Gelje Sherpa wants to kill two birds with one stone this winter. The 29-year-old wants to open a new route on the Nepalese side of the 8,188-meter-high Cho Oyu that is suitable for commercial expeditions, and at the same time climb his 13th eight-thousander. Should he succeed, the only peak missing from his collection would be Broad Peak. Gelje thus has a good chance of replacing his Nepalese compatriot Mingma “David” Sherpa as the youngest climber to have stood on all eight-thousanders. “That would be the cherry on top,” Gelje writes me. “It would surely give me various opportunities and strengthen my mountain career.”
Five-year Icefall Doctor
This career began at 14, as a kitchen boy on the six-thousander Mera Peak. At 16, Gelje became a porter. For five years he worked in the dangerous job of an “Icefall Doctor”, meaning he was part of the team of highly specialized Sherpas who year after year prepare the route through the Khumbu Icefall and maintain it during the Everest climbing season. Meanwhile, Gelje, who calls himself “Mountain Tiger,” is a sought-after climber on ambitious projects and expeditions.
First winter ascent of K2
In 2017 and 2018 he was part of the team of Spaniard Alex Txikon in his failed winter attempts on Everest, and in 2019 on K2. Gelje then accompanied his Nepalese compatriot Nirmal Purja on eight summits during Nims’ record-breaking eight-thousander hunt. Last January, the “Mountain Tiger” was among the ten Nepalese climbers, who made the first winter ascent of K2. Last spring, he summited Lhotse (according to him, on 11 May at 1:41 p.m. local time), later Everest for the second time in his career, and Manaslu for the fourth time in fall. He then led Taiwanese client Tseng Ko-Erh (also called “Grace” Tseng) to the summit of Kangchenjunga. It was the only ascent of the third highest mountain on earth this fall.
Tibetan side closed
The project to open a route for commercial teams on the Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu has been on the table since 2020. However, a first initiative by Nepalese climber Maya Sherpa had met with little favor from the government. The normal route up Cho Oyu is on the Tibetan side of the mountain. In recent years, the authorities there had drastically tightened the price screw for Cho Oyu and issued permits only very restrictively. Thus they closed the mountain in fall 2019 from 1 October, in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic even completely. Also in spring 2022, probably no foreign climbers will be allowed to enter Tibet.
So anyone wanting to climb Cho Oyu currently has only two options: either wait it out or try the Nepalese side of the mountain. However, the south side at the end of the Gokyo Valley is considered technically challenging and prone to avalanches. The first success over this side was achieved in the fall 1978 by the two Austrians Eduard Koblmüller and Alois Furtner, who climbed (without a permit) through the Southeast Face. To date, this route has never been repeated. The last successful ascent of Cho Oyu from Nepal was twelve years ago: in spring 2009, the two Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko opened a new route through the South Face. “It’s time to find the safest alternative route from Nepal,” Gelje Sherpa writes me. “This could be challenging but we will do our best to find thos safest route to the summit as I want to get the commercial route so that many climbers can ascend from the Nepali side.”
Looking for sponsors
Gelje wants to rally a team of experienced Nepalese climbers around him. If they succeed in reaching the summit, they would be the first Nepalese, after 14 foreign climbers, to stand on Cho Oyu in winter. The expedition is scheduled to begin on 15 January – if the necessary money is available.
“Funding is a huge task for me. I am not getting any real support anywhere, only individual mountaineers are supporting me,” says the father of two. “I plan to ask the government and the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) and hope to get a positive response.” He has also started a crowdfunding campaign (click here to go there).
He wants to enter the South Face of Cho Oyu from the west, Gelje reveals: “Not from the Gokyo side, but from the Nangpa La side (pass between Nepal and Tibet).” I ask: over the flank of the seven-thousander Nangpa Gosum, which is connected by a ridge to the highest point of Cho Oyu? “Yep,” Gelje answers.
Update 29 December: Gelje Sherpa has announced that the Cho Oyu expedition will now begin on 20 January and that his Nepalese team will consist of 14 people.