JOURNAL - MARTIN'S ATTEMPT OF CHO OYU & MT. EVEREST
This part of our website features "as-it-happens" diaries from our most exciting trips. These diaries will recount some of the more challenging personal trips of the owners (for example, Martin's summit attempt of K2, Shisha Pangma, Cho Oyu and Mt. Everest), as well as selected company trips with our clients. Our experiences will be posted, and we hope to share with you a sense of our wonder as we explore the territory among the islands of the Adriatic Sea, on "the other side" of Italy.CHO OYU & MT. EVEREST 2005;
Regards to all. Another expedition is just about to start. I am in Tingri which is small Tibetan settlement within a few hours drive from Cho Oyu and Everest, at altitude about 4300m. The trip is going very well so far. All formalities in Kathmandu were handled promptly and we left for Tibet on March 23, 05. The part of Nepal we went through is very safe and people should not be afraid to come. For sure, Kathmandu is safer then Pioneer Square in Seattle, WA.
We experienced minor delay on the border. A huge avalanche closed the road between Zaghmu and Nyalam for 24 hours. As soon as the road reopened, we went straight to old Tingri. I have no regret of missing the stay in Nyalam, this truck stop has very little appeal and the weather is mostly bad.
This is so far the smallest expedition I have been on. There are two of us, my base camp cook Temba Sherpa and myself. We plan to move on tomorrow and in a few days, establish base camp under Cho Oyu. At this time, there are no other expeditions so it will be nice to have this huge mountain just for us.
The crowds which are simply part of the deal on any 8000m peak will arrive in couple of weeks. After Cho Oyu, we should move to base camp under Mt. Everest at the beginning of May. I expect lots of people there.
Let's see how it goes.
Tingri, Tibet; March 26, 05
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
ABC, Cho Oyu
Chinese Base Camp opened early because of me. TMA normally open April 5 but they were reasonable. I think what also helped is that Inaki Ochoa tried to climb Shisha in the winter and the Tibetan L.O. had to spend most of the winter in Nyalam. He was so glad I did not have any interest spending the night in Nyalam. Aclimatization by driving in the car is certainly fast as well as very dangerous. My head could tell the story in the morning after the first night in Tingri. I decided to stay 3 nights, enjoyed hospitality of Tibetan family which runs the simple but clean lodge. I can not say the same about dinning. Noone gave me any explanation why climbers and trekkers are forced to eat in chinese "holes". I can not use the word restaurant because it would not be appropriate. And the food being served in these outfits ( again, these are chinese restaurants in Tibet) is the most disgusting and awfull I have ever tasted. Maybe TMA should look at this. The only meal I had with Tibetan family was simple but good and offered with smile. Chinese businessman in Tibet never smile!
This year TMA LO for Cho Oyu is the same fellow we had on Shishapagma last fall. His name is Dawa. He is Tibetan from Lhasa and always very helpfull. We left Tingri on typical day of this time of the year. Clear sky and windy as hell. The same truck which carried all my gear also brought TV & sattelite for Dawa and others who will spend the season at not very nice spot called Chinese BC, organizing yaks for climbing expeditions under Cho Oyu. The road is fairly well maintained - certainly not for climbers. Nangpa La which is with short distance from Cho Oyu is the best escape route for Tibetans who simply can not take it any more. And naturally Chinese military is trying to slow down this exodus.
I was glad to be out of Tingri since my cook - Temba Sherpa could start his job and overdose me with ginger and garlic, two tickets for prompt aclimatization. 7 yaks and couple yakmen showed up - exactly as planned and we left for the mountains. First day we pretty much followed the military road for about 5 hours. Yaks are funny animals. They do not go too fast but they keep the same speed through the whole day. And it is not so easy to keep up for person who just got to the mountains from low altitude.
Weather changed, it got very cold and windy. Yesterday morning, I just pulled my down jacket and mountain boots which I use on 8000m peaks. By the mid day, regular blizzard arrived and yaks were leading us the path they know for hundreds of years. On the way, we met several yak caravans returning from Namche Bazar on the Nepali side of Himalayas. There is usually one yak-man on every four animals. Nothing has changed these highlanders, dressed in clothes I would not leave for afternoon walk in the middle of summer. Jeeps and mobile phones - their lifestyle will not be changed by anything.
It took us again about 5-6 hours to reach the spot which is known as Advanced Base Camp. The altitude is anything between 5500 - 5700m. Night was extremely cold with temperatures way below minus 20C inside the tent.
