A Promised Story (warning non-VC content)

A Promised Story (warning non-VC content)

The Road to Cho Oyu
Surprisingly, a representative from our expedition found me in the chaos of the Kathmandu Airport upon my arrival at the end of August, 2010. Although it was dark, the maelstrom of traffic was evident through the minibus windows as we plowed on to the hotel.

The next morning, I was greeted by the sounds of birds crowing, monkey’s screeching, a donkey braying, engines running and people shouting. Add heat, diesel fumes, a whiff of garbage and you have Kathmandu!

The transition to the orderliness of Lhasa was striking. Wide streets, modern buildings and electric vehicles were completely unexpected at 3600m. Signs of the old city were present but it was clear that a transformation had occurred. Nowhere was that more evident than at the legendary Potala Palace, once home to the Dali Lama. After circling the grounds clockwise for good fortune, we entered the gates for a visual feast.

We acclimatized with short hikes into the hillsides surrounding Lhasa. The Potala Palace appeared in the distance like an island in a sea of buildings. Vultures circled above a sky burial site nearby and strings of prayer flags decorated the landscape.

After a few days, our convoy drove onto the Tibetan plateau in a small fleet of Land Cruisers. The trip was punctuated by our driver’s smoke breaks which coincided with road-side vendors who quickly swarmed us with offers to sell trinkets or allow their picture to be taken for a price.

I was fascinated by the remnants of rammed-earth dzongs which dotted the valley floors. These small forts were built within sight of each other so they could communicate by signals. Once their wooden roofs collapsed, the structures quickly washed away, leaving very few still complete.

While large towns dotted the highways, rural villages followed the waterways. Rectangular stone houses featured walled courtyards and flat roofs for storage of wood or dung for heating and cooking. It was harvest season and we witnessed colorfully dressed villagers slowly moving across fields and terraces, slashing away at crops of barley and grasses with their hand scythes.

Police checkpoints required brief stops while the driver presented his permit for the stretch of road just travelled and purchased a new one for the section ahead. Tashi, our local guide, transportation organizer and enthusiastic Buddhist, pulled it off without a hitch while still managing to educate us on our surroundings.

Shigatse was a reasonably modern town which boasted the Tashilunpo Monastery; traditional home of the Panchen Lama who is second only to the Dali Lama as a religious leader. A large white stone wall over six stories high dominated the structure and was explained as a place to hang banners during religious festivals; the first Imax!

The well-maintained Friendship Highway led us onward and upward, crossing two high passes. Our arrival in Xegar was accompanied by a warning to travel in groups as protection from rabid dogs and robbery amongst high-walled streets of the old town. Learning that newcomers had arrived, the local children swarmed us with pleas of “tips, tips” while grabbing at our packs and clothes.

We next visited the Xegar monastery, which many considered the most interesting of the trip. Its abandoned towers and stone walls stretched up the flanks of a small mountain overlooking the town. Punctuated by artillery holes from the 1950 invasion, it recalled scenes from the movie, “Seven Years in Tibet”.

Our arrival at Chinese Base Camp, a week after leaving Kathmandu, signaled the start of tent accommodations. The high ground was dominated by military watchtowers monitoring the famous Nangpa La pass for unauthorized travel. From CBC we hiked to an intermediate camp accompanied by a yak train with our gear. I developed a hoarse cough which was attributed to the ever-present dust. Mingma Tshering, our lead Sherpa, recommended a remedy of dal bhat and yak-butter tea. With an incredible fifteen summits of Everest, I certainly paid attention to his advice.

At 5650m, Advance Base Camp occupied a glacial moraine at the foot of Cho Oyu. Well spread-out, it was hard to appreciate there were at least six other large expeditions in town. We enjoyed spacious tents and great cooking while storing up on sleep and calories. Our Sherpa team organized a puja ceremony to ask for permission from the mountain and blessings on our equipment.

Over the next week our group explored upwards, reaching Camp 1 at 6400m. I had to beg off these forays with increasing lung congestion. The weather was intensely sunny in the mornings, gradually darkening into all-night snow squalls. This abnormal precipitation was attributed to late monsoons which were causing floods at lower elevations.

