Cho Oyu : The Border Peak
Border Researcher and Madan Puraskar Winner
Mount Cho Oyu is situated on the border between Nepal and China. This is the fourth Nepal-China border peak above 8000 metre and sixth mountain peak among eight thousanders on Nepal Himalaya. In other words Cho Oyu (8201 m) is the fourth Sino-Nepal border peak, after Sagarmatha-Mt. Everest (8848 m), Lhotse (8529 m) and Makalu (8463 m). There are 40 peaks along Nepal-China border. Similarly, 8 peaks fall on Nepal-India border line. Rest are the inland peaks of Nepal which are located from a few metres distance to more than ten kilometres from Nepal-China and Nepal-India boundary line.
There are 14 mountain peaks taller than 8000 m all over the world. Among them eight mountains have been located in Nepal Himalaya. Of them four peaks are situated in Nepal-China border, only one (Kanchanjunga 8516) along Nepal-India border, and remaining three (Dhaulagiri 8167, Manaslu 8163, and Annapurna First 8091) are inland peaks of Nepal. These eight peaks rank as first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and tenths in altitude in the world. The first highest is definitely the Sagarmatha and the tenth is Annapurna First. Cho Oyu belongs the fourth highest Nepal-China border peak in Nepal Himalaya and it holds sixth position in the world above 8000 m. It is interesting to note that 31 Himalayan peaks over 7600 m, 22 are in Nepal Himalaya including 8 out of the 14 highest giants in the world.
The whole Himalayan Range extends west to east for 2,400 kilometre as a vast south-facing are between the Indus River marked by Nanga Parbat and Namcha Baruwa in the east as its terminal point. The Himalaya is the ‘abode of snow’ and it is the youngest and highest mountain system of the world. It is a natural fact that the main Himalaya does not form a continuous chain but rather a series of lofty ranges separated by deep river gorges and high mountain passes. One third of the Himalayan Range or 800 km of its central section from Mahakalai Border River to Kanchanjunga massif traverses through Nepal and it is known as ‘Nepal Himalaya.’
It is commendable that Nepal Himalaya has become a great theatre of mountaineering activities in these days. Indeed, the mountains of Nepal have many facets that will continue to engage human endurance and ingenuity for generations to come. Mountains of Nepal Himalaya be used as a field where people from different countries can enhance their spirit of adventure, while also makes a strong appeal and effort for the conservation of the Himalayan environment and ecology.
Nepal is known as the ‘Himalayan Country’ all over the world. Nepal Himalaya has a panophy of 1,310 peaks and pinnacles exceeding 6000 m, a unique concentration of lofty dazzling summits. Thus, of the peaks exceeding 6000 m, there are 246 in the west, 567 in the central and 497 in the east. The number of peaks by category of height are as followings:
S.N Designation Altitude (Metres) Number
1 Eight Thousander Above 8000 14
2 Seven Thousander 7500 – 8000 43
3 Seven Thousander 7000 – 7500 87
4 Six Thousander 6500 – 6999 301
5 Six Thousander 6000 – 6499 865
(Source: Harka Gurung (2004), Peaks and Pinnacles, Nepal Mountaineering Association, Kathmandu : 134)
Out of 1,310 mountain peaks, 326 have been opened for expedition till this date. Government of Nepal has a policy to open the remaining peaks for expedition step by step in future. It is to be noted that 112 peaks are still virgin, of those opened to this date. Nepal government has delegated the authority to Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) to issue the climbing permit of 33 mountain peaks among 326 opened.
Cho Oyu is the mountain which is climbed and loved by many expeditioneers from all over the world, after Everest. Cho Oyu is most favoured over 8000 m peak for expedition. It is also a colossus of a mountain, of a shapeliness and balance which is exceptional for the other Himalayan peaks. It is said that this peak is the easiest peak to climb among the eight thousanders and it has got its popularity. At the same time Cho Oyu is a typical and different peak from other mountain peaks, because there is a flat ground atop ( near about 136 square metre), which no other mountains have.
Geographically Cho Oyu peak is located at 28° 06′ North latitude and 86° 39′ East longitude having 8201 metre altitude from the mean sea level. It lies 30 km north-west of Sagarmatha and 8 km east of Nangpa La (4776 m) which passes through a trade and expedition route to China. Cho Oyu has five ridges. The south and north-eastern ridge forms the border line that separates the frontier of Nepal and China; whereas the north, north-east and north-west ridges fall on Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. Ridges in Chinese territory are low in altitude in comparison to border ridges of Nepal.
Mount Cho Oyu is regarded as god by the adjacent people. The word Cho Oyu translates into the ‘Goddess of Turquoise.’ Cho means ‘sacred text’ whereas Oyo in Sherpa word refers to ‘turquoise’ and it means a blue precious stone. A Lama at Namche Bazar told the first summiteers Herbert Tichy that the name Cho Oyu meant ‘mighty head.’
If we have a look on the history of Mount Cho Oyu, it was formally discovered in 1851 by the Survey of India during Great Trigonometrical Survey. Initially, the Survey did not consider Cho Oyu in the group of highest mountains of Nepal Himalaya. However, re-assessment of the survey data recognized it as one of the giant mountain peaks of the world, so it was assigned the peak number T-45, as Everest was numbered as Peak-XV.
Administratively, the southern face of Mount Cho Oyu is within the jurisdiction of Khumjung village development committee (VDC) of Solukhumbu District of Nepal. The nearest settlement from the base camp is Thonak situated at around 11 km away.
