Go the Wallabies

Dear Family & Friends,

Our last night in Kathmandu was celebrated in appropriate style with a superb steak at the K-too restaurant in Thamel – washed down with an ice-cold bottle of Carlsberg (probably the best beer in the world).

Graeme, John and Louis are already back home and Claudia left a couple of days ago on a photographic assignment in Ladakh, India. Tommo, Neddy, Warren and myself will be departing on Thai later today and should arrive in Australia on Tuesday…

Thank you to all of you for following our blog and our adventure to the Turquiose Goddess. Until next time….

Go the Wallabies!

Soren

 

The end of the Universe

Dear Family & Friends,

Who would have thought that it would take roughly 60 minutes from Kathmandu to reach ‘The end of the Universe’? At 2200m the view from this place in Nagarkot isn’t half bad and the mountains of Langtang dominate the skyline to the north and Everest is visible further to the east.

Careful…, big danger!” said the waiter at a local restaurant last night as he placed the bottle of beer and opener on our table before retreating a couple of steps. When Tommo opened it and the thing erupted the waiter simply shrugged; “Told you so….” and left..! They reckon at least ½ of the population of Kathmandu left town to celebrate Dassain and the situation is similar here in Nagarkot – the B crew is in charge. When we arrived at our guesthouse yesterday, we were greeted by a guy who immediately began telling us in a very tired voice; ‘how exhausted he was, how he was totally alone and by himself and how he just couldn’t cope…’ – “The kitchen is closed, no food….” he said shaking his head.  “How about a cup of tea then?” we wondered. “Oh, gosh, hmmm I guess perhaps maybe yes I could boil some water…” Well, only if it’s not too much trouble.

This human wet blanket is more than offset by the location and guesthouse itself, which consists of a series of houses/bungalows, scattered amongst the trees on top of the hill. We picked a house with 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms + a common area.

More staff appeared on the scene this morning and we were able to order breakfast.

The plan for today is to do nothing.

Soren

 

The end of the Turquoise Fellowship…

Dear Family & Friends,

So what happens when all you eat for 1 month are sunflower seeds, almonds and the occasional potato? The obvious answer is correct but the amazing thing is that when Louis turns sideways he disappears almost entirely.

Claudia on the other hand managed to pack on the kilobytes and we’re all looking forward to seeing her bloated body of portraits published soon…

Graeme’s commitment to the cause was questioned – mainly by himself – but when ordered to “Man the …. up!” he did just that – pulled up his thermals real tight and never looked back.

The only way to recognise Warren is by his purple fleece top. That thing has been with Wazza on every trip (and possibly more) to the Himalaya and is worn less like a garment and more like a second skin. “Just because it’s threadbare doesn’t mean it can’t be useful…” he repeatedly states.

Tommo and Neddy both experienced the usual wear and tear associated with big expeditions although although their lifestyle change is a little unexpected….

 

 

 

John Boy’s spiritual advisor went a little overboard when she suggested; “The journey means nothing – the summit is everything…!” Luckily John zapped himself a few extra times with his incense stick and broke the spell.

Angel seemed distracted for most of the expedition but then again the news of his impending fatherhood was a shock to all of us.  The famous goatee might be gone but his facial follicles are determined little buggers and the sideburns have gone quite feral….

The TurquoiseFellowship is officially disbanded with the departure today of Graeme who managed to secure a wing seat on a flight to Melbourne – Tracy called with the news while we were down at Durbar Square checking out the Dassain festivities this morning.

  

The rest of us will probably leave tomorrow for the village of Nagarkot – on the edge of the Kathmandu valley and about 1 hours drive away – to chill out (while saving a few $) for 3 nights or so. Before this happens we have a party to attend this evening with our sherpas and the staff from Himalayan Ascent. The beers are being chilled and the curries assembled as we speak….

Happy Dasssain!

Soren

 

Descent into Nepal…!

Dear Family & Friends,

Even our driver was muttering a continuous stream of prayers as we raced down the steep narrow gorge between Nyalam and Zangmu.

The smell of overheating brake pads was strong – no matter, just stop and pour water on the brakes, watch the steam rise and then onwards with the journey….

