Tibet - Expedition to Cho Oyu (8201 m)
April 16 - May 25, 1997
Expedition leader: Robert Rackl
Participants: Daniel Mastalerz, Ingolf Schröder,
Ralf Lutzenburger, Gerd Spahn,
Gebhard Plangger, Robert Winklhofer,
Ursula Zippel, Martine Farenza,
Claudia Bäumler, Hartmut Bielefeldt,
Martina Grohs, Klaus-Dieter Grohs,
Reinhard Schönfeld, Max Huber, Eugen Brunner
Authors of this text: Hartmut Bielefeldt and Claudia Bäumler
Note that this is not an "official" expedition report but only our personal diary.
Wednesday, April 16, 1997 / Thursday, April 17, 1997Flight to Kathmandu
Wednesday evening we (i.e. 14 of us) meet at Frankfurt airport. Gebhard and our expedition leader Robert are already in Kathmandu. Baggage is checked in quickly and without complications. Our flight - anyway the second last of the evening - is delayed until one o'clock. After a stop in Dubai, where we complete our equipment with a cheap thermos, we arrive in Kathmandu with two hours delay.
In Nepal, many things are different from central Europe, apart from everybody driving on the left: Local time is 4.45 hours before GMT, and the year is 2054 of Hinduistic time. We stay in the hotel Yak & Yeti. Except for the usual waiter-doesn't-notice-me problem like in all restaurants in the world, there is really nothing to complain about service and equipment. After all, we arrived here in the most distinguished place of town.
Friday, April 18, 1997Kathmandu
After the breakfast buffet, we enjoy an organized visit of the temples of Swayambunath and the town Kirtipur (a former fortress), where we get an impression of the conditions of living and working. Many little and taller children are following our walk to beg some money.
The street system of Kathmandu is pretty chaotic, most streets are extremely narrow. a sewage system and water supplies in the houses are hardly found, everything looks quite dirty. The fabric of the buildings gives the impression that most houses begin to fall apart even before completion.
Due to a strike against the introduction of V.A.T., today unfortunately the most shops are closed. The only thing we get today are reasonably cheap trousers (for 400 Rupees = 8 US$, Rs. 50 are about 1 $), and even that as a result of a lengthy bargain. On normal days one can obviously buy almost everything here; one easily comes through speaking English, which is a very good news for us as this is the first country I visit without any knowledge of the local language. But of course people in the touristic centers of Nepal are well used to foreigners. Luxury like e.g. beer is comparably expensive (Rs. 50-100 for half a liter) but available everywhere.
In the afternoon quite a lot of work - the about 600 expedition postcards must be signed.
Saturday, April 19, 1997Kathmandu - Kodari - Zhangmu
Early in the morning at seven o'clock (unfortunately before the breakfast buffet is opened) the trip to the frontier begins. The Nepalese road system is not very extensive and in bad condition. Only short sections are paved, many portions are under construction, and often the road is only one lane. On the way back we had a better impression. Either really some construction was finished until then, or we still had the Tibetian roads in mind. After four hours through many valleys and forests, we reach the Nepalese frontier village Kodari (1700 m).
Formalities are done by the local trekking organization. Here we meet our four Sherpa friends who will accompany us. The baggage is reloaded to different trucks several times, and after just four hours also we can get into the trucks, go hundred meters to the "Friendship Bridge" and wait another 15 minutes on the other side, until we are allowed to proceed. Apparently the only function of one of the soldiers there is to give the "Pass" sign.
The eight road kilometers to Zhangmu are in an adventurous condition, the "road" winds up an extremely steep slope in many turns. Here, only the local trucks and taxis are allowed to drive - probably reasonable since only those drivers master their vehicle well enough for that trip. So there is no direct transit traffic; one has to be prepared to change vehicles several times.
Half an hour later: The Chinese immigration control in Zhangmu (2300 m) is very careful. The passport is compared with the pre-written authorized list letter by letter, as the officer in charge is not too familiar with Latin letters. Deviations by typing errors cause some delay. Nevertheless, in the evening everything is done.
In Zhangmu, as in all of the Chinese territory, Beijing time is valid - another 2 1/4 hours before Nepalese local time (i.e. 7 hours before GMT). All in all crossing the border takes 5 hours.
After the interpreter welcomed us, we get diner in the village at half past six (Chinese time). Whoever had no practice with chopsticks would get it now. Apparently Zhangmu is the most run-down village on our globe. The street is a mud lane, everybody spills his waste water to the roadside (or just anywhere). The village is literally glued to the mountain slope; the restaurant toilet is situated under the building and consists of a quite slippery wooden beam, from where one could easily fall down towards Nepal. In addition, leaving the toilet one should watch out not to be killed by kitchen garbage which is simply thrown down. The restaurant is furnished rather practically: For others it's only a roll of toilet paper, for us it's the world's longest napkin (analogous to a popular German commercial about something completely different.).
This truck is almost a legend meanwhile. Obviously nobody regards it as necessary to remove the wreck from the street.
Zhangmu main street, the "international road" Kathmandu - Lhasa.
In the evening, Eugen in fact finds a replacement for his suddenly empty (quite exotic) camera battery, just in one of the small shops along the street.
Our lodging is simple, but quite orderly; there is even a toilet on the floor. The naket bulb in the room can hardly be localized from its lighting in the evening. During the night, however (probably since all the other electricity consumers in Zhangmu were switched off), it becomes such disgustingly light that we simply screw it out (in default of a switch).
Sunday, April 20, 1997Zhangmu - Nyalam
A white sphere primula near the road.
In time as announced, we leave the hotel by bus at quarter after ten. One hour later, we have passed the village of Zhangmu (about 1 km).
