Dan McCann and I climbed and skied Cho Oyu from 8100 meters in 2005. We were joined by climber and photographer Bill Stevenson. We were all climbing without supplemental oxygen on a very cold day; it started out at about -20 degrees but with very little wind. At about 7800 meters Bill was starting to show some pretty pronounced respiratory issues and by 8100 meters he was not doing very well. Although we were only 100 meters from the summit, the Cho Oyu summit plateau is still a very long walk. Making the decision to turn around at this point was very difficult but the correct one at the time. The climbing is optional the descent is mandatory.
Dan and I skied from 8100 meters which was moderately steep at the top but got considerably steeper towards the Yellow Band at 7500 meters. Bill seemed to be making good progress in his decent so Dan and I decided to skirt far skier's right to a short bony Couloir that could be skied. We negotiated the Couloir safely and skirted far skier's left into Camp 3. From Camp 3 it is a massive exposed face to Camp 2. Dan and I put in side by side turns in good recrystallized snow which we were able to admire at camp 2 while we rehydrated and got a bite to eat. We were pretty spent so we decided to spend the night at Camp 2 and finish our ski decent in the morning.
Below Camp 2 is the Ice Falls. Dan had skied the Ice Falls once before while acclimatizing. It was my turn to follow him this time. We had very heavy packs and were skiing a line that was about 55 degrees with breakable crust. Dan went first and carefully slipped the first sketchy part of the falls using his ice axe as an anchor just in case things went really badly. There was a massive crevasse about 200 meters below that made this a no fall zone. After Dan successfully made turns to the safe zone below the fixed lines that the climbers were rappelling on I started my descent. The breakable crust was unnerving but I carefully scraped my way to were I could make turns. The weight of my pack nearly threw me back on my skis and I barely avoided falling. When I got to were Dan was standing I was both peeing my pants and elated that I was still alive.
I have been talking to Dan again about finishing Cho Oyu. If all works out well we may give this mountain another try in 2018.
Paul Sherman and I attempted Shishapangma in 2007. It was a very difficult trip. We joined some Swedish climbers that I had met at Cho Oyu. One of the Swedes was having a very difficult time acclimatizing. On Our first trip to Camp 1 he began to loose his eye sight. Unfortunately the Swedes had to quit the climb before even reaching Camp 1.
Paul and I carried our gear to Camp 1 and weathered the worst storm I have experienced in the Himalayas. The winds were gale force and very cold. It took everything we had to get our tent put up then we spent a miserable night hoping the tent would hold together. When we got back to ABC more lousy weather and a ton of snowfall kept us from continuing. It was a difficult season at Shishapangma that year; there was only one summit.
The mountains in the Himalayas are foreboding but wonderful. They cause so much suffering yet are so rewarding. I look forward to returning; I can hear them calling.