NEWSLETTERS - Cho Oyo Expedition 2006

Newsletter 11 September 2006

Better late then never, finally here is the first of the newsletters from the Himalayan Experience Cho Oyo expedition 2006.
We are quite a big team this year and I would briefly like to introduce us:

  • Russell Brice - Expedition leader, New Zealand
  • Todd Windle - Guide, New Zealand
  • Lydia Bradey - Guide, New Zealand
  • James Board - UK
  • Antoine Boulanger - France
  • Octavio Defazio - Argentina
  • Patrick Lehuin - Switzerland
  • Christopher Macklin - UK
  • Martina Palm - Sweden
  • Kiek Stam - Holland
  • Marianne Stam - Holland
  • Yachiyo Suzuki - Japan

There is also a Japanese team of eight people lead by Hiroyuki Kuraoka and Shinji Tamura. They have their own programme, schedule and camp separate to ours, so I will not be able to go into further details about how or what they are doing.

All I know is that unfortunately one of their team members became ill at base camp and has gone back to Japan. The rest of the team seems to be doing well and has gone up to Camp 1 to spend the night tonight.

Our group is doing really well. We have got a great team spirit and are having a lot of fun together and more importantly, everybody is in good health. Time seems to go really fast even though we spend quite a lot of time resting and reading - I guess that is just a good sign that we are getting on really well and manage to amuse each other.

What have we actually been up to all this time? We had to change travelling plans to start with. The airline flying Kathmandu-Lhasa decided to change the size of the plane for the flight we wanted to get on so all of a sudden we could not all get on the flight the date we wanted. Russell therefore decided that we would all travel over land.

On the 29th of August we left Kathmandu by bus and drove to the Nepalese-Tibetan border. There we spent one night just to cross the boarder the following morning. You would think that this boarder crossing should only take 30 minutes or so but no, not if you want to get in to China. We were all finally across the boarder by lunchtime and after a delicious lunch we continued to Nyalam.

This drive is the most spectacular I have ever done. We were driving along dirt roads with enormous drops on the side of the road into deep valleys, waterfalls from all directions and high rising green hills above us. I must say I am mostly impressed with the capacity of these old looking vehicles and also with the skills of the drivers. We were driving through water streams, under waterfalls, through mud and the worst roads you can imagine.

Nyalam is very boring but we had to stay two nights for acclimatisation. From there we continued to Tingri. Tingri is a proper Tibetan village right on the Tibetan plateau where as Nyalam is much more influenced by the Chinese. Again we had to stay for two nights to acclimatise. We went for a walk the second day and got the first views of Cho Oyo and Everest, very nice!

We then continued to Base Camp at 4800m. It was really nice to arrive at Base Camp, BC. You can relax there. We are being so well looked after by Latchu and his team of Sherpas. Things are clean, the food is good and you sleep in "your own" little tent with your things around you and you do not have to worry about anybody steeling your things if you do not lock the door. There are always people at camp looking after the camp site and the tents.

We stayed at Base Camp for four nights. Even though it is called Base Camp it is not actually were we are aiming to build our camp and comfort for the next few weeks. This is at Advanced Base Camp, ABC. We went for a walk one day and got some nice views of Cho Oyo. We also spent one morning practicing jumar and abseiling techniques on a rock wall nearby. This training was very useful for all of us. It is good to practice these things in a warm and not too high environment. It is definitly not going to get any easier high up the mountain with all you gear on and a lot less oxygen in the air.

We are now at ABC, 5600m, and this will be our 6th night here. We were all pretty tired when we first arrived because of the rather large step in altitude from BC. 800m might not sound an awful lot to you but when you are at this sort of altitude it makes a BIG difference, believe me. The day after we arrived we were just getting settled in. This camp is on a messy moraine. Thankfully the sherpas had spent some time here before we arrived, digging out platforms for the tents. We unpacked, rested and a few of us were making foot paths and helping out in various ways.

Two days ago we had a Puja. This is a Buddhist ceremony in which we ask permission from the Gods to climb the holy mountain. I guess we are also ask the Gods for luck when climbing the mountain...at least I did. We were all told to take one item that we were going to take with us on the mountain to the Puja. I took a ski, a lot of people brought their crampons, ice axe or ruck sack. These items were all placed around our chorten, which is basically a very small rock tower. Around the chorten were also placed drinks of various sorts, chocolates, sweets, biscuits, rice, flour and a little dough tower. All sherpas and expedition members sat around this chorten and one Sherpa who is an ex monk led the Puja. He was singing hymns for quite a long time. It is really nice and relaxing to listen to. Then we threw rice towards the chorten and we were smeared with a mixture of yak butter and flour over our shoulders and flour on our cheeks.

I was wondering myself whether the flour in our faces was just to make us look funny or if it really had a religious reason. We were also of course served the blessed food to eat and drinks to drink. The one capsule of whisky we all got was mostly appreciated. I am sure some people managed to get more than a few!

This was all followed by dancing and singing by the sherpas, which was really nice. I wish I would have been brave enough to join in. They were all dancing together. Then the Nepalese Sherpas did one dance on their own followed by the Tibetan Sherpas.

This was a really nice Puja and it got us all ready for the first big day we had on the mountain yesterday. We left camp early in the morning and walked all the way up to Camp 1 at 6400m and back again. Half of the walk is on the moraine and the rest of it is up a very steep scree slope followed by an almost as steep snow slope. Camp 1 is really nicely located with a good view of the rest of the route up the mountain. It was nice and motivating to get such a close look at the mountain and the climb ahead of us.

We were all absolutely exhausted when we reached Camp 1. Despite the high altitude it was really warm up there, almost too warm and we were searching for some shade behind the snow. The sherpas were busy digging a platform to hold about 12 tents for when we are going to sleep there. I wish I would have had the energy to be of some help but I am afraid all I could do was sit, drink and try to eat something. After a good rest we started the long walk down.

So today we have had a well deserved rest day. We woke up to a fairly grey and snowy morning but as the day went by it got nicer and sunnier. Some of us have taken a shower and done some washing and the afternoon was nice enough to sit outside and read and relax. Most days have been the opposite with clear and sunny mornings and cloudy and snowy afternoons. It should get clearer the further away from the monsoon we get. There seem to be quite a lot of snow on the mountain at the moment. Myself and Octavio are going to ski down so we are quite pleased to see this but at the same time we do not want too much snow because that will make it difficult and dangerous to climb. Well a lot can change before we are going for the summit.

Next plan ahead is to have another rest day tomorrow and then go up to Camp 1 to stay over night. From there we will try to climb the ice cliffs which is the most technical part of the climb and then either come back to Camp 1 and stay another night or part of the group might carry on to Camp 2 for the night. It depends on weather and how we feel.

That's it for now and we should be back shortly with some more information about our progress on the mountain.

Happy Regards,
Martina