Quite a bit the road follows the steep abysses over the river, partly quite uncomfortably steep. Further up, the landscape becomes wider and more scanty, the trees soon completely disappear. At 1 p.m. we reach Nyalam (3700 m).
While the hotel entrance and the flat in the lower floor look quite run-down, the rooms are pretty orderly. Anyway, we begin to adapt to the local standards, of course. Our room has rose-coloured honeymoon beds. Just a miracle why three of these are in the room.
In the evening we undertake an acclimatization walk up tp 4000 meters.
For dinner, the first expedition supplies appear on the table, for those who don't become friends of the Chinese food or who have digestion problems. Generally, we can not complain about the quality and quantity of food here. People are friendly, although our ideas of cleanliness obviously can not be applied in Tibet. Whoever goes abroad with such luxury expectations, however, should better stay at home.
The children open their hands with a "Hello" when meeting us, but they are by far not begging as obtrusively as in Nepal. Adults are quite reserved, probably also because contacts between Tibetians and foreigners are not desired by the Chinese and therefore are said to sometimes be punished.
Mani stones near Nyalam. The text says "Om mani padme hum" as of course every Tibet visitor knows.
Monday, April 21, 1997Walk near Nyalam
Yesterday evening we could enjoy the noisy loudspeakers from the other side of the street - first apparently some radio, after that the (notorious) village disco. At eleven o'clock it's already quiet.
The next day we do a real acclimatisation walk to the mountain southwest of the village. After three hours we declare the next hill as the summit (4630 m). The view to Shisha Pangma is bad since this morning, but the nearer five- and six-thousand meter peaks look spectacular enough. As also yesterday, it becomes cloudy very quickly around noon, it becomes fresh and uncomfortable. Late in the afternoon we get some snow.
Tuesday, April 22, 1997Nyalam - Tingri
From Nyalam on we continue in Jeeps, even if the road to Tingri doesn't require it. Ten kilometers after Nyalam (km stone 5333), Milarepa's cave is located, an important Buddhist shrine. Milarepa was a Lama living a hermit life in the cave but keeping contact to the local people, thus contributing to the stabilization of the religion in the population. He is said to have won a competition with another Lama (around 1100 A.D.) about the first "climb" of the holiest of all mountains, Kailash, by riding up to the summit on the first ray of the morning sun.
Near the Milarepa monastery. Nyalam is situated below the mountains in the background.
Farmer's house, with the fuel for the winter at the wall.
The landscape opens up, the valley becomes broader and slowly ascends, until we reach Lalung Leh pass (5050 m) after about 40 km (km 5287). For better acclimatization, we make our lunch break here. There is a beautiful view to the Himalayan range in the south. It's not obvious that they are "only" six thousand meter peaks. How then will the really tall ones look like? On the other side, a vast hilly landscape almost without snow stretches to the north.
The road leads us through long valleys which are partially embedded in steep mountains. Vegetation is scarce, a bit of grass close to the rivers.
On the way in Tibet.
The road is a more or less dusty gravel track; beyond km 5200 it is paved. Tingri (km 5195) at an altitude of 4250 m makes a rather remote impression. The Hotel "Everest View" has several rooms grouped around the courtyard. The door lock is a branch of wood which is squeezed onto the door from inside. The smoky dining room offers seats and tables around the stove, on which all food is cooked. The toilets - the special highlight of this hotel - are little towers accessible via stairs in the corners of the courtyard. On top, you stand almost in the open, the view shield wall is dimensioned quite small. Anyway, the view from here is the very best (the famous Everest View). In the afternoon, we visit the real village Tingri (the hotel is a outside).
Soon dark clouds come up, and it begins to snow. Probably we won't see any rain for the next four weeks.
In the evening, the Diesel generator runs untils midnight. That probably means that the power line along the road is not in a very good condition any more. After that the local dogs prove their staying power until the next morning.
Mount Everest (left) and Cho Oyu (right) as seen from Tingri, a distance of 40 km.
Wednesday, April 23, 1997Tingri - Drivers' base camp
At quarter past nine we leave in the jeeps and pass through the long high plain to the drivers' basecamp at 5000 m altitude, where we arrive after 1 1/2 hours. The height is extrapolated from our (wrong) altimeter readings in comparison with the map. From here, we continue with yaks. During the drive, there is a nice view to Everest and Cho Oyu. While Everest rises to the sky rather graceful, Cho Oyu is a huge massive. Correctly spoken, of course only the very highest part (above 8000 m) of Everest is visible; effectively the size of very high area might be bigger there. Therefore, "graceful" refers more to the visual impression than the real structure of the mountain. The road conditions are a bit worse than some South American roads that came to our mind on that occasion. But our drivers are obviously off-road experts, thus we can not report any problems.
The drivers' basecamp is the end point of the "road", at least now in April. The tents are set up, and the kitchen tent is installed. From here on our (Sherpa) cook will provide the meals for us; this should also reduce the digestion problems with time. Dinner is good and plentiful, partly Nepalese, partly European style. From the start, we do without Tibetian cuisine, as the culinary bandwidth of this country would easily fit onto a match box. From now on, the leading motto for us is drinking tea whenever possible, as only with enough liquid we can adapt ourselves to altitude.
Instead of dogs or Diesel generators, this night a herd of yaks ensures the noise background. We learn, however, that they are quite shy despite their size, and they never stand in our way to the toilet tent.
The weather is like the past some days: at noon more and more clouds, later a bit of snowfall.
