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Pakistan kick-off interview: Cathy O'Dowd, Nanga Parbat the hard way

Posted: May 30, 2012 09:03 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) The great mountains of Nepal and Tibet shutting down, time has come for their twin peaks in Pakistan. The season looks very promising and cool interviews are in the pipe.

Connecting the ranges we kick off with a well known Everest profile. Cathy O'Dowd is about to take on Nanga Parbat, the hard way.

ExplorersWeb: You were the first woman to summit Everest from both South (1996) and North (1999) and in 2003 tried one of the great unclimbed routes of the Himalaya, the Fantasy Ridge on Everest Kangshung Face. It has been quiet from you when it comes to the big climbs/adventures until now that you are off to try another unclimbed legendary route - the Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat. What made you choose such as big challenge again?

Cathy: A couple of things came together. I was burnt out on high altitude expeditions for a number of years, and I've never wanted to go ticking 8000ers by their standard routes. I spent a number of years just enjoying myself on long rock routes and ski peaks.

But a change of circumstances meant I had time free this year and when this project was proposed, I was immediately interested. I love the idea of trying new routes. I love lines that have a natural logic and beauty to them. I've always wanted to visit Pakistan. Somehow this came up at just the right time.

ExplorersWeb: Mazeno is considered the longest ridge on any 8000er and has been tried and failed by Doug Scott, Erhard Loretan and Wojciech Kurtyka among others. What is your strategy?

Cathy: We are approaching from the Rupal side, rather than the Diamir side, to get onto the ridge as easily as possible. We are going with a rather bigger team than most of our predecessors, to maximise our strength trail-breaking on the ridge.

We are using Sherpa support, to allow us to carry more, trying to avoid the problem of arriving at the Mazeno Col having run out of energy and supplies.

ExplorersWeb: It's going to be you, Rick Allen, Sandy Allan and three young Sherpa. Rick and Sandy are not household names but have done some very difficult climbs and attempts of 8000ers and other mountains. How did the three of you join up for this climb?

Cathy: I met Sandy on the slopes of Lhotse in 2000 and we ended up climbing the west summit together. We've done other smaller things together since and have always vaguely intended to go back to the Himalaya together, but it's never worked out. This time Sandy invited me to join and it all worked out.

ExplorersWeb: Doug Scott is your Patron - have you had any planning sessions together? Did he give you any advice?

Cathy: Sandy in particular has been in touch with Doug, but the man is hard to pin down! I think we've got more in the way of vague good wishes than any concrete advice. But for Sandy in particular, for whom Doug was an important mentor, this trip does have an element of 'unfinished business' on behalf of Doug.

ExplorersWeb: The Mazeno Ridge is more than 10 km (6 miles) long with eight (corrected Jul 03, 2012 11:51 am EDT) 7000 meter (23000 ft) peaks to pass along the route. If something happens it would be very difficult to rappel down the walls on either side and the only way out might be the very long way back. What's your worst case scenario plan?

Cathy: If we pull out on the first half of the ridge - before Mazeno Peak, we will retrace our steps. For there on going backwards is very difficult and we plan to push on to the shoulder and descend from there.

It is possible to get down going either way, but in the last decade the lower slopes of the Schell route (the Rupal side) have become dangerously prone to rockfall, as well as avalanche. So we expect to traverse onto the Diamir face and either descend the Messner solo line or go right across to the Kinshofer route, the current 'standard' route. If we get to the summit, we intend to descend the Kinshofer route.

ExplorersWeb: Do you plan to go alpine or expedition style? Any supplementary oxygen?

Cathy: We will go alpine style, using neither fixed ropes nor fixed camps, although we may put a dump at the start of the ridge as part of our acclimatisation beforehand. We are not taking oxygen.

ExplorersWeb: We both were on Everest in 1996, at a time when national expeditions still over shadowed commercial setups. You have been in a national South African expedition as well as in small independent teams with only your husband Ian. Having experienced Everest from more sides than most, do you agree with Messner that authorities should severely restrict the number of expeditions to the mountain, or what is your view?

Cathy: I have mixed feelings about Everest now. I can say that I am very glad to have climbed it before it became quite such a circus. Both times I reached the top, we were the only climbers on the summit push that day, we had it all to ourselves.

I do think there is still plenty of adventure to be had on Everest, people just have to choose one of the other routes, or go to the Kangshung side. There remain unclimbed lines on Everest. On the whole I don't think the mountain should be restricted.

ExplorersWeb: An increasing number of climbers these days use Diamox and Decadron on summit push - what's your view on that?

Cathy: I don't care either way. I tried Diamox once on a trip, didn't find many advantages and hated the side effects - the itchy fingertips in particular. But we will take some with us.

I don't like the attitude that only the purest-of-pure climbing styles should be 'allowed' in climbing. One of the reasons I love climbing as a sport is the freedom of it. But I do believe in honesty in reporting. If you used oxygen, or Sherpa support, or Diamox, or whatever - say so. And then get out there and go climbing.

ExplorersWeb: When do you expect to reach BC?

Cathy: Around 17 June.

An inspirational speaker on the international corporate speaking circuit, Cathy O’Dowd grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She resides in Andorra, located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France.

Hobbies: ski-mountaineering, trail-running, rock-climbing, reading, writing.
Favo music: I'm not really into music (odd, I know).
Food: Roast chicken with roast veggies
Web site: Huffington Post
Latest read book: Tomaž Humar by Bernadette McDonald; Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.
Resume: 25 years of mucking around in mountains!
Best climb yet: I loved too many climbs for too many different reasons to single out just one.
Dream destination (outside mountains): No mountains makes this very hard! The Patagonian Ice Cap?

Related:

http://cathyodowd.com/

Cathy on Wikipedia



#Mountaineering #topstory #feature





The ridge was not fixed, there were no set camps and the climbers used no supplementary oxygen.
Image by Cathy O'Dowd courtesy Cathy O'Dowd, SOURCE
The climbers will approach from the Rupal side for easiest access onto the ridge.
Image by Cathy O'Dowd courtesy Cathy O'Dowd, SOURCE
Cathy (left) on Everest summit.
Image by Cathy O'Dowd courtesy Cathy O'Dowd, SOURCE
Cathy skiing in Andorra. "I spent a number of years just enjoying myself on long rock routes and ski peaks," she said about her Himalaya intermission.
Image by Cathy O'Dowd courtesy Cathy O'Dowd, SOURCE
Cathy speaking at the Forum for Excellence in Rome, Italy.
Image by Cathy O'Dowd courtesy Cathy O'Dowd, SOURCE
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