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 Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition

Throughout August/September the Marconi team of six international climbers will attempt to climb Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world, without either the aid of supplemental oxygen or sherpas. A corresponding documentary is being filmed and a satellite phone will enable us to link up to radio stations. The same equipment will allow us to provide reports to EverestNews.com as the expedition progresses up the mountain.

Update: 8/22/2000

Expeditions are arriving in Kathmandu !

Update: 8/25/2000

MARCONI CHO OYU 2000 Expedition

And so it has begun…The Marconi 2000 expedition is underway. Objective: to climb Cho Oyu (8201 meters), the world’s sixth highest mountain, as well as to record and publish an account of the adventure on internet, radio and TV with the support of Marconi technology.

London was the departure point for the Cho Oyu team, an international group of climbers. Last minute packing, re-packing and adjustments to the equipment became a frenzied culmination to months of preparation. Finally, we were happy with the kit and it was dispatched. No time to spare, every minute used.

At the check-in desk, our rude excess of baggage went through without resistance. The mountain of equipment required for a Himalayan expedition is often a costly addition to air travel, but our leader, Toby, was almost killed by the airline manager in a car accident a few days before. Surviving unscathed, he was repaid with business class upgrades for the team and free excess luggage!

There was time for a quick photo shoot in the terminal, in front of a Marconi billboard. “This could be your finest hour” was the message. A good omen? Accompanying the text was an image of smiling, smartly dressed business folk. The notion was one of ambition, theirs to achieve business excellence, ours to climb Cho Oyu without the aid of oxygen or Sherpas.

From Kathmandu, our kick off point, we will start our travel across land, through Tibet and arrive at the bottom of the mountain’s north face. The team hit the ground running with much to be done. The lightest weight food and last bits of kit were bartered for in the chaos of Thamel, Kathmandu. Our communication equipment was damaged in transit and we needed to source new parts and make repairs. This proved to be difficult, and required a tenacious drive from all of us to get back on-line.

We set off early tomorrow for a four day drive. From the Chinese border, we have learned that the monsoon rains have dumped landslides on our route, severing the road in several places. Nothing will be easy. Tomorrow the adventure begins in earnest. 

Namaste!  Innes Deans 

Pictures: Click on them for the full sizes pictures !!!

Update: 8/29/2000


Kathmandu is a city not without its charms, however after a while the heat and pollution can prove to be somewhat wearing. When we awoke to the site of Colin running naked around the room, screaming, having discovered that his belly button was infested with maggots, we knew it was time to leave!

The team left town early on 24th August, eager to be on the move. Our route followed the ‘Friendship Highway’, a road that leads from Kathmandu through the Himalayas to Lhasa in Tibet. According to some, it is one of the most spectacular roads in the world, as it weaves a tenuous line through enormous, steep sided valleys. It was not long before we came across an obstacle, the first of many. In places, the steep valley sides, made unstable by deforestation and the monsoon rains, had collapsed leaving precarious gaps in the road with the valley floor hanging hundreds of feet below. In other places, landslide debris was strewn across the road barring the way. Progress was slow and arduous. We had to unload and load all our equipment from truck to truck, employing porters to move over 750kg of our stuff through sections that had become totally cut off. The work was often dangerous, being exposed to stone-fall from above. Several near misses were witnessed. In this way, it took us two days to reach the Tibetan border.

Crossing the border into Tibet proved to be relatively uneventful. The rumors about difficult Chinese border guards proved to be unfounded and it was not too long before we were allowed entry and hiked on to Zangmu. From Zangmu, we drove two hours up to Nyalam at the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

Nyalam is at 3750 meters and, after an overnight stay, most of the team awoke with a ‘thick head’ from the altitude. James, in particular, was feeling under the weather. We decided to stay another night to acclimatize. The next day, James was feeling no better and had developed a worrying cough. That morning over breakfast a council of war was held. One thing was clear, James had to descend to Zangmu as quickly as possible. Colin, James’ climbing partner, volunteered to accompany him. It was decided that the five remaining team members should press on to Tingri (4300 meters) in order to establish base camp as soon as possible.

So now the team is split. Those of us at the front are within sight of the mountain (unfortunately it is obscured by cloud at the moment), the others shall catch up as soon as their condition improves. This is a set back but there is a long way to go yet.

See the pictures: 

Snowland Hotel Road Out Map of the Journey Jeep driving in River

Innes Deans 

Base Camp Manager

Update: 9/11/2000

Marconi Ahead! Marconi Reach 6,850m (22,500’) on Cho Oyu

We remain enshrouded in monsoon cloud at Advanced Base Camp (ABC: 5,750m). But curiously, higher up the mountain seems to have escaped the worst of the weather and snow conditions have become reasonably stable.