Thursday, April 24, 1997Rest day in the drivers' base camp
Today is rest day, i.e. a small walk in the surroundings. We climb up the moraine in the west up to 5300 m, where we get a nice view to the Nangpa La. This pass (about 5700 m) has a historic significance, because on this route some centuries ago the people of the Sherpa had immigrated to the Nepalese region south of Mount Everest. It should not be necessary to say that Sherpa are an ethnic group and not a word for "porter". The Sherpa language is still almost identical with Tibetian and completely different from Nepali. It is written with Tibetian letters. Nangpa La is still used by yak caravans heading towards Namche Bazar.
We are not quite sure, but maybe one can see Mount Everest behind Cho Oyu from here. But it might have been tiny Gyachung Kang with its 7900 meters.
Today the weather is exceptionally good, the clouds come only in the evening and are quite harmless. Therefore one can use the sunny afternoon for washing oneself and some of the clotes. The Tibetian yak drovers apparently are quite a wild sort of people. As a consequence of the open fires in their tents and the probably very rare occasion of washing, their presence can easily be smelled from far. They gaze into our tents with an almost childlike curiosity, change and sell everything that promises some profit, and don't become tired looking who might have leftovers of food or anything else interesting. In spite of all their curiosity and the huge income difference, theft is practically unknown in Tibet; all these fierce guys turn out to be trustworthy.
In the Drivers' base camp, with a beatiful view to Cho Oyu
Friday, April 25, 1997Drivers' base camp - intermediate camp
The service is almost too good: in the morning we are waked up at the tent with "morning tea", and half an hour later breakfast is served.
Martina has big altitude problems and goes back to Nyalam with Klaus-Dieter to recover there. There, too, she won't feel much better after some days and finally she'll go to Kathmandu and homeward. Klaus-Dieter will come up to the base camp some days later, together with Ralf.
The others leave for the base camp today. First, a little organization interlude: Instead of the 48 yaks we ordered, we would need 50, is the liaison officer's realization. At least, the additional two yaks cost only US$ 130...(without bill)
Loading the yaks is the second problem: yaks are quite shy and hardly let men come closer that one or two meters. That obviously also applies to the yak drovers. And, they already know the coming, and they are not at all enthusiastic about the 60 kilograms that are to be attached on their backs. Either they try to run away under the load, before the load is fixed, or they fiercly jump around to throw away the load. After two hours each of them has surrendered to its fate.
The yaks go rather fast, and we should avoid running because of our acclimatization. So it takes four hours to the intermediate camp, an endlessly long way through the river plain and moraine scree, only 350 height meters. The weather today works differently than before: Already in the morning high layered clouds coming from Nepal, but a long time more or less sunny, and late in the afternoon some snow showers.
Yak before loading (obviously, since it is still rather peaceful).
Saturday, April 26, 1997Intermediate camp - base camp
Ralf decides to go down to Tingri temporarily, recover there and come back after a few days. In view of the following stage to the base camp probably quite a reasonable decision.
Loading the yaks is done much faster today. The first 150 height meters are made quickly, but from there on the trail follows the irregular, often interrupted morain ridges high above the Gyabrag glacier. Only 200 meters of net height difference, and we need four hours to the base camp place at the icy lake. The usual "Tichy camp" is crowded, as we heard below. Therefore we install our base camp about 1 1/2 hours further down at 5500 m. The "proper" base camp is named after Herbert Tichy, one of the three first climbers of Cho Oyu, who used this base camp site in 1954. In spite of the big altitide (5700 m) it probably is the best starting point for climbing Cho Oyu. Our site is situated east above the shore of Gyabrag glacier, where a little nameless glacier comes down from the side. On the other side of Gyabrag glacier, the impressive rock and ice towers of Jobo Rabtsang (6666 m) are enthroned.
In the afternoon again it begins to snow.
Sunday, April 27, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Probably we chose the most shady spot in the universe as a base camp site. Only at eight o'clock Nepalese time (10:15 chinese; we change to Nepalese time in the base camp, as this better corresponds to the sun position) we are reached by the sun, while the mountains on the other side are lighted since two and a half hours already.
Today is a rest day; some people are fighting against diarrhea, headache and shortage of breath - that might be quite normal here, at least immediately after arrival.
In the late morning the Puja ceremony takes place to turn the Gods' attitude positive for the climbers and Sherpas. The prayer banners are suspended, ice axes are consecrated and the different sacrifices are spread into the winds. Nobody shall begin climbing the mountain before the Puja. Evil would threaten otherwise. By the way, prayer banners are similarly ingenious inventions like prayer mills: The first take care that the wind spreads the prayers which are written on them, carrying Buddhism into the world, the latter ones "mechanise" praying, so to speak.
After lunch, the further plans are discussed: Since the base camp is situated rather high at 5500 m, we will have another rest day tomorrow. On Tuesday we will go to the beginnig of the "killer slope" and back with small luggage. The "killer slope", named such in joke, is a steep scree slope which is said to be correspondingly demotivating and exhausting.
On Wednesday, a trip to camp 1 to 6400 m shall follow in order to deposit luggage there. On Thursday we plan to go up the third time, and then we should be adapted so far that we can stay overnight up there. If everything works well, we could go to camp 2 the first time on Friday. How the story would go on, we cannot say now, of course. Still camp 3 is missing...
In the evening, we meet an old friend here: Horst Kaluza, who had lead our expedition to Peak Lenin in 1992. He had come to Nepal for an expedition agency located in Dossenheim, but arriving here he had to realize that the local agency (responsable for permits, visa, local personnel, transports and accomodation) refuses any performance until the German company would pay the bills from preceding trips, amounting over US$ 250 000. In order to carry out their trip anyway, the participants have to give a considerable amount of money once more. It is very questionable if they would get any refund from the amount paid (in vain) in Germany. We also had a trip with IMC (Tien Shan 1995), but apparently and unfortunately our propaganda did not help, as still people booked their trips there.
