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 The International Mountain Guides Cho Oyu 2000 Expedition 

International Mountain Guides

About the IMG Autumn 2000 Cho Oyu Expedition

IMG is committed to running top quality Himalayan programs.  This means experienced and well-paid guides and Sherpas,  high-end equipment and good logistics.  For example, the IMG team has a 50-day itinerary to allow time for a second summit attempt should the first bid be thwarted by bad weather.  All members will have oxygen on summit day using IMG's proprietary oxygen system, which has worked flawlessly on over a dozen expeditions.  IMG teams remove all their oxygen bottles from the mountain (and bring them home for recycling).  All human waste and garbage is carried down from ABC.  IMG uses a fully permitted (legal) satellite and radio communication system.  The team will enter Tibet via Lhasa (for better acclimatization) and will carry a Gamow Bag (hyperbaric chamber) in case of altitude sickness.

The IMG Autumn 2000 Cho Oyu Expedition is organized by Eric Simonson and led by Tap Richards.  Tap was a member of the 1999 Mallory & Irvine Research Expedition and is a veteran guide with many international climbs under his belt, including a depth of experience on Mt. Rainier, Mt. McKinley, Aconcagua, Cho Oyu, and Everest.  Tap assisted Eric on the IMG Spring 1996 Cho Oyu Expedition and successfully reached the summit.  He again assisted on the IMG Spring 2000 Cho Oyu Expedition (along with guides Craig John and Jake Norton) which put 9 persons on the summit.  Tap, however, turned back on summit day with a client having difficulty at about 26,000 feet.  Such is the life of a guide!

Tap will work with climbers John Matthews, Greg Yanigihara, and Joe Coughlin (on his third Cho Oyu attempt!).  Trekkers Kris and Lydia Jett, Matt Nielsen, and Jasmin Ajanovic, led by guide Heidi Eichner (a veteran Rainier guide with numerous expeditions to Denali, Aconcagua, and other peaks) will accompany the climbing team to Advance Base Camp before journeying on foot to Everest Base Camp at Rongbuk. After completing the trek, Heidi will join the summit climbers.  The Sherpa team consists of four top-notch individuals, led by Kami (Ang Chirring) Sherpa (from Pangboche), the Sirdar.  Kami has climbed Cho Oyu twice, Everest four times, and has also climbed Dhaulagiri and Makalu.  Phunuru Sherpa (from Phortse) is a Cho Oyu summitter and is a phenomenally strong young climber.  Cooks Pemba Tshiri Sherpa (from Beganje) and Karsang Sherpa (from Khunde) have worked on a number of past IMG groups and do a terrific job running the Base Camp and Advance Base Camp, as well as keeping track of the logistics on the mountain.

Dispatch One: 

IMG Cho Oyu Dispatch #1 

August 27, 2000

After a day and a half of packing, errands, and sightseeing, the IMG Cho Oyu expedition departed Kathmandu on schedule yesterday for the beginning of the expedition.  The climbers and trekkers, led by Tap Richards and Heidi Eichner, flew to Lhasa, Tibet on a scheduled flight on China Southwest Airlines.  They left very early in the morning and were in Lhasa in time for lunch.  The Sherpas, led by Kami and Pemba, started early in the morning for Tibet via the Zhangmu road in a big truck with 80 porter loads of food, fuel, expedition gear, and supplies for Base Camp.  They would definitely NOT be in Tibet by lunch.

The weather has been quite rainy in the Himalayas, and the monsoon is not over yet.  The road to the border is washed out or blocked out by landslides in five different places, each of which will requiring hiring local porters.  The Sherpas have several thousand dollars of Nepal rupee notes with them for paying porters.  They expect to take two days to reach the border town of Zhangmu, a trip that can be done in six hours in good conditions.  From there they will travel to Nylam and Tingri, where they plan on meeting Tap and the crew on the 29th.

