Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More on Cho Oyu

I should have written this as soon as I got back, but things have been busy, as always. Lots of memories from the trip (even though it already seems like I was never gone!) Here's how it went...

43 hours after leaving Saskatoon I arrived safely in Kathmandu with my luggage intact. Hurdle number one passed.

I wasn't as excited about Kathmandu this time. It's still a neat place and I enjoyed revisiting favorite spots, but I wasn't as excited about being there as I have been in the past. The political turmoil didn't help - soldiers and police everywhere, tanks rolling down the streets, curfew keeping us shut in the hotel. In the Thamel tourist district, where our hotel was, it was pretty quiet and there were few signs of the problems. But from the rooftop terrace of our hotel we could hear teargas and gunfire and see the pillars of smoke from demonstrators burning tires in the streets.

Because of the problems we were delayed a day and ended up taking a helicopter from Kathmandu to Kodari on the border with Tibet. It cost us an extra $300 each but I think it was worth it. We were glad to "escape" from Kathmandu.

Although I was climbing solo I traveled and shared a base camp with 7 other climbers (one pair and 6 more solo) who had also signed up with Asian Trekking.

We skipped the night at Zhangmu and went straight to Nyalam, putting us back on schedule. Two nights there, then on to Tingri for another two nights of acclimatization. Neither place is any joy. Cold, windy, dirty. The same chinese food every day. On the positive side, it makes you happy to get to basecamp!

A little headache and nausea at Nyalam but not too bad. Maybe altitude or maybe just the food or water. Several of our group were hit quite badly by traveler's diarhea and vomiting.

The end of the road (Chinese Base Camp) was as desolate, windy, and dusty as I remembered. The difference was the Tibetan teahouses where you could eat and sleep (for a price). Nothing like that last time I was here.

Another difference was the road all the way to the intermediate camp. For $50 four of hired a jeep to drive us up. I felt a little guilty not walking, but there didn't seem much point in walking up the road!

We had only planned to stay overnight at the intermediate camp (more Tibetan teahouses!) but that night it started to snow and continued for two days. Even when it stopped we couldn't continue because the snow was too soft and deep for the yaks. We ended up staying four nights.

I felt great the day we hiked up to advanced base camp (the real basecamp). We were one of the last groups to leave, but I steadily passed people until just before ABC I caught up with the trail breaking crew (two Tibetans with shovels plus four yaks with no loads).

To be honest, I got a bit pessimistic. From the start, nothing really went the way I wanted! On the way in I didn't acclimatize as well as I would have liked. Part of the problem was the usual stomach problems. I had one miserable time at Base Camp where I spent the night spewing from both ends at once. Not something I'd recommend to anyone, but not unusual on these kind of trips. A cocktail of Immodium (for diarrhea), Cipro (antibiotic), and Stematil (for nausea) eventually settled me down. Then the first time I tried to carry a load to Camp 1, I didn't make it (too tired). Then when I tried to carry to Camp 2, I also didn't make it (too slow). When I was planning to go to sleep at Camp 2 (and make an acclimatization climb to Camp 3) the weather turned bad and I had to go down. Meanwhile, most of the others seemed to be doing a lot better. Needless to say it was a little depressing, despite knowing that these expeditions always have their ups and downs.