We arrived in time for breakfast and were immediately surrounded by young Tibetan/Chinese women wanting to; “Change money, Money change…?”

Border formalities didn’t take long on the Tibet side and soon we were back in Nepal. Nepalese citizens are now required to pay duty on items purchased in Tibet/China.  You’d think customs officers could spot a scam when 7 foreigners carry 25 mattresses across the Friendship Bridge into Nepal…?

The drive from Kodari back to Kathmandu seemed to take forever – the roads were jammed with locals returning home for the festival of Dassain (equivalent of Christmas).

We’re all trying to change our flights out of Nepal but it’s proving difficult and we’ve yet to decide on a Plan B – not a major problem as we’re quite busy eating our way through all the restaurants of Kathmandu.

Soren

 

2nd summit attempt and other stuff……

Dear Family & Friends,

We finished the expedition the way we started it – with technical dramas…! – so I’m beaming up this blog from downtown Nyalam as we’re well and truly on our way back home.

As you’re probably already aware we did not summit Cho Oyu, but below is the account + photos of our second attempt. Thank you Louis for your minute-by-minute dispatches during this 3-day period…

It’s fair to say the weather forecasts this season have been inconsistent and unreliable, but on September 28th the various weather models agreed that summit conditions for the 30th were perfect with very high winds expected for October 1st and 2nd. Given the uncertainty for medium to long-term forecasts I held a meeting with our sherpas and members and recommended we push for the 30th as our summit day. This was despite not knowing the snow conditions above C3 and whether the fixed lines above were still intact or indeed how much had actually been fixed by the Korean team who summited last week. It was an ambitious – but definitely possible – plan and Graeme, Tommo, Warren, Ang Kaji, Lakpa T, Lakpa S, Angel and myself left for C1 after lunch on the 28th and arrived early afternoon on the 29th in C2.

    

    

The approach to C1, the scree slope below C1 and life in C1…

  

    

1st & 2nd Icewall and C2.

The remainder of that day was spent rehydrating, snacking and resting – on oxygen after 6pm – until midnight when we started getting ready for our summit attempt. We left camp at 1.35am on September 30th wearing full down suits and oxygen flow at 1ltr a minute. (Well everyone except Colin who seemed content to go without O’s). The team was strong and progressed well and in fact we arrived at a main feature named the ‘Rock band’ above C3 @ 7600m in less than 3 hours. Things were definitely looking promising.

Well that unfortunately was as high as we got..!

Ang Kaji along with 3 sherpas from other expedition teams had gone ahead to prepare the fixed lines through the Rock band, but despite searching for 1.5 hour they were unable to find the way through – and no sign of fixed lines – and so in the early hours on September 30th I decided to turn the team back.

    

The view from below the Rock band toward C2, ABC and Shishapangma.

I’m really proud of the team for giving it everything and terribly disappointed we were unable to reach the summit.

  

After resting for a couple of hours in C2 we began the process of clearing our camps on Cho Oyu – this involved carrying monster loads down to C1 – and by early evening we were back at ABC with all our bits and pieces. We organised for 8 Tibetan porters to pick up some loads from C1 back to ABC. When adding up the total back in camp an extra 20kgs had mysteriously appeared out of nowhere and the price per kg suddenly increased from $1.50 to $2.00.  That’s Tibet for you – resistance is futile!

The yaks arrived at ABC on the 1st and we departed for CBC and Nyalam today October 2nd. Packing up ABC was quite the circus but somehow everything was loaded on to the yaks and carried down to Intermediate camp and a waiting truck.

  

Packing up ABC

I expect us to arrive back in Kathmandu tomorrow – that is of course unless we end up spending some quality R&R time in beautiful Kodari…..!

Soren

 

 

A wee bit of snow

Dear Family & Friends,

We awoke this morning to clear blue skies and a landscape blanketed in a thick coating of snow. A few tents got damaged during the 2 day storm and the sherpas spent the morning doing repairs and digging out our camp site.

    

At this stage the plan is to let the snow consolidate up high for the next 48 hours before moving back up for our second summit attempt – this means leaving for C1 on the 29th and aiming to summit on October 2nd.

