I love the laid back efficiency of the Swiss/California schedule; we tend to always be accomplishing something without all the stress – like, Casual Friday.
Ueli summited Shishapangma on April 17th, only 9 days after I arrived in Nepal. As I mentioned before, there was no way I was going up the South Face so soon – actually, I was happy just to be at ABC (5800m) then, and felt like even that was pushing it a little, acclimatization-wise. Of course, it turned out to be an incredible ascent that I couldn’t be prouder to have been a part of.
Only four days after Ueli’s climb on Shisha we were back in the town of Nyalam (3600m) – Ueli recovering from his ascent and I recovering from some pesky chest cold thing – all made somewhat easier by the entertaining dry wisecracks of filmmaker Rob Frost. After “Frosty” and the Swiss journalist Freddie left us in Nyalam, Ueli and I spent another two days in town (a feat in itself, believe me) and then left for Cho Oyu base camp on the 25th – both feeling only somewhat refreshed. Skipping the obligatory stay in the filthy enclave of Tingri, we arrived the following day at Cho Oyu ABC at 5300m. Most groups take 4 -5 days for the trip from Nyalam, we took 1.
The very next day Ueli and I set out for Camp 1 at 6400m – a somewhat slower ascent for me as I managed to dot various sections of the route with the meanest of disturbances erupting from my lower intestine. We spent the first night at Camp 1 (I spent much of the night outside the tent). On the morning of the 28th, Ueli took the tent up to 6800m after negotiating a deal for me to stay another night at Camp 1 in a neighboring tent belonging to 2 Russian climbers. After entering the all black tent, I surmised that part of the Russian climbing strategy involved consuming veritable bales of raw garlic – of which I hate – and subsequently spent the entire night gagging to the scent of it.
In the morning, I could nary stand another moment in the garlic dungeon and promptly extricated myself along with my wreaking belongings, climbing up to Ueli and the camp at 6800m. There I discovered an even worse smell inside that tent, suggesting whatever it was that afflicted me the day before was now hatching its evil plan inside Ueli. Of course, my discovery was no new news to Ueli, and amidst some serious cramps and other unmentionable movements, he quickly packed up and headed hastily down to base camp to rid himself of whatever alien had taken up residence inside.
The following day I also returned to base camp, finding Ueli in a much improved state – and, well, there you have it – we were ready for the summit….obviously!
A promising weather window was forecast for May 4 and 5th. We awoke to find fresh snowfall on the 4th and had to break trail to Camp 1, then continued to break trail up to the tent we left at 6800m. There we ate some food and brewed up a few liters of water for each of us, filled our pockets with generic-brand energy gel (shameless sponsor opportunity) and left the tent sometime after 1am. It was a cold night, and we struggled at first to stay warm. Battling bitter winds and freshly drifted snow, we finally arrived at Camp 3 (7600m) just before sunlight. Here a few climbers were camped, having made their way up the mountain days earlier and now, also headed for the summit. Soon the sun appeared and began to warm us as we climbed higher. The terrain was easy, but the route didn’t make much sense, climbing through unnecessarily loose sections of steeper rock chutes and gullies when there seemed to be plenty of easier snow ledges and traverses around objectives. It was, however, the straightest, most direct line from the high camp – but still a weird route just to avoid any possible added length to the climb.
By midday we were on the summit plateau – which seemed to go on forever – until we finally reached the summit at the far east end. It’s easy to imagine why so many people claim to have summitted this mountain without ever being on the very top. It takes significant time and energy to reach the real summit – and it would be easy to feel like the job is done after simply arriving at the edge of the plateau – but it’s not, pilgrim – just ask John Wayne. Of course, in order to straddle this pony, you’d have to be a gymnast…or double-jointed.
At the real summit we snapped a few pictures, got video footage, then began to head down. All the way Ueli and I continued to remind ourselves that our main objective was not the summit of Cho Oyu – but to acclimatize for projects ahead. Never-the-less, we did summit, and by yesterday afternoon we were back in base camp, basking in the sun and drinking tea, smiling at our accomplishment.
Now, if I can only get my 2 1/2 year old niece to stop calling it Cho O-me. Nah- it’s too cute.
Thanks for all you support.