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Cho Oyu: The real summit affair
image story

Sep 16, 2004 06: 09 EST
Not long ago we published a feature story describing the ascent of Cho Oyu. One of the most tricky sections was indeed the summit... wherever it is.

Cho Oyu's top is a huge plateau. It's not easy to find the exact highest point there. It is commonly said that the ‘real’ summit is the spot from where you see Everest. That can be a tricky clue (what happens in low visibility conditions?) and, as we soon discovered, not free from controversy:

High view of Gokio Lakes?

Disagreement came in an email from Jamie McGuinnes, leader of the Australian Outfit Field touring Alpine. Jamie refuse to accept this non-written agreement of the location of Cho Oyu’s summit; (used also by Elisabeth Hawley):

According to Jamie: “I have to mention that the commonly held belief that once you see Everest on Cho Oyu are at the summit is WRONG!

There is a large plateau and from the lower edge you can see Everest but are most definitely not at the summit, it is still further up the ridge and also with views of Everest. If you want to assess it in a similar way then you must be able to see Everest AND the lakes of the Gokyo valley, to be on the summit.

Miss Hawley uses the "did you see Everest" as her standard question, I have mentioned this to her as well.

I have summitted Cho Oyu 4 times and will be heading for my fifth this coming season. Each time I have watched the Koreans and Japanese go only to where they can see Everest, not the summit, because they know this is what will be asked."

A place towards it's southeastern side from where you can see the horseshoe Nuptse-Lhotse-Everest

So we have asked two other Cho Oyu climbers: The expert, 8000+ summits collector, and commercial outfit owner; and the independent climber, for whom Cho Oyu was his second eighthousand peak after Shisha Pangma.

The first, Ralf Dujmovits, is owner of Amical Alpine and 10, 8000+ summiter. This is what he told us is his criteria:

“Once you reach the plateau there is still mising at least half an hour (depending on the snow conditions) or more to reach the highest point. I climbed Cho Oyu 3 times and as far as I saw the highest point is a place on the plateau towards it's southeastern side from where you finally can see the horseshoe Nuptse-Lhotse-Everest.

The Gokyo Lakes - I suppose - you only can see further South and this must be at a lower level than the point from where you see the horseshoe.”

Ralf is a strong climber. Most of the teams reaching Cho Oyu plateu needs more than one hour to reach the summit... or what they believe is the summit.

An ice monticle

On the other hand, the Spanish climber Fernando‘Legi’ Rivero was the only one in his team – formed by mountain rescuers - who summited Cho Oyu in fall 2002. This is what he recalls of his summit day:

“Summit point of Cho Oyu has always been a tricky subject. In my opinion, perhaps demanding to see the Gokio lakes could be too picky. On the other hand, just some years ago Cho Oyu was considered summited if the climbers reached the final plateau, which is not fair, as it took us almost three hoours walking on that flat, cold surface before we reached the actual summit.

About seeing Everest, well, just take a look at the picture of me in the moment I reached the plateau: I could see nothing but clouds around, even if the sky was clear on the plateau itself. Therefore, perhaps I am not the best person to speak of the views, but my case is actually rather common among Cho Oyu summiters.

What I can say is that almost everibody leave objects on an ice monticle where the summit is supposed to be: Prayer flags, sponsors flags, etc… When I sumited, another Spanish climber had left a ski pole there for us to know the exact point.

When we got there, we looked around and checked there was no highest point at sight. Two other climbers who reached the summit 15 minutes before me took their time to lean over the edge of the plateau into the void Nepalwards, and saw some peaks between the clouds below them.”

Dave Morton, of Alpine Ascents, added the following: "All of the sherpas I speak to about it say you can see Gokyo lakes once you get to the ‘true summit’ or far enough across the summit plateau to see them - though you can see Everest much sooner."

Correction: Although Jamie did lead a group for FTP this summer, he normally runs his own outfit - the Project Himalaya.

Ralf Dujmovits is the leader of Amical Alpin has summited Dhaulagiri, Everest, K2, Cho Oyu twice, Shisha Pangma, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat in 2001 and Annapurna, before. He now has 10, 8000ers.

Cho Oyu, the Tourqoise Godess, towers 8201 meters above sea level. Celebrating its 50 Anniversary this year, Cho Oyu was first summited on October 19, by an Austrian team including Herbert Tichy, Josef ‘Sepp’ Jöchler, and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama from India. The team made the ascent without supplementary oxygen through the West Ridge.

Image of Fernando stepping on Cho Oyu summit plateau, right above the sea of clouds, courtesy of Fernando ‘Legi’ Rivero.

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