New Route on Cho Oyu: It’s Now a Race

One year ago, 10 elite Nepali climbers raced for and made the first winter ascent of K2. This year, the game will be less epic, but even more dangerous than K2: climb Cho Oyu in winter from the Nepal side. And now a second team has joined the fray.

Led by Pioneer Expedition’s Mingma Dorchi Sherpa, the new team is heading to Cho Oyu’s south side with the same goal as the expedition led by Gelje Sherpa: to open a new route for commercial climbs.

Competitors

Blogger Stefan Nestler broke the news today, and team member Chhewang Sherpa confirmed it. The team includes Pemba Ongchu Sherpa, Pasang Dorje Sherpa, Pasang Tenji Sherpa, Karma Gyalzen Sherpa, Phurba Kunsang Sherpa, and Lakpa Thendup Sherpa. They are currently on their way to Thame, the starting point of their eyed line. (Thame is also the home of 21-time Everest summiter Apa Sherpa.)

Cho Oyu area. Nangpa La is to the left of the summit. Map: Wikimedia Commons

Gelje Sherpa intends to open “his” route from the Nangpa La, the col marking the traditional pass between Nepal and Tibet. Both the Nangpa La and Thame are west of Cho Oyu’s summit. But while the Nangpa La is a well-known landmark, the second team has not specified the beginning of their route from Thame.

Map showing Cho Oyu routes. From Guenter Seyfferth’s chapter on the history of Cho Oyu, on his blog Die Berge des Himalaya.

 

Mingma Dorchi confirmed to Stefan Nestler that both teams will climb separately, although he was willing to collaborate with Gelje’s team on the last stage of the climb.

There can be only one commercial route

This final teamwork may or may not happen, but the commercial race will be anything but peaceful. Pioneer Expedition is a thriving local outfitter, eager to recover the market share it lost when one of its key figures, Lakpa Sherpa, left to form his own company, 8K Expeditions, last year.

Gelje Sherpa’s venture began as a personal project, supported by donors through a GoFundMe account. It has since come under the wing of Nirmal Purja, owner of Elite Exped, which is now the expedition’s main sponsor.

Gelje Sherpa in Nirmal Purja-branded attire. Photo: Gelje Sherpa

 

This time, the prize is not so much the summit but rather a viable route, capable of fixing from bottom to top. They also need locations for higher camps where they can stock supplies and oxygen and bring clients with no technical alpine knowledge. The team that opens the route will likely fix the ropes for all expeditions visiting the mountain during peak season. That company will also gain prestige with potential consumers.

The race may be on, but as always, the mountain will have the last word. The South Face of Cho Oyu is a major challenge even for a large, strong team on oxygen and fixing on the go. It would be a mistake to take success, or even survival, for granted.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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Marie
Marie
3 months ago

Every opening of a new route for commercial climbs will have profound implications for the ecosystem, and: “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.”

Mª Victoria Alvarez
Mª Victoria Alvarez
3 months ago

Good information, well explained and very good iconography. But I would like you to clarify a couple of points: 1- That it’s a about it being a “race”, when you write that Pioneer are willing to collaborate with the Gelje team in the last stage of the ascent… 2- The statement: “the commercial race will be anything but peaceful” because “the team that opens the route will likely fix the ropes for all expeditions visiting the mountain during peak season” (?). Is it confirmed information or is it a matter of the editorial to add spice to the event? Thank… Read more »

damiengildea
3 months ago

Not sure what these businessmen are looking to sell their customers from the Nangpa La, at least without illegally crossing into China (as most ChoOyu teams did in the 1980s and 90s).

But given two guys with no O2, fixed ropes or Sherpas climbed the south face over 40 years ago, why not follow their route?

https://blogs.dw.com/adventuresports/index.html%3Fp=35805.html

If they’re worried about avalanche danger, then why would they take customers up the north face of Annapurna?

Shivering Yeti
Shivering Yeti
3 months ago
Reply to  damiengildea

The screaming reason is in the picture on the DW site.

chris
chris
3 months ago
Reply to  damiengildea

its unlikely that commercial clients will be following the footsteps of high end alpinists with long track records of extraordinary physical and climbing talents.

Saleh
3 months ago

A 4-year-old girl named Mahnoor from Nagar district in Gilgit-Baltistan has won a silver medal in skating. According to the details, winter sports competitions were held in Gilgit-Baltistan near Nagar from 17th to 23rd January in which a large number of athletes participated and won gold and silver medals. Mahnoor, a 4-year-old from Hooper Valley in Nagar district, stunned the world by winning a silver medal in the ice speed skating competition. Residents of Gilgit-Baltistan, including Nagar, expressed happiness over the outstanding performance of Mahnoor. In Gilgit-Baltistan, skating enthusiasts cheered Mahnoor on waving the green crescent flag with athletes twice… Read more »

Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
3 months ago

I’m wondering why the teams are working on this in winter. Is this side too rocky in summer?

don't be evil
don't be evil
3 months ago

Are you sure they are planning to climb from Nangpa La? According to his instagram, they were stuck at Gokyo and are planning to head to the basecamp via 5th lake.