The Story
IF I HAD known how much work and effort would be involved, I should have stopped before I started, but having decided on Cho Oyu, it became almost an obsession to pull it off.

By far the biggest problem of the whole trip was dealing with the Nepalese bureaucracy. Two years elapsed between, my application to climb the mountain, and that blessed day when the permit arrived, leaving just five months to organise things.

Somewhere, there is logic in the Nepalese system, but the original purpose of the rules and regulations is lost to the officials who work in the Ministry of Tourism, whose only love in life is in creating bigger and bigger files, larger and larger rubber stamps, arid in watching impassively as westerners get madder and madder.

Ours had to be a 'Joint' expedition, because no Nepalese had stood on the summit. Until that has been achieved, the said mountain will not be available to purely foreign expeditions.

'Joint’ expedition means not what you would think, both countries contributing to a common aim, with the guests being welcomed as friends. It means you pay for everything for the dubious privilege of having to take Sherpas, and getting treated with complete disrespect in the bargain.

I still do not really understand why we received the permit in competition with six other teams, other than we were persistent, and actually sent one of our members out to Kathmandu a year in advance. The greasing of palms operation produced promises of a permit, and five months later it did arrive.

12 - 19 March
The worst period of the trip. Out of these eight days, I had only one half day to go sight-seeing. The rest of the time was spent in offices. We could not wait to leave Kathmandu after nine days, and a great relief it was to get aboard the lorry to take us to Jiri. A great relief it was to get off the lorry after 121/2 hours hot journey up and down the start of the foothills. An interesting journey, through beautiful country, made memorable by everyone getting caked in dust, Ned suffering badly from a mild fever, a village policeman insisting I sign us all into his visitors' book along with Ronald Reagan and Donald Duck, a worrying drive at night on an unfinished road with precipitious drops, and a gorgeous sunset!

21-29 March

This is it . We felt the expedition had really started. I think we all wondered how fit we really were, and how gruelling the march to biie camp was going to be.

Every day brought something new and interesting. We were following the Everest base camp trek until Namche Bazar, and had half expected it to be littered,' due to its popularity with trekkers, but actually, there was a little evidence of this.

The countryside beautiful; terraced fields, forested hillsides, deep gorges with fast flowing rivers, exotic flowers and shrubs everywhere. The further ono goes, the more the Buddhist influence is seen: monasteries appear, the occasional monk passes by, and mani walls (walls made up of carved prayer stones) are in every village. Every day before breakfast, our Sirdar would walk all round the camp, muttering prayers and burning juniper.

Just before we left Jiri a man was introduced to me as being: the sherpa who claimed to have gone to the summit of Cho Oyu with Stammberger, in 1964. His name was Phu Dorje II, and our people told me that after that tragic expedition, he was 'mad' for a year, and was still a bit odd, even today. Certainly, the dispute between him and Stammberger was a bit odd; Stammberger later disappeared, whilst attempting Tirich Mir, 1976.

31 March - 2 April

We took on mostly Yaks for the walk from Namche to base camp, great hairy animals with bells round their necks, and prayer flags stitched into their manes. Ned was nearly trampled to death one morning, as he slept in his tent, when two Yaks stampeded, jumping over the tent and pulling the guy lines out.

The first 3-day stretch would take us to Gokyo, where we planed another rest day. Matt and Pemba Lama had gone on ahead, as we knew that crossing the glacier, and locating a site for base camp would be difficult.

4 - 8 April

It was very cold and windy at the crossing point, and we soon started to recce the route. We were faced with three basic choices at this point. Either we opt for the 1983 Japanese route, the 1983 korean route, or possibly a route up the left hand icefall. We had decided in Kathmandu that the Japanese line seemed to be the safer from reports gathered by Liz Hawley. Accordingly, three of us and two Sherpas crossed the glacier to find their old base camp.

The Ngozumpa glacier is the longest in Nepal, being approximately 12 miles long, and is mostly a moonscape of chaotic mounds of rumble and ice. To cross it is knackering ! We took all day to go the mile and a half to the Japanese camp and back. We soon dismissed the idea of the Japanese line, the icefalls barring the way to the plateau were horrendous, probably better in the autumn season with a lot of it filled in with snow.

We opted for the Korean line, and over the next few days shifted everything over to our base camp, only eight days behind schedule.

We were face to face with our mountain, the summit was another 10,000 ft about us, and in perfect view. The gigantic south wall and southeast face never ceased to stun us by their magnitude, and perpetually threw down avalanches, the only sound to break the stillness, besides the creaking of the glacier.

11 April
A day of difficult decisions. Matt and Steve Finlay went off to try and find a route to Camp 1; the Sherpas followed with loads. Ned went off to film them.

To get to the large snow plateau at around 22,000 ft, there were several possibilities. They all looked bad news, and we could not be sure which way the Koreans went. Matt and Steve chose a steep gull/ just right of the central icefall.