Monday, April 28, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Washing day: The sun comes at eight o'clock only, but then it qickly becomes warmer, especially inside the tent. So one can easily wash outside (with hot water from the kitchen tent). Apart from that, we read a lot and are very lazy. Headache is becoming weaker from day to day.
The sun reaches our base camp
Tuesday, April 29, 1997Base camp - depot - base camp
We're leaving early today. Breakfast at six and departure at half past six. In the shadow it is still pretty cold, but the day probably will become long and warm. The way to Tichy camp (250 m higher) takes 1 3/4 hours, and it is very exhausting due to the many small counter-ascents. Here we get the first closer view to Cho Oyu. It literally towers to the skies within the six and seven thousand meter peaks around. The camp is very crowded, almost all possible tent sites are occupied. Due to the very many groups here the camp is quite dirty and also rather loud.
We go on along and over the very crevassed upper Gyabrag glacier entering the valley, mostly through the moraine scree of the northern edge. Of course, we can enjoy one and the other counter-ascents again. The trail goes up to 6050 m in a side valley, before the proper "killer slope" begins. Here we deposit the things we have carried up (stoves, gas cartridges, food etc.) and enjoy the way back in the same manner as the ascent. 4 3/4 hours for the ascent, 3 hours for the descent for a 10 km distance.
From the Tichy camp, for the first time we can have a closer look at Cho Oyu .
Wednesday, April 30, 1997Base camp - depot
This day's program is not as extensive as yesterday, therefore we leave no earlier than the base camp gets some sun. The trail is the same as yesterday, but this time we stay overnight at the foot of the "killer slope". For this purpose, the Sherpas bring up additional tents - an essential alleviation for us, as we only have to carry our own stuff.
Thursday, May 1, 1997Depot - camp 1 - base camp
The lower part of the "killer slope".
We - at least I - came through the night quite well (we are already pretty high here); in the morning we climb up the "killer slope". Indeed that is a bit annoying, as the slope decreases after the first steep part long before the camp is reached. And everything is loose or frozen scree. After about two hours we suddenly stand on the ridge, immediately in front of camp 1 (6420 m).
An hour later, our tent platform is digged out of the snow. The others return downwards after one to two hours; Claudia and I want to stay up here this evening to force our acclimatization. The view from camp one is beautiful, giving us an idea what we can expect further up: The mountains around us slowly become smaller, the view spreads out. From the camp, we can see basically all the rest of the way up Cho Oyu: ice cliffs, camp 2, snow traverse, camp 3, yellow band, summit slopes and summit plateau. "Only" 1800 height meters to do!
The lot of work putting up the tent causes forced headeache instead of forced acclimatization, so we are back down in the basecamp in the evening and postpone the overnight stay at camp 2. The long way back is quite a torture again. In return, there we get olives and other good thing for supper.
Friday, May 2, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Rest day. Considering the altitude of the base camp one has to be very careful not to catch a cold and to always recover well. Otherwise very quickly considerable problems could come up, and of course we want to avoid that from the start - therefore that many rest days. Today, the morning is hazy, the sun doesn't get through well. At ten o'clock snowfall begins, lasting the whole day - not a bad idea to have a rest day today.
For lunch we have German "Semmelknödel" (dumplings; from the instant package); our Nepali cook needs Claudia's, Martine's, and Eugen's advise in view of the German preparation instructions.
During the day, two people of the Swabian expedition who had returned to Nyalam because of health problems, arrive at our camp. They stay here for the rest of the day since it is too far to the Tichy camp, We hear interesting things about the problems arising during such a recreation stay, especially with financial regard. Prices for car transport, yaks, and porters are defined by the Chinese liaison officer in the drivers' base camp. Occasionally there are also confrontations when the mountaineers try to directly employ Tibetian porters under the liaison officer's eyes.
Often Tibetians are seen in the base camp. We are not allowed to employ them; so some of them might get a gift, especially those who were so kind to help us here and there. Mostly we communicate with them through our Sherpa friends, as they speak their language.
Saturday, May 3, 1997Rest day in the base camp
In the night the sky cleared up, but it still remained stormy. Leaving the tent at night remains not too pleasant therefore. In the morning, it is almost calm and sunny again. For the meals, more and more of the things we brought with us appear on the table - like crispbread, Leberwurst, sausages, etc. chocolate cream is - what a luxury - made compliant in the water bath after the cold nights (-10°C). Otherwise we could eat it only after noon.
Gyabrag glacier near our base camp, view to Tibet.
Sunday, May 4, 1997Base camp - camp 1
A tough stage is expecting us. After the endless march to the depot camp via Tichy camp, we take the things we had deposited there and carry them up the "killer slope" to camp 1. Therefore we know now: Only the combination with the march from base camp, the "killer slope" becomes a "killer slope". The complete action takes eight hours; very annoying also the continuous change between sun and clouds in the afternoon, as we are never clothed for the current temperature.
The way up from camp 1 along the crest to camp 2.
Monday, May 5, 1997Camp 1 - camp 2 - camp 1
In the evening and during the night a sometimes strong wind howled over the camp. Camp 1 is situated at a rocky spur, so the tents are just barely protected from the wind.
At eight o'clock the next stage begins - material transport to camp 2. The track follows the snowy crest, almost similar to "Festigrat" at Dom (Switzerland), with a beautiful view. Unfortunately it is quite stormy, hands and feet quickly become cold. The key point - a steep ice cliff of about 50 m height - is secured with fixed ropes, but jumping around with the ascenders is very breathtaking at that altitude. Fortunately the camp place is just 20 minutes beyond the sports lesson.