Since our last update, James and Colin have caught up with the main body of the team at ABC (having spent a few days at lower altitudes (see picture 1 attached which shows Colin acclimatizing on the rocks above Base Camp). James is now acclimatizing quite well having carried a load up to Camp 1 at 6,400m two days ago. Colin however has not acclimatized well to 5700m and has returned back to Base Camp at 4800m with Innes for a few days recovery. Pete, Toby, Mario and Chris have been going very strongly, trail blasing above Camp 1 yesterday (Saturday 10th September) to 6,850m including fixing a short section of rope on steep ice at 6,800m. The big news is that the Marconi team are ahead of all the other expeditions on this mountain.

ABC is situated on a moraine overlooking the Nangpa-La Glacier. It is a cold spot and collects the wild monsoon clouds driving in from Nepal bringing with them incessant snow squalls. The Nangpa-La is one of the highest trade routes between Nepal and Tibet and one can often see small, silhouetted figures scuttling across the glacier bringing goods to and from Nepal. ABC now has numerous international expeditions ensconced on its cold rocks: Italians, Spaniards, Americans, Koreans, Australians, other Brits and of course the resident high mountain crows scavenging amongst the tents.

The team is in high spirits, especially after Birbal, our wizard cook, produced a cake. Mario has lost his voice which the rest of the team count as a blessing.  Peter can be found strumming his guitar along with a Korean expedition team member on his flute, whilst James is still hunting his finest whisky, probably hidden or already drunk by the Australian.  The non-climbing highlight of the expedition however was the swapping of dancing traditions with the local Tibetan Yak herders. Their effort contained much shuffling of feet and a fair deal of spitting whilst the Marconi team pulled off a rambunctious Hokey-Kokey, no mean feet at 17,000ft.

The overall health of the team is good with the exception of Colin’s slow acclimatisation. A key measure of acclimatisation is the level of oxygen absorption in the blood and we have a machine kindly donated from the Glasgow Altitude Group which measures this and heart rate (see attached results for the team).

The plan now is to continue to load up Camp 1 with sufficient food and fuel to be able to establish Camps 2 and 3 to use as an effective jumping off point for the summit sometime in the next week or two.

Update: 9/16/2000

Marconi Team Establish Camp 2 on Cho Oyu at 7,060m

The Marconi team is driving hard to get a crack at the summit in the next week with 2 separate sorties to camp 2 above 7000m. The first (on Wed 13 Sept), was a load carried by Mario, Pete, Toby, James and Chris to establish the camp with three tents and provisions. The second (today, Friday) was a load carry to C2 with a possible further push to camp 3, however at the time of writing the weather has come in and snow conditions are deteriorating. Last night some small avalanches came down just to the west of the camp where Pete and Toby are at the moment (6pm Beijing time, Friday) sitting brewing a cup of tea at 7000m but by radio a few minutes ago, they have assured the rest of us that snow conditions are reasonably stable!

James and Mario are planning to make an attempt at the summit. They plan to leave for camp 1 on 17th September, moving up to C2 /C3 on 18th September and then if all things go well, they will be standing on the summit early on 19th September.

In the meantime Colin is catching up with his acclimatisation and has now been to camp 1 at 6400m and Pete and Toby should be now well acclimatized for a summit attempt later on next week, despite the fact that Toby remains on anti-biotics for a stomach bug.

Watch this space…!

Update: 9/17/2000


             What a difference a few days can make! The fine spell of weather that was enjoyed at the beginning of the week continued for several days. The good conditions allowed James, Pete, Mario and Toby to push up the mountain and on the 13th they established Camp 2 at an altitude of 7050m. That night Mario stayed alone at Camp 2, the others choosing to descend and sleep at Camp 1.

            The following day (14th) both Mario and James elected to drop down to Advanced Base Camp to rest, whilst Pete and Toby (despite gastric illness!) stayed up. The pair did sterling work in the middle of the mountain, the next day ferrying loads to stock Camp 2 in spite heavy snowfalls and poor visibility. They spent the night of the 15th at Camp 2 and came down the next day narrowly avoiding an avalanche during their descent.

            On Saturday (16th) news filtered down the mountain that a five man team from Korea with the support of three Sherpas had reached the summit. In a characteristically bold effort, despite poor weather and dangerous snow conditions the Koreans had ploughed their way from Camp 3 in an impressive 12 hour, sustained effort to reach the summit. That night the satellite phone in the Marconi tent was red hot as justifiably proud Koreans spread the word back home!

