Paulo Grobel's Cho Oyu expedition has run its course and this first experience has gone well. François Damilano asked Paulo a few questions on 12 May, 2011, live from Kathmandu.
François Damilano : Paulo, first impressions about the expedition?
Paulo Grobel : The purpose of the first expedition to Cho Oyu using "steady progression" was to take stock and identify areas for improvement. I wanted to validate a few ideas I had about the organization and the execution of an 8000-meter expedition, especially: acclimatizing in a way that enabled us to reach base camp in good condition; organizing the CTMA for the transfers in Tibet and the transportation of the baggage from base camp to Advanced Base Camp using yaks, and; our plans for the climbing route and placement of the camps. The question all boils down to this: is my concept of "steady progression' possible on Cho Oyu and is it practical?
FD : And the answer?
PG : The wealth of information we gathered was good and we were often surprised by what we learned. Now we need to compile a complete report and put it online. This will provide us with a logbook of precise information and a solid base from which to begin the 2012 expedition.
FD : What were the highlights of the expedition you have just completed?
PG : We acclimatized in Nepal before getting to base camp. Yetmi was plagued by health problems from the beginning of the trip and decided not to continue. After two days of preparation we set sail. Marc, who is a clever and strong young alpinist, began to show symptoms of edema at Camp 1, which surprised us all. He reminded us of how fragile we all are when faced with hypoxia, even when we are really careful with acclimatization. But no worries, everything turned out well for him. We were alone on the mountain so we had to break trail and establish the route. Because of this, our days were quite strenuous. Michel was stopped at a passage of ice, even though it was equipped with fixed ropes, because he didn't have enough energy. Cho Oyu is far from being the casual 8000-meter peak that so many write off. On the final push, I didn't pace myself (too fast, poor hydration) and it cost me the summit. A very bad night at 7600m forced me to go down, along with Nemo. On the other hand, our teammates Gilles, Frank, Chhotemba and Rinzee completed the climb in very good conditions. There were six of us at the last camp in good shape both mentally and physically and four of us made it to the summit. Our success was small but it was real.
FD : So Cho Oyu, even by its normal route, is not that easy?
PG : It's a big summit, which in spring can be rated VII/AD (Himalayan scale) with a passage of ice and a short passage of class 2 to 3 rock at 7800m. And even if these passages are equipped with fixed ropes it still takes a special effort to climb them with a heavy expedition pack. Keeping a logbook on this particular ascent enables us to better understand the change in snow conditions between spring and autumn. I plan to write a detailed article hoping to describe the most affordable 8000er and the one best suited for a first experience at 8000 meters. Writing this would, without a doubt, reinstate Cho Oyu's true reputation and might replace the overriding conversation.
FD : Next step of the project?
PG : For the second stage of "The Cho Oyu Experience' in 2012 we will be making some seasonal changes because at the very heart of the "steady progression" concept lies the need for improvement. What are the requirements? When we're on the mountain, how can we carry only what is strictly necessary? How can we optimize the carries between camps? How can we prepare specifically for a trip to real altitude? Climbing an 8000-meter peak is a big operation. To make the climb to 8000 meters by "steady progression' requires careful preparation and perseverance. In consideration of these constraints, the experience is unique: an immersion of more than 15 days in complete autonomy at high altitude. It's an immersion that's radical and with no fooling around. To make a comparison, it's a bit like visualizing an around-the-world trip with a sailing crew … but without stopping to rest!