Cho Oyu 2014 Recap


Click picture above for complete Cho Oyu slideshow

By clicking the picture above, you will be taken to my complete photo narrative of our 2014 expedition on the world’s 6th tallest peak, Cho Oyu (Turquoise Goddess).  It was a great expedition with an exceptional group of people, however, the Himalayan season was not without its challenges.

As you well know by now, we headed to the Himalayas with the highly ambitious goal of climbing three of the world’s six tallest peaks in one push (Cho Oyu, Everest and Lhotse).  Our plans were derailed by a horrific tragedy, a work stoppage and global geo-politics, as we worked feverishly to get a permit to climb Everest from the North side (Tibetan/Chinese side) once the South side in Nepal shut down after the serac collapse that tragically killed 13 Sherpas and 3 Nepalese porters.  To this end, we had incredibly high-level contacts in the US government contact their counterparts in the Chinese government to lobby on our behalf.  Despite calls to the Chinese Mountaineering Authority on our behalf from extremely high-level Chinese Generals, Chinese foreign ministers, etc., a permit was not forthcoming with our only reply or explanation being a simple “no.”


Willie & Matt upon their to Kathmandu after successfully summiting Makalu, the world’s 5th tallest peak

So, Matt Moniz and Willie Benegas continued our team’s mission (as we didn’t have the financial resources necessary to send all four of us) by changing gears completely and climbing Makalu, the world’s 5th tallest peak, in a record-setting, 3-day alpine push.  Meanwhile, Mike Moniz continued his extraordinary efforts to attain an Everest permit for the team.  At this point, I remained in the region, by relaxing and recovering on the beaches of Thailand with Carla (an exceptional way to recover from a big climb), in case our Hail Mary efforts shook free the ever-elusive North-side Everest permit.  After waiting nearly a week and the spring Himalayan climbing season quickly coming to a close due to the imminent arrival of the Indian monsoon to the Himalayas, it was time to fly home.  I made it home on 5/31, and Mike & Matt Moniz soon followed.  And, with that, our Himalayan season came to an end with the team climbing the 5th & 6th highest peaks in the world, but leaving some unfinished business for us all.

Kata Noi Beach - Phuket, Thailand

Kata Noi Beach – Phuket, Thailand

I think we all believe strongly that our team would have accomplished our goal of climbing three 8,000 meter peaks in one push had the South side season on Everest not ended in tragedy, as it did, or if the Chinese had simply granted us a permit to climb the North side of Everest.  The team was strong, determined, acclimatized and in good health coming off our successful climb of Cho Oyu, which made the circumstances that were well beyond our control sting that much more.  It’s one thing when you’re unable to climb due to illness, physical exhaustion, inability, poor conditions/weather, etc. and it’s a whole other thing to be denied your dream by nameless, faceless bureaucrats.  Perhaps, if nothing else, it keeps the name of this blog relevant and a return trip to Everest, yet again, possible.  We’ll see what the future holds, but this season’s frustrations and successes will have to suffice for now.  It was certainly a season of ups-and-downs, but I am thankful for the incredible climb of Cho Oyu and the camaraderie of my teammates, which will make the good memories far outweigh the frustrations of this adventure.

Cho Oyu Expedition Photos

Success on Makalu (27,765′)


Matt on summit ridge of Makalu

With our original plans to climb Cho Oyu, Everest and then Lhotse permanently altered by the tragic loss of life in the Khumbu Icefall on Everest this season (great interactive article on that here), we worked diligently and from every conceivable angle to get a permit to climb Everest from the North/Chinese side. All of those efforts have been thwarted by the Chinese. To salvage our plan of climbing multiple 8,000 meter peaks this season, we set our Plan B sights on Makalu, the world’s 5th tallest peak at 27,765′. Unfortunately, we did not have the necessary resources to get the entire team to base camp via helicopter, so we sent young Matt Moniz (just 16 years old) and super-guide Willie Benegas.

I’m happy to report that they summited on May 25th at ~4am in a building storm after an unprecedented, highly ambitious, 3-day, alpine-style ascent. They descended safely and then waited out a snow storm for four days before returning to Kathmandu yesterday (5/29). They completed the fastest-ever ascent of Makalu, put the first Argentinian on the summit (Willie), only the 14th American and the youngest-ever on the summit (Matt). They even managed to say hello to our dear friend Heidi Sand on the summit, who is the first German woman to summit Makalu (Heidi was on my 2012 Everest team). Small world.

This is a tremendous feat and I’m proud that our team persevered to successfully climb the world’s 5th and 6th highest peaks in great form and in a single push. It wasn’t quite the Himalayan triple we had imagined but it is an incredible success amidst the most difficult of Himalayan seasons.

What’s Next…


On summit of Cho Oyu with Everest behind me

As most of you know, our intent was to climb Cho Oyu as a more ambitious and interesting way to acclimatize for our planned attempts of Everest and Lhotse. Unfortunately (on so many levels), the tragedy that struck the south side/Nepal side of Everest this year (and subsequent Sherpa strike that ended the climbing season on Everest’s south side) rendered those parts of our plan irrelevant.