Meanwhile, the climbers and trekkers will have a day and a half to explore Lhasa, including the famous Potala Palace, Barkor, and Jokang Temple.  Lhasa at 11,000 feet, is a great place to start acclimatizing.  Then they will drive by four wheel drive vehicles to Shigatse, and then to Tingri, crossing several 17,000 foot passes along the way.

So far everything is going fine, except for the road conditions, which are to be expected this time of the year!  If the post-monsoon season is "normal" this year, it will start to improve in the next few weeks. 

Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000  www.mountainguides.com 

Dispatch Two: 

IMG Cho Oyu Dispatch #2 

August 30, 2000

Photo:  On the road across Tibet; Tibetans

Tap Richards and the IMG team report that they made it to Shigatse OK.  The weather has been quite rainy and the roads were in bad shape...good for 4WD vehicles!  Tibet in the autumn, reports Tap "is completely different from the spring...they should open a golf course here, it's so green...compared to the spring, when its all brown and dry."  Tap reports that "both Lhasa and Shigatse are quite happening, with the Tibetan Yogurt festival starting this morning (seven days of holiday) and lots of yogurt for us and the clients (better than goat lung and tripe).

After visiting the Tashilumpo monastery in Shigatse this afternoon (the home of the famous Panchen Lama), the team will get ready for the drive to Tingri tomorrow, where they meet the Sherpas with the trucks.

Eric Simonson, International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000  www.mountainguides.com 

Dispatch Three: September 1, 2000

IMG Cho Oyu Dispatch #3 

September 1, 2000

Photo:  Cho Oyu Base Camp

Tashi Delek from Base Camp.  We arrived here, tents already set up, hot tang to drink, and Pemba's cooking - life is good.  As always, I am reveling in the enjoyment of arriving here.  It's always a journey getting to the base of the mountain.  Today, is the first day we haven't been rained on.  Once again, the Sherpas did an amazing job getting this far with all the equipment and supplies in tact.  The road was simply non-existent, in four places.  That's 130 loads each time.  The day we traveled from Shigatse to Tingri was true adventure - sixteen hours, four flat tires, one major break-down, and more mud than I thought Tibet could yield.  At times, our best option was to drive down the middle of the river.  When we could drive on the road, it was a total mud bog, some puddles almost to the height of the windows.  The rest of the time, we resorted to off-piste driving and the shear power of the engine.  Who designed those Toyota Land Cruisers, anyway? I think every member of our team will be buying one, upon our return...  We are all still amazed that we actually did pull in to Tingri, two nights ago, at 12:30 am.  There were multiple times that we thought we would be spending the night in the jeeps.  To say the least, the dry dirt floor and rock-hard bed of the Everest View Hotel never felt so good.  It's only getting better, as Base Camp is equally that much more pleasurable.  All are felling well and looking forward to not sitting in a jeep, getting a chance to stretching the legs and some R &R.  We'll stay in touch.  Hope all is well back home. 

Tap Richards 

International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000

Dispatch Four: September 4, 2000 click on the pictures!

Looking up at  Cho Oyu from just below ABC Looking up the Gyabrag Glacier and the Nangpa La Pass from about halfway to ABC

Greetings from ABC.  All our team is here and feeling as good as one could expect for 17,600 feet.  The spot we've chosen to hang our hats for the next month is really pretty sweet.  The classic Advanced Base Camp really shows that Cho Oyu has recently become a popular destination for climbers.  As I strolled the place, flags from seven different nations whipped in the wind. Some twenty-plus teams will attempt the mountain this season.  With these kinds of numbers, Pemba and I thought we would stand a better chance of staying health by setting up our own little village.  As long as our health isn't tied to the current weather, we should stay strong. 

