Nepal is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mt Cho Oyu (8201m) – the sixth tallest mountain on earth.
Cho Oyu came to the notice of mountaineers after an expedition to Mt Everest brought photographs of the mountain in 1921. In 1951, prominent mountaineer Eric Shipton’s Everest reconnaissance expedition found two possible ways to climb the peak — north ridge or the northwest face. In 1952, Shipton led a British expedition to Cho Oyu as preparation for his Everest expedition the following year. The team, among others, included Sir Edmund Hillary. Hillary and other members of the expedition managed to reach to a height of 6,850m before retreating.
Cho Oyu was successfully conquered in 1954 by Austrian climbers Sepp Jöchler and Herbert Tichy as well as Nepali supporter Pasang Dawa Lama. The team reached the summit of Cho Oyu without supplementary oxygen via the West Ridge.
Cho Oyu, which stands at the head of Khumbu Himal, lies about 30 km west of Everest. The normal route, which can be reached via Tibet, takes the north side of the mountain. Just west of Cho Oyo, near the Advanced Base Camp, lies the Nangpa La — a 5500-meter glacier pass which in the past was a major trade route between Khumbu (Nepal) and Tibet (China). Even today, trekkers and mountaineers can see caravan of yaks bringing supplies to and from Tibet.
Some climbers claim that Cho Oyu is the easiest 8,000-meter peak to climb. They say there is no technically difficult section and the projected dangers are almost non-existent. It has relatively easy access that makes it an attractive climb for anyone with limited time as it can be climbed in roughly 6 weeks.
Cho Oyu is translated in Tibetan language as ‘the Turquoise Goddess’. ‘Chomo’ means goddess, and ‘yo’ means turquoise. Similarly, the name also translates into “Mighty Head” and “God’s Head”. Another translation of the name is “bald god” that makes sense looking at a Tibetan legend, where Cho Oyu, the bald god, has his back turned to Chomolongma, the mother goddess, because she refused to marry him.
Cho Oyu straddles the Nepal-Tibet border in Solukhumbu district. The peak can be approached on its south side from the Thame valley of the Khumbu region of Nepal leading up to the Lungsampa Glacier. From the north, the peak is approached from the Tingri Plain, to the Palung Glacier that lies below the peak’s north face, and the Gyabrag Glacier that surrounds the Northwest face. Cho Oyu has three main ridges: the Northwest, the Northeast, and the Southwest.
Cho Oyu’s impressive Southwest face, which rises up three kilometers high from the Lungsampa Glacier, drew the attention of the first British expedition to Everest in 1921. However, the first serious attempt was made in 1952 by an expedition led by Eric Shipton. But members of the expedition turned back at 6,650 meters because the ice cliff on the Northwest ridge was beyond their technical limits.
There are two seasons, not counting the alternative climbing in the winter season — pre-monsoon and post-monsoon. Climbers usually start acclimatizing in early spring and the most common period of trying for the summit is at the end of May to early June. Climbers get warmer by the day and hopefully they have a warm and nice day for the summit. This is why many climbers choose to go before the monsoon. The only disadvantage is the time limitation the upcoming monsoon holds. Also, the weather can change quickly from no wind and sun to really bad in a matter of half an hour.
The post-monsoon season usually holds more stable weather, but when it’s bad, it’s usually really bad. The violent fall and early winter storms can be ferocious. On the other hand, there’s no real deadline for the post-monsoon season. As long as climbers can deal with the cold, they can attempt the summit late into the year. Usually climbers try to be ready for a summit attempt in late September or early October. The skies are usually very clear after the monsoon and the fall of Tibet is beautiful.
There have been some winter attempts though. Some ended in disaster, but some were successful.
Cho Oyu was the 5th 8,000 meter peaks to be climbed after Annapurna (1950 June 3), Everest (1953 May 29), Nanga Parbat (1953 July 3) and K2 (1954 October 19).
Cho Oyu Timeline
1921: Howard-Bury researched the area and got some good photos of Cho Oyu from the Nangpa La area. The access to the peak remained off limits from the Nepal side until 1951.
1951-1952: Eric Shipton made a reconnaissance to Everest and at the same time made some research about Cho Oyu. He returned a year later with a strong team to make tests on gear and team members for the 1953 expedition.
1954: Tichy and his team illegally entered Tibet over the Nangpa La and started to climb on what later became the normal route on the west face. On the 19th of October, 1954, Austrian climbers Tichy and Jochler, together with Pasang Dawa Lama successfully climbed Cho Oyu.
1958: Pasang returned with Sonam and made the second ascent. The first death occurred on the peak during this expedition.
1964: After a highly disputed claim in 1964, the peak didn’t see any more ascents until the late 1970s.
1978: Koblmüller and Furtner, two Austrians climbed the peak via the SE face. They did it illegally so their ascent was disputed.
1983: Reinhold Messner, Kammerlander and Dacher climbed the peak alpine style with three bivouacs. It was Messner’s 10th 8,000-meter peak. They climbed via a partly new route on the south-west side.
1984: Czechs Komarkova and Sterbova made the first female ascent and repeated Messner’s line.
1985: In February, Cho Oyu was climbed for the first time during the winter. It was the fourth ever ascent of an 8000 meter peak in winter. On top of that, it was made via a new route, the hard south ridge. Berbeka and Pawlikowski summited on 12th of February, and Heinrich and Kukuczka followed three days later. This ascent made it 8th over-8000m peak for Kukuczka and his second winter ascent that winter. The first was Dhaulagiri, on the 21st of January with Andrzej Czok. Cho Oyu became more popular in the 1980s and soon it became the eight-thousand peak with the most ascents after Everest.
1985: Jaromir Stejskal and Dusan Beck made the first summit of 8000-meter peak in winter in alpine style.
1988: Spanish climber Fernando Garrido was the first man to do a solo summit of a 8000-meter peak in winter.
1988: The first ascent of the north face was made by Slovenians Iztok Tomazin (solo). In the next few days, Viktor Groselj, Koze Rozman, Rado Nadvesnik, Marko Prezelj, Blaz Jereb and Roman Robas followed.
1990: Lorethan, Troillet and Kurtyka climbed a difficult new route on the SW face. At the same time, Yamanoi climbed solo through a new route just to the left of the above mentioned route in only two days.
1993: First female winter ascent was also on Cho Oyu. Swiss Marianne Chapuisat climbed the peak in 1993.
1995: A female Japanese expedition made an alpine style repetition of the 1990 route. The summit was reached by Takeo Nagao and Yuka Endoh after four days.
2002: The first American ski descent of an 8,000-meter peak was on October 1, 2002, when Montana ski mountaineer Kristoffer Erickson reached the summit of Cho Oyu and then skied down.
2006: On October 2, Slovenian Pavle Kozjek speed-climbed a new route on the Southwest Face in a single solo ascent from advanced base camp. The crux was a vertical icefall, which was bypassed with 5.6 rock climbing. He reached the summit in 14 hours.
Till August, 2014 August, a total of 3,393 persons have climbed Cho Oyu. Of them 296 have climbed the mountain more than once. So far 275 women have reached the summit of Cho Oyu. Of them, five have climbed the mountain more than once.
Compiled by Vinaya Shakya, Publication Committee, NMA