What is nice about Himalaya, when it is really bad, then suddenly it gets better. Sun showed up this morning, wind calmed down to almost nothing and we spent another great day in the big mountains.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Alone on Cho Oyu
It is April 4, 05 sunny and windy day in ABC under Cho Oyu. I can not belive there is still no other expedition except us. I came down yesterday evening back for rest and refreshment. Temba is cooking for me the best he knows.
On April 2, I left ABC and walked for about 3 hours on morraine covered by snow, sometimes sinking up to my knees. Sun does not have the power yet to melt the snow and I walked most of the day in my down jacket. This is new to me, I usually put this piece of clothes on above 7000m.
I found Camp 1 pretty easy, it is messy place where one can track expeditions for several years back. It is mostly ice so the groups should sharpen their tools for some serious camp digging. My little tent / bivi sack Bibler Tripod does not require too much space and I could choose the best place.
In the morning on April 3, first I had to warm up. Since it is still very, very cold, there is lots of mosture created inside the tent (same in ABC) which turns into 2 inch icycles falling freely into ones face. Sun hits Camp 1 just after 9am ( Chinese time) and I was not ready for anything before 11am. I did not have clear idea what to do but out of curiosity I wanted to look under the serac - the steep 40meter obstacle on the way to the upper part of the wall. Snow was excellent and I found myself under the serac in less than couple hours. I do not consider myself as strong ice climber so I found it pretty exciting to climb this steep part solo in altitude close to 7000m. There are many old ropes hanging but some of them look scary even just looking at them. On the top of this steep section, I found that one of the rope is still fairly new ( probably from the fall 2004), and I decided to be good enough to rappel on this one.
I also decided it is better to come all the way to ABC then to spend another night in my tiny shelter in Camp 1. I was down by sunset.
I will probably give it 3 days and move my belongings higher. I do not want to say if I try for the top but for sure I am bringing the little flag of my home climbing club as well everything needed to survive in 8000m altitude. Only the weather and Himalayan Gods will decide....
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Summit? Forget it for now!
The hell broke loose on the slopes of Cho Oyu and I think all dead bolsheviks blocked the mountain for their party, I do not know what else to say.
On April 7, 05 I left BC in the morning and made it easily to site of Camp 1, repacked and continued to the top of serac at 6900m. I found the shelter even the wind started to blow.
At about 2pm on April 8 (sun hits the slopes around 10am) I set off for approx. 7300m where people usually set up Camp 2. From there I was planning to walk to the top. The huge crevasses I was warned about are truly piece of cake - if you ever walked on Carbon glacier or the glaciers on Alaska.
I made it easily to 7300m and realized after about one hour of trying that something is wrong with my stove. I did not panic or anything, I even considered the option of leaving for the summit right away and climb the whole night with about half of my thermos left. Then I changed my plans and postponed the summit try for the next night, using the day for rest and fixing the problem with my stove.
The night was windy and in the morning, hell broke loose. I was confined inside my tent, without the chance of moving (up or down) and without a chance of making water. And the second night was nothing like the first one - second night was much worse. The sky cleared, it got much colder and the wind popped up to the scale unmeasured by sailors. In one minute intervals, wind was coming from all directions. All moisture turned into ice inside the tent and it was blown back to my face, there was no hiding spot. I could as well be outside it would make no difference.
Then halucinations came, not because of altitude but because of complete lack of water. I changed my shirt and the fellow in this new shirt started to give my advice. Fortunately for me, most of this advise was sound. Towards the morning, I was licking the ice from the sides of my tent and I knew I had to get out right away because if I do not, I will not get the second chance.
I started right in the morning, the wind was even worse then in the night and the wind chill had to be 40 below or lower. The chance of frostbites were tremendous. My feet were cold inside the sleeping bag already. I managed well considering I did not drink for 48 hours. I was able to make the cave where I stored all the fuel, food etc. I quikly got to Camp 1 where I was just setting the stove. I found I am not alone on the mountain any longer. Friendly face of Ed Viesturs showed up and Ed gladly shared the water he had left. He and his two companions just carried the load to Camp 1.
These couple drinks made me walk back to BC. It is cold and very windy even here. Over night I retrieved the feel into my frostbitten fingertips and I am slowly getting power back into them (when I came, I could not sqeeze the lemon into my tea). I started to see without a problem again and it is nice to be able to go to pee after more then 24 hours.
There are couple more expeditions but I do not really mind. I am very well aclimatized and in a few days when the full strenght is back and this " dead bolsheviks parade on the slopes of Cho Oyu" is over I will need only 2-3 days to make it to the top.
I know I will.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
I am back in ABC. Everything is OK, I am reasonably healthy and fine.
