The Himalayan Range is home to some of the highest mountains in the world and Cho Oyu is often described as the easiest mountain to climb among those that are 8,000 meters and above.
Name: Cho Oyu
Height: 8,201 meters (26,906 ft.)
Location: China (Tibet) / Nepal
First climbed: 1954 by Herbert Tichy, Sepp Johler & Sherpa Passang Dawa Lama
Climb Time: c. 6 weeks
Best Season to Climb: August - October
Introduction - An easy eight-thousander?
Twenty miles to the west of Everest is the sixth highest mountain on Earth – Cho Oyu. Rising 8,201 m (26,906 ft), Cho Oyu’s peak continues the highest border in the world, separating Nepal from Tibet
It is considered one of the easier eight-thousanders to climb and is often advertised by adventure guides as a great option for beginning the bagging of these monumental peaks. Over 3,000 climbers have reached the summit, mostly since the boom in climbing from the mid-1980s onwards.
If you’re looking for a high-altitude adventure in the wild beauty of the Himalayas, Cho Oyu may just be your perfect eight-thousander challenge. Suffice it to say, if you’re looking for solitude on your adventure, Cho Oyu may not be the mountain for you!
Any mountain’s names holds connotations related to the prevailing culture and the mountaineering history. Cho Oyu is no different, meaning the ‘Turquoise Goddess’ in the local Tibetan language. Other suggested definition include the meaning ‘God’s Head’ or ‘Mighty Head’.
We can also draw reference to the Tibetan bald god, Cho Oyu. In Tibetan mythology,is marriage proposal was rejected by the mother goddess, Chomolongma, and so turned away to face the opposite direction.
- Browse a list of guidebooks and tales of adventure in the Himalayas
- Find links to our introductory guides to other Himalayan Peaks
- How much does it cost to climb a Himalayan Peak?
Whichever meaning, what is clear is that Cho Oyu has managed retained something important. By resisting a westernised renaming, the mountain has retained its unique cultural meaning and import for the local Nepali and Tibetan people.
This is not always the case. Mount Everest was named after Sir George Everest, British surveyor, reflecting the power early explorers, and dominant cultures, had in naming the world around them.
The strong presence of indigenous people is also important to defining mountain names. K2, for example, is in such a remote area that it was named after a navigational point! So at least now it’ll be easier to find!
While it is considered a relatively simple ascent, the dangers of mountains of this elevation should never be under-estimated.
In 1958, an Indian expedition suffered the first death on the mountain. The following year, an avalanche killed four women who were part of an international expedition. Since then 45 people have died on Cho Oyu. While this reflects a very low death rate compared to other eight-thousanders, it still reminds that the threats of falls avalanches and altitude related illnesses are ever-present.
The border between Tibet and Nepal, which Cho Oyu straddles is a busy thoroughfare. Over the high glacial pass, Nangpa La (5,500 m/ 18,045 ft), a lot of trade occurs between Tibetians and Khumbu Sherpas. Yet it is an unauthorized border crossing and as such any visitors should be wary of following the locals across the border, in particular given recent issues with Chinese authorities on the Tibetan side.
On 30 September 2006, during the post-monsoon mountaineering season, the Chinese policemen manning the border shot and killed a teenage Tibetan nun and injured a number of other refugees as they attempted to flee Tibet. In total, 75 refugees had been attempting to flee through chest-deep snow, but were brought into custody by the border guards.
But the incident became worldwide news when a Romanian photographer, climbing nearby, smuggled video footage he took of the incident out of Tibet. This incident did much to bring awareness to the plight of Tibetans under Chinese rule, beginning an international discussion about resolving long-running oppressions.
Found 20km (12.5 miles) west of Mount Everest, From the Lungsampa Glacier, the face of the mountain gradually rises for about three kilometers. Glaciers line many of the slopes of this mountain, creating the dominating white appearance of the mountain.
Part of the Himalayas, this mountain marks a point to the north-east of Kathmandu. From here, the range grows further skywards, with Everest and Kangchengjunga both found to the east of this peak.
There are three key ridges that define this mountain: North-east, North-west and South-west. The North-east Ridge is the typical route taken up the mountain when climbed from the Tibetan side.
First ascent of Cho Oyu
As with many of the eight-thousanders, the first ascent occurred in the 1950s. Cho Oyu was the fifth eight-thousander to be climbed, after Annapurna, Everest, K2 and Nanga Parbat.
An attempt in 1952, was led by British climber, Eric Shipton. He led a group up to 6,650 m (22,500 ft), before meeting the north-western ridge, which proved too difficult to by-pass because of an ice cliff. Ill-equipped for ice climbing, they were forced to turn back.
In 1954, an Austrian expedition were the first to succeed and reach the summit. Climbers Herbert Tichy and Sepp Johler were joined at the top by a local guide, Sherpa Passang Dawa Lama. They followed much the same West Face route as Shipton, but were evidently more prepared for the challenge of the ice cliff that had prevented the British from reaching the summit. This has since become the Standard route.
As they were not British, however, this ascent was actually illegal. They were essentially trespassing into territory that, as Austrians, they were not permitted to climb. Given the heavy repercussions of illegal entry into Tibet, or even near to it, in the years since, these early explorers were perhaps fortunate not to experience more political issues en route.
