Climb Cho Oyu, the 6th Highest Mountain on Earth With Alpine Ascents
I had an excellent time during the entire expedition. From the moment I met Jiban and our guides at the Yak & Yeti, and our Sherpas later on, I felt we had the best people for this adventure. Obviously, Ben and Lakpa had a thorough understanding and experience working together. They were a very effective and complementary team. Sherpas were amazing– great attitude, smiles, enthusiasm, very hard working yet fun crew, no matter the load or the circumstances. Overall outstanding performance and organization by AAI throughout! See you on Everest in spring.
– Cho Oyu climber
Climbing Cho Oyu is an achievable undertaking for intermediate climbers who wish to attempt an 8,000 m peak. The expedition provides a perfect entrance into the world of high-altitude Himalayan climbing. The sixth highest mountain in the world, Cho Oyu lies in the heart of the Tibetan/Nepalese Himalayas and offers climbers views of Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and figuratively hundreds of other Himalayan peaks. The Cho Oyu climbing expedition exposes climbers to the ancient culture of Tibet.
While the challenge of high-altitude climbing cannot be underestimated, the technical nature of the ascent is moderate. Our route is composed of snow slopes with short sections of ice and rock scrambling. We use some fixed ropes for speed and safety. We climb Cho Oyu in classic Himalayan expedition style, employing Sherpa who assist with load carrying and camp preparation. The assistance of expert Sherpa, many of whom have guided with us on Mt. Everest, greatly increases our chances of success. We move up and down the mountain three to four times while establishing camps and acclimating to the extreme altitude. Supplemental oxygen is used for the summit attempt and while sleeping at High Camp. Our itinerary has extra days built in for inclement weather and slow acclimatization. The relatively short time needed to complete the climb adds to the attraction of this tremendous ascent.
This is a fully guided ascent, led by Western guides who climb the mountain with you. We are one of the few outfitters offering this type of support (and, as a result, we have a high success rate and an outstanding safety record). It should be noted that most outfitters merely offer a supported trek, where a single guide facilitates the climb but does not act as a guide during the ascent.
Alpine Ascents Success on Himalayan Peaks
Our reputation for leading climbs in the Himalayas is superb and includes summits of Everest (271 summits to date) and Cho Oyu (83 summits to date). Some of our past Cho Oyu climbs have had 100% summit success. We encourage you to review our Cybercasts from previous expeditions.
As on Everest we offer one style of trip— a fully guided expedition with a low climber-to-guide ratio. This style has led to our historically high summit success rate, an excellent safety record, and extremely satisfied climbers.
Our Cho Oyu Route
Once at Base Camp, we will meet our Tibetan yak drivers and their animals. Yaks carry our loads to Advanced Base Camp (18,500 ft.) at the foot of the famous Nangpa-La Pass.
We will spend the next three to four days establishing Advanced Base Camp and making short acclimatization forays to the lower reaches of the West Ridge. With the assistance of our Sherpa team, we place Camp I (21,000 ft.) atop the West Ridge. Over the next ten days we will establish Camp II (23,100 ft.) and Camp III (24,500 ft.). We repeatedly move up and down the mountain to enhance strong acclimatization and overall fitness. Once our last camp is set and the team has rested for a few days at Advanced Base Camp, we begin the summit climb. Prior to our summit attempt, team members will spend the night at Camp III sleeping on supplemental oxygen, strengthening and abetting the body’s circulation systems.
Our summit attempt begins between midnight and 1:00 a.m. We will climb with supplemental oxygen on summit day. From High Camp, we ascend the West Face through a rock band and up snow slopes of 25 to 40 degrees to reach the West Ridge proper. This gentle ridge leads to the large summit plateau at approximately 26,000 ft. From here we spend the next hour traveling across this plateau to reach the true summit and a spectacular 360-degree view, which includes Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and an array of Himalayan peaks. To the north lies the Tibetan plateau (the highest in the world) and to the south stand hundreds of Nepalese peaks.
After reaching the summit, our team descends to Camp II. It takes approximately five days to clear the mountain and move equipment back to Base Camp. Once we have arrived at Base Camp and said farewell to our Tibetan yak drivers, we begin our return to Kathmandu.
Alpine Ascents Cho-Oyu Maps & Facts
Map of Nepal with Cho Oyu and Everest highlighted
- Cho Oyu is the sixth highest mountain in the world and translates as “the goddess of the turquoise.”
- Himalaya translates as “abode of the snows.”
- The First Ascent was in 1954 by Herbert Tichy, Joseph Joechler, Pasang Dawa Lama (the Austrian expedition).
The Nangpa-La Pass is the gap in the Himalayas through which the first traders from Tibet traveled to initiate contact with Nepal. Salt was traded for grain in the Namche Bazaar. This trading continues today and we will likely see yak caravans carrying goods across the glacier for trade in Nepal during this expedition.