On April 16, 05 at 3pm chinese time, I saw a huge massif of Mt. Everest and I knew that is it.
I left ABC on April 14 in the morning. On serac I met Ed Viesturs groups returning, all of us fighting fierce wind. I parked for the night on the top of serac, the night was miserable because my shovel and sleeping pad were in Camp 2. In the morning, fighting with the wind continued to the point I almost turned around. By the time I reached the Camp 2 site ( 7100m) wind calmed down and I could rest in the afternoon.
My summit attempt started at 10pm. By 2am, I reached the bottom of the rocky rib on which people usually have Camp 3. It was impossible to find the way through the rock band above so I found ice crevasse where I had couple hours of sleep. Cold made me walk but soon I realized that there is no way I can find my way before dawn. I had to find another crevasse to spend the rest of the night. Of course I could any time return to my tent, which would mean the end of my summit try.
I started again after about 7am, climbed dry rock (fix ropes do not exist before the groups come) and traverse right on the rocky ledges. Unfortunately the snow which would make things very fast does not exist this season.
I left my thermos half empty at the end of the ledges (the only thing I had except a few things in my pockets) and continued on icefield which ends up on the summit plateau. In about 45 minutes I was at the east edge of the plateau from which you can see the huge mountains ahead of you - Kangchenjunga, Everest and Lhotse. This edge is continuously modeled by the wind and looks more like polar area then the summit of the mountain.
There were no emotions except constant fear. With slightly frostbitten hands and toes from my previous attempt and two days without water I knew then any additional bivouac would be critical and probably with bad consequences. I also then fully realized that no one can help me. Those people who were already on the mountain were just around Camp 1 - they can be as well thousand of miles away, it would be exactly the same.
I returned back to Camp 2 by the evening just finishing my 24 hour shift.
Next day I did not start till 4pm. Wind was so fierce that the tent was flat on several occasions. In Camp 1 once again I met Ed Viesturs groups and got plenty to drink. I continued down the hill, tired as average dead person. Made it to ABC by midnight.
I did not recognize Base Camp. It was similar to the scene from Dances with Wolves when John T. Dunbar is returning for his diary. For two weeks, there was noone, then three other small expeditions came. I got used to the solitude and I wanted to keep it that way. There are at least 15 expeditions and about 80 yaks are coming today. There are no more yaks in the valley, the arrangement has been done that Tibetan porters will carry my stuff down the valley tomorrow.
Cho Oyu will always be in my heart for its beauty, its fierce wind and the loneliness I was able to live through while climbing HER.
Base Camp near Nangpa La under Mt. Cho Oyu
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Regards from Everest ABC
Yesterday afternoon, we got to Everest ABC under North Col. There are about 400 people, maybe more. I have nothing to say.
I hope to climb it fast and get the hell out of here. There are one million other places which are more pleasant and less crowded.
The summit days are not here yet but I have close to two litres of brandy so I will just wait......
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
I arrived on April 25 and decided to wait for the weather window 6500m high. I did not see any benefit going to Chinese BC. It is as filthy place as ABC only a little bit lower. I went up on May 2, and carried my gear to 7700m. Storm forced me down couple days later.
Next time I went up ( started in the evening and walked in the night) on May 14, Storm again pushed me back to ABC.
Each time I was ready to go for the top, from Cho Oyu I was perfectly acclimatized.
The weather window on May 21, 22 was too short and the predicted temperature on the summit too low for no oxygen ascent. I did not participate in the effort on these days. Majority of people who came back were severely frostbitten.
The last time I left for the high ground on May 29 at 2am Nepali time. Each time I avoided North Col Camp and I did not want to wait in the line and be slow. I made it to Camp 2 where I spent comfortable night. Next day, I packed my only tent and move it higher - to 8100m. I found a bit sheltered spot and pitched my little Bibler there. Spent night and day and wanted to walk to the summit the next night. Before I left, Brazilian climber asked me if he can stay in my tent, there were two of his Sherpas and it was too crowded in the tent next door. I had no problem.
I started to walk about 2 hours before sunset and made it to 8300m place with several tents. Wind picked up and I was advised by George and his wife Lakpa (Sherpani) to find the tent, that the wind might come down and we walk to the summit later that night. I crawled in the tent, in the morning I saw I am in the tent of Indian Air Force. Here I spent the second night above 8000m without sleeping bag - I left one in Camp 2. Wind did not come down but I decided to wait for another night.
