Philippe Gatta
Version francaise

Cho Oyu (8201 m / 26,606 ft)
Northwest ridge - Himalayas, Tibet

Cho Oyu seen from Gokyo (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu seen from Gokyo (© P. Gatta)

The Cho Oyu is the 6th highest summit in the world. It is located in the Himalayas, on the border between Tibet and Nepal, only 20 km (13 miles) away from Mt. Everest

Despite its elevation, the Cho Oyu is often considered as an « easy » 8000 m peak, at least by the Northwest ridge. This might be true from a technical standpoint, but a 8000 remains a 8000…

Cho Oyu seen from the base camp (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu seen from the base camp (© P. Gatta)

Cho Oyu seen from Mt. Everest (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu seen from the top of Mt. Everest (© P. Gatta)

September 14 - 20: from Katmandu to the Cho Oyu base camp (5750 m / 18,865 ft)

The drive from Katmandu to Tingri wasn’t easy. We had mechanical issues, Visa issues and the monsoon was still strong, so at the end we lost a few extra days. We followed the friendship highway, driving thru Kodari (1800 m), then Zanghmu (2800 m), Nyalam (3800 m), the pass Lalung Leh (5050 m) and finally Tingri (4350 m). After a few acclimatization days spent in Tingri we followed our journey to the Chinese base camp at 4835 m (15,860 ft). We spent a day in this camp before walking up for 30 km (19 miles) to the Cho Oyu base camp. We went up in two days, spending a night at 5300 m (17,390 ft).

Lalung Leh (5050 m) (© P. Gatta)
Lalung Leh (5050 m) (© P. Gatta)

Cho Oyu base camp (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu base camp (© P. Gatta)

September 21 - 27: acclimatization trip to the Cho Oyu camp 2 (7100 m / 23,290 ft)

The Cho Oyu base camp is quite high (5750 m / 18,860 ft) and can be reached quickly, so the first days there are a bit rough. We spent 3 days at the camp to rest and acclimatize. Then we went up to the camp 1 for a first load carry. We went up and down the same day.

To reach the camp 1, one has to follow the moraine for 5 km (3 miles) up to 6000 m / 19,685 ft (around 2h30). From there, climb a 35º to 45º slope for 450 m (around 2h). Camp 1 is located at 6450 m (21,160 ft) in flat area. This camp is exposed to the wind.
We dropped off our gear and went back to the BC under a snow fall (2h15).

We spent the following day at the base camp to rest. On the 27th we left again for a second acclimatization and load carry. This time we joined the camp 1 in 3h30 and spent the night there. The following day we pursued our climb toward the camp 2. The most technical section is the ice fall at 6750 m / 22,145 ft which consists in a 60º to 70º slope for 50 m. With the fixed rope that’s not an issue. Above there is a large flat plateau which leads to the last step slope below the camp. We decided to make the camp 2 a bit higher, at around 7100 m (23,290 ft). The scenery is fantastic, we can see the base camp below and a bunch of 7000 m peaks, and further East the Shishapangma. It’s really hot when the sun is shining.

We dropped our gear and went back down to C1 (1h), then to BC (2h).

Camp 1 of Cho Oyu (© P. Gatta)
C1 of Cho Oyu (© P. Gatta)

Ice fall above camp 1 (© P. Gatta)
Ice fall above C1 (© P. Gatta)

September 28 - 30: Cho Oyu base camp, the infection spreads

When I wake up, one of my fingers hurt and looked infected and purulent. The inflammation spread during the day and I decide to take antibiotics. At 3pm, the hand seems infected to. Worried I walk around the base camp and finally find a Slovenian doctor. He tells me that we have to do something real quick before that turns into a septicemia or damages the hand tendons. He gives me another antibiotic, changes my bandages and asks me to come back the day after. According to him it is too late to return to Katmandu and he may have to do a surgery here…

At 6:30am I take off my bandage; the infection is still there and that doesn’t look good. I go see the doctor again, for him there is no hesitation; he has to do the surgery.

At 10am, we find a spot in their kitchen tent in the middle of food and breakfast stuff. He put alcohol all over the place and on my hand and does a local anesthesia. One guy try to keep my attention and tells me about the cerebral edema he got going to C2. The doctor “digs” a 3mm hole into my finger, cleaning up the infection. Then he puts some kind of tissue full of antibiotic inside the finger and changes the bandage. The process lasted 20 minutes. I think him and get back to my tent. Of course I cannot use my hand.

The following day, the camp is covered by 10 cm of fresh snow. Like the day before the top of Cho Oyu is swept by the wind. I get back to the doctor. He seems a bit more optimistic but recommends me to not try the summit until I fully recovered. If I go up as the altitude and the fatigue diminish the immune system, the infection may grow again. Unfortunately we don’t have many days left so I decide to go anyway but he explains me how to do my bandage and check for the wound at every camp, and I agree to go down if that worsen. I decide also to stop taking the antibiotic to not be too tired and to stop the pain in the stomach.

Cho Oyu base camp (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu base camp (© P. Gatta)

Cho Oyu seen from Gokyo, Khumbu (© P. Gatta)
Cho Oyu seen from Gokyo, Khumbu (© P. Gatta)

October 1 - 6: Cho Oyu attempt and storm at 7800 m (25,590 ft)

We joined the camp 1 in 3h30. The day after, we go up to the camp 2 at 7100 m in 4h30, the conditions have changed since last time; it has snowed a lot and we have to break the trail. The weather forecast is not good and there are some risks of avalanche so we decide to skip the camp 3 and go for the summit straight from C2. It is cloudy and it’s snowing again within the last two hours the temperature has dropped by 25ºC. I check my hand and redo my bandage, no changes.

11pm, time to get up. The wind shakes the tent and it is still snowing. We leave at midnight. At around 7300 m (24,000 ft) we meet the only other team. They are going down because of the cold. We make a short break at 7500, the wind is blowing at 60km/h (35mph). We keep going up to ~7800 m (25,590 ft), the weather is getting worse. We stay half an hour seated in the snow, hesitating and we finally decide to go down.

We go down quickly but by the time we reach the camp 2, we are in the storm. We keep going down but in the clouds and fog we struggle to find the camp 1. Fortunately we can follow the wands. At the C1, part of our tents are destroyed, we pick up our gear and continue the descent. We finally reached the base camp at 4:30pm.

The storm lasted 3 days, we missed the weather window by 24 hours and nobody else summitted after this season. Sad because despite the infection, the antibiotic, the snow conditions and the weather, I felt good.

Sunset at camp 2 (© P. Gatta)
Sunset at camp 2 (© P. Gatta)

The Cho Oyu after the storm (© P. Gatta)
The Cho Oyu after the storm (© P. Gatta)

October 7 - 10: return to à Katmandu

We are the last expedition to leave the Cho Oyu base camp. The weather is still not good and we won’t see the top of Cho Oyu again, covered by lenticular clouds. We go down with 20 yaks to the Chinese base camp. Then we came back to Katmandu.

View over the Shishapangma on the way back (© P. Gatta)
View over the Shishapangma on the way back (© P. Gatta)

Photos of Cho Oyu

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