NEWSLETTERS - Cho Oyo Expedition 2002

Newsletter 321 September 2002

Onwards and Upwards

Our last despatch took us to the 12th September whereby our merry little band was still scratching at Cho Oyo's base like children trying to climb a candy tree. Much has happened in our little world since then, a microcosm splashed with exotic sun bleaching weather and tempered storms, exhilarating climbing marked by exhausting performances, avalanches and summit preparations. Read on and sit down if you must, as the Cho Oyo 2002 story is building up like a Nepalses monsoon block buster.

Friday 13th: this is where the next chapter begins.....there were no swirling mists haunted with ghosts and glacier goblins, as it turns out it was a perfect day for a sojourn to Camp 1 at 6350 metres. Very little wind, a sun bleached sky, even the glacier was quiet beneath our feet. There was little to distract us from the vistas of the vertical world that surrounded us as we marched over the glaciated terrain, and all was quiet except for the trickle of ice-melt and the odd collapsing moraine. An invisible magnetism pulled us to our goal, and the evil scree slope from hell never announced its authority over us as we arrived at Camp 1 in good shape. Immediately we were rewarded with views. On the setting sun we glorified ourselves with high cutting ridges and with plastering snow flutes, rolling rounded sky lines and snaking glaciers weaving through the valleys far below.

Temperatures punish those who try and withstand the shadows of the night, so like rodents on a mighty hill we all crawled into our canvas havens. Not a life form murmered on the ride that night once the sun had set. Simon & Ian, Sue & Russ, Chris & Paul & Mark, thus commanded their stoves and romantically cuddled up to hide from the night's chill. It proved a hard night for most, as sleeping at a new altitude always is.

Must note here that our six thirty alarm clock consisted of Sue snowballinng our tents. Had we known, the Antipodean ANZACS could have defended our sleep-in by digging in and retaliating with mortared ice bombs, sling shot slush buckets and snipered snow balls - next time. A quick verbal peace treaty and we began our climb up a rolling ridge to the infamous ice cliff at 6600 metres. We achieved our acclimatisation objective, but not before Russ and Mark had put in a climbing traverse on the ice cliff to help alleviate the pressure on the present vertical route. Everyone returned to ABC exhausted but exhilarated with the turn of events. Russ expressed his sympathy and rewards by showering us with beers. He openly praised us on a solid performance which set a great mood for our evening's festivities leading into a day of rest.

Sunday 15th: Just love those rest days. Eating, drinking, reading and writing were the consensus of the day, as well as forever fine-tuning our summit assault.

Monday 16th: Our mission was clearly defined. Simon, Mark, Ian were to make a push to Camp 2 over a series of days to enhance their non-oxygen acclimatisation programme, meanwhile Sue, Paul & Chris were to complete another overnight stay at Camp1. As we were to stash summit gear at Camp 2, careful packing concluded the morning followed by some gentle reading in the mess. This was soon interrupted by a friendly visit from Simon's German buddy called Patrick. Books entitled "Explaining Hitler", "The myth of the Great War", "Overlord" and "The Fully Monty", quickly disappeared under Milo tins, behind chairs and in loose fitting fleeces.

With 12kg loads, the trip to Camp 1 was all too familiar, but no less rewarding. With Sue still at ABC our tents were spared from the 6.30am snowballing. The climb to the ice cliff never fails to disappoint and Russ's traverse proved to be a great success. We had already been warned by one of our Sherpas that the snow conditions were not good to Camp 2 and we were advised to turn back. Ignorance is bliss and we decided to continue to climb regardless. A gentle rise took us to a steep snow ramp which led into an unforgiving steep climb with fixed rope. The steep slope had no footholds or firm ice for our crampons to bite into. Instead the wind blowing above sent torrents of snow drift down our route that gave no strength or bite to our feet. With the weight of our packs we would kick in and slide back down. We moved like snails on a monster's back. Our motion forward was pathetic and it drained the very best out of us.

We made it to Camp 2 at 7100 metres with little energy left to rejoice or celebrate. Our functionality came down to the basics: rehydrate, food and warmth. The five of us quickly cocooned ourselves in our bags within our tents and dreamed of warm happy places.

Meanwhile back at the ABC ranch, Sue, Paul, Chris & James had headed back up to Camp 1 and enjoyed all the glories it possessed. During the night (at about 4 a.m.) Sue and James were awakened by a thunderous roar above. A huge shoulder had broken away from the mountain, but they did not know where from. Their first concern was for themselves, then for us at Camp 2, but no news could be gained until morning. Our night at Camp 2 was miserable as guaranteed by the tourist brochure. The cold, our invisible enemy, second only to the altitude, crept into every corner and our very soul. The tents iced up like frozen Japanese rice paper and ice particles continued to hail on us all night.

We awoke to a blissful morning with views over the Himalaya that just charged the spirits. Was last night then just a bad dream? Our descent was rapid, motivated by the physical forces of gravity and the lure ofthe luxuries of ABC. We hit the wind at the ice cliff and noticed the slab avalanche that tore away the shoulder leading up to the ice cliff. It's shear zone being about one and a half metres deep was amazingly only 2 metres from our climbing route. The wind caused a little trouble on our descent with the rope catching under the fracture line, but nothing more than a few persuasive words couldn't fix. We caught up with Sue and James at Camp 1 who appeared refreshed and invigorated as if they had just been spacing at a 5 star resort and all returned to ABC.

For the next 3 days (19th-21st) Himex-ville transformed itself into the Nang-pa La feed-a-lot, as we were showered with the luxurious cooking of Lachu and Co. We rolled in the sun like fattened walruses and we watched our lard grow with our strength and confidence. During such time we finalised our plan to charge the summit. For safety and speed we have all now opted to use oxygen. As a united team we now have the luxury of flexibility, and it has been decided to make the push to the summit from Camp 2 (7100m). A 1100 metre ascent will make a big day, but the benefits our obvious.

Today is our last rest day, and weather permitting we will begin our final ascent tomorrow.

Provisional Summit Plan:

21st ABC - Camp 1
22nd Camp 1 - Camp 2
23rd Summit (3.00am start) - Camp 2
24th Camp 2 - ABC

To the top.....
Happy Days