However, the Sherpas came back very unhappy, saying they thought it was too dangerous. Gradually, it emerged that quite a number of us felt the same way. The problem with the gully was that it had a serac (ice-tower) poised above it, about the size of a ten storey block of flats.

If it went, anything in the gully would go down with it (or up, if yoi; had been a good boy all your life).

There vas only one real alternative, the central icefall, and that evening we agreed with the Sherpas that they should come up the gully and help us fix ropes down through the icefall.

Back home in the U.K. looking at photos, we had not expected this secticn of the climb to be as difficult and dangerous as it was turnhg out to be.

12 April
We got to the foot of the gully around mid-day, but the Sherpas were too scared to go on. They refused to go any further. I was so mad, I did not speak to them, or give them their Mars bars. I headed off up ‘Death Gully’, on my own. In these circumstances, prayer comes naturally-twelve steps, pray, twelve steps, pray, and so on. 1000 ft later, Camp 1 was reached, an airy spot, 19,300 ft, and now the views are fantastic.

Friday, 13 April
We called this Black Friday, as we suffered another set-back. Jeff and I, climbed up the gully, removing and taking with us the 1100 ft of rope fixed at great effort by Steve and Matt. We then started down the icefall, fixing rope as we went. It all seemed to be going well, and easily, until I made a foul up with the rope that cost us time, but worse, the further down we got, the more dangerous and difficult it became.

It soon became obvious, that there was no way it would be a route for load carrying.

After a 10 hour day, we arrived back in camp. It was interest-to hear that two American Mormons had paid a visit, offering to load carry.

Of course, it now meant we would have to somehow recover the rope from the Icefall, and re-fix the gully-such a waste of time.

Now that the Sherpas could see there was no way other than the gully, and having been shamed by watching us go up and down it several times, they capitulated.

We were half way through April, and we still had not got even the route fixed to Camp 1. Also, only four of us were fit enough to go to Camp 1; it was depressing.

14 -19 April

Now we started to move. Harry had base camp, and the priority of loads worked out, with the aid of a few memos from Matt, Jeff, Steve and me, as we took up occupation of Camp 1, and started to push for the way onto the plateau, and Camp 2. The Sherpas were carrying three days in a row, then taking a rest day. Nipper was now fighting his way to Camp 1, Harry was lighting, but losing the battle against his cough. He came up to Camp 1, later, once, but fate dictated that he should be our base camp manager.

It took us three goes to find the route through the icefall, and what a route ! First from Camp 1 there was a big square snow-slope we called the football pitch. The main gully from the icefall, emptied avalanches down this on a regular basis, between the 14th and 20th we saw three. On the morning of the 19th we were just getting ready when quite a large one came down, a spectacular sight. After the football pitch, we had to enter the Alain gully and then weave a path under ice-cliffs, round seraes, Oliver crevasses, and up ice-slopes. Several times we would come up against what seemed like a dead end, and each time there was just one slim connection, making it possible to continue. In one place in particular, a narrow passageway between two high ice-towers gave the key to passing a crevasse that surely would have stopped us otherwise. As we moved out of the icefall proper, we came into a complex area, where the snow and ice from the plateau was slowly falling over the edge in waves. We would climb up one of these waves, to be confronted by a crevasse, and each time have to retrace our steps and try in a different place. Eventually, the last of these waves was crested, and we stood on the plateau. What a sight! Everest off on the right, a mere 20 miles away, and up ahead the subsidiary ridge, the 2000 ft wall leading to the main east ridge, and the summit, now looking so close, still over 5000 ft above us.

20 - 23 April
Matt and Jeff were now sleeping at Camp 2, and trying to push on towards Camp 3. I lost to Jeff by the flip of a pan lid the privilege of trying to keep up with Matt. So, Steve F, Nipper, I and the Sherpas load carried to Camp 2.

Nipper made it to Camp 2 on 20th, but that evening, back at Camp 1, was vomiting; not a pleasant experience in a two-man tent.

Steve F. also had one of his hardest days on the 21st, making it up to Camp 2, but at heavy cost on the contents of the Paracetamol bottle.

The 22nd saw our first poor weather, the others had all gone down for a rest. Steve F. and I spent a boring day at Camp 1, and followed down on the 23rd.

24 April
A rest in base camp, sampling the comparatively refined cuisine of Ang Namgyal and staving off attempts by the liaison officer to procure for himself a rope, ice-axe, crampons and a helmet. When it was pointed out to him that we were not allowing him to go to Camp 1 because of the danger, he said he wanted these things anyway, to put outside his tent for 'prestige'.

By now, virtually all the supplies had been taken up to Camps 1 and 2, and we now had to make the big push.

