Corona necessity is the mother of invention. “These days, many climbers are free, so we can use good and experienced climbers to find the route,” Maya Sherpa writes to me. The 42-year-old mountaineer means a new route on the Nepalese south side of the eight-thousander Cho Oyu. One that is suitable not only for top climbers but also for commercial expeditions. Maya Sherpa has already scaled five eight-thousanders: Mount Everest (a total of three times, both from Tibet and Nepal), K2, Kangchenjunga, Manaslu – and Cho Oyu, but not via the Nepalese but the Tibetan side of the mountain.
Number of summit successes strongly decreased
Up to now, expedition operators have only offered ascents on the normal route in Tibet via the northwest flank of the mountain, mainly in the fall season – the technically relatively easy route to the summit at 8,188 meters, which was also chosen in 1954 by the first ascenders Herbert Tichy and Josef Jöchler from Austria and Pasang Dawa Lama.
However, in recent years the Chinese-Tibetan authorities had drastically tightened the price screw for Cho Oyu and issued permits rather restrictively. In fall 2019, for example, the mountain was closed to foreign mountaineers from 1 October.
The number of expedition teams and thus the number of summit successes on Cho Oyu had recently decreased sharply. According to the mountaineering chronicle “Himalayan Database” the “Turquoise Goddess” is – with more than 3,800 ascents – the second most frequently climbed eight-thousander behind Mount Everest (more than 10,000 summit successes).
High avalanche danger
The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu at the end of the Gokyo valley is considered technically challenging and at risk of avalanches. The first ascent via this side of the mountain was achieved in fall 1978 by the two Austrians Eduard Koblmüller and Alois Furtner along with Pasang Dawa Lama, who climbed the Southeast Face (without a permit). Until today this route has never been repeated. The last successful ascent of Cho Oyu from Nepal was made eleven years ago: In spring 2009, the two Kazakhs Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko opened a new route through the South Face.
For clients of commercial expeditions, all routes on the south side that have been opened so far are too dangerous and challenging. “That’s why we are trying to find possible and safe routes,” says Maya Sherpa, who coordinates the project for the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). According to Maya, who is NMA Vice President, they still need funds. The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has signalled the government’s support. The team will probably consist of eight international mountain guides and ten experienced Sherpas, says Maya, who herself wants to be part of the team: “If everything is going well, we will start moving in the first week of September.”