The ‘Turquoise One’ – she who must be obeyed – is looking a bit wind swept but is otherwise indifferent to the chaos caused by the unexpected blizzard.

 

 

 

Soren

 

Surprise, surprise….

Dear Family & Friends,

The ‘Turquoise Goddess’ is not happy and basically blew us down her slopes this morning. Our first summit push came to an abrupt halt in C1 after a restless night listening to the howling wind trying to tear our tents apart. “Windy…” said our Argentinean weather man while adjusting his suspenders; “…..this is not windy, let me tell you a story about Aconcagua…..”

  

Anyhow – we retreated down the mountain through 1 foot of snow and arrived back at ABC wet, cold and wind blown.

And what about Colin you ask? Truth be told we all forgot about the fella for a while – easy to overlook and all that. Anyway when we rediscovered him in Camp 1 he’d been on his lonesome for many days and we all agreed he’d become a somewhat one-dimensional character….

 

The weather down here at ABC is pretty miserable at the moment  – getting to our tents involves trekking through thigh deep snow…. – and we’re all hanging out in the dining tent with 2 heaters on full boil.

Soren

PS – All expeditions are off the mountain and back in ABC and a couple are even pulling the pin completely due to the unseasonal weather.

 

Final preparations at ABC

Dear Family & Friends,

We woke this morning to strong blustery winds at ABC and conditions high on the Turquoise Goddess looked particularly cold and unpleasant. Naturally we all gathered in the warmest place – the kitchen – enjoying freshly brewed espresso coffee while watching Rabin make delicious breakfast crepes…

    

The weather forecast is looking very promising for the next 4-5 days and we’ll leave for C1 tomorrow expecting to summit Cho Oyu on the 28th.

The only official item on the agenda this afternoon is a demo of the oxygen system we’ll be using during our summit attempt – that and a couple of games of AMS (a card game well suited to life at 5700m!).

The team is strong, focussed on the task at hand and I’m confident we can succeed.

Next dispatch will be after our return on the 29/30th, so until then we welcome your thoughts and prayers!

Soren

Final rotation

Dear Family & Friends,

As planned we returned to ABC yesterday after spending a night in C1 and a night in C2. At 7100m we didn’t exactly sleep soundly – in fact most of the night was spent tossing and turning trying to get comfortable while asking our tent buddy every hour or so how he/she was doing…. – but at least we all woke without any major headaches. A good sign at this altitude.

Claudia & Ang Kaji above C1
Ang Kaji & John on top of the Icewall

 

 

 

 

 

    

Warren, Louis & Tommo in C2 @ 7100m

Our 3 sherpas left early to do a load carry of 12 oxygen cylinders and 3 tents to C3 @ 7500m in preparation for our summit push and so after scoffing down some porridge and a cup of coffee we began our descent to ABC. Conditions were freezing initially, but it soon became incredibly hot and we were forever taking off/adding layers. The day finished with the usual snowfall…

While at ABC we’ll try and get an accurate weather forecast for the coming week so we can plan our summit attempt. Currently there’s a major depression in the Bay of Bengal that could potentially affect us so we’ll be laying low at here at 5700m for the next 36-48 hours.

After reviewing their progress on the mountain I advised Claudia and John to remain at ABC and not to attempt the summit.

Soren

Weather….

Dear Family & Friends,

During a recent and particularly wet period in Sydney, ABC local radio presenter James Valentine asked listeners to call in and complete the sentence; “It’s so bloody wet that…………”

The winning entry was;   “It’s so bloody wet that I just bumped into Harold Holt”.

While the weather up here hasn’t exactly been fantastic – it’s been cloudy and snowing every bloody afternoon… – there has never been any risk of ex-prime ministers suddenly floating down the glacier.

The weather this morning did look extremely promising for a while and we enjoyed clear skies and excellent views of Cho Oyu. Almost the entire route up the mountain was visible from base camp and snow conditions up high looked to be superb.

Of course as soon as I began writing this blog it once again started snowing.

That’s mountain weather for you….!

We’re all well and looking forward to returning to Camp 1 tomorrow and C2 the following day.