We have yet to see a day where is hasn't rained, and now up in the higher elevations, snow.  Never thought I would be drawing any parallel between Seattle and Tibet, but this feels just like the N.W. in November.  Looking out over the plateau, green is everywhere - no longer can I say that the place is a monochromatic brown.  Above, the Himalaya are blanketed in white. The deep snow and frequent storms are a hurdle to our progress, but our spirits our still high and we know it's still early in the game.  For now, it's nice to be settled into the place we're calling home, as we hear rumors of the roads to Base Camp are only getting worse. 

Weather depending, we will spend the week attempting to build Camp 1.  Two more days of R&R, the puja, and then we can start thinking about doing what we came here to do.  Until next time - Bye, Bye... 

Tapley Richards and the IMG Cho Oyu Team 

Dispatch Five: Camp 1 photos !

View looking up from Camp One.

Note ice cliff halfway to Camp 2.

Camp 1, looking back down toward ABC.

Click on these photos for full size copies !

Greetings from Cho Oyu Advanced Base Camp.  Our trekkers (Kris, Lydia, Matt, Jasmin) just took off for Everest Base Camp and Rongbuk Monastery, before heading back to Kathmandu and the real world.  Meanwhile, the climbing team is making good progress on the mountain, due much to the hard work of our two climbing Sherpas, Kami and Punuru.  This past week was very busy with the puja ceremony, trips to Camp 1, and the ongoing process of setting up ABC. 

We do have the place all fixed up and we're settling in; we've done our first loads of laundry (by hand - no laundry mat, yet), taken showers, and erected a swank bathroom.  Pemba's cooking is better than you'll find in most eating establishments in the States, and certainly better than anything on the Tibetan Plateau.  As long as we don't think too much, life here is pretty cush.  Definitely, after a long day of humping loads up to Camp 1 (20,700ft.), the site of ABC is pure rapture. 

Some recent good weather windows have forced us to get off the couch and start building higher Camps.  Our first trip to Camp 1 was arduous, as the first trip to a new elevation usually is.  This past trip, we still worked hard, but felt good and abused ourselves considerably less.  The Sherpas on the other hand, leave camp with us,  quickly become dots off in the distance, then sometime later, they come running past, laughing - we're sucking wind and still on our way up.  The notion of being humbled like that is somewhat gratifying.  We all have certain skills and aptitudes that will contribute to the success of our expedition, our Sherpas sure know how to make it happen. 

In the upcoming days, we're looking at spending the night at Camp 1 and a possible carry to Camp 2.  The route to Camp 2 is not completely established, but the good weather is promising.   Some teams are making noise of a summit attempt, this week.  We'll adhere to the mantra of biting it off one chunk at time.  Things are going well and we're excited to be moving closer towards going high.  We'll keep you posted. 

Tapley Richards & the IMG Cho Oyu Team 

Dispatch Six: September 15, 2000

IMG Cho Oyu Expedition

Assistant guide Heidi Eichner, along with trekkers Kris and Lydia Jett, Matt Nielsen and Jasmin Ajanovic made the trek from Cho Oyu ABC to BC, then two days east over Lamna La Pass to Rongbuk.  After visiting the Monastery and Base Camp (the weather cooperated, giving them great views), they headed for the Nepal border, via the Zhangmu road.  Despite some washouts, etc, the team made it successfully to Kathmandu, on schedule!

Heidi has now made it back up to ABC to meet Tap and the climbers.  During the last several days, the climbing team made another trip to Camp 1, this time to sleep there. 

Tap reports:  "The members spent one night at C1, made a trip up the ice cliff and are back here at ABC.  The Sherpas and I spent two nights there and carried loads to C2.  The second night, the monsoons returned and we experienced some considerable snow build up.  Two large avalanches came very close to the C2 area (one stopped just 10 meters short).  Heidi returned to ABC today - sounds like the trek went great, they had beautiful weather, great views of Everest and smooth travel throughout.  Two days of rest, now; then we'll make a trip to C2 for sleeping (weather permitting).  The usual Mountain Circus lives on.  We got at 4:30AM, to go up the ice cliff, as C1 was full of people to go and do the same.  We did beat the crowd, still waited 45 min. to rappel the cliff...  Lots of people we've seen before. From The Polish woman, Hanna,  to Makalu Gao, with no hands, to Charlie Fowler and his group from Telluride to ski off the summit, all without oxygen and stuffing themselves (all four of them) into one small tent, 'cause they only have one tent, to a clueless, pseudo guided group lead by.........  

