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.


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.