By Jordi Corominas, Spain, translated by Alex Horner
Cho Polu (6,700m), west face and southwest ridge.
Elena Parga and I spent a week in Kathmandu, waiting for the plane to Lukla. As far as Island Peak base camp the trail was full of tents and people, but then it was another world—nobody, only mountains. Beyond Lhotse Shar base camp we were forced by loose blocks on the lateral moraine to make a roped descent to the glacier. We then crossed the entire rubble-covered glacier and pitched our tent below the west face of Cho Polu, at 5,300m. The previous year we’d attempted this face, but exhaustion proved stronger than our willpower. We thought we’d find some of our gear but only came across two rappel anchors.
After a day’s reconnaissance we woke in the middle of the night and set foot on the face at dawn. There was more ice than in 2010, making for faster progress, but the worst part of an ascent is always the pack, which crushes you little by little. Toward the end of the day, we arrived at some rocks, but to our disappointment they offered no shelter. We had to chop out a small ledge and, half sitting and half reclining, we held the stove between our legs.
Toward the end of November it’s cold at 6,000m, and we found it hard getting moving in the morning. At first the slope was icy, but as we gained height it became unstable snow, without decreasing in angle, forcing us to make a taxing traverse. Later we cut a tent platform into a snow ridge, as the face above did not seem to offer any suitable campsite. It’s a shame we were unable to photograph this site—a real eagle’s nest. Despite the cold we slept and recuperated.
The following day we climbed as quickly as possible to get past the remaining difficulties and reach the col at 6,400m on the southwest ridge. We arrived at 1 p.m. From there to the summit seemed easier, so we unroped to speed things up. However, the snow was unstable, and there was more than 1,000m of air between our legs. Elena was not sure about this and, deciding there was not enough time left that day to reach the summit and return, remained on the col in the sun. I went on alone. It was a nice autumn day, with thin cloud cover and enough visibility for me to see Chomo Lonzo and Makalu, other peaks left on my list. Three hours later I was back at the col, and we began a series of ca 20 rappels down our line to the tent, arriving after nightfall. The following day we continued our rappel descent, using pitons, V-threads, rock spikes—anything was fair game to get to the bottom of the face. When we reached Chhukung, friends had prepared a fine dinner.
We rated our 1,400m route M.D., with sections of 80° ice and unstable snow in the upper section. We completed the climb itself in four days, with one sitting bivouac and two in a tent on a tiny ledge. I reached the summit on November 21.
Editor’s Note: Despite attempts dating back to the spring of 1954, when Edmund Hillary led a productive New Zealand expedition to the Barun Glacier, the first known ascent of Cho Polu took place in 1984, when it was soled by Nil Bohigas via the north face and northeast ridge. It’s possible that British climber Trevor Pilling, approaching from the west, also climbed the peak from the north in 1989, shortly before his disappearance in the Annapurna Sanctuary. Both these ascents were unauthorized. The first official ascent was made by Germans in 1999 (AAJ 2000), via the north ridge and north face, approaching from the west. Corominas made the third confirmed climb of Cho Polu.