Soren

ABC quake

Dear Family & Friends,

At about 18.20 last evening – Nepali time – we experienced a brief earth tremor here at ABC. I just want to reassure everyone at home that we’re all ok and that no one was injured and no material damage was reported during the 10-second quake.

Dinner last night was magnificent – chicken for the first time in weeks. Or was it chicken….? The size of the drumstick suggested something more akin to a baby ostrich, but no matter it sure went down a treat! The meal was finished with a beautiful birthday cake.   Thank you Rabin.

  

Soren 

 

 

Hot at the Icewall

Dear Family & Friends,

Although our first night in C1 wasn’t 100% comfortable everyone pulled through and we all set out – on September 17th – for the ‘Icewall’ approximately ½ way between C1 and C2. It’s hard to believe that at 6800m this feature is almost the same height as Ama Dablam….

    

The Icewall @ 6800m

Even at this altitude temperatures reached a scorching 39˚C and a couple of team members woke up at ABC this morning wishing they’d applied even more sunscreen/zink….

Cho Oyu from ABC – the Icewall is right in the middle
Our ABC camp with the Nangpa La pass in the background

Today and tomorrow are much needed rest days before we head back up the mountain for our final rotation – the aim being to spend 1 night in C1 as well as C2 @ 7000m.

Soren

PS – Tillykke med Fødselsdagen Annika!

 

 

First trip to Camp 1

Dear Family & Friends,

The team is back in ABC having a well deserved rest day after a successful first load carry to Camp 1 @ 6400m yesterday. All members and our 3 sherpas made the trip to C1 and left a cache of food, sleeping bags, tents, stoves and gas canisters. The sherpas spent a couple of hours digging out tent platforms and the site is ready for our return tomorrow, September 15th. The plan is to spend 1 night in C1 and then climb ½ way towards C2 on the 16th and descend to ABC that afternoon.

Starting the climb to C1…..
John pointing at the infamous scree slope

Colin also came up to C1 – although he didn’t contribute much in the way of load carrying – and is in fact spending a couple of nights up there by himself…..

    

Meanwhile everyone’s busying themselves at ABC with various important and un-important tasks; the first shower in several days was a real treat for many (Warren, Graeme, Louis, Tommo, Neddy, Claudia & John) but there’s an increasingly isolated pocket of individuals who think wet ones and the occasional swipe with a deodorant is enough…

Our Argentinean genius Angel spent several hours fixing our dining room heater armed only with pliers, a cut up can of ‘Red Bull’, a few meters of electrical wire and a whole lot of patience.  What a legend!

  

Neddy decided to do some much needed laundry – in the snow…!

Claudia & John fired off a couple of emails and are planning to spend the afternoon watching movies.

All is well at ABC.

Soren

ABC Puja

Dear Family & Friends,

The expedition Puja took place this morning and Karzan – our Tibetan kitchen boy – officiated. Having spent 14 years in a monastery he was clearly the man for the job. The beers were cold and so was the Khukuri Rum…..

    

The Turquoise Fellowship & friends
Tommo & Neddy at ABC

Mother Nature decided to participate in the ceremony and parted the clouds momentarily giving us a great view of the Turquoise Goddess. At the conclusion of events we all went for a short walk towards C1 before returning for a late lunch and an afternoon hanging out at ABC.

Angel on the moraine above ABC

All is well.

Soren

 

Cho Oyu ABC

Dear Family & Friends,

Tashi Delek” from Cho Oyu Advance Base Camp @ 5700m!

Apologies to everyone following the blog but due to technical dramas we’ve been unable to update the blog until now…..

We arrived here on the 11th and have spent most of the last 1.5 days establishing ABC – digging out platforms for our personal tents, the kitchen and dining tents, toilet and shower tents, putting up solar panels etc…. We’re all well and excited to finally be at ABC – everyone’s healthy and acclimatising really well. ABC sits high on the glacial moraine with spectacular views of the Nangpa La (the border with Nepal) directly to the south and Cho Oyu looming large to the east. Our first foray to Camp 1 @ 6400m will be on the 14th, but before we set foot on the mountain we’re all looking forward to the expedition Puja on the 12th. At this ceremony various bits of our climbing equipment will be blessed and we might all share a beer or two.