            For a brief period on Sunday (17th) the whole Marconi team sat around the table, Colin having recovered from illness, now acclimatizing well and Chris having returned from a night at Camp 2. It was not to be for long. James and Mario, well rested after a few days at Advanced Base Camp, set off to make their summit bid. Their plan is to spend the night of the 17th at Camp 1 and then to push hard, through Camp 2, to establish Camp 3 on the evening of the 18th. From this high point they will make an attempt on the summit early in the morning of the 19th

Click on these pictures !

Innes Deans Base Camp Manager

Update 9/20/2000

Cho Oyu Summit Bulletin

The Marconi Team Triumphs on the World’s Sixth Highest Mountain

Cho Oyu was successfully climbed today by Mario Pellicciari of the Marconi Team on 20th September 2000, 1340 hrs Tibet Time

Following the ascent of Cho Oyu by the Korean Team on 16th September Marconi’s Mario Pellicciari has made the second ascent of the mountain this season by the North Ridge breaking trail with 2 Italians and 2 other Australians.

In a croaky radio communication from the summit by radio, Mario said, ‘the route from camp3 was tough – we left at 12 midnight and by first light we were still breaking trail in fresh powder snow up to our waists. We only hit the summit ridge at 12 midday 12 hours of grueling climbing after our departure. It was a further 1.5 hrs to the summit which we finally reached at 1340hrs. Altogether a very strenuous climb.

Conditions underfoot were not ideal with fresh snow at all levels of the mountain but the overhead conditions were perfect with clear blue skies and little wind. The view from the summit is dominated by Mount Everest 28 km to the South East. The southern, eastern and western horizons are end to end mountains, whilst the brown rugged Tibetan plateau stretches endlessly to the north.

Mario is the strongest of our party at altitude and it is fitting that he reached the top first. The other members of the team are close on his heals however, with Peter Baily and Toby Molins positioned at camp 1 ready to depart for camp 2 tomorrow am and James Maclaurin (who has now recovered from his 24 hr bug) and Chris Patient ready to depart from ABC for Camp 1 early Thursday of this week. Innes Deans and Colin Smith are preparing themselves well for a possible summit attempt early next week.

All made possible by and powered by Marconi.

Further bulletins daily. Click on these pictures !

James Maclaurin / Innes Deans

Update 9/24/2000

Marconi put two more on the summit of the world’s sixth highest mountain.

At 00:00 hrs. on the 23rd Peter Bailey and expedition leader Toby Molins left their tiny tent at Camp 3 (7600m) and made their bid for the summit. A crystal clear sky made this the coldest night encountered so far. So cold in fact, that several potential summit attempts from other parties were abandoned, leaving Pete and Toby alone on the upper part of the mountain that night. By day break they could be seen to have breached the rock barrier and be making steady progress above 8000 meters. At 11 o’clock, under perfect blue skies, the pair disappeared from sight as they conquered the final slopes and pulled onto the summit plateau. They remained out of sight for 3 hours as they reached the summit. When they reappeared they made an extremely rapid descent to arrive at Camp 2 by three o’clock in the afternoon! They were the only two to reach the summit that day and to be able to take advantage of what appeared to be excellent conditions.

            As this report is written James MacLauren and Chris Patient, also of the Marconi team, have moved up the mountain and wait at Camp 3. They make their summit bid tonight, the weather is holding and optimism is high!