Around midnight on June 2, I left along with the others for the summit. Wind was strong and it did not take me long time to realize my situation. Without oxygen bottle I was way too slow to get warm and survive without major frostbites. After couple hours I returned to the tent. For about 5 hours I was trying to evaluate my situation. I could wait for another night and try again. At the same time, there was no indication the wind would ease down. Then I decided to give up and return.
On my way down, I collected my belongings. Tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear. I was able to walk down by myself, clean the mountain without any help. For some, it might not be enough. I sure did not win but my retreat has been honorable.
Next day, I walked down to Chinese Base Camp, following day, rode to Nepali border and on June 5 to Kathmandu. In Chinese Base Camp I did notice that even I have been carefull I still got frostbites on my toes. These were treated in Kathmandu and it will take about 4-6 weeks to fully recover.
So this is my story, in a few days I will write and comment on some issues re. climbing Everest generally, base camp, fix ropes and people I have met under Everest.
written in Czech Republic, Europe
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Everest 2005 – summary
I am back for little less then one week, my frostbites are healing slowly and any walking / hiking / climbing activities are greatly eliminated for the next few weeks. That is OK, we play high game and it is important to loose sometimes, otherwise it would not be appreciated.
The season on Everest is over, since I left, many people climbed to the top, couple more people died and I am sure many returned frostbitten.
I turned around at 8450m after waiting for 4 days without food or sleeping bag partly at 8100m and partly at 8300m. For the ascent without oxygen tank, wind was too strong. And I did not want to climb with oxygen mask because I wanted to feel like I am on the top of Everest and not on the top of Kilimanjaro (artificial oxygen greatly reduces the effect of the altitude).
Do I want to return to Everest?
Of course I want to return to Everest and I will because I do not like unfinished business. But I will never return to North Col route (South Col route is according to my friends even worse) in the main climbing season and most likely I would just avoid this route alltogether. There are three big walls on this Giant, who wants to sponsor me? :)
BC and ABC. After Aconcagua, this is the most disgusting spot I have ever stayed. Dead mules and dogs eating garbage were missing. BC is just the end of the road with noise and smoke from the vehicles, local vendors and CMA a TMA dignitaries coming and going in the last models of SUV's. This is where climbers money go. ABC is the narrow strip of moraine and if more then 700 people want to find the spot, the tents are stuffed one on another. Privacy does not exist, camps are built on the shit of previous year's expeditions, literally. Toilet holes are established, some expeditions take the "stuff" away, others do not. Tibetans and Sherpas go anywhere sometimes it looks like they are not allowed to go to the same hole like the clients - so they "put it" couple meters away.
Fixed ropes. On previous expeditions, sometimes we climbed alpine style where no rope is left on the mountain. Usually it is light expedition style where difficult spots are secured. On Everest this was very first time when the line of rope starts practically behind the last tent of ABC and ends up on the summit. Each person using the rope contributed $100.00. Sherpas placed all the ropes on the slope. I did not meet one "climber" who would carry the ropes or fix the ropes. I have heard couple expeditions crying that the ropes were not fixed and therefore they did not reach the summit. Well, either you are climber and you know how to climb without the rope (there are many old ropes from previous years) or you bring small piece. If you are client and you do not know how to climb then you better wait and double check with Sherpas if all ropes are set. Complaining is not appropriate, Sherpas worked very hard and in impossible weather to please you.
Sherpas. These wonderful mountain people do not only completely prepare and secure the route. During my couple trips when I carried up ( and at the end down) my own equipment, tent, sleeping bag, food I have been meeting them and sometimes I wonder if the slavery has really been banned worldwide. Up to the last camp at 8300m, they have been working in every kind of weather. Only higher then that, they have been stopped by high winds and extremely cold temperatures – a sign they are also just human beings. They carry everything from personal gear of the clients, oxygen tanks, live bodies up, sometimes dead bodies down, and cook for the clients. One older lady from certain European country used couple Sherpas for entirely different purpose then climbing Everest. She became very famous for her activities.
Climbing. Before getting to ABC I had no idea how many people will be there nor what is the climbing style. I met several "climbers" on the way up and there was one standard answer to my question about the progress. Sherpas did not do the job yet (means Sherpas did not carry all necessary oxygen bottles, did not fix the route up to the summit, simply did very lousy job).Only once I went to North Col during the day. Every other time I climbed during the night because the number of unexperienced people walking up or down made the route extremely dangerous. I have seen people who probably saw the rope, ice axe and crampons for the first time. Of course their "Sherpa" was handy so the Sherpas were putting harnesses on and off, same with the crampons, one Sherpa even moved the ascender of the client on the rope. People coming down were much worse and the real danger was coming from them. In order to be comfortable, they did not clip carabiner into the rope. If one of them fall, their crampons would be very deadly weapon when reaching the head of one of us going up. Each person had figure eight but do not even think they knew why they have it on their harness. The attitude of all of these were the same. I paid lots of money, I have Sherpas who slave for me so let them do the job. Ridiculous and horrible!!!