Below is a summary of our time in Tingri and CBC.

We arrived at Chinese BC @ 4900m after a short drive from Tingri on September 7th and was welcomed by our 3 sherpas – Lakpa T, Lakpa S & Ang Kaji – and our Nepali kitchen crew of Rabin (cook) and Anil (kitchen boy) who’d gone ahead a day earlier to unload all our equipment and set up camp.

Chinese BC

The bulk of our time at CBC was spent resting and hanging around the kitchen tent waiting for some of Rabin’s excellent meals, but to avoid any of us getting too fat and lazy I threw in a few acclimatisation walks for good measure…

The biggest walk was to a 5450m point above camp and the view towards Cho Oyu and the Nangpa La on the border with Nepal was particularly impressive. We spotted 12 Blue Sheep, a couple of Pikas (tail-less rodents) and 2 huge eagles on our way to the top.

Here’s Colin…!

25 yaks and 1 truck – yes the Chinese are determined to build a road all the way to ABC – were booked for the 10th when we ditched our vehicle and departed on foot to Intermediate Camp and as expected we arrived at Cho Oyu ABC on the 11th. (The majority of our loads were weighed and loaded onto the truck on the 9th and left early for Intermediate Camp and ABC.)

    

 

Intermediate Camp

The town of Tingri has a distinct ‘Wild West’ feel to it and is built along a 500m stretch of the recently upgraded Kathmandu to Lhasa highway – low weather beaten houses, shops, restaurants etc sit side by side on this dusty high altitude road. The Chinese have done an amazing job of sealing this road and it is a far cry for the dirt track that used to lead to Lhasa.

  

  

 

Cho Oyu from Tingri

Having been to Tingri before I was expecting the accommodation to be pretty basic and had warned everyone accordingly. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at what is basically a brand new – although not quite finished – hotel with very comfortable beds and attached bathrooms…   Not what you’d expect to find at 4300m on the Tibetan Plateau! However the hotel dining room and courtyard are still caught in a time warp and haven’t changed one bit since I first visited in 1993. Apparently they’re next on the upgrade list.

That only leaves the menu……!

Soren

Tibet – finally….

Dear Family & Friends,

It would be very unusual for everything to run smoothly on an expedition in the Himalayas and so I wasn’t entirely surprised to find us stranded in Kodari on the Nepalese side of the border. The major surprise was that we ended up spending a total of 3 nights there…… The entry date on our Chinese climbing permit and visa didn’t match up and so we had to wait – patiently – while this bureaucratic mess was sorted out and we finally crossed the ‘Friendship Bridge’ into Tibet on September 3rd.

Friendship Bridge
Kodari
Zangmu

The Chinese have recently upgraded/sealed the road from Zangmu (on the border) to the town of Nyalam @ 3750m and the spectacular drive took a mere 50 minutes.

After breakfast this morning we all set out on our first serious acclimatisation walk and huffed and puffed our way to 4540m on a nearby hill.

Tomorrow we drive to Tingri @ 4400m for 2 nights – and a couple of acclimatisation walks –  and I expect us to arrive at Chinese BC on the 7th.

    

We’re all well and extremely pleased to finally be in Tibet.

Hooroo to everyone at home from Warren, Claudia, Louis, John, Graeme, Angel, Tommo & Neddy.

Soren

The Turquoise Fellowship…

Dear Family and Friends,

All members and staff of ‘The 2011 Turquoise Fellowship’ have now arrived in Kathmandu. Sadly Colin is not here with us as he was forced to withdraw from the expedition 2 weeks ago. Fortunately we’re in possession of a cut out of Colin and this life size figure will be making regular guest appearances throughout the trip.

Colin – making a special guest appearance…
From top left – Annette, Graeme, Soren,  Tommo, Warren, Angel, Claudia, Lakpa S,  Louis, John, Lakpa T and Ang Kazi

We all gathered for a meal a local Korean restaurant last evening and this morning we left for Boudhanath and our first ‘Puja’.

