At the end of the spring season: New route on Cho Oyu – summit successes on Kangchenjunga

The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu
The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu

“This was my dream for so many years and finally we did it. A new route on Nepal side.” With these words, Gelje Sherpa expressed his joy on Instagram. Last Friday, the 31-year-old led a seven-member team from the commercial expedition operator Seven Summit Treks to the 8,188-meter-high summit of Cho Oyu – via the South-Southwest Ridge, a new route on the Nepalese south side of the sixth-highest mountain on earth.

It was Gelje’s fourth attempt to reach the summit this way. In addition to him, Tenging Gyaljen Sherpa, Lakpa Temba Sherpa, Chhangba Sherpa, Lakpa Tenji Sherpa and Ngima Ongda Sherpa as well as their 19-year-old French client Alasdair Mckenzie stood on the highest point. For Mckenzie, it was the thirteenth of the 14 eight-thousanders. All the climbers used bottled oxygen. It was the first Cho Oyu summit success from the south since 2009, when Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko climbed a new route through the Southeast Face without breathing masks.

Four attempts failed

In winter 2021/22, Gelje tried for the first time to find an ascent route on the technically more challenging south side of the eight-thousander that was also suitable for commercial teams. The reason: in previous years, the Chinese-Tibetan authorities had repeatedly closed Cho Oyu to foreign expeditions, preventing an ascent via the normal route through the northwest flank of the mountain.

On his first attempt on the South-Southwest Ridge, Gelje and his team reached an altitude of just over 7,500 meters. In fall 2022, he had to turn back at 7,200 meters, in winter 2022/23 at 7,300 meters. In fall 2023, a Russian expedition – without bottled oxygen – tried in vain to complete the route: At 7,350 meters was the end of the line. Now Gelje and Co. have also managed the final stage to the summit, which took them 17 hours. That doesn’t exactly sound like an easy route for all commercial teams.

From kitchen boy to first winter ascent of K2

Gelje Sherpa
Gelje Sherpa

The mountain career of the “Mountain Tiger”, as Gelje calls himself, began at the age of 14, as a kitchen boy on the six-thousander Mera Peak. At 16, he became a porter. For five years, he later worked in the dangerous job of an Icefall Doctor, part of the team of highly specialized Sherpas that prepares the route through the Khumbu Icefall year after year and maintains it during the Everest climbing season.

Gelje is now a sought-after mountaineer for ambitious projects and expeditions. In 2019, for example, he accompanied his Nepalese compatriot Nirmal Purja on his eight-thousander record hunt to a total of eight summits. In 2021, Gelje was one of the ten Nepalese climbers who succeeded the first winter ascent of K2. In fall 2023, he completed his collection of 14 eight-thousanders. Gelje has since founded his own expedition and trekking company together with his partner, British mountaineer Adri Brownlee: AGA Adventures. In mid-May, he led a client to the summit of Mount Everest. He then moved on to Cho Oyu.

Eighth eight-thousander for Anja Blacha

There was also another summit success on Kangchenjunga at the very end of the season. A nine-member team from the operator Seven Summit Treks reached the highest point at 8,586 meters last Saturday. It was the 13th eight-thousander for 18-year-old Nepalese Nima Rinji Sherpa.

Kangchenjunga
Kangchenjunga

The only member of the team to do without bottled oxygen was the German mountaineer Anja Blacha. This was the 33-year-old’s eighth eight-thousander, seven of which she climbed without bottled oxygen. Only on Mount Everest, which she scaled from the north side in 2017 and from the south side in 2021, did Anja use a breathing mask. With eight eight-thousanders to her name, Blacha can now call herself the “most successful female German high-altitude mountaineer”. Alix von Melle, widow of Luis Stitzinger, who died on Kangchenjunga a year ago, has scaled seven eight-thousanders.

This spring, only the two Polish mountaineers Bartek Ziemski and Oswald Rodrigo Pereira had previously reached the summit of the third highest mountain on earth – without bottled oxygen. Bartek skied down from the highest point, only having to unbuckle his skis in a few places. The two Poles – like Anja Blacha – had previously climbed Makalu this spring without breathing masks. Bartek had also started a ski descent from the summit of this mountain.

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