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 Cho Oyu Spring 1999

Updates below:

In the spring of 1999, six accomplished climbers will attempt to be the first American Women's team to summit an 8,000 meter peak without the use of supplemental oxygen or Sherpa climbing support.

The six members are Supy Bullard, Caroline Byrd, Liane Owen, Cara Liberatore, Georgie Stanley, and Kathryn Miller Hess.


Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 8201 m, translates as the "goddess of the turquoise mountain." This beautiful high Himalayan peak has attracted more women climbers than any other 8000 m peak and is the goal of the Women's Century Expedition. This Expedition is the first American all-women's expedition to one of the fourteen 8000 m peaks without supplemental oxygen or climbing assistance from Sherpas (Himalayan natives that often provide climbing support for the high peaks). The only other American women's expedition to an 8000 m peak, led by Arlene Blum to Annapurna I in 1978 (with supplemental oxygen and climbing Sherpa support), inspired an entire generation of women and girls to reach for new heights in climbing and in their lives.

The six women who have become a team for the Women's Century Expedition are each accomplished climbers with a wealth of experience in the mountains gained over many years of dedication to this pursuit. For each of us, an 8,000-meter peak expedition represents a challenge, both personally and professionally as climbers, to step up to the next level of commitment, leadership, and team work. This Expedition will ask us to be ultimately self-reliant and self-motivating. Our goals are: to maintain positive momentum throughout the whole process, give the expedition our personal best, and stay friends from beginning to finish. Each member will summit Cho Oyu via the Northwest Ridge.


The Mountain

Cho Oyu is the world's sixth highest mountain at 8201 m (26,901 feet), and lies 28 km west of Mt. Everest on the Tibetan plateau. The peak itself straddles the Nepal Tibet border, and the peak can be approached on its south side from the Thame valley of the Khumbu region of Nepal leading up to the Lungsampa Glacier. From the north, the peak is approached from the Tingri Plain, to the Palung Glacier that lies below the peak's north face, and the Gyabrag Glacier that surrounds the Northwest face. Cho Oyu has three main ridges: the Northwest, the Northeast, and the Southwest.

Cho Oyu's impressive Southwest face, that rises up three kilometers high from the Lungsampa Glacier, drew the attention of the first expedition to the Everest Himal organized by the British in 1921. Three decades would pass before it was first attempted, in 1952, by an expedition led by Eric Shipton. They were turned back at 6650 m (22,500') by the ice cliff on the Northwest ridge that proved to be beyond their technical limits. (AAJ 27 1953, p.581). Cho Oyu was successfully climbed two years later in the post-monsoon season of 1954 via the Northwest ridge by Austrians Herbert Tichy , Sepp Johler and Sherpa Passang Dawa Lama, who led the ice cliff that Shipton had described as "obviously impassible." (AAJ 29 1955, p. 178) . That same year, Cho Oyu was attempted by a French expedition that included Mme. Claude Kogan, and although they were turned back at 7600 m (25,000'), her altitude record for women lasted many years.

The Northwest Ridge

Also known as the Tichy Route, the Northwest Ridge was the route of first ascent and is the route we will climb. It begins from the Gyabrag Glacier at the base of Peak 6446. Advanced base camp (ABC) will be located here, at about 5500 m (18,000') depending on snow levels. The route is reported to be predominately 35 to 50 degree snow and ice with a few short bands of low fifth class rock and vertical ice sections.

The route ascends the scree and firn of Peak 6446, skirting the summit of Peak 6446 on its western side. Camp 1 will be put in at about 6400 m (21,000'), where Peak 6446 joins the Northwest ridge proper of Cho Oyu. From Camp 1 the route follows the Northwest ridge, and then opens out onto the Northwest face of the upper mountain. Here the ice cliff is encountered, which has been described as a 150 to 200 foot length of a mix of short bands of low fifth class rock and some vertical and near vertical ice. Camp 2 will be located just above the ice cliff at 7000 m (23,000'). Some expeditions have put in a temporary intermediate camp between C1 and C2, below the ice cliff on the Northwest ridge at about 6600 m (21,600'), especially during the first or second acclimatization trip.

