara Tsho (4270m).
Diego and the Dara Tsho
We continued past the lake to the top of a small hill (4870m). I felt I was climbing quite well (500m/hour) considering I wasn't acclimatized, but Diego was much faster. He told me that in the Alps he was a speed mountaineer, and that he had trained for this trip by climbing the Matterhorn from the Italian town at its foot (a gain of about 3000m) in 3 hours, and by walking 65km (3000m of ascent and descent) in 10hrs.
Clouds prevented us from seeing Shishapangma, but we had beautiful views of the Tibetan side of the Langtang peaks.
Children at Tingri.
Unlike Nyelam, Tingri retains some of its character as an old Tibetan village.
A Tibetan style house at Tingri.
In the afternoon, Diego and I climbed a small hill (4700m).
View south as we drove to the Chinese base camp.
The CBC is an uninteresting windswept site. Diego is at left; then Tarkhe; the truck driver is at right, and Pemba and Dorje are in the truck unloading our gear.
In a Tibetan tent not far from my tent, a very young baby sometimes cries. At 5000m we are at the limit of where humans can live permanently, so this must be a tough place for a baby to survive.
In the afternoon, I climbed a small peak (5510m) north of the camp site.
After breakfast, Diego and I climbed a small hill (5700m) west of the camp.
From the top, we got this view of Cho Oyu.
Pemba, Diego, and I walked to Advanced Base Camp (ABC), with three yaks carrying most of our gear. Tarkhe and Dorje stayed at CBC to wait for the two Italians who were coming via Lhasa.
Diego and I, Pemba Sherpa, three Tibetans, and the yaks left CBC at the same time, and (surprise!) reached ABC in that order.
ABC was crowded when we arrived --- most groups seemed to have arrived about 10 days before us.
ABC is quite sheltered from the wind, and the views are spectacular.
This photo, taken a few days later, shows the view towards Nepal from our dining tent.
At ABC I talked to an American, Jay, who was making his 11th attempt on an 8000m peak. So far, he had made the summit of none, although he had reached 8600m on Everest.
While our cook Dorje was at CBC, we ate with another Thamserku group, a party of nine Greeks. They were a national team, and seemed very strong --- they had a sponsor, and Cho Oyu was only to be a warm-up for Everest (from the south) next spring.
View of Cho Oyu from ABC. The numbers roughly mark the three camp sites. The top is out of sight behind.
I would spend the next few days acclimatizing. My estimate was that the earliest I would be sufficiently acclimatized to reach the summit was September 28th. Thus, I planned to spend
Camp 1 --- the three climbers are viewing the setting sun.
From anywhere on Cho Oyu, the views are spectacular. This is looking south from about 6650m.
I was back in ABC in time for a late lunch. I had felt surprisingly good on the mountain considering I'd left Kathmandu only nine days earlier.
The rest of our group should have arrived today from CBC, but there was no sign of them.
Sun and light snow in the morning; heavy cloud and light snow in afternoon.
Snowed lightly most of night. Pulse in the morning was 46. I awoke early feeling very hungry, but the Greeks don't eat breakfast until 8am.
After breakfast, the snow became heavier. I was still contemplating going up to Camp 1, but then I saw a party set out and return.
About midday, the weather cleared somewhat, and so I set off for Camp 1. Tarkhe, Dorje, and the 2 Italians (Eliano and Arnaldo) arrived just as I was leaving, which means the yaks with the rest of our gear will also arrive today.
On the descent from Camp 1 to ABC I saw two people with serious altitude problems ---
both were having to be supported down by companions.
Climbing at about 6650m.
After I returned, Pemba left for Camp 1. He will set up Camp 2 tomorrow.
The weather was poor: much cloud, some wind, light snow.
Pemba returned down --- he had got a headache at Camp 1, and had been unable to reach Camp 2 --- he had left his load at about 6800m.
This was a bit disturbing --- Sherpas like to claim they don't get altitude sickness, but evidently, this is not true. The other Thamserku Sherpas told me not to worry, and assured me that Pemba would be O.K. the next time he went up the mountain.
Some of the groups are getting weather reports by satellite phone: the consensus is that September 27 will be a good summit day, and many groups are planning to make their attempt then. Alas, this is one day too early for us.
Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earthly, and the earth becomes one with the heavens; no sorrows live there any more, and therefore joy is not necessary; beauty alone reigns... (p453).
Pemba had left before me, and had managed to get past the Japanese before the
first ice cliff. On the way to Camp 2, he had picked up the gear he had stashed
Two Sherpas approaching the first ice cliff.
We discussed what to do: should we take advantage of the good forecast and attempt the summit from Camp 2 tomorrow instead of going to Camp 3 as we had planned? Pemba thought we could reach the summit in about 6--7 hours from Camp 2, so that is what we decided to try.
If we feel good tomorrow, we'll go to Camp 3 and attempt the summit on the 29th; otherwise, we'll descend to ABC and try again later.
[On the 27th, Diego reached the summit from Camp 2 in about 8 hours with
one of the Greek's Sherpas, Mingma. (Mingma is only 24 but
has already climbed seven 8000m peaks; he hasn't climbed Everest yet but hopes
to in the spring with the Greeks.)
Two out of the nine Greeks reached the summit from Camp 2 in about 12 hours. In all, about 25 people reached the summit (including Jay), mostly from Camp 3.]
