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Father & Son fall Cho Oyu: “Is there a Doctor on the mountain?”
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Agu 23, 2004 11: 09 EST
Fall season is up and expeditions are returning to the mountains in Tibet and Nepal. Just when the Catalan Magic Line team is breaking BC tents in Karakorum, another Catalan team is marking up the last expedition barrels; destination Himalaya.

Emili Duran is off to Cho Oyu, with his son Dani, and their life-long friend Jose Luis Benito.

Two generations climbing an 8000+ peak together is not too common and ExWeb called the Doc up for a chat.

Pediatrician by profession, Emili is usually busy in Base Camps. Physicians are no longer a fundamental part of most expeditions, and Emili often finds himself working just as much while on expedition as he does back home. The only difference is that the patients on the mountains usually are older than his regular crowd at the Reus Hospital Pediatric Unit.

A tired spider on a high mountain

One of the oldest was "The Dolomiti Spider" who asked for his help on Shisha Pangma two years ago. The "spider" - Cesare Maestry - was the oldest by far on the mountain. Cesare became an international celebrity for his climb on Cerro Torre, and went to Shisha as part of a Peace Climbing project. But altitude knows neither peace nor war. Maestri was 73 years old at Shisha, and in spite of amazing climbs all through his life, had no experience of high-altitude.

Emili found the tired spider in a pretty bad shape, but treated him back to health and evacuation down the valley. Emili himself didn't reach the summit due to bad weather, but made a new friend.

Emili told ExWeb that he actually owes his very first Himalayan expedition to his profession. “It was back in 1992; a huge, Catalan expedition to Gasherbrum II. They were looking for a Doctor familiar with climbing, and somebody mentioned my name. All of a sudden, I was part of this old-time style expedition (hundreds of porters, big team...). A great discovery for me, and an amazing experience.”

The expedition doctor is an endangered species, according to Emili. “Nobody brings a doctor on expeditions anymore. Not even large, heavily sponsored teams. The only chance to find a doctor on the team is when one of the climbers actually happens to be a Doctor. Nobody consider it necessary... until they get sick on the mountain. That's when they run around BC looking for me."

Saving up money to chase a dream

After his first expedition, Emili kept on climbing - on his own. “Jose Luis and I attempted Cho Oyu in 2000 and Shisha Pangma in 2002, but as individual climbers. We have no sponsors, and can’t afford sharps or big outfits. Our next expedition will be the first where we have invested some money to hire a Sherpa to help us carry gear up the mountain. We have been so frustrated at times, watching famous climbers counting on the help of their Sherpas while we were too ‘modest’ to afford them. This time we are bringing one too!”

These Catalan climbers are just three of the majority of climbers to Himalaya each year. The climbers who climb without all the fuss, promotions and extensive media coverage of the famous guys. They don't hunt for sponsors, and they don't call the papers. They simply save up some money, force some time off and head out to chase their dream. This particular team has yet to taste the sweet taste of summit, and perhaps Cho Oyu will be the one.

Dani tries his boots on every day

Dani, 23, is joining his dad and this will be his first Himalayan experience. “Dani is so excited, almost frantic. He's been asking every alpinist we know about various things, he's reading like mad about the Himalayas and Cho Oyu in particular, and he tries on his boots every day. This is an amazing adventure for him, and he is a lucky - not many people have the chance to do something like this at his age.”

So, is Dani worried at all? Oh yeah - about the plane ride! Dani has never been on an airplane before! Now that's all he can think of: "Instead of ‘hey, it is a truly high mountain’, I occasionally over-hear him muttering and shaking his head:‘Hey, it is really a long flight!” ends Emili and packs down another box of Aspirin.

Emili Duran (52), Juan Luis Benitez (35) and Dani Durán (23), from Reus (Catalonia, Spain) are climbing Cho Oyu this fall. They are leaving for Nepal September 1 and plan to get to base camp, in Tibet, by September 10. Even though both Emili and Juan Luis attempted Cho Oyu in 2000 and Shisha Pangma in 2002 (and Emili joined an expedition to GII in 1992), if they make it to the top, it will be the first 8000+ summit for the three of them.

Cho Oyu (8201m) is the sixth highest peak on Earth, and the mountain is also celebrating the 50 anniversary of its fist summit, back in 1954, by Austrian climbers Sepp Jöchler and Herbert Tichy, and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama. The team climbed Cho Oyu without supplementary oxygen via the West Ridge.

The Normal route today follows the North side, from Tibet. Cho Oyu summit is a big, flat plateau. The tricky thing is that the climbers must walk hundreds of meters on it; they know they are at the highest point only in the moment they see Mount Everest. Cho Oyu is considered one of the "easiest" 8000ers. The peak is typically chosen as a "first" 8000+ peak among virgin climbers and has many visits each season.

Top picture: Emili, Dani and Juan Luis buying supplies for his Cho Oyu expedition. Following images: Emili Duran (1) Dani Duran (2) and Juan Luis Benitez (3)
courtesy of the Reus 8000 Cho Oyu 2004 expedition.

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