Adventures Up High

As I sit and write, we are in the middle of a Himalayan blizzard.  The weather has been quite unsettled the past few days, but we’ve pushed on to get our work done.  With phase I on Spillway Lake complete, we moved on to phase II, up near the base of Cho Oyu, the 6th highest peak in the world.    The 5-hour journey up usually is quite picturesque.  Instead, we faced an onslaught of rain, sleet, hail, and finally snow, as we made our way higher and higher.  I just kept my head down and pushed on.  I probably was quite the funny sight, hiking with a huge umbrella.  What can I say, though?  It worked at keepingme dry!

Once on-site, we set up camp next to 6th lake, one of the Gokyo holy lakes.  Given the distance to get there, not many people make it, turning back instead at the 5th holy lake.  This area is also home to Cho Oyu base camp, when people climbed the mountain from the south (Nepalese) side, back in the day.  These days, most people attempt from the North (Tibet), as it is “easier.”  I can certainly see why, as the icefalls blocking the south side look quite intimidating.  It’s been claimed that they are tougher to climb than the Khumbu icefall guarding Mount Everest.

Our original plan to set up instruments on some nearby clean ice was thwarted by big cliffs and dangerously unstable talus blocking the way.  We did try, but the thin air and the heavy packs slowed us down significantly.  This time of year, we knew that the weather windows would be quite short.  However, we could only go so fast, as a 2-person team navigating uncharted terrain.  Rather than risk life and limb, we came up with an alternative plan.  We decided to set up our instruments and cameras lower down, near 17,000 ft., to monitor the accumulation zones of Ngozumpa.  Given that this is where new ice is incorporated into the main body of the glacier, we figured it was a good place to monitor.   With stations on either end of the glacier now, we have a more complete picture of how the glacier is changing over time.

To reflect a bit on the experience of being up this high, the fresh, albeit thinner, air was a welcome change.  The sound of silence was deafening at times, until an occasional rockfall or thundering avalanche shook our tents.  The rawness of nature out there reminded me of just how small I am.  Dwarfed by thousand-foot granite cliffs on one end and the heights of Cho Oyu on the other, I couldn’t help but feel insignificant but, at the same time, incredibly privileged to be witness to nature doing its thing.

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