Height 6800 m, quite good for altitude training. 200 meters above there is a second camp place, but that makes only sense for those who want to omit camp 3 and directly go to the summit. Otherwise the lower place of course has the advantage of better sleeping comfort.
After well an hour of break, we go down again (abseil through the ice cliff), and are back at camp 1 an hour later, in time for the beginning of the afternoon snowfall.
This day was the first real "mountain" stage, where also technique and height became important. Some people have learned things that simply cannot be acquired theoretically. Very interesting, too: The tiny five or ten meters of counter-ascent on the way back put us in front of real problems.
Palung Ri (7012 m) seen from camp 1.
Tuesday, May 6, 1997Camp 1 - bace camp
The night was not too comfortable, at least for us two. The insulation matresses let too much cold pass from below.
So today's descent to base camp takes a bit longer, namely 4 1/4 endless hours. There we get Pizza for lunch.
The weather is suspiciously good today - at half past two it's still sunny with only some clouds. In the evening, however, it snows the longer. For supper today - Spaghetti.
Wednesday, May 7, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Rest day. The weather is like for a rest day: from eleven o'clock on there's snow.
By radio we hear this and that about the other expeditions. A short excerpt of the rumours: The Saxons reached the summit yesterday in not too cold weather. A group of three Basks had (probably some days ago) left camp 3 at about nine(!) o'clock in the morning, came into the night in the summit region forcing them to make a bivouac. With fostbitten hands and feet they could descend to camp 2 the following day, but obviously nobody of the people there took care of them. (However, it is not clear in how far their problems were obvious from outside their tent.) Only as some members of the Swabian expedition went up from camp 1 to 2 to bring them down the fixed ropes, a real rescue action began. The three then were brought down by Tibetians on their back(!) to the base camp and further out to the drivers' base camp.
As far as the weather is concerned, apparently we haven't got very good season: in the morning it usually is clear and very cold and windy in the high regions; around noon clouds come up, and then the way back from the summit would be hard to find. Among the about 200 persons in the base camp only about 20 have reached the summit yet, and only half of them came back without frostbite.
Thursday, May 8, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Rest day (the second of three). The day after tomorrow the summit attempt shall begin: Saturday to camp 1, on Sunday to camp 2, on Monday to camp 3 and on Tuesday to the summit. The three Sherpas have done a lot of work and did not only carry up all the necessary tents to camp 2 and 3, but also have already set up most of them. The number of tents is calculated such that everybody can have a place in every camp - that facilitates the planning of the ascent, since we don't have to care about collisions of different groups.
That saves us a lot of time and power, so we should have a realistic chance next week. If we had to carry everything on our owns, we'd probably need one or two weeks more, or one had to (in the end maybe on the cost of the summit chances) reduce the rest days.
If everything works well, we could be back to the base camp on May 16 with enough spare days, and we could go out to the drivers' base camp on May 18. Then we might have some time to go to Lhasa and fly back to Kathmandu from there. While we try at Cho Oyu, the agency in Kathmandu shall find out, if that trip could be possible. The latest possible date for leaving the base camp would be May 21, and then of course we'd go directly to Kathmandu (hopefully without any delay.., or the plane would be gone).
By the way: the weather today - from 9 o'clock in the morning on it is snowing. Similar to yesterday. If the weather rhythm of the last weeks just now is going to change?
This evening special highlight: cake. For lunch we had the first senstion: For the first time we see the famous "Hallertauer Hopfengold" (a booze made from hops). It is really an existing product. Fathers and non-fathers (today is Fathers' Day) can have a sample and discover that a 56% liqueur is not that far from cough syrup in taste...
Friday, May 9, 1997Rest day in the base camp
Sometimes one lies awake half of the night here up at 5500 m, trying to catch enough air, and the next day one sleeps like a marmot... Our third and last rest day in the basecamp begins with a clear blue sky that will see only a couple of small clouds the whole day.
The rest days ask a lot of us: At lunch, Klaus-Dieter is exposed to the attacks of a Capuccino powder can that was packed in Germany (not in vacuum) and is opened in 5500 altitude. The dust explosion covers his neighbours, too.
In the evening everybody quickly enters his sleeping bag, as it becomes cold in the dining tent; in the morning at half past seven we get up and spend the whole day eating, drinking, reading, and sleeping.
Gerd and Gebhard go today for the depot camp or camp 1 in order to compensate for eventually missing acclimatization.
Saturday, May 10, 1997Base camp - Tichy camp - base camp
This night our toilet tent became a victim of the storm, and also the dining tent begins some flying exercises during breakfast.
Nevertheless we leave for the four day mountain ascent at half past eight. About two hours later we arrive at the Tichy camp, where Robert suddenly cancels the complete action. He has heard from the Swabian expedition that also for the next days we have to expect strong storms; the Swabians therefore wait a bit in the Tichy camp. It is not clear if our tents in camp 1 (with everything inside, e.g. warm sleeping bag, crampons etc.) have survived the stormy night. So our boss tries to have a look at the stuff up there, and we make something like another rest day, apart from the short walk to Tichy camp.
Our plans until May 18 fortunately include two spare days. The basic problem is: With all the acclimatization and the necessary rest days we're just now finished, so we couldn't have begun the summit attempt even one day earlier. The summit takes at least five days, and after an attempt stopped in one of the high camps we would need another 2 or 3 days for recovery until the next try. So we have only one attempt.