The same year, a French expedition tried to reach the summit to, but failed. Yet this expedition still managed to set a first. Claude Kogan became the first woman to reach the higher reaches of Cho Oyu. Given how often the first female ascents follow decades after the first male ascents, the closeness of this effort to the first ascent is reassuring.
Marianne Chapuisat, a Swiss climber, was the first woman to successfully reach the summit, doing so in 1993. That same year saw the first winter ascent of the mountain.
The second successful ascent occurred in 1958, though this also saw the first tragedy on the mountain as an Indian climber died of altitude-related illness. The following year, Claude Kogan, returning to attempt the summit for the second time, died in an avalanche. The next successful ascents didn’t occur until the late-1970s.
Slovenian climbers Joze Rozman and Marko Prezelj were the first to successfully scale the North Face and reach the summit, doing so in 1988.
On 13 May 1994, Carlos Carsolio set a new record in reaching the summit in a record of 18 hours and 45 minutes.
Mark Inglis’ ascent of 2004 was the second time a double amputee reached the summit of an eight-thousander. Having had his legs amputated after spending 13 days in an snow cave in New Zealand while working in search and rescue, he would go on climb Everest in 2006. This second accomplishment involved 40 days of climbing.
Climbing Guide to cho oyu
Discard the difficulties associated with altitude and Cho Oyu becomes a very climbable peak. Cho Oyu does not have sections that require a lot of technical ability to climb. Particularly when held up against K2, Nanga Parbat and Everest, Cho Oyu is an accessible option for those wishing to experience life above 8,000 m.
It is reflected by the number of successful ascent: 3,168 by the end of 2014.
It is also considered a ‘convenient’ mountain. Cho Oyu Base Camp can be reached within a day from Kathmandu (flight to Tingri and jeep to Base Camp), foregoing any issues of needing to stock for weeks of approach before the climb.
This does mean that many climbers will be heading up the mountain during peak season, and there are increasing issues related to overcrowding. As has been more publicly experienced on Everest, this is an issue that will quickly come to a head and need to be resolved. Eventually, economy and nature must find a compromise.
The more popular approach is from the Tibetan northern side, via the Tingri Valley. However, it can also be reached from the Nepalese side.
From the Tibetan side, the hike from Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp and Camp I are moderately difficult hiking only. Trekking over glacier moraine and sections of steep scree, this approach is more strenuous than technically challenging.
However, between Camp I and II the difficulty rises, reminding you that ‘easy’ is a relative term on mountains of this size!
There are usually fixed ropes here to assist the difficult climbing section, found around 6,700 m ( ft). Outside of peak season, however, this may not be the case.
The next challenge is found above Camp III, around 7,600 m ( ft), which poses the most difficult climbing on the route over a rock band (it has been ice climbing from Camp I onwards). Given the strenuous nature of the climbing here, and that it is usually attempted at night (following an early start from Camp III), this section sees many expedition turn-arounds.
However, if successfully navigated, the journey to the summit and return to Camp III takes around 12 hours.
From the Nepalese side, the routes pass through the Khumbu area, a fulfilling venture for those interested in nature and beauty of the outdoors. However, as very few people climb the mountain from the Nepalese side, we will bypass a detailed description of the available routes.
The best time to climb Cho Oyu is before and after the monsoon. The pre-monsoon season is between May and early June and is the warmer of the two peak seasons, reaching balmy highs of minus 18 ºC!
The post-monsoon season is September to early October and offers more stable weather conditions.
Getting to Cho oyu
Most adventures to Cho Oyu begin in Lhasa (see below). A period of acclimatisation to the cold and elevation is recommended, before beginning the journey to the mountain.
The next stop is Tingri, a community 2-hours from Base Camp. This is reached by car, but you’ll need to change to a jeep to get over the unplaced roads and rough terrain to reach Base Camp.
Base Camp can also be reached from Kathmandu. This entails a drive from Kathmandu, through Kodari, Zangmu to finally arrive in Tingri. This route has been modernised recently and so should offer a less bumpy ride than the route through Tibet. Kodari is a town on the Nepal side of the border while Zangmu is an urban center on the Tibetan side.
Either way, expect this journey to take around 2 days. There are also a limited number of flights from Kathmandu to Tingri, though this dismisses the value of the journey among the majestic countryside.
Remember also to get the necessary permits from relevant government agencies especially on the Chinese Tibetan side. Local mountain guides and experienced adventure companies can prove very helpful on these counts. If buying a single person permit, be prepared to pay in excess of USD$6,000 for the permit alone.
Adventures around cho oyu
Unlike many of the nearby peaks, Cho Oyu offers adventure possibilities to more than just climbers and mountaineers.
This mountain has also become the darling of snowboarders and ski mountaineers. Particularly in autumn, the conditions become very favourable, with lower injury risk on the consistent, quality snow and fewer avalanches likely. This adventure allows you to summit Cho Oyu, while enjoying plenty of snowboard and ski time.
For the culturally curious, the town of Lhasa should be a focus. This town is where many Cho Oyu expeditions begin, but has endured Chinese dominance and influence since the invasion in the late 1950s.
However, unlike many of the Buddhist monasteries on the Tibetan Himalayan slopes, this town has managed to retain many of its old buildings and uniquely Tibetan cultural practices. Accordingly, you will find magnificent monasteries built according to Tibetan architectural philosophy.
One of the places of significance is the hilltop Potala Palace, a World Heritage site. It was the official residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959, when the 14th incumbent was forced to flee the incoming Chinese occupation.