The Tibetan Plateau, often called the “roof of the world,” dates back 13.5 million years and has reached a maximum average height of 5 kilometers. It is the highest plateau on earth and affects weather patterns around the world. In fact, the monsoons of India and Asia are caused by the plateau. The Tibetan Plateau, which includes the Himalayan mountains, is the result of the collision between the two tectonic plates of India and Asia. The area can be described as a sort of “top-hat” shape, with India and Central Asia as the brim of the hat, and the high ground of the Tibetan Plateau as the flat top of the hat.
History of The Route
H. Tichy first scaled Cho-Oyu in 1954. Much of the credit for his success can go to early reconnaissance expeditions, including Eric Shipton’s 1952 journey. Many of the climbers of Shipton’s team became members of Hillary and Norgay’s expedition, which first climbed Mt. Everest. We will follow the Tichy route on this expedition.
A Brief Overview of Sherpa Life
Often inseparable from mountaineering, the Sherpas of Nepal inhabit much of the lower portion of the Himalayas known as the Solu-Khumbu or Khumbu. While their reputation as climbers is nothing short of historic, local Buddhist, animist, and cultural traditions have equally nurtured and impacted a fascinating relationship with Westerners and Western thought.
Sherpas became prominent to the West when British mountaineers began to set their sights on conquering Himalayan peaks. With the first Mt. Everest expedition in 1921, the skill, expertise, honesty, and dedication of Sherpas as guides and partners became an integral part of Himalayan climbing. The affinity of outsiders for Sherpa/Buddhist civilization has blossomed into an ever-increasing sharing, understanding, and friendship between cultures.
Prior to British expeditions, Sherpas revered the great mountains of the region as dwelling places of gods and goddesses, to which the thought of climbing was considered blasphemous. (“Chomolungma,” the Tibetan name for Everest, is the residence of Miyo Lungsungama, the goddess of humanity and prosperity.) Sherpas traditionally worked as traders, farmers, and religious folk. Along with these ancestral roles, leading climbs and treks has recently become a mainstay of the Sherpa economy.
“Sherpa” refers both to a tribal group and a job capacity as porter, climber, or trek leader. The term “Sherpa” means Easterner, referring to their origins in Eastern Tibet. The migrations of this Tibetan culture began sometime in the early 1400’s. Today, the Sherpa population in the Khumbu is about 5,000, with a total of roughly 35,000 living in Nepal.
SHERPAS ON EVEREST
The first notable and successful Everest climbing Sherpa was Tenzing Norgay. In 1952, Norgay accompanied Raymond Lambert to within 800 vertical feet of the still-unclimbed Mt. Everest. A year later, Norgay was asked to join the British team led by Col. John Hunt, which successfully summited Everest following the same route as Norgay and Lambert. Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first climbers to reach the summit. By the mid 1980’s, Sherpas had summited Everest many more times than Westerners. Ang Rita Sherpa, the most well-known climbing Sherpa, had amassed seven summits of Everest by 1995. In 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa became the first Sherpa woman to summit Everest.
THE NAME KHUMBU
The name Khumbu comes from its guardian deity Khumbila Tetsan Gelbu. The literal translation is “Khumbu country god.” The teachings of Sherpa Buddhism talk of a spiritual understanding between all beings. This is probably why the level of hospitality and acceptance of Westerners comes naturally to the Sherpa. It should, however be mentioned, that Tibetans are also considered fierce warriors.
—Gordon Janow, Alpine Ascents Program Director
Cho Oyu Frequently Asked Questions
Climbers should have successfully completed our 6 Day Beginner Mountaineering Course and Denali Climb, or have equivalent skills and experience. Cho Oyu is excellent preparation for a summit attempt of Mt. Everest and is the logical choice for those who wish to embrace and climb an 8,000-meter Himalayan peak. This expedition teaches valuable climbing skills, high-altitude management techniques, and lessons for the use of oxygen systems and staying healthy at extreme altitudes. Climbers who have been successful on Denali or comparable peaks are typically prepared to join a guided ascent on Cho Oyu. Climbers must have solid cramponing skills, be able to rappel with a pack on, and use ascenders on a fixed line. We place a high degree of responsibility on our climbers to prepare for the challenges of the ascent and the safety of their fellow team members. We encourage you to contact us with questions, and please feel free to speak with former expedition members.
Climbers must be in excellent physical condition. This is a long expedition requiring patience, stamina, mental fortitude, and strong willpower. Summit day can be 12 hours long.
Along with the required climbing skills, review cardio training on the Training page of our website. We strongly recommend following the advice of our guides to acclimatize properly.
Your expedition leader will be one of our International Mountain Guides. They will have along as many assistant guides, climbing Sherpa, porters, and cooks as necessary to ensure a low climber-to-guide ratio.
The best time to climb Cho Oyu is in the Fall, August-October.
Generally, our maximum for this climb is 10 climbers plus guides and Sherpa.