Sunday, May 11, 1997Base camp - camp 1
This morning is a bit colder (-14°C), but there's no wind in the morning. After yesterday's "test" ascent was quite a failure, the real attempt now should work well. On our way to Tichy camp we walk in parallel to a big Yak caravan crossing Nangpa La for Nepal. Later we hear it would have been a large group of refugees. After only 4 1/4 hours we reach the depot camp; this time Claudia an I use the trekking shoes instead of the heavy mountain boots (which we got carried up to the depot). The upper part of the "killer slope" is a torture, however. Though it takes only two hours like the last time, too. At four o'clock we arrive at camp 1, where we see no storm damages at all, and we install ourselves in one of the tents. Unexpectedly, the sky remains blue the whole day - the first time since we are here in Tibet.
The question is only, is that good or bad news? Our Sirdar (i.e. the boss of the Sherpas, thus responsible for the local organization) Nawang Sherpa expects about two stormy days and then within a day the Monsoon crossing the mountains from the south. Then only the highest 8000m-peaks would jut out of the cloudy soup.
The weather report that the Swabians got has become was a bit better, even if still storms in the high altitude are predicted.
A short remark about Monsoon for all those who are no more so familiar with the geography lessons: Monsoon is so to speak a southwest trade wind that has jumped to the northern hemisphere therefore changing its direction from SE to SW. As this wind covers long distances over sea, it is very wet and gives enormous precipitation especially where it is jammed by the Himalayas. In Assam the rainfall can reach more than 10000 mm per year (ten meters of water! In central Europe we have about 500-700 mm.). An essential reason for the crossover of the trade winds is the quick warm-up of the Tibetian highlands after the snow has melted in spring.
The night in camp 1 is more or less normal. Probably spreading my supper in the surroundings will be not too good for my shape tomorrow.
Evening view towards the summit from camp 1.
Monday, May 12, 1997Camp 1 - camp 2
The night was clear and very cold (-21°C). In the morning it is rather windy; we hope it will die down a bit during the day and leave later. So we can let the sun (it reaches the camp at 6.30) shine on us for some hours before leaving, an important mental advantage over the base camp.
The first our on the ridge is indeed windstill and comfortable, but then elemental force comes down upon us. The storm makes progressing difficult, and it feels distinctly colder. The gym at the fixed ropes is not a pleasure at all under these conditions.
After four hours finally camp 2 at 6800 m is reached, we are quite exhausted now. The Sherpas have set up all the tents meanwhile, so we just have to drop into one of them (and of course equip it with sleeping back etc.). Now we got the first half of the ascent. The next two parts are in much bigger altitude, so we can be curious if our acclimatization is good enough now. And another questionable topic is the weather.
The wind in camp 2 is a bit annoying: Sometimes it is quiet for minutes, then it builds up again, rages for some time and then suddenly disappears again. The raging phases occur usually if we just urgently have to go to an important location outside. Anyway, a beautiful view from camp 2.
Tuesday, May 13, 1997Waiting in camp 2
The whole night there was such a storm that we hardly dared to go outside (but unfortunately one has to... for the acclimatization one has to drink enormous amounts up here). Since the storm doesn't die down in the morning, we must postpone the departure for one day (that would have been the second spare day). Up in camp 3, tents would have to be set up, and that is simply impossible with that wind. Apart from the danger of frostbite, if we'd have to climb up 5 to seven hours in permanently icy winds before, probably fighting against wind squalls that could easily knock us down.
It's more comfortable in the tent. Only the noise caused by the permanently approaching wind squalls is tiresome. Tomorrow, we'll have to make a final decision - up or down. Staying up here more than one day would only wear out our power.
Life in camp 2 is comfortable, as long as it can take place within the tent. For urgent business outside, however, one should wait for a calm moment. The snow carried along with the wind is like a sand-blaster.
Wednesday, May 14, 1997Camp 2 - camp 1 - base camp
This night the storm has even increased. Everywhere, snow comes in between outer and inner tent; the tent groans and tries to withstand the violence. High up on the mountain we see long snow banners. That means quite clearly: retreat - the mountain doesn't like us. That is not meant personally. Also other groups decide for a retreat in the course of the morning.
A fresh Swabian group comes up, we meet them at the depot. What will they experience up in the high camps?
The way from camp 2 over the ice cliff down to camp 1 is a first taste of what we would have felt further up: The wind wears our power out, even downwards we proceed only slowly. Abseiling is a big action in the cold, and further down the wind knocks us down some times.
Almost exhausted in camp 1, the best would still come: down the "killer slope" and the long way out to the base camp. Meanwhile most of the snow has disappeared on the glacier and the scree, often we hardly find the well-known trace. After 7 1/2 hour we are back "home", where Pizza is waiting for us for supper (please note, made by our Nepali cook, and really outstanding). On the occasion of his birthday (two days ago) Gerd gives out a bottle of corn schnapps; its content disappears quickly and efficiently.
As rumours say, three Germany left camp 3 for the summit today. Two have turned back at the yellow band, nothing is known yet about the third.
Thursday, May 15, 1997Rest day in the base camp
We become more and more decadent: For breakfast, the bottle of sparkling wine that was originally scheduled for an eventual summit victory is being emptied. Would have been a pity otherwise.
Here in the base camp it is warmer than beginning of the week, but still quite windy. The costs estimate for the planned tour to Lhasa is astronomical: US$ 900 per person, and that for effectively two days in Lhasa. Somebody obviously wants to make good money with the tourists. As we know that the jeep kilometers costs $ 1, therefore a (filled) jeep to Lhasa $ 125 per person (500 km), and the flight back to Kathmandu $ 200, there must be a no end to the hotel costs. So we prefer to spend some days in Kathmandu or in southern Nepal.
