Stateside 6/4/16

Cho Oyu Basecamp  18,500 feet

Cho Oyu Videos Here

It's been a week since I slept shivering in a -40 sleeping bag or was awakened at 2.30 pm with nature's urge only to reach for a pee bottle that would freeze inside said bag by 7 am. Similarly, I haven't turned over from the warmth of my now sea level abode gasping for air in the overly familiar pattern known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing. Oxygen is plentiful here in Knoxville at 973 feet sea level and I am chewing on it gleefully as we speak.  When I say it was cold in them thar Himalaya, I ain't kidding.  My toe is still numb.  This was the coldest trip of them all for me.  Winter still had a firm grip in Tibet.  I was reminded that many of my digits nearly disappeared the last time I didn't pay attention to the altitude and temperature.

There has been little hurry to rush off to a tent or inflatable pad or ingest noodles prepared over a camp stove. My frame sloughed off 18 lbs while in Tibet and the culinary offerings of the US have been ingested with great appreciation, along with sunshine and the company of good friends and family upon my return. I was in Nepal and Tibet for six weeks and it felt like more. On one of our last nights there was a 3.0 earthquake in Kathmandu but I snoozed heartily through it. Plenty of reminders lay on the ground of the last big seismic event there.

So Freddie is enjoying one of these and look who we conjured as a result!

Hanging out with one of the most famous climbers of all time.  Ed Viesturs in Kathmandu. I have long been a fan of both his climbing credo and writing.  He has penned several books and I have read them all.  He is so famous that he played himself in a cameo on Vertical Limit. (Bill Paxton acknowledges him as the greatest climber in this K2 fictional movie)Ironically, I carry a card with one of his sayings in my backpack on all climbs, compliments of Chuck Adams, Muir Factioneer extroardinaire.  It says, "Getting to the top is optional, getting back down is mandatory."

Base camp on Cho Oyu is 18,500 feet. It is the highest base camp in the Himalaya and all the world. We lived there, when not rotating to upper camps on the “Turquoise Goddess” from late April to late May. It took a full week to arrive in that spot from our disembarkation point in Kathmandu, Nepal. We flew to Lhasa, the ancient Tibetan Buddhist city first. The first day we tried to get in there, the Chinese diverted us to Chengdu, China, saying the winds were too bad to touch down at 12,000 feet on the Tibetan plateau. Our unplanned overnight sojourn didn't include much in the way of food. Thus, the next morning, our team of 11 rose at dawn to go for a second round. This attempt was much more successful and we stepped off in Tibet gasping for air at what would prove to be our largest altitude jump of the trip. We spend two nights there, acclimatizing and sightseeing. Lhasa was spectacular and the Potala palace was a highlight. Of course, the Chinese will not give you details about the Dalai Lama and his absence since being exiled. Lhasa is a unique city newly opened to the world.

Freddie spins prayer wheels at the Monkey temple in Kathmandu

Monkeys at monkey temple.

From Lhasa we departed to Shigatse on a bus with our Chinese “liaison officer”.. Or what I call, propagandist Since this was my third trip to the country of China, I was accustomed to the indoctrination afforded by these government “shills”. I also delighted in asking them uncomfortable questions about political situations like that with the Dalai Lama. Their responses were amusing to me. On one particular day, while touring a monastery outside Shigatse, I inquired about the present whereabouts of the aforementioned, exiled Buddhist spiritual leader. Our handler nearly lept from his skin before realizing the need to admonish me. When he calmed down, I asked him who was the present spiritual leader of the Buddhists in China. You can safely assume this guy was not my buddy for the rest of the journey.

Me with the Potala Palace in background.  Lhasa

I have little patience for cowards who shill for any entity and dispenses their bs be it a communist “monk” or an NPS affiliated janitor. When good men do nothing, evil perpetuates. To hear this “monk” tell me that the current Buddhist spiritual leader was Panche Lama, he just sold his soul to the devil and I doubt the Buddha will want anything to do with him. Same with any NPS type person who disseminates doctrine to say they are underfunded or care about public comments. If you work for an agency that subverts public good, you are part of the problem and need to atone for your part of it. And I mean this as a direct implication of folks like the ranger at Great Smoky Mtns National Park who sent in an email to his superiors saying that once the backcountry fee is enacted, then they should raise it only after the public has become used to it. He may have curried a lot of favor with his superiors who retired with a lot more money than he ever will, but I'll bet he never thought his little ass kissing would go public.

Anyway, we proceeded from Shigatse to Tingri. At one point we crossed a high pass at almost 17,000 feet. Undoubtedly it is one of the highest on earth. The topography was barren with treeless hills and plains full of yak and varying agriculture. Our drive time was 7 hours, primarily due to speed restrictions strictly enforced by the Chinese at frequent checkpoints. The Chinese are control freaks,(aka Alexander style) if you haven't gathered that by now. Our group consisted of a couple of Germans, one Italian, one Australian, one Swede (Freddie), a Ukranian girl planning to climb to the North Col of Everest and two Americans. Our expedition leader was a Brit. It was a heterogeneous group but we gelled quite well.

We did acclimitization hikes outside of Tingri.

We landed at Tingri, the last outpost of civilization prior to basecamp. I will one day pen a short story entitled , “The Dogs of Tingri”. In this little saloon, wild west enclave were but one hotel and perhaps a couple hundred inhabitants. Mangrel dogs ran the streets in packs and we were advised not to roam the streets ourselves at night for fear of mauling. Stories of dog packs killing people drove this home to me and at night, outside my hotel, they barked like something from a Stephen King work. One particular memory for me was seeing the mutt outside our hotel with a stiffened carcass, presumably of a cat which perished weeks prior, smushed so flat it was like a piece of cardboard, munching contently in the front door of the hotel restaurant, separated by a rug that served as the door.  Here is something else that roamed the buddhist streets quite freely.

    Looks like he is coming after me.  In fact, I was charged by a Yak but that is another story.

Me, Andrea and Chris


Base camp was welcomed after this “civilization”. By now you may have gathered that I did not summit Cho Oyu. Several weeks remain in this tale before those details emerge. I will say that the reason is not entirely what you may have gathered from the sparce Summit Climb dispatch page. However, I am awaiting some correspondence from Dan Mazur before I finish this tale. As always, there is more than meets the eye. I wish to rectify some issues before making the story public so stay tuned for “the rest of the story.”

Andrea, myself and Freddie with Everest and Cho Oyu in background.  We had to climb a lot to get this one.

Like this?  Consider purchasing one of my books. 

Father of Ice Mountains:  A Ski Ascent of Muztagh Ata

Tempting the Throne Room:  Surviving Pakistan's Deadliest Climbing Season  2013


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