The Nangpa La is the key to an historic trading route still used illicitly today to bring wood from the Khumbu forests of Nepal to build houses on the3 barren plains of Tibet. Mountaineers driving south from Tingri toward this pass, en route to Cho Oyu or in more recent years the Rongshar Chu and the challenge of Menlungte (7181m), will be taken by the scale of this deep divide in the Himalaya. On its right is the unclimbed and beautiful Jobo Rap Sam (6666m), whilst to the left is Cho Aui (7350m), climbed by a Japanese expedition in 1986. Left again is Cho Oyu, the dominant feature of the language and the sixth highest peak in the world. This is surely one of the earth’s most beautiful places. More parties climb Cho Oyu from Tibet than Nepal. Access is much simpler, it being possible to drive to within a day of base camp though this may of course present its own acclimatization problems. Also 1982 border changes now mean that one’s passage on to the lower slopes of the classic North-west Ridge, line of the first ascent, is unreasonably difficult from the south (assuming that one doesn’t’ poach across the Nangpa La and then return south on the Gyabrag Glacier as Herbert Tichy and party did in 1954). Furthermore, many more routes have been opened on the Tibetan side of the peak, three of which are excellent technical climbs: the 2000m high north Face, climbed by a Slovenian team in 1988, the Polish west Ridge (1986), and the west Face. The west face first climbed in 1990 by that unstoppable team of Kurtyka, Troillet and Loretan, in just two days, including a descent of the north-west ridge is particularly attractive for the alpine climber. From the base of the face at about 6,200m a broad, 45degree couloir carries one high on to the face before a sustained section of mixed climbing (IV) on rock steps, punctuated by steep (60 degree) snowfields between 7000-7800m leads one to a ramp line running rightward to the unclimbed south west ridge at 8100m. The summit plateau is met very near to its highest point which may be a blessing, though it must still be crossed in order to reach the start of the descent of the original route. The Polish (west) Ridge that forms the left side of this face is easier, being mostly on steep snow and ice (up to 50 degree) though there is one 200m section of rock (III) to reach 7200m where it is possible to traverse on to the Tichy route. To stay on the ridge crest (the slopes of the original route hereabouts may be prone to avalanche in very snowy conditions) world mean joining this route higher up, nearer 7800m. Being relatively safe, it will be interesting to witness the popularity of the west Ridge in coming years. To date it has been repeated only once, in the winter of 1989 by Carlos Buhler (US) and Martin Zabaleta (Spa) who comment favorably on the quality of the climbing. At present, however, the original route is certainly the most popular. Herbert Ticht who led the first ascent was an exemplar of lightweight climbing and his story has a particular poignancy measured against modern trends of lightweight expedition. Philosopher and traveler first, mountaineer second, his aim was not solely to climb the peak, but to climb it specifically with a small team of friends. However, as the expedition progressed he became more and more consumed by the summit eventually risking the loss, at very least, of his already frostbitten fingers. ‘As nearly all religions strive to take away the fear of death and make it seem acceptable, I may claim to have had a genuine religious experience, he wrote. Others might simply call it anoxia and by most rational criteria his single-minded drive for the summit was foolhardy. However, as Diemberger once remarked, ‘everyone has the right once in his life to do something a little crazy.’ Tichy got away with it sustaining only minor permanent injuries to his fingers. He attributed his remarkable healing not to religion but to the copious quantities of Chang and Rakshi that he drank on the way home.
Tichy preferred the company of his Sherpa friends, in particular Pasang Dawa Lama who had been almost to the summit of K2 with wiessner in 1939, to other Austrians and accordingly there were just three westerners on the expedition, one of whom had no designs on the summit. The Sherpa’s meanwhile were not employed in their traditional servant role but as equal members of the climbing team and it was Pasang who really made the ascent possible. In the first push he led the route through the critical ice barrier at about 6800m; later, when news of a Swiss team also intent on Cho-Oyu reached Pasang while he was traveling back from Namche Bazar with more supplies, he produced a super human effort to ensure success. In three days he covered 50km and gained 4000m of altitude to rejoin Tichy and Sepp Jochler on the mountain and then drive them both on to the summit. On the whole route one small section of fixed rope was employed through the icefall, and no supplementary oxygen carried. The expedition was remarkable and Pasang’s achievement was comparable with Hermann Buhl’s on Nanga Parbat the previous year. The North West Ridge in not technically hard but it is a long route, finishing well above 8,000. from the Gyabrag Glacier it ascends an easy moraine and rocky ridge to Pt. 6446m (many climbers do this part of the route in lightweight training shoes). Next a long easy snow ridge is followed to the ice barrier. Conditions change but in recent years this has been negotiated by way of hole left by a collapsed serac. There will normally be fixed ropes in situ. From 7000m easy angled snow trending leftwards leads to a steepening, in some years rocky which is taken to gain access to final long snowsloped leading on to the rather featureless summit plateau. Only when the breathtaking view into the Khumbu is opened up and the Nangpa La trading route comes into sight, will climbers know they have reached the summit and be truly satisfied. We cannot leave Cho Oyu without mention of one more route, the colossal south-east in Nepal. The ascent of this face in the winter of 1985 was one of the great heroic feats of modern Polish mountaineering. This was no alpine style dash for the line up the huge central spur is long and intricate, with some very hard climbing on rock and ice. Faced with those difficulties and the extreme winter conditions on an 8000m peak, Andrzej Zawada led a concerted team effort with fixed ropes. Even with that kind of support the second summit team of Zygmunt Heinrich and Jerzy Kukuczka ended up bivouacking in the open high on the face when they failed to find camp 5 at the end of the short winter day. Compared to the south-east face in winter, the shorter routes on the north side of Cho-Oyu are all quite gentle propositions. The comparative easy of north-west Ridge is well illustrated by statistics: by the end of 1993 over 400 people had reached the summit by this route. However, people do die here. Cho-Oyu is a big mountain and anyone caught on its dome-like summit plateau in a storm could be hard pushed to find his way back down.
SUMMARY STATISTICS AND INFORMATION
Location:- Mahalungur Himal, Khumbu Subsection, Tibet
Route:- North-West Ridge. 2200m of ascent on snow with a short section on steep ice and possible rock.
First ascent of Mountain:- Summit reached 19 October 1954 (the only eight thousand) by Herbert Tichy & Sepp Jochler (Aus), Pasang Dawa Lama (Nepal)
First ascent of Route:- As above
Height of b/c:- 5600m, above the north bank of the Gyabrag Glacier.
Roadhead:- As far south from Tingri as trucks can travel, usually to about 4350m. In the post monsoon period it should be possible to drive right up to drive right up to 4800m, below the Fusi La.
Length of walk-in:- Approximately 10km, 1 day.
Season:- May-June or September-October
Permission:- China-Tibet Mountaineering Association, Lhasa (Tibet)
Success Rate:- High over 50 per cent of expeditions visiting all routes on Cho-Oyu succeed in reaching the top; on the North-west Ridge the success rate is higher. Over 400 people had reached the top by the end of 1993.