25 - 29 Ayril
The long haul back up to Camp 2, made worse for most of us by some stomach bug picked up at base camp. One wasted day, due to poor weather, and then Matt, Jeff and I finally made it through to Camp 3. We stumbled across a small site for the tent in cloudy conditions, and I for one, spent a poor night wondering whether there was anything above us that might fall down.

We were also keyed up for the route ahead, and on 29th, it was a great disappointment, after half an hour's climbing, to come up against a 70/100 ft overhanging ice-wall. We tried this way and that, and eventually gave up and went back down to Camp 2, here to find we had been joined by Steve M, Lydia and Dorje.

30 April-1 May
A period when those of us up high, struggled to bring uploads from Camp 2, and carry some stuff up to Camp 3. Also, another very low point, as on 1 May, we hear that Nipper and Steve F. are leaving the expedition because of illness, and that Harry and Norman are hanging on a while longer, but are still ill. Not only this but Pemba Lama has had to go down to hospital near Namche Bazaar, with what was thought to be kidney stones. Actually, it turned out to be constipation.

2 - 4 May
We decided to carry on. Jeff and Matt move on up to Camp 3, the idea of spending three or four days up there, look the route to Camp 4. The rest of us rest, and load carry from Camp 1.

On the 3rd we watch as Matt and Jeff find a way round the ice wall, and as the day went by we saw two little dots crawl up the steep ice-ridge-they'll make it to Camp 4 soon !

However, on the 4th, my birthday, Steve M and Lydia decide they must go down to base camp for a rest. They are still feeling ill up here, and need to go down.

What to do, should I go down with them, or stay at Camp 2 on my own? Dorje is also going down and no amount of extra bonus money will keep him at Camp 2.

5 -13 May
9 days on my own. Matt and Jeff decided to carry on for a bid at the summit, and Steve and Lydia were delayed from rejoining us because of bad weather. On the 7th, I met Matt and Jeff at Camp 3. They were going to go on up to Camp 4, summit bid in 6 days or so, I decide to finish the load carrying from Camp 2 to Camp 3, move to Camp 3 and start load carrying from 3 to 4, with the aim of getting enough tents, food and fuel at Camp 4 for a second summit attempt, when Steve, Lydia and Dorje catch up.

I can only speak personally about these days, full of vivid memories, half of it pain, half of it pleasure. I remember the evening at sunset, when all the valleys seemed to have been laid with cotton wool, and twenty miles away, a big blob of the stuff was flashing like a neon light. The heady pleasure of being alone and at peace, in such an awesome place, truly in the wild. The thrill of climbing up the steep ice-ridge to Camp 4, with drops jof thousands of feet on either side, the adrenalin feeding determination and concentration, the thought that soon the camp will be reached, and rest can be taken. The real underlying thing for me is that the mountains are so beautiful, you just have to keep going higher to get a better view of them.

Onto the fixed ropes, one jumar (rope clamp) one ice-axe, the front points of my crampons biting into the ice. Unfortunately, my jumar kept icing up Instead of gripping the rope, it just slid back down as I pulled on it. I had to keep taking it off the Bope and breathing on the iced up cam. When I finally got to the top of the ridge, a new vista opened up. Gyachung Kang, 25,990 ft was opposite, 6 miles of ridge connecting it to Cho Oyu. Camp 4 was below me, it didn't look far, but by the time I got to 100 yds from it my legs were like jelly, and I was all in. It suddenly struck me that I might not have the strength to get back to Camp 3. The sun was shining, the day was idling itsS way to nightfall, the afternoon snow-storm was on the horizon. I felt panic creeping in-I must go back. Exhaustion is a terrible thing, you've told your legs to move and nothing happens. When one is close to complete exhaustion, mistakes are easily made. Going back down the fixed ropes, I had to keep waking myself up out of the dazed state I was in, to perform the simplest tasks concerned with ropework. The others were waiting at Camp 3. I was happy to see them.

14- 26 May
I rest, while Steve and Lydia go up to the top of the ridge with some gear. Dorje is ill, having come up far too quickly-base to Camp 3, in two days.

We can see two little dots, each day a little higher, making for the east ridge. They are going well.

On the 16th, Dorje goes back down-goodbye to his chances for the top. We had news at Base, that his brother-in-law had just got to the top of Everest for the second time. Dorje would have, like! to match this feat-too bad.

So, on the 16th, Steve, Lydia and I, puffed, panted, and gasped our way up to Camp 4, another 8 hours of physical masochism, cured by a couple of pills, and some food and water. At about 3.00 p.m., we could see Matt and Jeff about 150 ft below the east ridge, before cloud moved in. Here is how Matt describes their summit bid :

'Above Camp 4, reared the "wall" a steep snow and ice-face, leading to the east ridge. Being only two, yet still fixing rope, we deeded it best to leave the tent at Camp 4, and bivouac from tkere on. On 10 May, we attempted to move up the "wall", but found appalling deep snow, and took three hours just, to reach the first bergschrund at the foot of the wall. Dispirited, we knew that lost time was further Joss of strength at that altitude. The next day gave clear skies and the full, massive paiorama in beautiful clarity.