Today once more a Yak caravan comes through; lots of Tibetians selling knives and jewellery. Prices between $ 2 and $ 12000 ( or 1200, that doesn't make a real difference...).
Gebhard appears with his sleeping bag for lunch - the cold must have an end now. We get cake (with a "Welcome" label on top). When the heck did our cook Jetta prepare that cake? All of us were sitting in the kitchen tent the whole afternoon...
Besides: We taste Chang. Slightly unusual taste, and for some of us with later consequences (nocturnal excursions to the small red tent).
Friday, May 16, 1997Rest day in the base camp
The night was rather calm, but that has an end in the morning. The cloudless weather seems also a thing of the past. The Swabians who spent the night at camp 2 seem not to be luckier than we were. As we hear from the radio calls, they consider to go down again because of the storm.
In the crew tent in base camp. The champagne would have been for eventually celebrating the summit, but of course we didn't carry it out again.
Saturday, May 17, 1997Base camp - drivers' base camp - Tingri
Breakfast is scheduled for seven o'clock - an unusually cold time of day. At about half past eight most things are packed (including the dining tent), and we begin the long way outwards. That means at first upwards, as we have a considerable ascent up the moraine in the beginning. The way is exhaustingly long, but we could have known that from three weeks ago.
After five hours we arrive at the drivers' base camp. Some gun shots we heard on the way turn out to be thought as a warning for us. (Our colleagues tell us the story here.) But from a kilometer distance we really could not hear the "passport" shouts of that military post. Klaus-Dieter who happened to pass the post could explain that we belong to the group and so the shooting was avoided.
In the drivers' base camp, we are invited to enter the tent, and tea is served (for free). Some hours pass by until all our comrades and also the yaks have arrived. We also meet the colleagues who were organized by DAV Summit Club - one had reached the summit and came back without major frostbite. They have to wait for two nights here because no vehicles to Tingri are available. Possibly we blocked these cars, since we had fixed our return rather early. But that's life... For our group, the only thing the liaison officer has to complain about is an overloaded yak, and after half an hour of discussion that complaint results in a "serious warning" (but free of charge) for the yak drovers and the Sirdar.
According to the plans of TCMA (Tibet China Mountaineering Association, the monopoly organization for expeditions in Tibet), we are brought to Tingri already today, and tomorrow (as far as possible) to Kathmandu. So we don't need to put up the tents in the drivers' base camp. We lodge again in Tingri in the hotel with the world's best restroom view which is already well-known from the journey there three weeks ago.
Since the search for other pubs in the evening gives no result, we take the second beer there, too. The landlady is in great form despite of (or just because of?) the language problems, but gets problems in calculating the price for 11 beers.
Sunday, May 18, 1997Tingri - Nyalam - Zhangmu - Kodari - Kathmandu
Finally slept in a real bed again, even if it was a bit short (the size of the beds, not the duration). At eight o'clock chinese time, thus shortly after sunrise, we get breakfast, and then the jeep trip goes on.
At Lalung Leh Pass the group photograph is made. First everything works more or less civilized, until more and more people get the idea to get one made with their camera.
The Himalaya main range beyond Lalung Leh Pass.
After Nyalam, where the road goes down from 3700 to 2400 m within 40 km, the landscape became nicely green during the last four weeks. And so many real trees! The galery before Zhangmu where water runs through is used as car wash. Probably the only one between Lhasa and Nepal.
Zhangmu still is the most run-down spot on earth, but the Chinese frontier control is a lot faster today. Unfortunately there is again no stamp in the passport, because we have a group visa. The jeeps can drive down even to the bridge. Since the Chinese truck isn't allowed to cross the bridge, all the baggage is packed onto a Nepalese truck, which goes just to the end of the bridge. We don't know who controls which papers at the Friendship Bridge, so we simply cross it and go on. Guess, that was right: the first one showing an interest in us is the Nepalese Immigration Office.
Back to Nepal, we have a small problem now. Finally we returned one day ahead schedule. Bus and truck of our agency Thamserku will only arrive tomorrow. So we charter a bus and a truck here in Kodari to bring us and the baggage to Kathmandu.
Despite of numerous engine boilings and a tire breakdown (a suspicious tire is replaced by an even more suspicious - but for the time tight one) we succeed after on the whole 12 hours on the way. Every couple of kilometers a police control where the name list of all passengers has to be presented. Even worse than in former Soviet Union - but on the next weekend there will be elections in Nepal, so authorities are especially careful.
In Kathmandu we go to hotel Shangri La which fits into a similar price category like Yak & Yeti. However, it suffers from power failures in this part of Kathmandu.
Monday, May 19, 1997Kathmandu
The breakfast buffet is quite more simple than in Yak & Yeti, but in comparison to Tingri of course still a different dimension. Today a visit of the city and shopping are on our schedule, and that's "work",too: avoiding to cross the path of enlightened orange dressed people who want to bless everybody they can get hold of (subject to a charge, of course); being told by those hundreds of junk sellers on Durbar square that they are the cheapest and best anyway; for really interesting things reducing the price to a reasonable level by demonstrating smallest possible interest; arguing with the taxi driver as his taximeter has a loose connection that makes him confident he could demand twice the indicated price...
By the way, not to be able to read Nepali is not an essential disadvantage for the orientation in Kathmandu. There are simply no street-name signs, so the city map is more or less worthless anyway.
In the beginning you might wonder about the daily electricity shortages. Looking at the things a bit closer, it is more astonishing that the electricity system works quite often.