High camp will be placed at about 7450 m (24,500') to maximize the chance of success on summit day. Expeditions have described either gaining the west ridge to the summit, or continuing directly up the Northwest face through some rocky steps to the summit. The summit is a broad plateau, with a very small rise to the true summit of 8201 m (26, 901 feet).

5/18/99 Update:

Howdy friends! Our last update from the "Throne Room of the Mountain Gods". The Women's Century Expedition started it's second summit bid on May 6. Liane, Cara and Caroline tried together. By May 8th, the day we were to move to camp 3, the weather remained unstable; cloudy and windy with snow falling. At 7200 meters we decided to return to camp 2 and see if the next day would clear up. That night we heard via radio that a Spaniard was missing near the summit and we donated some supplies for the rescue effort. Our sleeping bags at camp 3 probably saved the Sherpa who performed the rescue that night since we were the only team that had sleeping bags at out high camp of all the teams with a camp installed there. It snowed and blew all night and in the morning the 8" of fresh snow and wind and low visibility gave the sign that is was time to go down and wait it out. We were back at ABC on May 9 and another attempt on the mountain was not made by our team. In the following days we cleaned the mountain and twelve yaks came up  and helped carry gear down to the Chinese Basecamp on May 13 and we arrived in Kathmandu on May 14. It has continued to snow since we got off the mountain. 

Cara, Caroline and Kathryn left Kathmandu today for home. We will all be home by June 1st. 

Thank you all for your love and support! You are the greatest believers!!  regards, Cara, Caroline, Kathryn, Liane, Georgie and Supy

Update: "Supy, Georgie, and Kathryn made it to the summit.   All are well and are on their way home."


"OK, to get on with the latest...right this minute, Georgie, Supy and Kathryn are going out of sight over the horizon of the summit! It is 10:40 and they will probably will summit in an hour. The weather is great for it - calm and clear. This morning was so cold though that two of them thought of turning around at 2 or 3 in the morning. It takes about 12 hours to summit from camp 3 and get down to camp 2 IF all goes well and smooth. They are moving very slowly, up through an upper snowfield and rockbands, as one must to conserve energy at that great altitude.

Let's see, to let you know how things are here. Well as you   can imagine, many things revolve around the weather. It was very stable and predictable for at least a week, before the full moon. Then a few says ago it began to get less stable. We have even had two lightning and thunder storms, one when Georgie, Supy and Kathryn were at Camp 1, which is on a fairly exposed ridge. They spent over an hour crouched in the ΄position of safety and their hair and the radio were buzzing. Down here it was spectacular, with no pause between the lightning and thunder at the height of it. Cara was very scared, as she got struck by lightning this summer and was paralyzed on the right side of her body for some days. I'm glad it wasn't her up there this time.

So the mornings have been generally clear, but not always calm, and wind is one of the things we are most wary of. One can look up at the ridges and peak of Cho Oyu and see if snow is blowing about up there. The worst is a lenticular (lens-shaped) cloud sitting like a cap on the peak, but luckily we've not seen many of those. In the afternoons, there is a lot of moisture buildup and the valleys sometimes fill with clouds. On occasion these lead to afternoon snow showers, such as the day that Caroline, Cara and I went up to Camp 2 to spend the night for the first time (7000m or 23,000΄). It was a perfect day, so hot that I only had on two layers top and bottom, and thin liner gloves while ascending the ice falls. These are quite interesting: this year was such a dry winter in the Himalayas that there is a lot of blue ice on the route, that is usually covered with snow. In fact, the route is harder this year because of the lack of snow. Between Camp 1 and Camp 2 there is approx. 1000 ft of roped travel up steep ice. One attaches oneself with an ascender, kicking in with one's crampons and hauling oneself up on the rope.

Anyway, I got to camp 2 at 1:40 in the afternoon, a bit ahead of the others. I cleared out the tent vestibule and started the stove to make water - it takes hours of melting snow up here to get enough water for everyone to stay well hydrated (one of the keys to acclimatizing well). By the time the others got there a cloud had descended so that one could not see more than 100 ft., the wind picked up and it was starting to snow a little. We jumped in the tent (a crowded affair, with all our packs and extra clothes piled at the bottom to even out the tilty floor).  Well, in the end it was a windy, snowy night. We ate soups and mashed potatoes for dinner, made water till 9 pm, then slept, waking often. I got out once to clear the snow drifts from around the tent.

