‘Project Himalaya’ Climbers Spill on Cho Oyu Ascent

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Pummeled by gastric illness and facing an incoming bad weather front, Ueli Steck and Don Bowie pulled off an ascent of Cho Oyu (8,201m) last week, knocking off the sixth-highest peak on Earth and ticking another of their expedition's objective. 

Cho Oyu is the second of three eight-thousanders that Steck and Bowie plan to climb as part of their Project Himalaya expedition. Steck soloed the first peak, Shishapangma, last month; Bowie, who was not properly acclimatized and suffering from a chest cold, did not participate in the ascent. The pair had limited time to make their attempt on Cho Oyu, as the yak teams carrying their gear were scheduled to depart camp on May 9th. 

The outing started inauspiciously, with both alpinists suffering from intestinal distress during their acclimatization climb. After recovering in base camp, Steck and Bowie took advantage of a two-day break in the weather to make their summit bid. By the time the pair left on May 4th, most of the other climbing parties on the mountain had already headed up, leaving Steck and Bowie to break trail through a layer of newly fallen snow.

After spending the night at 6,800 m, the climbers continued up to the top, stopping along the way to share tea with a French party in Camp 3. By midday, the climbers had reached the edge of the mountain's vast summit plateau, where they faced one final slog to the true top.

“It’s easy to imagine why so many people claim to have summitted this mountain without ever being on the very top,” Bowie wrote on his blog. “It takes significant time and energy to reach the real summit – and it would be easy to feel like the job is done after simply arriving at the edge of the plateau – but it’s not, pilgrim”

First climbed by an Austrian team in 1954, Cho Oyu is best known to non-climbers for the role it played in the 2006 Nangpa La shootings, when Chinese border guards opened fire at a group of Tibetans attempting to cross a nearby pass into Nepal; a climber at Cho Oyu BC caught the violence on tape and defied the Chinese government's subsequent cover-up by smuggling the footage out of the country.

Compared to the steeper Shishapangma, Cho Oyu is a relatively easy ascent. It's standard route–which Steck and Bowie climbed–is among the least technical or challenging on any eight-thousander, making it a popular destination for commercially-guided expeditions. Bowie said that his and Steck's main goal in climbing the peak was not to summit “but to acclimatize for projects ahead.”

Still, Steck wrote on the expedition's blog that he was happy with the climb, as well as with the people he met along the way.

“I will take good memories back home from Cho Oyu,” he said. “Now, I am a little tired. Two peaks are in my bones.”

Steck and Bowie's next stop is Lhasa, where they plan to rest before continuing on to Everest base camp.

Adam Roy

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