Anyway, we're doing well, here.

Tap and Heidi

Dispatch Seven: September 23, 2000

The latest from Tap Richards at ABC:

We're down from a good trip to C2, sleeping at C1.  Greg and Joe seem to be recovering well and we're all slated to go up again tomorrow.  We're in position to go to the summit, but will just have to see how things go. We'll do what we can!  A Korean party of five and their three sherpas did make the top, earlier this week.  Rumor has it, they took twelve-plus hours to get to the top, trudging through deep snow.  Other teams will try, in the next few days, including Russell and his "stronger members".  Still only the Koreans' tents at C3.  We're still getting some small snow accumulations, in the afternoons, but really the weather seems pretty good. Amazingly enough, we saw a few teams arrive just this last week.  John Otto and Dan Mazur were one of them, and yes, the psuedo guided group I had mentioned.

I'm still trying to feel out exactly what their program is.  I do know that there's almost twenty of them and only three sherpas.  They're working their asses off making trips to C1 EVERY day.  They think they have to fix their own lines up the ice cliff, 'cause there's so many of them.  They came by at one point, while I was up on the hill, and hammered Joe and Graig for info...  Chris Boskoff and her assistant Charles, who we also know, seem to be doing OK, although, I haven't had much opportunity to really sniff it out.  Anna, from Poland, is back at it - trying her dardnest .....  The small teams have either split up into numerous little solo attempts, or they've joined together to create one larger cluster - (maybe they find it easier to climb with each other, if nobody speaks the same the language and they share nothing in common).  Stevie Haston still thinks we (the commercial operators) are all a bunch of bastards, as he and his girlfriend huck their carcasses of the ice cliff, on snowboards. Then again, everybody is snowboarding off the top this year.  Well, that's pretty much the skinny.

I'll keep you posted. 

Tap www.mountainguides.com 

Dispatch Eight: September 25, 2000

IMG Cho Oyu Expedition UPDATE  Sept 25 

I just got off the satellite phone with Tap.  He reports that everyone on the team was successful in reaching the summit yesterday.  They had just made it back down to down to ABC, and Tap will be sending a dispatch tomorrow when they had a chance to rest up a bit! 

He said it was a cold windy day, with deep snow.  He said that everyone was fine from his group, but that some people on other teams that were not using oxygen got some frostbite. 

We'll be looking forward to getting all the details tomorrow. Eric 

Eric Simonson
International Mountain Guides / Expedition 8000
www.mountainguides.com

Dispatch Nine: September 26, 2000

Tap, Heidi, John, Greg, Joe, Kami, and Phunuru summitted on a long hard day in deep snow.  Here is their story: 

Tap begins: 

Sept. 24, 1:00 AM:  Half-awake, Half-alive, and Half-excited to be getting up to attempt the summit of Cho Oyu.  I wipe the frost off the radio, turn the switch on, and talk to Kami, our climbing sirdar and head Sherpa.  He and Phunuru are coming from Camp 2 to meet us for the summit bid.  Kami and my radio conversation is concise, and basically meaningless. 

Kami, How's everything? 

Some good, some bad! Many stars, but also many wind! 

[The sherpas have a delightful and simple language for stating the obvious.] 

I, too, am aware of the wind, as Heidi and I are forced to bring the stove into the tent, in order to melt the frozen pot of water.  My mind wanders to Starbucks, a double tall latte', and the Sunday paper.  How did you spend your Sunday?? 