Innes Deans

Update 9/25/2000 Another Amazing Marconi Summit

At 1.15pm, on 24th September 2000, Chris Patient, member of the Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition, made the summit of Cho Oyu (8,201m). Climbing any 8,000m peak is an incredible feat but Chris’s achievement is all the more impressive for the actual account of his climb. On the way up for his summit bid, Chris was not feeling at his best. At Camp 2, he was unable to eat, he woke up in the morning with a severe headache and was sick throughout the night. Even so, he moved up to Camp 3 with James Maclaurin for a summit attempt. For a little background information, Camp 3 (7500m) is not a pleasant place. In the middle of an enormous face of snow, it’s a gratuitous spot picked for no particular reason except for the fact it makes getting to the summit a little easier. Chris and James had to weather this wind blasted spot in a crippled Bibler tent, no bigger than dog kennel. The night was not restorative. Without any sleeping bag, James was unable to get to sleep and had to borrow Chris’s down outfit to ward off hypothermia. Chris, trying to remain hydrated, drank as much as he could only to be sick all over James. In Chris’s words, “it was one the worst night’s I’ve ever had, I got up feeling extremely weak and tired”. But with the summit looming overhead in conspiracy with the moon, Chris and James set off at 4.30am for an arduous snow slog up to a rope-fixed rock band. It was at this point that James sensibly decided to turn around and return to Camp 3. His feet were very, very cold and heading for frostbite. Chris continued on his way with complete focus on the summit. Digging into years of endurance sport experience, Chris threw off two nights without sleep, food and water and powered up the mountain overtaking other climbers with oxygen. All he had to say was “they looked a bit odd, I’d never seen people using oxygen before”. He never expected the summit ridge to end with the gentle curve going on and on and on. Only when he saw a bunch of people huddled together did he realize he’d reached the summit and then of course the sight of Everest in the distance. That done, Chris marched down to Camp 3, to Camp 2, to Camp 1 and back to Advanced Base Camp in time for dinner. After many nights above 7000m (more than any other team member) and after several valiant attempts at the summit, James is on his way back to Advance Base Camp. Meanwhile, Innes Deans is poised at Camp 2 to go for the summit tomorrow, the last remaining  Marconi Team member.  

Innes Deans

Update 9/29/2000

Marconi Cho Oyu 2000 Report 9

Summit or Toes

James Maclaurin turns back at 7,970m (c.26,000’) during bold solo summit bid in fierce jet stream winds.

James takes up the story:

‘Everything went very smoothly up to camp 3 – 3 days of monotonous snow slog without mishap. But it all started to go wrong at camp 3 at 7,500m when my tent mate decided to swap me for a mattress and then commenced to vomit all night long over my boots, before waking to say he had slept well (he went onto summit later that day). We got up at 2am and walked to the start of the fixed ropes at 7,600m at which point I knew I had to turn back or swap my toes for the summit. I could feel cold enter every bone and cell of my wizened body which had by now become a mere shadow of my former self. I descended quickly to camp 2 and crawled into Pete’s sleeping bag after first ejecting him and being handed a hot water bottle by generous Toby. A few hours later I was heading back up to camp 3 for a second summit attempt – glutton for punishment that I am. The wind grew steadily stronger during the night with wind speeds increasing to 70 mph and spindrift (fine grains of snow) forcing its way through the door zips. I got up at 2 am and battled my way in the wind to and up fixed ropes to just under 8,000m at which point with my head torch showing up nothing but a pencil thin strip of light piercing the deep dark, I decided I was not going to attempt to climb the final snow dome on my own to 8,200m, as well as to risk frost bite, so I descended, tail between my legs, back to camp 3 for further lonely hot teas, as I waited for dawn.’ 

The Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition is now packing up and heading back to Kathmandu, four members having reached the summit. A further concluding report will be sent out from Kathmandu in the next few days.

Update 10/5/2000

Making your own Luck.

After four months of planning, two weeks of traveling and three weeks of actual climbing I’ve come to the conclusion that getting to the top of an 8000m mountain is very much a lottery ….. the good news is that there are a few ways you can stack the deck. 

Before we had even arrived at the mountain it was clear that we had all been dealt different hands. At 3700m James was the first to feel the affects of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and had to drop more than a 1000m to the Tibetan boarder of Zhangmu. Colin, who nobly accompanied James, was feeling grand at the time but when he returned to higher climes found that he, and not James, was the one to suffer AMS. In one form or another (usually vomiting) the AMS stayed with the unfortunate Colin throughout the expedition and it is a testimony to his stubbornness and great strength that he stayed with us at Advanced Base Camp at 5,700m (ABC) to the end. Having lost a stone in weight we’re all left hoping that his wife recognizes him on his return. 

There are a thousand different theories on the best ways to acclimatize and pace yourself for such a huge mountain and before we had even put boot upon snow it seemed as if we had already flogged them all to death. As expedition leader I had given suitably vague hints and answers such as, “Go with how your body feels” or “You should push it … but not too far.”  Somehow what came out of all this was that the Marconi team was working its way steadily up the mountain and setting up camps.  Come wind or snow the Marconi team began to gain altitude as well as respect from other expeditions. We were the first to wade through the deep snow above Camp 1 and climb the  short but steep serac on which we left our rope for others. More often than not we stayed for long periods up high, enabling the stocking of camps and good acclimatisation. Having stuck out a couple of particularly windy nights at Camp 1 where we were beaten about like a drum Innes remembers the emergency call made  … “Bring more Honey!”. 