Pemba resting at Camp 2 --- he used to work for a British company that went broke when it was sued over the death of one its clients.
In the morning, Pemba woke with a severe headache and soon made a rapid exit to vomit on the snow outside. That settled it: we went down. [Pemba was very unhappy to be sick. He said he had been to the South Col on Everest (8000m) seven times, and to the summit four times, without ever getting sick. (But then, perhaps he had never gone up the mountain so quickly before.)]
View looking back up the mountain from Camp 1.
Note that the weather is deteriorating in the photo (clouds on the summit; prayer flags blown horizontal by the wind). According to the Sherpas, no one reached the summit on the 28th, although a Swiss group turned back only a little below 8000m. [Later in Kathmandu, the Japanese claimed to have reached the summit on the 28th.]
On the steep scree slope below Camp 1, a clumsy climber unleashed a shower of rocks above me, and didn't even shout a warning --- I only just managed to scramble out of the way.
It took me less than 4 hours to reach ABC from Camp 2.
The trip up the mountain was a partial success: I had climbed 25m higher than ever before, I had slept over 7000m for the first time, and the next time up the mountain I'll be better acclimatized and should be much faster.
The weather reports are bad for the next few days. Things don't look good.
7am. Very foggy with light snow; barometer still very low (507).
Pemba and Tarkhe are gloomy at breakfast. Most of the other groups have finished their summit attempts and are going home. An American group has been waiting for good weather at Camp 2 for three days. A Spanish group (14 members) hoped to summit on October 1, but they have returned to ABC. The seven Greeks who didn't reach the summit on the 27th hope to make another attempt. The other two Italians (Eliano and Arnaldo) hope to make a summit attempt (with Tarkhe) in a few days (last year they reached camp 3, 7500m, but were too exhausted to go higher).
10:30am. Sunny, with occasional light rain. Feeling more optimistic that we will get another attempt.
2pm. The outlook is worse. All the forecasts are for 3 days bad weather (snow) followed by several more days of bad weather (80-100km winds and -30 degree temperatures). The Spanish think there may be a window of 20 hours in between the two spells of bad weather on the 3rd.
Things are worse on Shishapangma: no one has climbed it this season, two people have died in an avalanche on the south side, and there was an accident on the north side.
At 11am, the Greeks and Spanish decide that some of them will attempt the summit on October 4th from Camp 2. They will leave tomorrow. I decide to leave today, and attempt the summit on the 4th from Camp 3. Pemba will leave early tomorrow, and meet me at Camp 2.
I walked up to Camp 1 in the afternoon in 3 1/2 hours as usual, but for the first time I found it easy and could have done it much faster --- I was finally acclimatized!
On the whole, the climbers on Cho Oyu were a very grungy lot, but this young woman looked as though she had stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine --- photo taken on the way to Camp 1.
It was very windy in the morning so, instead of setting off for Camp 2, I waited for Pemba, who arrived about 10am. After some hesitation, because of the high winds and bad forecasts, I set off for Camp 2. After half an hour I quit, the winds were unpleasantly cold and strong, and with the bad forecasts, it seemed pointless.
Pemba continued up to Camp 2 to retrieve our gear.
On the way down, I met three of the Greeks who were going up for their summit attempt (the other four had decided not to bother). [Three days later, one of them, their leader, would be dead. According to Mr Rai of Thamserku Trekking, he already felt unwell at Camp 2, but had insisted on attempting the summit on October 5th.]
I also met Eliano and Arnaldo going up with Tarkhe for their summit attempt.
Eliano and Arnaldo returned before lunch --- the winds were ferocious at Camp 1, and many tents had been damaged. They would abandon their attempt and go down with me on October 5th.
Arnaldo asked me whether I would attempt another 8000m peak. Right now, I wasn't sure. Would they? Definitely NO!.
Saw a quail near the camp --- a Tibetan said it was a kongur. They
At 8am next morning (on October 4) he was seen at the rock band about 150m above Camp 3, either not moving or else descending only extremely slowly.
No one can understand why he would climb in such high winds. Even in the good weather on September 27 there were several cases of mild frostbite among those attempting the summit. A night out in 80-100kph winds above 7500m is too dangerous for most people to contemplate.
No other climbers were at Camp 3, but there were about a dozen at Camp 2. The Spanish radioed to their Sherpa at Camp 2 and he set out to help the the Japanese climber.
Dorje is at right using binoculars to see the Japanese climber; seated are Diego and Arnaldo talking to Eliano.
By midday, the Japanese climber had finally made it back to his tent, and the Sherpa had returned to Camp 2. [Sherpas expect to be paid extra for rescues. The Spanish had looked in the Japanese climber's tent at ABC and, finding no money to pay for a rescue, had recalled their Sherpa --- they should have used their satellite telephone to ask his agency, Asian Trekking, for instructions.]
I don't know what happened to the Japanese climber. Next morning when we left at 9am, he hadn't moved from his tent at Camp 3, but the weather had improved, and several climbers from Camp 2 were attempting the summit. [Pemba told me later that he had survived, but was horribly frostbitten, and lost most of his hands and feet.]
Our yaks arrived at 5:30pm.
Of course, if I had known the weather would turn bad, I would have continued on the 27th. However, the fact that Pemba Sherpa(!) got mild altitude sickness on the night of the 27/28th suggests that this wouldn't have been without risk.