Relieved to be out of the cluttered tents, we fumble with our last-minute gear adjustments.  As always, the first few minutes of climbing are difficult and awkward.  Everyone struggles with their oxygen masks and equipment. The deep snow makes the walking arduous, our down suits seem only to get in the way, it's dark, windy, and very cold.  We've teamed-up with another expedition to make the going easier and for safety in numbers.  Each member takes a turn at breaking trail and trudging a path.  Our five American climbers are all breathing oxygen and consequently are staying relatively warm, other climbers suffer from the cold, wind, and lack of thick air.  We chose not to stop and rest, and although we're moving higher on the mountain the summit doesn't seem to get any closer.  It's a particularly hard day of climbing on the easiest 8000 meter peak!!! 

Joe, John, and Greg continue: 

With the soft snow every other step is a post hole and even with oxygen it sends you into hyperventilation. It takes all of your energy just to squeeze down a power gel, which even at sea level, has the nutritional value of a coke and a box of Junior mints, the texture of a bad oyster and an assundrious array of flavors that all suck. But they are convenient and light and you need some fuel for the S&M activity that you are putting yourself through.  Last years Sunday stroll is today's death march from hell. Putting one foot in front of the other becomes an arduous task. 

The summit plateau of this mountain is not very steep but seems to go on into infinity.  A slight incline, soft snow, an awkward down suit, and a pack that, at that altitude, feels like you are carrying your 90 lb. cousin; never made walking so difficult. You realize you have summited when you finally see Mt. Everest and Lhotse, but by that time you really just don't care. We snap a couple of photos with the cameras that weren't frozen and turn around. Wishing like hell  that there was a helicopter, or even be to abducted by aliens rather than to have to walk down. It is bitter cold and very windy, couple that with your exhaustion, and your overwhelming desire to be down from such an alien environment and fear becomes an effective motivator. You're not thinking about the expedition being over or eventually being able to go home and sit on a toilet. Your literally thinking about putting one foot in front  of the other and doing it sure-footedly without spiking yourself with crampons.

One major aspect of climbing that some people do not think about is that "climbing is optional, descending is mandatory." You must not waste yourself on the summit attempt. You need enough strength in reserve for a heinous descent, into a poor campsite, for some barely edible food. And edible is anything you make for yourself on a six inch stove at 24,000 feet. We would challenge Wolfgang Puck to create something palatable in those conditions. 

In some respects the descent is more psychologically taxing than the ascent. You look out as you are rappelling down the Yellow Band and see Camp 3 but it never seems to get close enough. It is a downhill slog across a mellow snowfield with a beaten path, but we just cannot seem to get there. And to top it off, Camp 3 is not our destination for the day, we're supposed to go all the way down to Camp 2. After packing up Camp 3 we begin the arduous plod down to Camp 2. What appeared to be no more than a gentle cruise back to the home of a few days ago becomes a slog from hell. To ease the pain we try glissading (sliding down on our butts) through the snow. This provides some amusement, but Camp 2 only gets marginally closer. 

Finally we get back to Camp 2, snuggle into our sleeping bags, barely generate enough energy to have a hot drink, and rejoice in the fact that we've all made it through summit day! 

Dispatch Nine Pictures: September 27, 2000

Here is the end of climb team photo (note Pemba's cake). 

Top row, L-R:  Tap, Joe, Phunuru, Greg

Front Row:  John, Kami, Heidi

Also, a shot from the top, with Everest!

Eric

Dispatch Ten: Final Thoughts by Tap Richards leader of the IMG Autumn Cho Oyu 200 Expedition 

It's been almost three weeks since we turned our backs to Cho Oyu and returned to " normal" life and the "real" world.  The first few days back home, I am consumed by thoughts of the mountain and the tight knit group with whom we've shared our experiences.  I'm struck with serious jet lag and find myself  wide awake at 4:30 AM, sitting on the doorstep of Starbucks, waiting for that sublime first sip of coffee. 

