Winter Cho Oyu: “This Is Not Over Yet”

Both teams on Cho Oyu’s south side have safely reached their base camps. The Pioneer Adventure team will rest there for a few days. For now, they are not looking ahead. “Only once the weather clears can they decide their further actions,” a spokesman told ExplorersWeb.

Meanwhile, Gelje Sherpa is keen to try again as soon as weather improves. “This is not over yet,” he insists.

Gelje Sherpa, left, during the puja ceremony before a previous rotation on Cho Oyu. Photo: Gelje Sherpa


On the last summit push, Gelje and his men set off at 10:30 pm and climbed through the frigid night in -30ºC. Despite the early departure, they did not have enough time to reach the summit, or even the col, before the winds returned.

“It took us longer [than expected] to fix ropes on the vertical wall,” he reported.

Eventually, as the winds rose again during the morning, they had to turn around. Today, he shared some images of the upper sections ahead of them.

“We needed a few more hours to reach the summit,” Gelje said.

The sharp East Ridge leading to the summit of Cho Oyu. Photo: Gelje Sherpa

The East Ridge. Photo: Gelje Sherpa


The treacherous East Ridge

In fact, they might have needed even more time than that — possibly a lot more. First, they would have had to reach the col separating Cho Oyu from Tenzing Peak. The exact route is not clear, but according to their trackers, the col didn’t lie straight ahead of them: The Nepalis reported reaching slightly above 7,500m, which is higher than the col itself.

Sergey Bogomolov, a member of the only team that has ever climbed that ridge, recalls that this saddle lay at 7,400m.

“We set a tent there, a provisional Camp 4 that we actually didn’t use to sleep, but just for storing gear,” Bogomolov told Elena Laletina of RussianClimb.

Then Gelje and his team would have had to climb the East Ridge.

An epic climb

Laletina has translated the 1991 Russian expedition diaries into English and shared them on her FaceBook page. Their account is epic.

The Russian expedition, led by Sergey Efimov, was the first to complete the climb along Cho Oyu’s East Ridge. Previous attempts had failed. The ridge itself took them two days and cost the life of one of the members when a rock hit him during their descent.

The team was climbing without O2, so their pace was slow. But besides the thin air, the main difficulty was the extreme exposure and the difficulty of that ridge, with its rotten rock. Worst of all, they twice had to negotiate a 70m-deep crack in the middle of the ridge. It was particularly bad on the way back, as they descended, exhausted, with a sick climber.

It took so long that the Russians had to set up their fifth and last camp between the crack and the final (easier) part of the ridge leading to the wide summit plateau of Cho Oyu.

Whatever the outcome of Gelje’s climb, it sounds like an unrealistic route for future clients.

The 1991 Russian route to Cho Oyu from the south side and along the East Ridge. The white dot marks the expedition’s Camp 5, pitched above the crack on the final section of the ridge leading to Cho Oyu’s summit plateau. Credit: E. Laletina/RussianClimb