Felix Prokop was among those who met Nirmal Purja on the mountain this fall. The 28-year-old German mountaineer crossed the way of the Nepalese – who is expected tp successfully complete his “Project Possible” (all 14 eight-thousanders in less than seven months) on Shishapangma in the next few days – below Camp 1 on Cho Oyu. “Nims” had just ticked off his twelfth eight-thousander. “I congratulated him on his summit access,” Felix writes to me. “He was quite friendly and visibly in a hurry to descend as quickly as possible. I think he wanted to be back at Manaslu Base Camp the next day. On site, he’s a little bit like a rock star. Even the Sherpas seem to be very impressed by him.” Not without reason: Four days later, on 27 September, Purja stood on the summit of Manaslu, his 13th eight-thousander since the end of April.
Only once the skis unbuckled
At this time Felix also had his summit success in his pocket: On 25 September, he reached the highest point of Cho Oyu, at 8,188 metres. The sixth highest mountain in the world was the first eight-thousander that Prokop climbed – without bottled oxygen.
From the summit he descended on skis. He only had to unbuckle them once, during an abseiling manoeuvre. “I don’t like to descend on foot and certainly not on snow,” Felix replies to my question why he decided to ski down the mountain. “I always said: If I don’t feel comfortable on the descent, I like to carry the skis down again. But it would annoy me a lot if I didn’t have skis at the top and realized that it would have been possible.”
Condition paid off
Actually Prokop comes from athletics, he has been competing as a middle and long distance runner. Since 2014, the doctor of law from the German town of Munich has gained experience in high altitude mountaineering, last January he scaled Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America. Felix reports that it took him four hours and 54 minutes to climb the 2,600 meters of altitude from the base camp “Plaza des Mulas” to the summit at 6,962 meters. “Then it finally became clear to me that I had to try my hand at playing out my physical condition on an eight-thousander.”
Fueled price spiral
Prokop was on Cho Oyu with a small team of the Nepalese expedition operator “Sherpa Khumbiyila Adventures“. With more than 3700 summit successes so far recorded in the chronicle “Himalayan Database“, the mountain is the second most frequently scaled eight-thousander after Mount Everest. The normal route is located on the Tibetan side of the mountain.
For Cho Oyu, however, clients of commercial expeditions now have to fork out about 25,000 dollars (22,500 euros), around 10,000 dollars more than e.g. for Manaslu in Nepal. “In the past, there were 20 or more expeditions per season on Cho Oyu, but now there may still be a handful,” Dominik Müller, head of the German operator Amical alpin, recently told me. One of the reasons for this are the new regulations for eight-thousander expeditions in Tibet that have been in force since this year. Among other things, one Climbing Sherpa has to be deployed for each client.
Not lonely, but not overcrowded either
According to Felix Prokop, there were only about three dozen clients of commercial expeditions in the Advance Base Camp at 5,650 meters this fall. “Nevertheless, I didn’t feel lonely on the mountain,” says Felix. “I found the number of people quite pleasant. There was enough going on to make a good track and that you would have been able to help each other in case of emergency. But there was no rush like on Manaslu.”
With will and passion
And what were his special impressions of Cho Oyu? “If you want to ascend without bottled oxygen, you are the outsider. The general plan on the mountain depends on those who climb with oxygen,” answers Felix. “And due to supplemental oxygen, people come to the summit who might not be immediately believed to be able to do so.”
According to the German mountaineer, his own success – without breathing mask, with a ski run – shows “what is possible if you choose a tactic tailor-made for your personal abilities and bring a lot of will and passion with you”. Felix Prokop was also impressed by “how powerful the Sherpas are, even though they don’t submit to any training or nutrition plans”. And that doesn’t apply only to Nirmal Purja and his team.