Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Unfinished Business

Here is a brief article I wrote for our local alpine club section newsletter:

As usual, people keep asking, “Where are you going next?” Well, this spring I'm heading back to Cho Oyu on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Nine years ago, in 1997, Shelley and I organized and led our first big expedition there. A lot has changed since then.

That was one of our first expeditions. This will be my 11th.

It took us a year of unreliable long distance faxes and snail mail to arrange things with the Chinese Mountaineering Association. This time I simply emailed Asian Trekking in Kathmandu and told them I wanted to go.

Then we had a group of 11 people. This time I'm going on my own.

High altitude doesn't seem to agree with Shelley any more and rather than organize another group I decided to try a new challenge and climb solo. Cho Oyu is normally climbed unroped anyway and I'm familiar with the route so it seemed like a good choice.

Asian Trekking will arrange transportation from Kathmandu and provide a cook at base camp. After that it's all up to me - no sherpas and no oxygen. I'll be carrying all my own loads and setting up my own camps. Not that I'm likely to be "alone". It’s a popular mountain and there will be other climbers around.

In '97 our group was successful in getting two people to the top but neither Shelley or I summited, mostly because the weather turned bad and we ran out of time. Cho Oyu is known as the "easiest" of the fourteen 8000m peaks but that doesn't mean it's easy - just that the others are even harder.

At 8201m, Cho Oyu is the sixth highest mountain in the world and although it's not technically difficult, it's still a very big mountain and the altitude and the weather are tough obstacles to overcome.

It never seems like you can train enough for these kinds of trips but you still have to try. In the fall I did lots of running, both hills and longer (e.g. 25 km) runs. Now I'm concentrating more on stairs and carrying a 25kg pack for 15 to 20 km hikes.

I leave on April 4, flying from Saskatoon to Los Angeles to Bangkok to Kathmandu. After a few days in Kathmandu to make final arrangements I'll travel by road across the border and through Tibet to the mountain. Even on the drive you gain a lot of altitude so we’ll have to stop extra days along the way to acclimatize. From the end of the road it's a two day walk to base camp with yaks to carry everything. Then I'll have 25 days to work my way up and down the mountain, gradually acclimatizing to higher and higher altitudes, resting at base camp in between. Then it's a matter of hoping for three or four days of good weather to go for the summit. (And get down again!)

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