The unfortunate consequences of frequent snow were avalanches on the upper slopes. We began to hear that other expeditions were planning to leave empty-handed but our group was prepared to wait another week. Barely able to wander between tents, I was not in shape to continue. Our team doctor diagnosed HAPE and I had to accept that my trip was over.

Arrangements for my evacuation were completed with alacrity. I was escorted back to Chinese Base Camp accompanied by two other retreating climbers. A Tibetan porter demonstrated tremendous stamina in managing my two 20kg duffels on his back. A vehicle awaited and we drove to notorious Zhangmu at the border with Nepal. Relief came almost instantly so I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of this ramshackle city clinging to the sides of a lush mountain gorge.

A “fixer” named George appeared at the hotel the next morning to guide us through the exit process. We were deposited in a vehicle on the other side of the Friendship Bridge, back in the colorful chaos of Nepal.

Monsoon rains had washed the road away a few kilometers from town. While repairs were underway, enthusiastic gangs of women carried our baggage across the gap for a small fee. Vehicles waited on the other side for the remaining drive to Kathmandu.

Upon arriving home in late September I learned that Sherpas working to fix ropes above 7000m were struck by avalanches on two occasions. Although injuries were minor, conditions were too dangerous to attempt the summit and most expeditions withdrew.

I went to the Himalayas anticipating the journey as much as the destination and came home satisfied in spite of the circumstances. While I was mesmerized by the places we visited, I felt my Western orthodoxy irrevocably changed by the people of Tibet and Nepal, and their cheerful superiority in such an extreme environment.

Dean aka Tick Talk
December, 2010

For some photos, please click here to see the post

Who: Jagged Globe Expeditions, UK. Lead guide Robert “Mads” Anderson (author of To Everest Via Antarctica), assistant guides Tomaz Jakofcic and Matt Parkes, lead Sherpa Mingma Tshering, camp manager and cook Gavin Melgaard, volunteer team doctor Alenka Klemencic.

What: Cho Oyu means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan. Known as Qowowuyang in Nepalese.

When: Pre-monsoon May and June, post-monsoon September and October.

Where: 20km west of Everest in the Khumbu region on the border of Tibet and Nepal. Near the ancient trading route of the Nangpa La (5500m).

Why: Sixth highest mountain in the world at 8200m. Considered one of the most accessible of the 8000m peaks next to Shishapangma. Unsuccessfully attempted by Hillary’s expedition in 1952 in preparation for the first summit of Everest the following year. First climbed in 1954 by Austrian expedition led by Herbert Tichy.

How: Inbound; fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa, ground transportation to Chinese Base Camp via Shigatse and Xegar, trek to Advance Base Camp: 6-7 days. Outbound; return trek to CBC, ground transportation to Kathmandu via Zhangmu: 2 days. Normal progression to summit; ABC (5650m), Camp 1 (6400m), Camp 2 (7040m), Camp 3 (7470m), summit (8200m); 2-3 weeks. 

