Last month, Paulo Grobel was on Cho Oyu (8201m). From his base camp, he told us a bit about the initial stage of his project, "The Cho Oyu Experience".
François Damilano: "The Cho Oyu Experience". Is this a new Grobelerie?
Paulo Grobel : This particular project has been in my head for the last three years. I've been playing with the idea of an expedition where each person will learn to live at altitude and have the most amount of fun on a high-altitude objective. I've been going to the Tibetan side of Cho Oyu for the past three years (2011-2013). This series of expeditions on the same mountain has allowed me to reduce the number of variables so that I can focus on the details within the context of two key questions:
- refining the "continuous progression" approach.
- optimization of the system of "slow progression".
The result of this long-term project has modified my approach. I have taken advantage of the opportunity to observe and understand the concept rather than simply doing it.
FD : Despite all of your experience, are there still areas for improvement?
PG : Of course! This approach to high altitude is not set in stone! We can always streamline the preparation and management of this experience. There is still more to learn about physiology, nutrition, equipment, management, etc. And we also need to build on our knowledge of the mountain herself, even a summit like this that sees a lot of ascents. As soon as the climbing is approached in a different way (by steady progression) to the methods currently used, the summit will be seen differently. For example, this strategy forces us to rethink the ideas about everything from hypoxia to the establishment of new camps.
FD : And on Cho Oyu specifically?
PG : The total duration of the trip is 44 days with 11 days of travel, 9 days of trekking, 20 days on the mountain and four days in towns or villages. The group that I lead with my Nepalese friend is limited specifically to six people. We do not use supplemental oxygen and the small group moves together, immersed in altitude. After a week of trekking at altitude (4000m) to help us acclimatize, we then leave base camp in order to establish our Camp 1 and we won't be returning for 15 days! Our team will climb the classic route and use approximately twice the number of camps by taking two or three days to move up to the next camp. On the descent, we will sleep at our highest camp (possibly Camp 6) before leaving directly for base camp.
FD : And after all this, what is it like at 8000 meters?
PG : Fantastic! Looking through the tent door, the mountain dominates everything with its size and majesty. Contrary to what some say, this is not a small hill. On the contrary, it's a super high mountain and I've found that she's quite temperamental! In fact, I think that Cho Oyu suffers from ‘Mont Blanc Syndrome'. It's one of the most popular and desirable 8000s and perhaps it's not regarded as highly in the midst of all the talking of other expeditions. In reality, it's an incredibly beautiful summit.
FD : Isn't base camp crowded?
PG : We are usually ahead of the season and we're normally the first expedition to arrive. We're all alone for a bit! This obviously increases the feeling of isolation and facilitates the perception of this exceptional place. But actually, we are not quite alone because this is when the Tibetans arrive who live from the income they generate off the expeditions that arrive for the season. It's interesting to see how they organize their lives, how they manage their time between the groups, their families and their work. It gives the definite impression of being well thought out.
FD : And what's next?
PG : In a few days, somewhere between Camp 1 and Camp 2, we will get used to the rhythm of life at altitude.
Interview by François Damilano via satellite link.
Short telephone conversation with Paulo Grobel on April 30, 2011 at 7100 meters.
"The mountain is slowly beginning to change. A week of light, regular snowfalls makes it feel like winter. But short windows of good weather have allowed us to continue to move steadily to Camp 2 at 7100m. At that point, the weather became more questionable to the point where last night we considered turning back! A strong low-pressure system that completely covered the entire Everest massif did not look good. This is when the relationship you have built with your weather forecaster is critical.
Today, we learned that this infamous low-pressure system is finally clearing and we'll now have alternating periods of good weather in the mornings and light snowfall in the afternoon. This new forecast has made us reconsider our decisions and has motivated us to keep climbing towards the summit! Apart from two Russian alpinists that we met in Camp 2, we have the feeling that we are the only ones on the mountain It's such a nice surprise! So things are going well, even if it's not that easy.
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