If a ‘window’ in the weather were to appear, (so far the conditions had tended towards avalanches and low visibility) then the Marconi team would be in a position to go for the summit. Through hard work, especially since we were climbing without Sherpas, we had weaved a piece a luck out of the mountain. 

Its was not so much as a ‘window’ as a small chink of light that appeared and before we could grab him by his shirt-tails Mario had dived right through it and was heading up to the summit with a couple of Australians and Italians. I was sad to see him break away from the Marconi team but he had been denied a summit attempt on a previous 8000er, Manaslu, and it was clear that nothing was going to stop him this time … And nothing did. 

A couple days later Peter and I were at Camp 3 ready to go for the summit. A clear view of the heavens without a thumping wind indicated we had our window. Our minds however, were slightly distracted by the fact that a number of large expeditions had decided to pool together a dozen of their strongest Sherpas to try and break a trail through the difficult conditions towards the summit. We were only two and as I dug around I found a little Spanish ancestry but unfortunately no Sherpa or for that matter any other mountain race. 

We left at 2am… it was not a hard decision, if we went down from 7500m we’d have to climb the whole mountain again. Breaking trail did take its toll and we reached the summit plateau with jelly legs; Pete was vomiting and I kept falling asleep. We filmed our high point, stating pride in our achievement but unsure of how far from the summit we were and that we were incapable of taking another step. It was only the next day when we showed the video footage to some previous summiteer that we were informed that we had in fact been standing on the summit. I guess we were a little out of it. 

What I’m hoping exudes from this final report is the determination and desire of the Marconi team members that brought them their own luck, no more so than in the summit bids by Chris and James who were next up. Previous reports tell of the most miserable night at Camp 3, James with near hypothermia while Chris, taking his lead from Pete, had decided on the vomiting approach. What amazes me is that even in these conditions they both started up the mountain, Chris making the summit while James, having started cold, fearing that he might lose digits to frostbite, sensibly returned. 

Two days later though James was heading towards the summit again, this was now his fourth day above 7000m, if the mountain was going to be kind James was still giving himself a chance. At 7800m, at –40C , in strong winds and alone in the dark James decided that the mountain didn’t feel too kind and finally decided to call it a day. 

That, apparently, was the Marconi climbing team accounted for but, and in fact to no great surprise, our ‘Base Camp Manager’ Innes was suddenly to be found at 7000m hoping to make a quick dash for the summit. Other expeditions were sensibly retreating while winds of more than 100mph were tearing up the snow and tents. Innes tent was filled with spindrift snow that had forced its way through the zipper despite the fact that it was shut tight. The next day the Jet Stream winds still howled and finally the whole Marconi team were back in Base Camp … all fingers and toes accounted for. 

We headed out for home, it had been a fantastic success … I looked over my shoulder back at the mountain … just to check there were no Marconi members heading back up. 

By Toby Molins 

James Maclaurin: As the only Marconi employee on the expedition and knowing that sponsorship of an expedition of this nature is historically unprecedented in the history of the company, I feel very privileged to be in this position. I am fortunate – I work with a group of immensely talented individuals at Marconi plc and then similarly when I take a bit of time off to climb this mountain I find myself with a group of individuals who are not only extremely gifted climbers but are also very nice people. 

That is the main thing that characterised this trip to the worlds sixth highest mountain – the group of seven climbers had great spirit – our tent at ABC was known as the Marconi Peace tent, there was always great hilarity there with people passing through all the time. It turned out there were numerous other international expeditions on the mountain at the same time and very quickly Marconi had earned respect for pushing the route higher without the aid of sherpas:  in fact we quickly earned great respect amongst the sherpas, those tough dwellers of the Everest region in Nepal,  for our boldness.

Personally, this expedition was as tough as it gets for me. I have done numerous technical climbs around the world, but this was by far the most exhausting trip I have done solely because of the altitude. It had a completely debilitating effect upon all of us and the acclimatisation process was often slow and painful in terms of migraine headaches. But the strange thing as I write this in Kathmandu, is that the pain is receding and what remains in my mind is the rugged beauty of Tibet, the deep friendship of the team members and memory of the long twisting ridges of Cho Oyu, the ‘Turquoise Goddess’. 

Further Information:

Meet the climbers of the Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition 2000. 
View the climbing itinerary of the Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition 2000.
Check the expedition data of the Marconi Cho Oyu Expedition 2000.

The International Mountain Guides Cho Oyu 2000 Expedition: Meet the team !

See the IMG Dispatches from Cho Oyu

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