In the morning, it was nasty until about 8 am when the wind died down and we got ready to go. Packed up by 10, we started back down, satisfied with the work we'd done (carrying up the gear for Camp 3, to be installed on the next three when they came up) and having stayed up at a new elevation successfully.

So now, we have about 4 rest days before our turn at the summit. That has been the pattern: go up with a load for 2 to 3 days, come down exhausted, rest for 2 to 3 days, then go up again. since we are working in two groups of 3, we leapfrog each other. As we were on our way down, for instance, we met with the other 3 at Camp 1 and exchanged information and well wishes for their summit attempt.

Life is a funny combination of intense activity and intense relaxation. Down at ABC (Advanced Base Camp) (which feels almost like low altitude now!), we focus on eating, hydrating and resting. No day hikes, not much that exerts us. Time to let our body rebuild its strength for the next ΄run up the mountain. Since the elevation of Denali (Mt. McKinley) is about halfway between ABC and Camp 1, I figure we are in fact doing many peaks worth of climbing on this one mountain. Our packs have ranged from 20 to 40 pounds, and from someone used to carrying 75 pound packs, believe me this is enough weight! Everything just takes more effort, although we have noticed how easy it is to be at Camp 1 now, compared to the first time. And that is at 20,900΄(almost 6400m). We can tell cause we have big appetites. It's very difficult to eat a lot up high.

I'm not sure what else to talk about. I think that summiting this peak will be one of the hardest things I've ever done. In the meantime, we very much enjoy the company of our two Sherpanis, the only women support staff here! They are quite popular with the Sherpas. They teach us much about Sherpa culture and some language. Yak herds come and go over the Nangpa La - the pass between Tibet and Nepal. Tibetan yak drivers are quite interesting and always trying to sell us things..."


Update: 4/28/99:

"We've gotten word that the GSC isn't working, so we're using a friend's computer instead. Too bad but we sure tried. This should bring everyone up to speed of our progress and we should be able to send one more. First of all everything's going really well and everyone is healthy and strong. We have made good progress on the mountain in beautiful weather. In fact we have one more carry to make before we attempt to reach the summit! Taking a step back, here's what has happened so far...

We left Kathmandu on April 1st. On this first leg of our journey we stopped for 8 hours while a bus part way off the road over a cliff was extracted by a bulldozer that took its time coming all the way from Kathmandu!  The following day we walked over the "Friendship Bridge" into China (Tibet). From there we rode in style in two Chinese Land Rovers, while all of our gear followed in a truck. We spent two nights in Nyalam (12,500΄) and two nights in Tingri (14,900΄), two Chinese influenced Tibetan villages.  We arrived in Basecamp (16,500΄) on April 6th.  We rested and organized there for three days before hiking to Advanced Basecamp.  Twenty-nine yaks carried or gear up to Advanced Base Camp where we will call home until we are finished with Cho Oyu. Oh, by the way, most folks over here pronounce it Cho YU.

Advance Basecamp is a typical Himalayan climbing scene. There are twelve teams here from ten different countries spread out across a bench of bouldery moraine. We have made friends with many, and there is a great feeling of cooperation on the mountain. The Norwegians have come and gone. They summitted within a week of our arrival. Their three sherpas had fixed 1000 meters of fixed line on the mountain. And then they took off to climb Shishapangma, another Tibetan 8000 m. peak!

After acclimatizing to such a high Basecamp for a few days we were anxious to get to work. Working in two teams of three we installed a Camp 1 at 21,000΄on April 15th. Supy, Kathryn, and Georgie are working as a team and Cara, Caroline, and Liane  are working together.  The way to Camp 1 is an hour and a half across rolling moraine up only 500 ft. Then, we gain 1,500΄straight up loose scree to camp.  Once we supplied camp 1 and had acclimatized to that altitude, we set our sights on Camp 2 (23,000΄).