With our plans no longer intact, we quickly shifted our sights to climb the North side/Chinese side of Everest. However, the Chinese proved determined not to provide us a permit to climb Everest, via their territory, despite the fact that we had a Chinese visa that was good through 5/31/2014 and we were already climbing Cho Oyu on their soil — only miles from Everest base camp. We had extraordinarily senior-level contacts from the US reach out to counterparts in the Chinese government at Ministry levels (essentially the equivalent of Cabinet-level positions in the US government), who then advocated on our behalf. Still, rather unbelievably, to no avail. Perhaps, the US’s pivot to Asia didn’t help our efforts or our recent indictment of senior Chinese generals for cyber-crimes. Regardless, they remained steadfast and the answer remained “no.” Thus far, anyway.

So, we then looked into other options to continue our goal to climb multiple 8,000m peaks (over 26,250′ tall) in a continuous push. We decided on Makalu (the world’s 5th highest peak) since there were teams there climbing already that would make an alpine push to the summit over a few days more feasible. Unfortunately, the logistics, infrastructure and team required to do so proved problematic and expensive. Therefore, our team has only sent Matt Moniz and Willie Benegas to Makalu to make an attempt over the next several days (they arrived at Makalu’s Advanced Base Camp today), while Mike Moniz and I continue to work toward a Chinese permit to climb Everest — however unlikely it is at this point. We are acclimatized, and will remain so for a couple of weeks, should the elusive permit be granted, and we continue to hope against hope to get a chance regardless of how unlikely it is.

To that end, I remain in the region on the off-chance that a permit is granted, but departed Nepal today for Thailand. I am meeting my beautiful girlfriend, Carla, in Bangkok tonight and we will continue on to the beaches of Phuket, Thailand, for a few days of R&R until our flights home on 5/31 or the Chinese grant us permission to attempt Everest via the north side. So, the clock is ticking either way, but should the Everest answer remain “no,” at least we’ll make the most of it. And there is nothing like trying to negotiate with the Chinese while in the midst of a military coup in Thailand!!! At least the beaches are beautiful…

Please wish us luck, especially Willie & Matt while they are on Makalu, and I’ll continue to keep you posted as things develop.


Cho Oyu (26,906′) Summit – 5.17.2014

imageAfter awakening at Camp II (23,600′) at 2am and departing for the summit at 4am, we reached the summit of the world’s 6th tallest peak, Cho Oyu (26,906′) – The Turquoise Goddess – at 11am on 5/17. We then descended all the way back to Advanced Base Camp (18,500′) in one long, 17-hour push.

We have awakened here the day after and are relishing the experience. The smiles in the picture say it all. Special thanks to a remarkable team of Sherpas who despite a painful Himalayan season gave their all to make this a safe and successful climb. Amazingly, our combined team fixed the entire mountain for all of the Spring 2014 Cho Oyu climbers and, therefore, carried and fixed 11,500 feet (3,500m) of rope, plus the requisite snow pickets and technical gear, up Cho Oyu this season.

Cho Oyu Summit Push



The jet stream continues its assault on the upper mountain while we continue to wait in ABC. The weather models indicate that we’ll see an appreciable drop in the winds on 5/17. Enough so, that we are planning our summit attempt for this brief reprieve as winds look like they’ll increase dramatically again on 5/18-19 with lots of precipitation (snow) arriving on its heals around 5/20. Now or never?!?

The team is ready and strong, so we ought to be able to make the most of this narrow window. Therefore, we have a couple of more days to pass in base camp before heading to Camp I on 5/15, Camp II on 5/16 and the summit on 5/17. After that, politics and circumstances well beyond our control have us wondering what will happen next. For now, we’ll continue to focus on the world’s 6th highest peak, Cho Oyu, and hope to stand atop the Turquoise Goddess briefly on 5/17.

The Waiting Game

Most/all 8,000m expeditions require waiting for the right weather window when we can climb as safely as possible into the “death zone” above 26,250′. At this phase of the expedition it is a mental grind and a test of one’s patience as one’s body continues to deteriorate while living on a glacier at 18,500′, eating the same foods day-after-day in limited portions, and the physical weight-loss mounts to 20 lbs and increases with each passing day.

Having been through this before helps, but the grind is on. Here’s a post I wrote from Everest base camp in mid-May 2012, which gives you an idea of what it’s like being here at this phase of the expedition:

Camp I Touch-n-Go

The jet stream has parked itself over Cho Oyu and the other high peaks in the region, which is typical for this time of year but is also frustrating. So, we wait. Typically, the forming monsoon in the Indian Ocean atmospherically pushes the jet stream to the north (and off these peaks) before its arrival, which is what creates the summit windows of mid-late May

In order to stay strong as we stretch the limits of our patience, we continue to do long pushes to remain fit and acclimatized. Today’s outing took us to Camp I at 20,500′ and back to ABC (18,200′) over many miles of rocky moraine and steep scree. We’re now doing this round-trip in a spritely 5 hours instead of the 7-8 hours it took us a week+ ago. Therefore, the team is acclimatized and ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates. Our best estimate at this point may entail a blustery summit attempt around the 15th. Here’s a picture from today’s outing looking toward Shishapangma (14th tallest peak in the world).



Summit Rotation Pushed Back

Due to heavy snow overnight here at ABC and winds increasing up high over the next several days, we have decided to push back our summit bid until conditions improve, so we’re still in advanced base camp. We’re hopeful a new summit window emerges around May 12th and are diligently reviewing all of the different weather models. A summit window for us would require a forecast at 8,000m (26,250′) of -25 Celsius temps (-13 Fahrenheit) or higher, winds of 30mph or less and minimal precipitation. We’ll certainly keep you posted.