American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Cho Oyu

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990

Cho Oyu. On March 5, Martín Zabaleta, a Spanish Basque living in the United States, Americans Alan Kearney and I, our staff and four “family” trekking members set off in a hired bus for Jiri, the beginning of our walk to the mountain. An approach on foot would increase our enjoyment and decrease the risk of altitude problems. In spite of our slow pace, Alan Kearney came down with a cough the day before arriving at Base Camp. He and his wife remained behind to recuperate while on March 19 the rest of us established Base Camp at a site at 5290 meters known as Kangshung. Unfortunately, Alan had to drop out, as he explains in his article on Kwangde. Martín and I proceeded with our acclimatization. We used the clear periods between storms to reconnoiter possible routes on Cho Oyu’s south and southwest sides. Eventually we placed a tent at 5800 meters, about four hours’ walk from the foot of the west ridge, first climbed by Poles in 1986. The ridge seemed both technically interesting and yet feasible for a quick ascent. Unfortunately, a heavy storm deposited a half a meter of snow on the glacier, even at Base Camp. After the skies cleared, we still could not move for two days. However, we believed that high winds might sweep the mountain clean of fresh snow by the time we reached high on the mountain eight or ten days later. We set off from Base Camp on April 2. We spent the nights of April 2 and 3 at 5800 and 6150 meters. I quote from my journal, “April 6: These last two days have involved some great climbing. From the beginning of the ridge at 6150 meters, it has never been too difficult but never has it allowed us to lose our concentration. We came up a much exposed, knife-edged ridge mixed with short 45° to 55° slopes of snow and ice. The 200-meter-high rock pyramid was a mystery until we got close to it. At first, I was sure we should have to find a way around it, but as we came nearer, we could see that it was not as steep as we thought. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular 200 meters with a ramp system leading around the steep upper wall. In the last hour of light, we emerged from the rock onto a knife-edged ridge which led us to the broad shoulder at 7000 meters. Luckily, the enormous snow slope above has been swept clean of fresh snow. Otherwise, we couldn’t make it; it’s a perfect angle for avalanches. April 7: The winds kept us pinned until midday. We climbed the broad slope in four hours and set up the tent at 7450 meters after another hour’s climbing.” We managed to get to the summit on April 8 despite very windy conditions. I had trouble keeping my toes warm. Martín found it difficult to keep food down. We found a sheltered spot on the lee of the ridge at 7800 meters and got a little warmer. Several times we were forced to find shelter on the southwest side of the ridge. Finally we swung back left to the northeast and braced ourselves with our ski poles. Once off the last rock steps, Martín began veering toward a snowy mound on our left. At the same time, I realized that the top must be far to the southeast side of this immense plateau. We pressed on over the nearly level plateau, gaining only a few meters for every hundred that we crossed. Though the winds were still high, the midday sun seemed to bring some decrease in their intensity. We were still gaining altitude. Suddenly, after three-quarters of an hour, we were rewarded with a view to the east of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and the entire Khumbu valley. The scenery was breath-taking. This is why I love to climb. Only two or three hundred meters remained until the plateau began to drop off to the south. There were jumbles of large ice blocks, wedged up from glacial pressure. As we reached this mound, we hugged each other roughly. We shot a few photos as Martín clung tightly to his Basque flag and I to my American one. This was our second high summit together. This forges bonds that will last a lifetime. Then we began descending the 700 meters back to our bivouac tent.

Carlos Buhler

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