Updated by Linda McMillan
Tuesday, April 18,
Today we awoke to a snowstorm here in Tingri (approx.14,000ft). It looks like the high mountains have received a large amount of new snow. We have heard reports that Cho Oyu received over a meter of new snow and teams are sheltering in Advanced Base Camp. Only a couple of days ago the north face of Mt. Everest, visible from hills in Tingri, was mainly clear of snow. Now the entire face is gleaming white. Fortunately, down here in town the weather warmed and by midday the snow here was melted away.
We took the opportunity to do our final shopping at the one, self-proclaimed supermarket in beautiful downtown Tingri in preparation for rejoining our team on Cho Oyu sometime this week. The variety of goods sold at this market is amazing: sacks of rice. bicycle tires, farming tools, canned soft drinks, CDs, solar panels, and a large variety of shirts for little kids with the English word "Happy" oddly embroidered all over them.
In the afternoon we learned that the snow and cold spell that hit this region was much more severe than expected. It has shut down the main highway from Tibet to Nepal. The high pass south of Tingri, Tong La (5200 meters), is predicted to be closed for days while the snow, ice, and rockslides are cleared. So all traffic headed for Nepal has laid over in Tingri. This also mean that TMA Landcruiser coming back from the Nepal border to pick us up and take us to Chinese Base Camp is stuck on the far side of the passes until they are reopened, which we hear could take a week. Even if we could get to CBC now, the yaks that would carry our gear from there to Advanced Base Camp would not be able to move up the mountain until the heavy snow melts out. So we are doubly trapped in Tingri now until the conditions improve. With each passing day, Tom is running out of time to get high enough on Cho Oyu to have any chance to reach the summit when the best "weather window" period arrives. We're stuck in a sticky spider web of events and circumstances beyond our control. Can we still make this expedition successful?
We have passed the time by getting to know some friendly and very interesting members of a Korean expedition that are headed back to Nepal after suffering from altitude sickness and sun-scorched faces (photo at right). One of these gentlemen is the CEO of a big telecom company in Korea. We donated tubes of lip balm and face cream to them, and they have kindly reciprocated with some large containers of delicious dried spicy Korean noodle soups.
Wednesday, April 19,
Although it was still snowing in the high mountains today, here in Tingri the conditions have grown more mild. We took the opportunity to hike around the area and take some photos of the dramatic landscape that surrounds us here. In the late afternoon we hiked up to a beautiful landmark at the top of the hill that shields TIngri from the fierce winds blowing down from the high mountains.
From this commanding height we enjoyed spectacular views of the high Himalaya to the south, including great views of Cho Oyu and more distant (and left of Cho Oyu) Qomolungma (Mount Everest). We made some panorama photographs of the peaks with our nifty Kodak V570 camera donated by our generous sponsor Fry's Electronics. This very lightweight camera can automatically "stitch" three successive images together immediately after taking them. No software needed to produce stunning results easily. For us this is an ideal mountaineering camera--fast, light, and very easy to use in thin air (mentally slow) conditions!
The graceful curved landmark atop this hill includes a beautiful tribute to the creation of Qomolungma Nature Preserve, which spans a large section of the Himalaya in this area and is linked to similar preserves on the Nepali side of the mountains. This type of transboundary protection area helps to preserve plants and animals in this region.
This hill also features a striking remnant of an ancient Tibetan fort that was mostly destroyed by a Nepalese invasion in the 17th century. All that is left is a tower of red stones festooned with sticks of prayer flags. On the arid plains below this hill are many clusters of Tibetan families with their yaks and horses. Some of the land seems to be roughly laid out as pastures and tilled farmland where the Tibetans can grow barley to produce their staple food, tsampa. Not only is tsampa the "power food" for the Tibetan people, they also feed it to their yaks before a day of carrying loads. The Tibetans roll up large balls of tsampa (about twice the size of a fist), then dole them out to the grateful yaks before they have to haul loads up the mountains.
April 20, 2006
This morning our Korean friends will finally be able to get to the Nepal border so they can drive to Kathmandu and fly home. We also said goodbye to an amazing Swiss cyclist who stayed at our lodge last night, George Probst. This retired Swiss postman has cycled an incredible distance already on a very long planned journey. He started peddling in Australia, then crossed to Southeast Asia by ferry and has already crossed most of China. From Tibet he is headed today for Nepal and across the Indian subcontinent and Middle East back to Europe. He says that Lance Armstrong personally gave him his best wishes for a safe journey. His sponsors include Swiss watch company Tissot, and he certainly is an impressive representative for them!
The high passes on the highway to the border have now reopened, so George Probst, the Koreans, and scores of cargo trucks and other vehicles can now make it over the high passes to the border. We have been assured that tomorrow we will be driven to the Cho Oyu trailhead at Chinese Base Camp, where yaks will be waiting to carry our gear to Advanced Base Camp where we will rejoin our team.
Today we prepared for our departure tomorrow. Though the weather is nice today, no one here in Tingri seems to have a clue about what the weather will be in the coming days. Forecasts don't seem important here. The people are so hardy, they just persevere no matter what the weather is. Fortunately, every day warmer weather is more likely to prevail, though we've seen that conditions are constantly in flux, with cold and windy the norm. We hope the moisture streaming over from the Nepali side of the Himalaya recedes in the next weeks and the winds calm. With favorable conditions our team will enjoy summit success.
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