Himalaya Fall 2014: More Summits on Cho Oyu, Ueli Talks Shishapangma Tragedy

Cho Oyu%2C Nepal

The fall climbing season in the Himalaya is starting to wind down now, with just a few major expeditions still taking place. Over the weekend, there were more successful summits on Cho Oyu, and while those climbers struggled against high winds, back in Kathmandu, Ueli Steck talked about the tragedy on Shishapangma two weeks back that claimed two lives.

We’ll start on Cho Oyu, where Chris Jensen Burke has claimed another 8000 meter peak, expanding her already impressive resume even further. She reports that topped out on Saturday of this week, along with her always-present Sherpa guide Lakpa, at 8:45 AM, and was joined at the top by a few other teammates a short time later. While details of the ascent remain sketchy at this time, Chris did indicate that they set out for the summit late that morning due to high winds, and they continued to battle sustained 50km (31 mph) gusts all the way up. She described it as the hardest climb she has made so far, and mentioned that she wore more clothes than ever before in order to stay warm. The Aussie climber promises more details of the climb soon, and should be resting back in BC now.

Meanwhile, Germany mountaineering reporter Stefan Nestler has posted an interview with Ueli Steck in which the Swiss climber talks about the avalanche that took place on Shishapangma two weeks back that claimed the lives of Italian climber Andrea Zambaldi, as well as German Sebastian Haag. Ueli described the scene as “eerie” saying that he and Benedikt Bohm were climbing a bit ahead of their teammates, as well as a third climber by the name Martin Maier. Steck said that a large ice slab simply gave way on the mountain, sweeping over Zambaldi, Haag, and Maier, almost without making any sound at all. The entire incident happened fast, and without warning, catching all five of the men off guard.

Ueli says that he and Bohm immediately tried to assist their friends, but the danger was too great. Climbing out to the area where they had fallen would have create an even greater chance of more avalanches, and although they searched for signs of their friends, they were forced to descend back to Camp 3. He also indicated that Maier was able to dig himself out of the avalanche and descend later as well, with just minimal injuries.

Steck is also quick to defend the Double8 expedition, as the team was known. The original plan was for Bohm, Haag, and Zambaldi to climb both Shishapangma and Cho Oyu, while traveling between the two peaks on mountain bikes. Steck described the idea as “an attractive, inspiring project” that wasn’t taking undue risks. They just happened to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as a result, two of the team members lost their lives. The Swiss climber says that it could have easily been him caught in that avalanche, and it was just pure luck that he and Bohm were able to avoid it.

Elsewhere, the British Tri-Service team continues to acclimatize and get ready for their attempt along the tough Southeast Ridge of Makalu. They have now firmly established Camp 2 at 6800 meters (22,309 ft) and hope to install Camp 3 at 7200 meters (23,662 ft) later this week. They report that knee-deep snow on the mountain is making it difficult to progress, and a recent electrical storm put a scare into the squad, but otherwise things are progressing as expected so far.

That’s all from the High Himalaya today. More news as it is warranted.

Kraig Becker