Kathryn and Georgie reached Camp 2 on the 22nd. Supy, who acclimatized very well from the start, was cold, so she turned back just short of the new camp.  Cara, Caroline, and Liane headed up next on the 23rd. It snowed that night so they got a late start the next day. They climbed above the first icefall, but being short of time, deposited their loads on a flat plateau at 22, 200 feet. You feel like you're really on the mountain above Camp 1. Here you reach the ice and snow and here you can see out into Tibet and over into Nepal.  This year the mountain is very dry. In all the photos of the mountain, there is a lot more snow. Because of a dry winter, this spring there is blue ice and a lot more rock where usually it is snow covered. The way from Camp 1 to Camp 2 has several sections of steep ice intermixed with lower angle snow ridges.  It's beautiful up there!

On the 27th of April, Supy, Kathryn, and Georgie returned to Camp 2 completing the task of stocking Camp 2.  Tomorrow Cara, Caroline, and Liane will carry Camp 3 gear up to Camp 2. Perhaps, they will carry Camp 3 gear even higher if they are feeling strong.   When they complete this task, we will be prepared for our first summit bid!   Until then Supy, Kathryn and Georgie are eating, sleeping, breathing, and socializing.  Cara, Caroline, and Liane should be back down for their rest by May 1st.  Our Sherpa cooks Mingma and Doma are taking great care of us, trying hard to keep us fat.  They are an important part of this closely knit team.  Since Minima's English is quite good we learn daily about Sherpa life and language.  They have made good friends with the other cooks and this group is a constant source of entertainment.

We think about everyone at home and all of the support you've given us. Again, we apologize for the lack of updates, but we were hopeful that our Magellan GSC was getting through.  We will send another update as long as this computer is still here and working. DON'T WORRY if you don't get another update, technology's tricky in these parts!  We are on schedule and everyone's doing well. - "

Update 4/15/99:

The following message was received from Supy's husband Peter Carse on April 13: The last I heard from Supy was on April 4 from Tingri. The Globalgram was necessarily short, but she mentioned problems with $ and yaks. I wasn't at all alarmed because these are routine expedition worries. By today they should be well established at their advanced base camp, sorting through piles of gear and food on the cold, windy gravel, and breathing deeply of the thin, dry air in an attempt to make that little headache go away. I'll let you know if I hear anything else before I leave.

I leave for Kathmandu on Apr 18, to climb in the Khumbu region with Cara's husband Bill. We'll meet up with the expedition in Kathmandu upon their return towards the end of May. --- Peter

Dispatch 3/31/99:

Hello everyone! We're in Kathmandu doing last minute errands and waiting for our Chinese visa for Tibet. Our agency has taken care of a lot of details for us, so we are free to purchase some last minute items like snow pickets and medicine that is available here. Yesterday we met our cook and her assistant. They are Sherpa women from the Khumbu region of Nepal. Mingma, the cook, runs a guest house in her village and was recommended to us. She is great. She took us to Bhodinath, an area of Kathmandu away from the tourists where many Tibetans and Sherpa people live. We went to a Lama, a Buddhist priest for him to pray for us while we are on the mountain. He gave each of us a red sting with a knot in it that he tied around our necks. He also put khatas around our necks. These are white silk scarves that seem to be a greeting and lend some protection, but I am not sure of the real meaning. A friend who was the manager of a hotel gave me one on my last visit, so it is not only for lamas to give. Afterwards we visited Diki and Dorge Dawa's house. This couple is originally from Tibet and they make Tibetan rugs. They employ Tibetans in Kathmandu and they are friends of a friend of ours at home, so we chose to buy rugs from them, instead of at one of the other thousand rug stores in Kathmandu ! The team is meeting back art the hotel now for a final packing episode, so I should go. We will be sending messages from no on from a Magellan GSC 100. This is a hand held satellite e-mail and GPS instrument. We will be limited to messages of 200 characters, so don't be disappointed if the upcoming messages aren't so long. Today I am writing from the "Cyber Cafe" in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was quite a shock when I heard there is e-mail access for tourists here now. Before e-mail was not a commercial enterprise. Tashidelek (Tibetan greeting which loosely translated means good fortune)


Their web site is   http://www.womenclimbers.com/cho_descriptions.html#state

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