We reached our dumped loads in less than half the time, and pushed on up steepening snow and over precarious bergs-chrunds, hoping to reach a point named the "mouth" at about 2/3 height up the "wall". But the scale was as deceptive as ever, and we decided to use a ready-made bivouac in a crevasse as Camp 5, dropped the loads and went down, leaving there four days' food and fuel, and 450 ft of fixing rope.

We were becoming anxious that the others should catch up with us soon, since they had with them the flags, and more importantly, spare clothing and neoprene overboots.

Jeff came back with the screws, and no news. There was not time to go down, so we decided to push on regardless. We moved up to Camp 5, our spacious hole on the wall.

On 14 May, we pushed the route further up a 50° snow-slope, which finished with a thin ice-gully, vertical in parts. Next day, we moved up with all our sleeping gear to Camp 6 Md hid A warm snow-hole after two hours of desperate digging! Excitement now, as we were convinced that we would be on the summit in two days' time.

On 16 May, we set off with our gear, trying to take a short cut to the large col on the east ridge. This proved dangerous, especially for retreat, so we went straight up to a steep gully between glistening seracs. Ice-climbing on 70° ice at 25,000 ft, we were having our hardest day. After the last 40 ft of chest deep snow, there was a very special moment when we emerged on the east ridge. A brown hilled Tibet stretched away, with the transhimalayan range distant. An unrelenting wind blew. Lit by strong sun in the thin air, objects had a mystical clarity. We found ourselves a crevasse and crawled inside. We didn't eat much, the effort being too great, so we dozed, trying to keep warm until 11.00 p.m. and got up. The wind was ferocious, and quickly exposed flesh became numb. The moon, though full, lit only the south side of the ridge, and not the north, along which went our route. So we went for more no sleep in our bags. Up again at 4.00 a.m., we had first light to push on with.

The conditions were frozen snow, so that we made good time. Perhaps 30 or 40 paces at a time were possible.

Into the sunlight, and the summit was almost benevolent in its proximity. The whole sprawl of the mountains spreads below.

We are only 3 hours away.

"Look Jeff!" We'll just traverse that small snow ridge, and we're on the final slope I could not believe what I saw a few paces further; a colossal system of gullies, with steep sloping rocks, completely hidden from below, dropped thousands of feet into Tibet.

"This cannot stop us", I was all determination - we descended 200 ft and tried to traverse it. With Jeff behind me, and out of view, I was spreadeagled on vertical rock, about to fall.

I had my outer gloves off, and the crampons had just one point in contact with the rock. All the days of effort and demotion had met too big an obstacle, and great disappointment came like; a shadow.

We returned, abruptly.'

17-20 May (back at Camp 4)

The 17th was our rest day, but Steve was going from bad to worse. By the evening, he was vomiting. It was clear we had to get him back down. In the evening, Matt and Jeff arrived, we were pleased to see them, and listened with excitement to their story.

Lydia still felt strong, and it was a bitter disappointment for her not to go on. I knew that I was too weak now to do the three days to the east ridge, much as I had dreamed for three years of looking but over Tibet, I just was not up to it. Time to face defeat, and withdraw gracefully.

The next three days were a test of how big a rucksack you could carry!

We left all the food behind, everything else had to come down, we weren't coming back up again.

When we got to Camp 1, we found it had been devastated, the tent was in a pile 50 yards away and all the food stocks scattered. This was either the Sherpas' carelessness, or possibly a snow leopard. One last time in death gully - in the last few days,part of Apartment Block C, Serac Avenue had fallen down the gully,
cutting or burying our fixed ropes. Fear is a big lever, and we were down the gully in record time.

By now, my last tether was fast approaching, amdt I lagged further and further behind. Even Steve overtook me. By the time I reached the glacier, they were out of sight. In a daze I stumbled on, and got lost, I ended up climbing down a small ice-wall and fell off backwards. I was lucky not to hurt myself. Jeff came out from base to meet me, and took my sack.

21-26 May
The sad farewell to the Goddess of Turquoise, our life and struggle here had been so intense and long, 46 days from our arrival at base camp, to departure.

It seemed strange to be going back to another way of life. Back to the hassles in Kathmandu, we were not looking forward to that, but we were anticipating the steak and chips!

Cho Oyu  from  Gokyo  lake. X= heighest point reached 24,000 ft.  The  unclimbed  south ridge on left. 									(Photo: John Cleare)

Cho Oyu from Gokyo lake. X= heighest point reached 24,000 ft. The unclimbed south ridge on left. (Photo: John Cleare)