So when I headed up for my summit attempt I was somewhat dubious - I hadn't even slept at Camp 2 let alone visited Camp 3. I headed up the day before everyone else, spent a day at Camp 2 to acclimatize, and then when the weather looked good, headed up from Camp 2 at 2:30am. (I didn't have the time or energy to establish a Camp 3, and I think if you can get away without it, you're better off as it's high enough to be debilitating) It had snowed and blown the day before so I had to break trail from Camp 2 to Camp 3 in the dark. (The funny part is that I broke trail for Fernando, who had oxygen, and his Sherpa!) Despite breaking trail I made Camp 3 in 3 hours. I had timed it so it would get light about the time I got to Camp 3 so I could see where to go. I thought the people in Camp 3 would be leaving for the summit, but for some reason no one in Camp 3 went up that day, despite the great weather. It was a bit windy and of course cold on the way to Camp 3, but after the sun came up the wind died down and it was a beautiful warm day. Again, because of the recent snow and wind there were no tracks to follow so I had a true solo summit day which was rather nice actually. Better than following a line of people up a well trodden path! Fernando and his sherpa took a different route so I didn't see anyone above Camp 3. It's actually quite a steep climb from Camp 3 to the summit plateau. Not hard, but you wouldn't want to slip. Once you reach the summit plateau it's another 1/2 km to the actual summit with only a very gradually rise. At 8100 - 8200m it's a terribly slow slog. Any excuse like weather or time and I'm sure I would have skipped it, but the weather was perfect and I was in good time so I dragged my butt to the real summit where you finally get a view of Everest on the far side of the mountain. Got there at 12 noon, took some pictures of the prayer flags and junk (oxygen bottle) on the summit and then headed down.

I was very conscious about being safe on the way down with the steep ice and loose rock. Finally made it back to Camp 2 at 4 pm. Over the 14 hour "day" I drank only a liter of water (although I carried three) and ate only 4 gels! The next day I packed up my Camp 2 and carried a big load down to Camp 1. Packed up Camp 1 and continued on to ABC. (I have to confess I left a load at Camp 1 for a porter to retrieve.)

Climbing is all about "style", not just getting to the top, but how you do it. This might seem strange, but if you think about it, it makes sense. If all you cared about was getting to the top, you could take a helicopter! I was pleased not only with being successful, but also with the style I did it in. Unlike everyone else in our group (and most other groups), I carried all my own gear up (no porters or sherpas), established my own camps, didn't use other people's tents etc. didn't use oxygen, and went from Camp 2 instead of Camp 3 (longer). Not bad for an old guy! (I turned 46 at Camp 1)

Although the climb isn't "difficult", it's still not something to take lightly. A sad reminder of the risks came a few days later when a German slipped on the way down from the summit and fell to his death.

Monday, June 12, 2006

2006 Urban Adventure Challenge

Saturday (June 10) was the third annual Urban Adventure Challenge - an urban adventure race in Saskatoon. There were only 12 teams this year - I think some people got scared off by the excessive amounts of running in last year's race - 20 km is a lot unless you've trained for it, and this is meant to be a "fun" race. Of course, this year there wasn't much running at all! Instead it rained the whole time, not hard, just a steady drizzle. But it was warm enough when you were moving so it didn't really matter. Better in many ways than being too hot.

As usual it was a fun race. They even managed to include some canoeing for the first time on an artificial lake in one of the suburbs. For fun, we even got to ride the miniature train in Kinsmen park!

We biked about 30 km and I would guess we ran about 10 km in total in the three running legs. I'm not sure how fast the winning teams finished - my team took about three hours for 7th or 8th place. We would have done better but we gambled on a shortcut biking which ended up costing us some time and in a short race like this you don't have much chance to recover from setbacks.

I had Jeff and Suzanne on my team. Jeff and I have raced together lots - including all five of the Prairie Pitches, the last two Urban Challenges. We couldn't get our normal thirds so we asked a friend of Shelley's to join us. It was Suzanne's first adventure race but she just ran a half marathon a few weeks ago so she was in good shape. Probably better than Jeff or I since we hadn't trained much yet this spring. My lungs were probably in good shape from Cho Oyu but I hadn't biked or ran for months.

Now I have to get busy organizing the Prairie Pitch. After five years of racing in it, it will be a change to be on the other side of the fence. Tony, who has organized it up till now, will be racing this year so it'll be a switch for him too. Tony has done a good job of organizing the Prairie Pitch (and the Urban Challenge) - I hope I can match the standard he's set.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cho Oyu 2006

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Self Portrait On the Summit of Cho Oyu

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Success on Cho Oyu!

I'm happy to report I made it to the summit of Cho Oyu on May 7, 2006. Even better, I did it solo, from Camp 2 (skipping Camp 3), without oxygen or sherpas. I was very lucky to have beautiful weather on my summit day, sunny, warm (relatively), and little wind. I'll post more details when I get a chance.