Weather forecast. In the saloons of the old West, there used to be sign above the piano. "Do not shoot the piano player, he plays the best he knows". Maybe it was bad year or maybe not. Have a mercy with these poor liars who were sending whatever except decent and at least half correct information. Maybe if they freeze their buts above 8000m for couple nights, they would do better job next time. For sure, I am hiring older Gypsy lady from Albania or Romania. Requirements: 2 teeth, bow snake around the neck and crystal ball in her right hand. I am sure she will do the same job as all these best paid meteorologists creating Everest weather forecast.
People and expeditions. Some expeditions were like medieval forts. Noone ever saw anyone from inside go to visit someone else and noone from "outside world" ever visited the "Castle". Franz Kafka would easily collect material for another book. With no exception, this applies to the expeditions where "clients" paid the largest amounts of money. My encounter with one of these was rather funny then awful. I was yelled at by the BOSS for using HIS shit hole. The fellow did not have enough decency to wait till I pull my pants up. Same guy offered me guaranteed weather forecast, each day would cost $250.00, when I naturally refused, he said that he knew that poor Czech does not have such money. It is funny, the same group of people used the tent of my expedition two years ago on K2 in 6800m in the storm. We have to help each other!!!
But on the other side, I met truly friendly and wonderfull people. I enjoyed climbing with all Sherpas. First they were suspisious. 3 years ago, another Czech climber showed up in ABC, figured out there are lots of tents on the mountain, packed his water bottle and went up, sleeping in whatever tent was available. In the highest camp, Sherpas wondered who this fellow is so he pulled $100.00 and paid them for "lodging". The name of this fellow is Miroslav Caban, he became very famous for his "solo" Everest ascent in "alpine style". His book is available in Kathmandu so you can support him or not support him. I feel I should apologize for his cheating style as well as for the behavior of another Czech climber from this season who mislead and used many people on the mountain.
Soon, Sherpas found that I carry all my gear and I earned some respect for my earlier climb on Cho Oyu. We were best friends right away, they called me one of them. It was sincere from them and fully appreciated by me.
And there were many more people and we spent time together waiting for better days. People from Brazil and Russia, George and Lhakpa, Paul and Elena, Hans who I shared the tent with at 8300m, climbers from Jagged Globe where I drank many cups of tea with my old climbing buddy from Manaslu Fred Ziel as well as the others. However above all, the friendliest team from all was the Indian Air Force expedition. Their tent was the meeting point for many of us, strategies were planned, weather forecasts were discussed, chess games were played on high level. It hurt a lot to learn that one of them did not return from the mountain. The fellow just celebrated the birth of his first child back at home. It was one of the most senseless Act of God (sorry buddy) I could imagine.
Climbing style and death on the mountain. Death rate among folks who use oxygen tank is very high. I do not recall anyone who climbed without oxygen who would not return from the mountain, at least not on north side. I can only say that climbing without oxygen would never put you into the situation that you run out of oxygen, that the system would not function properly. The chance you reach the summit is lower, weather must be near perfect and the possibility of frostbite is higher. But you know when you are at the end of steam and if you turn around on time you can easily walk down to safety.
I understand that standard routes (North Col or South Col) of Everest are what they are. Crowded "Via Ferratas" which are as distant from alpinismus as Free Tibet from China. I do not critisize those who go or plan to go there, climb with oxygen, go home and be famous. This style gives jobs to lots of Sherpas who feed their families. But it would be nice to see that there is something left for climbers.
Reduced amount needed for permit if the climbing party is small, go without Sherpa support and especially without oxygen tanks? Climbing anything else except North and South Col route? (the only group which climbed different route this year was a Czech team, later joined by Austrians on Hornbein Couloir). All the dignitaries from different climbing clubs on the world should move their buts from their office armchairs and do something. Climbers are already like beggars from the street when it comes to buying expedition permit. And with commercial expeditions raising prices, everything on Everest and other mountains will just get more expensive. Commercial expeditions can pay, ordinary climbers can not. Then on the top of Everest there will be two trails, one from North Col, second one from South Col. And this is still within the lifetime of Hillary, Bonnington, Scott and Messner. Very sad end of the chapter.
written in Czech Republic, Europe
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
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