All of our personal gear is now packed – and in addition we’ve already sent 2600kgs of group equipment and food ahead to the border….

Tomorrow morning, August 31st, we all jump on the bus and travel to the border with Tibet. Our first 2 nights will likely be in Nyalam, followed by 3 nights in Tingri and 3 nights at Chinese BC (the road head). We leave for Intermediate camp on September 8th and if all goes well we should arrive at Cho Oyu ABC @ 5700m on the 9th.

Soren

 

 

Langtang

Dear Family & Friends,

The advance team made it back to Kathmandu yesterday, August 28th, after a successful trip to Langtang. As expected the weather was a mixed bag but we still got to experience some of the best Langtang has to offer and thoroughly enjoyed our trek. ‘Mother Nature’ put on quite a show on more than one occasion and especially the multitude of wild flowers was something to behold….

            

             

      

The day we departed Kathmandu for Syarbru Besi turned out to be quite the road trip and it took the combined efforts of a 3 1/2hr car trip, a 2 hour walk, a 30min bus ride and finally a 45min 4WD before we reached our destination….    A sign at one of the numerous landslide sites proclaimed “Man At Work – Drive Slowly” – we all agreed it was impossible to identify exactly which of the 7 guys hanging around was actually supposed to be doing any shovelling….

Our trek took us from Syarbru Besi to Lama Hotel, Langtang village and finally Kyanjin Gompa (the highest settlement in the valley) over 3 days. As part of our acclimatisation for Cho Oyu we had organised to camp for 2 nights on a nearby peak – Tsergo Ri @ 4983m. From there we had fantastic views of nearby Yala Peak, Naya Kanga, Langtang Lirung and the Ganja La pass.

          

Returning back down the valley we bumped in to our lodge owner from Langtang village. “I’m going to Kyanjin Gompa to get some butter…” he said – fair enough we thought as there’s a Yak cheese factory there and it wasn’t until the next morning while settling the bill with his wife down in Langtang we discovered that not only was he getting butter –  he was also catching up with his 2nd wife…! The men of Langtang – it turns out – are allowed up to 3 wifes.

Back in Kathmandu we’ve been busy doing our laundry and packing for Cho Oyu. All the team members have arrived and we’re heading out for our first meal together this evening.

All is well and everyone’s looking forward to the main event!

Soren 

The advance team

Dear Family & Friends,

Namaste from Kathmandu!

The advance team of Warren, Neddy, Tommo and myself arrived in Nepal yesterday and spent the remainder of the afternoon packing personal equipment and high altitude food into various drums and kitbags, before hurrying upstairs to the Splash Bar for some chilli momos and a couple of well earned beers.   Wednesday has been equally busy with more shopping and packing of supplies for Cho Oyu as well as meetings with our local operator. There is – however – light at the end of the tunnel and our planned afternoon briefing at the Splash Bar is nearing…

Tomorrow morning we will experience our first alpine start as we board a (reasonably new) 4WD and journey several hours to the picturesque Langtang valley north of Kathmandu for a leisurely 10-day acclimatisation trek. The main settlement in Langtang is called Kyanjin Gompa and our aim is to reach a 5500m point behind the village – approximately the same altitude as Cho Oyu Advanced Base Camp.

The monsoon is still in full swing and it is pretty hot and humid here in Kathmandu. We’re expecting damp conditions on our trek – lots of rain, mud and more than a few leeches….

Soren

PS – there will be no updates to the blog while we’re trekking so don’t expect to hear from us until we return to Kathmandu on August 29th.

The Cho Oyu Team

Dear Family & Friends,

We’ve had a late addition to our expedition and the 8 team members are as follows;

John Currie, Colin Barton, Annette Skirka, Neil Thomas, Claudia Lopez, Louis Kosztelny, Warren Townsden & Graeme Smith.

Our 4 Sherpas for Cho Oyu are - Ang Kazi Sherpa, Lakpa Nuru Sherpa, Bishnu Gurung & Lakpa Tamang and guide is  Angel Ezequiel Armesto.

The official name for our expedition is  ”The 2011 Turquoise Fellowship

Soren