The start was a bit bumpy. Actually Gelje Sherpa and his Nepalese team wanted to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla today. But because of bad weather in the Khumbu, the ten climbers first had to change to jeeps. This did not dampen their good mood, as videos on social networks showed. As reported, Gelje Sherpa and Co. want to open up this winter (with bottled oxygen) a new route on the eight-thousander Cho Oyu, which is also suitable for commercial expeditions.
Alternative route on the Nepalese side
Until now, commercial teams climbed exclusively via the Tibetan side of the 8,188-meter high mountain. But 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.
“It’s time to find the safest alternative route from Nepal,” Gelje Sherpa wrote me before Christmas. The south side of the mountain was previously considered too technically demanding and too prone to avalanches for commercial operators to dare approach it.
But that is about to change. If successful, Gelje would even kill two birds with one stone: Cho Oyu and Broad Peak in Pakistan are the last two eight-thousanders that the 29-year-old Sherpa still lacks in his collection of the world’s 14 highest mountains.
Among the nine Nepalese climbers who will accompany him this winter, there are some close companions. Gesman Tamang, for example, was also part of Nirmal Purja’s team in his record-breaking eight-thousander hunt in 2019: Gelje accompanied the former soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment to eight summits, Gesman joined Nirmal for seven ascents.
And in 2021, when Gelje Sherpa was among the ten Nepalese climbers who succeeded in the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth, Lakpa Dendi Sherpa was also on the mountain: as a companion of the Bulgarian Atanas Skatov, who fell to his death at that time. Lakpa Dendi has stood on eight-thousanders more than 20 times. In 2018, he summited Everest (with bottled oxygen) three times in ten days (13, 18, 24 May), which earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. In summer 2019, Lakpa Dendi was part of Nirmal Purja’s summit team on K2.
The six other members of the Cho Oyu team – Phuri Kitar Sherpa, Tashi Sherpa, Pem Tenji Sherpa, Pam Dorjee Sherpa, Karma Sherpa and Lakpa, known as “Bibas” Sherpa – also combine plenty of experience on the world’s highest mountains. They’ll need it because in addition to the winter-related difficulties, they’re sure to face some mountaineering ones as well.
At least, the expedition has cleared the first major hurdle: financing. Gelje’s team found an equipment sponsor after Christmas. And shortly before the start, Nirmal Purja provided the necessary money through his “Nimsdai foundation”, so that his Nepalese compatriots could set off to Cho Oyu.