On this morning, I blend in with all the people frantically running off to work, but my mind wanders back to the Himalaya and the sights and sounds of early morning, there:  Just a week ago, I lie in my sleeping bag at 23,000ft.; we've just summited the sixth highest mountain in the world.  Our summit day was harder than I had previously remembered, and our post-monsoon experience was dramatically different from my, pre-monsoon Cho Oyu trips.

It's late August when our plane touches down in Lhasa.  The Tibetan plateau has taken on a whole new look: hill-sides blanketed in green, the Tibetans are harvesting barley and potatoes, and the irrigation systems are raging with  water.  In the spring season, farming appears to be a far fetched concept, now it is reality.  Remember our epic story (see dispatches below - August 2000): a sixteen hour jeep ride, through deep mud, water levels above the doors, driving down the middle of the river (photo).  I check my notes from a previous trip, that spring the same drive took a mere eight hours, we battled with dust and were parched by the surrounding arid desert. 

In all instances, our equipment trucks and Sherpas reach Base Camp overland from Kathmandu.  This time the roads are washed out in several places and we're forced to hire porters to schlep our gear - adding two days to the trip from KDU.  Upon arriving at Base Camp, we rendez-vous with the Sherpas and all of our equipment.  Half the battle is over, we still have yet to see the mountain, but we are all there and in tact.  After one week, the clouds part and we get our first views of Cho Oyu and the surrounding peaks: laden with snow and equally as beautiful, although a completely different look .  The rock terraces that make up the upper mountain, are buried under a season's snow. Warmer temperatures are visibly obvious, rivers have thawed out and streams run with fervor, cutting deeper in to the crust of the plateau, not that it feels any warmer.  We are able to camp along side streams and tap them for water.  The yaks graze on small shrubs, making them noticeably stronger, but no less ornery.  Our first morning at Advanced Base Camp, we wake up to a foot of new snow - the monsoon season has yet to abate. 

The long scree slope to Camp 1 is clear of snow and we are successful in avoiding the big snow storms, most of the really bad weather seems to come during the night.  The route between Camps 1 and 2 is not yet established and looks difficult, due to all the new snow.  We're actually hoping for some strong winds to blow some snow off the broad ridge we'll be climbing. Although we've been out of the USA for almost two weeks, it's still early in the trip.  We find ourselves chomping at the bit to get high on the mountain, but acclimatization is crucial and I know that soon we'll be looking forward to each and ever hour of rest.

Before our team is in position to push for Camp 2, two other teams join forces; in three days time, they've got a route kicked in.   We follow close behind and find avalanche danger surprisingly minimal, the climbing is still arduous, as nightly storms fill the trail with unconsolidated snow.  Within two weeks time, Camp 2 is established, we're becoming well acclimatized, but the monsoons rage on.   On one of the last carries to Camp 2, our Sherpas had a close call when an avalanche came within ten meters of the camp.  On our climb last spring, all required good cramponing skills on icy surfaces, we found falling more of a concern and put more energy towards fixing rope.

With our high camps place, we'll wait for the monsoons to taper off, then make a push for the summit.  In the spring, you wait for the winds to stop and you try and squeak in a summit bid before the monsoons arrive.  Now, we'll wait for the monsoons to stop dumping large amounts of snow, meanwhile trying to beat the winds that blow the monsoons out and bring the winter season.  The weather is improving and we can start to feel the bite of the cold winter air.  The sherpas tell me that, in the last few days of September, they commonly see a last monsoon snow coupled with the first winter-like storm.  It's September 20th and we're in position to go for the top.  Timing is everything and I spend sleepless nights wondering what the next few days weather will bring.  We decided to team up with another large commercial team, taking turns breaking trail in hopes of tagging the summit. 

It's now 5:30 AM, Starbucks is brewing 10 cups of coffee per minute, I've wasted a good hour of the "normal" life in the "real" world. 

Tap www.mountainguides.com 

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