A Promised Story (warning non-VC content)
More Pictures
12/11/2010 - 04:41
Thamel bazaar in Kathmandu: Lhasa's Old City bazaar: Hills above Lhasa: Harvet time: Shigatse's Imax: Herding yaks on the Friendship Highway: Xegar fortress: A field of prayer flags: The incredible Mingma Tshering Sherpa: Road back to Kathmandu: Dust-choked suburbs:
Re: More Pictures
12/11/2010 - 07:02
Hi Dean, Great post and although you didn't get to successfully summit Cho Oyu, it is a rare experience that you now have. Even more important is that your HAPE wasn't any worse and that you are back to your hyper-active self! I hope you don't mind, but I thought I'd add some pictures of my trip to Tibet in 2006. Did you see small, 6-sided, piles of rocks along your journeys?  I took this picture on the way to Shigaste. These are called "Ma Ni Dui" and each stone is placed by a traveler after reciting the traditional 6-word buddhist scripture "Ah Ma Ni Ba Mei Hong"  Anybody can add a stone to these piles if they recite the scripture while doing so, but these piles should never be moved or taken away. At Tashilunpo Monastery: "Shai Jing Qiang" aka Hanging Scripture Wall aka IMAX  Here is what it looks like with the pictograph scripture (known as a "Tangka") hanging from the wall (Tangkas are only on display during special holidays and ceremonies - picture taken from the web): Within the Monastary: Best Regards, Dan
Much appreciated...
12/12/2010 - 21:07
Thanks Dan, your information is much appreciated and fills in some gaps for me.  The backstory about the Ma Ni Dui is fascinating - I did not notice their six-sided characteristic.  In the Americas such cairns are very common on mountaineering routes as markers.  It is also a tradition to add a stone, but that is only to build them higher and replace any knocked off by wind and weather.  Knowing their cultural history gives me something more to think about when I pass one on the trail.   The "Hanging Scripture Wall" was a great puzzle and I assumed it had a military role until Tashi explained the real purpose.  Now your photo fills in the blank...literally!  I returned home with several small hand-painted tangkas, as the Nepalese call them, for gifts.  They are exquisite!
Dean you are a hero and more,
12/11/2010 - 23:17
you know there always will be limits, and we don't set them ourselves! Thanks for looking into your adventure and I hope your lungs are allright now, it was oedema, wasn't it? It's happened to most of the guys I read about, anyhow I believe my collegaues has said what they want you to think about! Wonderful pictures, all of them! Thank's again BTW by my this I took with my cellphone yesterday, the Town's harbour, in November !! Usually can look like this in February, when it's cold here! Normally it's very rare with ice before New Year, very often no ice at all, during the whole winter! This I never seen as long as I lived in this town, about 50 years.... Did I hear anyone say 'greenhouse effect', eh ?? Cheers Doc
Love it!
12/12/2010 - 21:12
Wonderful looking winter scenery Doc.  X-country skiing must be very popular this year
Just put on your skiis, this how it looks at my estate right now!
12/13/2010 - 01:23
Hi Dean, grab some skiis and make jump over the pool, you are alwats wellcome Cheers Doc
my contribution
12/13/2010 - 11:09
not as exotic as Dean's nor as snowy as Doc's Hiking at 1200meters yesterday
what an adventure!
12/11/2010 - 10:02
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful experience!
12/11/2010 - 17:34
Dean, I found your copy both interesting and enlightening. The photos are great.  Oh! a word of thanks too for Dan for the additional material. I've been away on business for a few weeks and as a consequence I've missed the Lounge. It's lovely to pop into the place and see your old HL friends once again. Missed yer guys!! Tony
Just the way I feel too, Tony (nt)
12/12/2010 - 21:09


Thanks Tony, my pleasure, I hope to see you at SIHH! (nt)
12/13/2010 - 11:12
it's good to know that there are still beautiful places on earth from.
12/13/2010 - 03:33
the realistic pictures captured by you not meddled by humans. great adventure shared, dean. i admire your strength in mind and body to accomplish so many missions.
The frustration of the missed opoortunity was certainly softened by
12/13/2010 - 10:44
the amazing scenery and being somewhat in a whole diferent world. Thanks for sharing and Dan thanks for the extra information. Regarding Tankas I have heard that there are smaller ones pained by Bhuddist monks, one of them travels the world and offers the Tanka to a person worthy of it or rather tha Tanka chooses its owner and until that Tanka has not found a home the monk who has painted it cannot start painting another!
Re: The frustration of the missed opoortunity was certainly softened by
12/13/2010 - 10:55
Hi Alex, I'm not a true Tangka expert, but I do know the authentic ones are painted by Buddhist Monks and are a pictoral representation of a Buddha (there are many Buddhas).  Tibetans are primarily herders and spend most of their lives on the Tibetan Plateau.  Tangkas are then a portable symbol of Buddha that can be taken out, hung, and prayed to - no matter where the person goes. I do know that a high quality Tangka can take a monk years to paint.  I picked up a couple, one that is approx. 140-150 years old, and a newly one painted by a non-monk. I'll try to take a couple of pictures tomorrow and see if I can post a scan or two.
Great adventure Dean...
12/13/2010 - 17:54
I think we are going to have to start calling you Indiana Jones   Thanks for the great report and photos! Best, Mike