During the approach to Base Camp we will be lodging in hotels and hostels that are double occupancy. Climbers will share a room (two per room) during this portion of the trip in Tibet. In Base Camp, each climber will have their own tent. Above Base Camp, in Camps I-III, climbers will share tents.
During the trek, team members will only carry gear and supplies for the day. At no point do climbers carry camping gear or equipment for overnight during the trek. Daypacks will weigh no more than 20 lbs. Above Base Camp on the climb, we will typically carry packs that weigh 20–30 lbs. At no point will your pack weigh more than 50 lbs.
Please review the Gear List.
Those requesting rental gear must submit an expedition rental form with payment by fax or mail. All rental gear will be mailed to the climber prior to the climb. Climbers are expected to clean all rental gear and return it to us by mail following the expedition.
While all items are required, there may be times when some of the items on the Gear List may not be used (such as warm weather or changing conditions). The Gear Lists are created by the guides to assist in having climbers be prepared to summit in any conditions.
While it is impossible for us to list all brands for certain gear, we do offer a wide variety of equipment in our Gear Shop, that has been hand-picked by our staff of mountaineering experts. Please feel free to call our offices with any gear questions or substitutes. Plastic boots are required for this climb.
During the approach to Base Camp, we will eat in restaurants where clean water will be provided. Climbers can also purchase bottled water along the way. At Base Camp and on the route, we will boil water.
Meals in the mountains consist of a diet rich in carbohydrates because our bodies do not process fat and protein efficiently at higher elevations and to compensate for the increase in caloric need that high-altitude climbing involves. We try to make meals varied and as normal as possible. During the approach to Base Camp, we will dine in Tibetan restaurants serving a mix of Chinese/Tibetan/Continental dishes. Meals during the climb are made from food purchased in both Nepal and the US. Typical meals are rice, pasta, or potato dishes, along with vegetable and egg dishes. In Base Camp we will have cooked lunches. Above Base Camp, climbing food mainly consists of dried meals such as pastas or rice. Lunches while climbing will mainly be made up of bars and snacks brought from the US.
You may bring power bars, Gu, Power Gel, cereal bars, or similar high-energy foods; we also recommend powder Gatorade to fight dehydration. Alpine Ascents will provide all meals on this expedition.
No requirements at this time.
We operate our climbs via Kathmandu, Nepal.
Fares are generally less expensive when booked early. You may use our travel agent (Charles Mulvehill 1-800-727-2157) or book flights yourself. Please note that flights booked online are often difficult to change. Please send us a copy of your flight schedule as early as possible as this allows us to book pick ups and hotels.
An Alpine Ascents representative will meet those climbers (look for the sign) arriving on the scheduled date (or a different date for those who have made prior arrangements) and taken to the Yak and Yeti Hotel. Although it is likely that you will meet your team leader at the airport and other members during the day, we will have a scheduled meeting that day. This meeting will include introductions, final review, and an overview of the itinerary and trek.
We are happy to make arrangements such as personalized tours, extra hotel rooms, airport pick-ups, and arrange for private rooms. Please indicate that you would like a private room on your application and we will contact you with information on single-room supplement costs (for hotels only).
We will send further instructions on obtaining a Chinese visa.
In Kathmandu and Lhasa, telephones and internet access are readily available. Our guides will carry satellite phones in the mountains. The quality of the reception varies from location to location.
Check the Reading List on the Cho Oyu page of the website.
You can always call our offices and we will have one of your Everest guides contact you. Within 30 days prior to departure, we will mail a list of the other team members to you.
Climbers generally take $200 to $400 to change in Tibet/China for purchases along the approach to Base Camp. An additional $400 to $500 in US dollars is good to have for emergencies, so we suggest approximately $1,000 total in cash but it is likely you will use much less. Changing money at the airport is not recommended. (Credit cards may substitute for some cash.) We will organize this with our guide staff.
Climbers generally tip our Sherpa staff and Western guides. Climbers typically tip around $300 total to our Nepali staff, including climbing Sherpa, depending on the size of the expedition (and we usually have about six Sherpa assisting with the expedition). We will send some more information about tipping as we get closer to departure. You may have some perfunctory tips at hotels and at time of transport. Tipping is not required but a common practice.
You may call our offices with a credit card or mail/fax an application with a check or credit card number.
Each climber should submit an application and flight information.
We accept MasterCard, Visa, American Express, personal checks and Alpine Ascents gift certificates. To reserve a space, the deposit is $2,000.00 and balances are due 120 days prior to departure. Unpaid balances can result in forfeiture of trip.
See our Price & Schedule page.
Communication is sometimes difficult in the mountains. However, our guides and local staff will make every effort to obtain the necessary transportation and reservations to get you home as quickly as possible if for any reason you need to depart early.
This is a highly recommended shortlist and we would be happy to pass on a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to Amazon.com with reviews.