Cho Oyu primarily has two climbing routes up to the base camp from Nepal side and two from Tibet side. The route from Nepali frontier side from the base camp to the top is steep, but it is a sloping terrace towards Tibetan side. So most of the Cho Oyu expeditioneers have climbed this mountain from Tibet side. Herbert Tichy, Joseph Joecheler and Pasang Dawa Lama Sherpa in an Austrian expedition had the first successful summit on 19 October 1954 from Tibetan side as it was selected as the easy route. It is mentionable that Pasang had narrated the virgin peak Cho Oyu to Tichy in 1952 during a research journey through western Nepal. After that Tichy planned and implemented an expedition to that virgin mountain climbing and finally they were successful. The unconquered mountain was a challenge for them and the great success of conquering the peak was achieved in 1954. Had Pasang not communicated the information to Tichy, he would not be the first successful mountaineer to conquer the Mount Cho Oyu.
Regarding to climb Chou, it may take nearly 49 days from Nepal side whereas it takes near about 43 days from Tibet side including acclimatization, camp cleaning and closing. From Nepal side the flying, caravan and climbing route starts from Kathmandu to Lukla (fly), Namche, Dhote, Gokyo and Base Camp. If the expedition team deserves to climb from Tibet side, they should travel by four-wheel drive vehicle to Khasa from Kathmandu and then go to Tingri (Tibet) and Gyablung Base Camp. After that they have to trek to the summit. Following table shows the details of location of base camp and climbing camps:
S.N Location/Camp Nepal Side Tibet (China) Side
1 Kathmandu Kathmandu-Lukla (flight)-
Tso-Base Camp (near Kyanjumba Glacier) Kathmandu-Khasa-
Tingri-Base Camp (Gyablung)
2 Base Camp 5400 m 5620 m
3 Advanced base Camp 5700 m
4 Camp-I 6400 m 6400 m
5 Camp-II 7000 m 7200 m
6 Camp-III 7600 m 7600 m
7 Summit 8201 m 8201 m
8 Duration near about 49 Days 43 Days
The south face of Cho Oyu facing Nepali frontier is steep, rather difficult and somehow rarely climbed. Because there is a vertical cliff just below the summit in the south-eastern side in Nepal frontier. This makes the ascent of Cho Oyu peak somehow difficult. The danger of avalanches are there every minute. The temperature remains almost below minus 35° C and windy. But the north side of the mountain from TAR China is more easy and relatively safe to summit. So the normal route for most of the mountaineering teams follow via Tibet.
Summit of Cho Oyu belongs a broad plateau. There are high piles of bulk of snow on the plateau. So it may be confusing to identify the exact summit. But successful expeditioneers have erected a red aluminium stake which marks the highest point. It has made easy to recognize the summit of Cho Oyu.
The summit plateau is divided into Nepali and TAR of Chinese frontiers by its southern and north-eastern ridges as border line. It is interesting to mention that only a small portion of summit plateau falls on Nepali territory. Large chunk of the summit plateau on north-western and south-western ridge the west face has almost sloping flat area lies on TAR Chinese territory. Therefore Cho Oyu climbing from the Tibetan route has become popular among expeditioneers.
One of the main reasons for climbing Cho Oyu from Tibet side is the low royalty fee. The other reason is a technical one that means ascending the peak from Nepal side is difficult, as it is steep as mentioned above, but it is not impossible. The third reason is, trucks could be reached to the base camp (Gyablung). The next reason may be- mountaineers generally could enter into Tibetan territory without permission, as mostly China makes slackness, which may have been a factor to lure the mountaineers. Due to these reasons, hundreds of climbers have done summit from Tibetan side. But only 13 climbers from Nepal side so far successfully have reached the peak.
It is to be noted that illegal crossing into Tibet to climb Cho Oyu is a risky job. It may be relevant to mention here one incident. Two Serbian crossed the Nangpa La (Nepal-China border pass) on 20 October 1994 and camped below the west ridge of Cho Oyu. The next day Chinese officials came up to look for them, but the Serbs evaded detection and headed up Cho Oyu. They did not reach the summit. When they came down, the Chinese were waiting and arrested them. Chinese took all their equipment, but not any money, and escorted them back over the pass.
Whatever may be the above mentioned case and incidents, Government of Nepal must promote Cho Oyu mountain climbing expedition from Nepal side, providing necessary facilities. It is necessary to negotiate with the Chinese Government that the Cho Oyu climbing permit holder from Nepal side especially crossing Nangpa La, should let them cross the border to Chinese frontier and trek ahead to summit, and back to Nepali frontier via Nangpa La.
So far as the other case of Nepal-China border peak/Sagarmatha is concerned, anyone who climbs Mt. Everest from the south has to obtain visa from Nepal Government, while anyone who climbs the mountain from the north has to secure a visa from the Chinese Government. The successful summiteers climbed from China can step to the Everest summit, which belongs to Nepal, and install flag and take photographs. But they have to return back to Chinese side. If they want to descend down to Nepal side base camp, they should have been already obtained visa and paid the royalty to the Government of Nepal.
In this context, it is imperative to suggest that the Everest system should be implemented also for the case of Cho Oyu through negotiation with the Government of China. Those who trek from Nangpa La to Cho Oyu summit, they should be automatically permitted to enter into Chinese frontier, provided they must return to Nepali frontier via Nangpa La. To materialize this action, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) should be initiated by the Government of Nepal, to be endorsed by the Chinese Government. It will help not only to promote Cho Oyu expedition from Nepal, but also it will enhance the mountaineering activities in Nepal. As a result it will further strengthen the age old mutual and cordial relationship and friendship between the two bordering countries, Nepal and China.
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7. Avtar Singh Bhasin (1994), Nepal’s Relation with India and China Vol-II, Delhi, India:1264 ♣ ♣