Tuesday, May 20, 1997Kathmandu - Chitwan National Park
A 4 1/2 hours drive on at least paved, but very curved roads ends in Chitwan National Park near the Indian border. There we consume the package program of a jungle lodge: in the evening an elephant ride, where we get to see five of the rhinos living here (or the rhino five times?). They are quite impressive - elephants, too, however - and both are obviously well used to the crowds of people.
Rhino in Chitwan National Park.
Wednesday, May 21, 1997Chitwan National Park
Bird watching in the morning is less interesting because most of these guys reside in the trees, where they can be seen merely as dark silhouette far away. But they can easily be heard, especially the Indian cuckoo (sounds about like our cuckoo backwards). The jungle here is not very dense, probably because it is not a tropical rain forest. At the moment there is no rain at all.
If that thing the guide presents as a crocodile during the jungle walk really is a crocodile will never be known - it didn't move at all. That stone which suddenly submerged was one more probably - but submerged crocodiles are less appealing for tourists. And it would be quite silly if it would come out of the water in the heat of the day (34°C) voluntarily.
In the evening we visit the rhinos on foot. The guides obviously know every rhino personally. Without elephant one cannot get so very close to them: elephants are very seldomly attacked (unlike humans).
Thursday, May 22, 1997Chitwan National Park - Kathmandu
In the morning another elephant ride. The number of animals here seems to have seen better times. But it is very dry and hot, probably all animals are waiting for the first monsoon rain. I don't want to make the impression, the park would be uninteresting; but one shouldn't expect more than some rhinos. Tigers are seen about once a month, the guide says, and some of their colleagues were two years on the island and had never seen one. Six tigers are said to live on the island and 200 in the whole park.
In Chitwan National Park.
We leave for Kathmandu after lunch, then we can still do some shopping there tomorrow (Saturday is rest day in Nepal, the shops are closed then). The tire conditions seem to be the national problem: in Nayangaryadh we have an hour of break for tire exchange.
Generally, in Nepal people drive extraordinarily carefully. Considering the narrow roads, everybody knows exactly the width of his vehicle, and the drivers rise attention by using their horn almost uninterruptedly - so no pedestrians should cross the road in the wrong moment. Our driver always tries to chase away the ravens on the road with the horn, and if he doesn't succed this way, there is rather an emergency stop than killing any animal. All that of course fits well to the hinduistic point of view - it could be a reincarnation of a friend...
Back to Kathmandu, we have pizza in the restaurant.
Friday, May 23, 1997Kathmandu
Again a culture day. First we visit the Stupa of Bodnath, one of Nepal's most important Buddhist shrines (and the biggest Stupa). Stupas are the big hemispherical white stone monuments with a tower on top. The tower is painted with eyes (Buddha sees everything). The stone hemisphere is solid, by the way. All Stupas like all other shrines are passed clockwise. Around the monument, lots of prayer mills are installed, a very practical invention: By turning the prayer mills, so to speak mechanically the prayers contained within are expressed - much more efficient than simply praying. In a shrine close to the Stupa we see a giant prayer mill with about two meters diameter and surely four meters height. Who might get his prayers done here? Prayer banners are another practical invention: The wind carries the prayers over the world.
Our second destination is Pasupathinath, the highest hinduist holy place in Nepal. It is situated at the shore of the wholy river Bagmati and is the funeral place. Hinduism prescribes funeral of the dead in order to release the soul. This happens at Bagmati river on different platforms; the uppermost is reserved for the king's family and highest officials. The lower the caste resp. social position, the further down the river the corresponding platform is located.
We return to Kathmandu by taxi, which is not a very good idea at noon. All roads are hopelessly jammed, and we can see special highlights of Nepalese friendliness and hinduist ability to withstand pain. In the country of sandals, it is especially uncomfortable for a jostling motor-cyclist to get under the wheel of the taxi. Heavily complaining, he knocks onto the hood like crazy. As that doesn't help, he tears away the right side mirror and throws it over the windshield. The taxi driver tries to release him by moving back - but clearly audible there is another car. Our taxi driver doesn't care about the damage, but that seems normal as also the police standing next shows no interest.
In the evening the farewell dinner with two representatives of the local agency Thamserku is given in an original Nepali restaurant. Slowly Nepali food begins to repeat, however.
Saturday, May 24, 1997Kathmandu
Many shops are closed, but nevertheless we can find some souvenirs. The shops for used books are a good idea. We can get rid of some of our read through (German) books and stock up with material for the trip back. In the evening, a really good pizza Calzona with obviously market-fresh spinach.
Sunday, May 25, 1997Kathmandu - Frankfurt
We leave early this morning - at five o'clock we put out the baggage that is brought to the airport during our breakfast. At six o'clock we go out to the airport, where our baggage is already at the beginning of the queue. Without particular complications everything is done well. People are either very conscious to safety or just economize the baggage X-ray examination: Passengers load their baggage directly into the plane. With a stop in Dubai, where Robert can buy a "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (German newspaper), the flight arrives in time in Frankfurt.
This trip was a completely organized expedition (so to speak a "package tour") by Amical Alpin, Bühl, Germany. Apart from the fact that we didn't reach the summit (and probably the same if it were planned differently), organization and carrying out were as good as perfect.
 In our case, that is Thamserku in Kathmandu, for everybody who might book something directly there. (http://www.nepal-connect.com/thamserku/home.htm) (back)
 Members of the Sherpa people usually have only one name; as a further identification "Sherpa" is added to show the ethnic origin. There are many real "guide dynasties" having comparable tradition and reputation like e.g. in Swiss Valais. The Sirdars (leaders of the Sherpa personnel of an expedition) are requested organisation specialist and not only porters, although their tasks include that, too. (back)
© 1997 Hartmut Bielefeldt
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