Several teams were on Cho Oyu this year, some made it to the summit, and some went home for different reasons. Be it work commitments, the missing and longing for family members, or they just got tired of living in the harsh environment for extended periods of time.
For the vast majority, they moved up the mountain like a hungry lion in search of prey. Each night bad weather conditions battered their tiny tents. The wind rose to a roar and snow swirled all around. Each morning like the last they strapped on there crampons with claw like fingers from the intense cold and moved up the mountain. From advanced base camp to camp one, they would climb high and sleep low to help there bodies recover, everyone needed their bodies to acclimatize over a period weeks. Then they climbed to camp two, eventually they established camp three. The weather was not letting up; several attempts were made to the yellow band only to be turned around and forced back down the mountain. All of the climbers did there very best; I will always say that climbing is a mental game as much as physical, then it’s the team dynamic’s, then its all up to mother nature. To stand on the summit requires all three ingredients. No matter how much the first two are working out, if the weather is not cooperating in your favour then it’s only a matter of time before the expedition is over.
After having spent several weeks with a great team on Shishapangma and having success on that mountain, several of us went over to Cho Oyu. Our goal was to climb two 8,000 meter peaks back to back. International Mountain guides put a great infrastructure together for us, to give us the best chances for success.
Our Sherpa cooks that took great of us in base camp and our high altitude Sherpa’s that worked so hard with us on the mountain, would not be traveling with us to Cho Oyu. They had done their jobs! And we would not have gotten to the summit of Shishapangma without them. We owe them a depth of gratitude.
Two high altitude Sherpa’s from a previous team are in interim camp waiting for us for the last week or so. Between them they have a tone of high altitude experiences. They are some of the very best.
With our climbing gear stacked all around us the Land Rover bounced down the road and eventually came to a halt at what is termed the interim camp. From there our gear would be transported on the backs of yaks. After a couple of hours of hiking we were greeted by the sight of colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind. One more small ridge to crest and then our advance base camp could be seen. As I walked into camp my smile grew wider and wider. Not only did I know the two High Altitude Sherpa’s that would be climbing with us but I knew the cook as well. It was great to renew the bond of friendship again.
That night Mike our expedition leader, Vanessa and I had a meeting. The topic was, should we start climbing to camp one tomorrow morning or take a rest day. We all had worked hard on Shishapangma and we were very tired. The problem was that the window of good weather was upon us. That same weather that gave no mercy to the other teams, beaten them off the mountain and now was looking good for us would not last very long. It was a big discussion and every angle was covered, the decision was made. For us to have the best chance at climbing this mountain we needed our strength, we would take one rest day.
The following day in good weather we climbed up to camp one. Early the next morning after a bowl of oatmeal I strapped on my crampons and the team and I climbed to camp two. Most teams establish a camp three before the yellow band but we knew that if we were going to have a chance at getting to the summit then we had to take advantage of the good weather, which would mean that a camp three was out of the question. It would mean a long summit push. Everyone would have to dig deep into the very core of who they were and how bad did they want the summit.
Midnight the stoves were hissing, melting snow for hot water. The flow of electricity was sparking threw my veins, excitement hung in the night air. This was it, Summit time.
The team and I climb up the head wall and then veered off to the left to gain the ridge; with every foot gained another spark coursed threw my body. I was on fire. I felt that I was a part of this mountain and it a part of me. I unclipped from the rope and stepped to the left, this is where camp three would normally be. After a few sips of water and something to eat, we were on the move again. Climbing up threw the yellow band a rock dislodged itself and screamed passed me and almost struck Mike. Once again luck was with us.
Mike and I decide to take a quick break at about 24,600 and watch the moon go down over the Himalayas and the sun come up. At this altitude there were no other climbers on the mountain and the only other climbers were far below us. Mike would later say that this was his best time climbing ever and I would have to agree that it was for me as well.
When we left camp two, we left under the best of full moon’s ever, there were so many stars in the sky that they looked like diamonds and at times I felt that all I had to do was reach out ant touch them.
With the break over we continued upwards and at 7:02 am (October 12th, 2011) together Mike and I stood on the summit of Cho Oyu. For the next forty minutes Mike and I were all alone with Mt. Everest as the back drop to this glorious day and the Himalayas stretched out for miles in every direction in front of us and below us. Mike and I waited for Vanessa and the two Sherpa’s before starting to make the long decent to camp two, I took one last look over my shoulder and smiled, now it was Vanessa’s and the Sherpa’s turn to have the summit to themselves.
Nobody climbs two 8,000 meter peaks without being the best that they can be!