Updated by Linda McMillan
Monday, April 24,
Tom and I set out excitedly together in the morning for Advanced Base Camp to sort out all issues hindering success of the team at ABC. We are making good time scaling the roller-coaster ridges of the glacial moraines that lead to the high camp. The day is brilliant, and I remembered that yesterday Tom told me how incredibly beautiful the ice formations are in this area. As I reach the crest of one of the moraines, I suddenly see what he was talking about. Looking to the right side of the trail, a long glacier curves down from one of the neighboring high peaks. But this glacier is like no other I have ever seen in the mountains. Marching through the center flow of the glacier are hundreds and hundreds of giant blue-ice penitentes, tall pyramidal ice towers formed by the melting/sublimation action of the sun in areas of low humidity. These towers must be 50-60 feet tall and in the morning light are glowing turquoise blue against the surrounding snow area. Here is it obvious why Cho Oyu is known as The Turquoise Goddess!
I suddenly remember seeing this sort of scene in a slide show I saw once presented by mountaineering legend Kurt Diemberger of a glacier on the north side of K2 in the Karakoram. Such dramatic and rare beauty! I immediately drop my backpack and break out my cameras. I take several shots, and decide to spend part of my coming days at ABC exploring this area and taking many more photos. I can't wait for that opportunity. Tom is happy that I'm as impressed with the ice towers as he is. We continue hiking in great spirits, surrounded by the majesty of these high peaks.
Cresting another ridge a few minutes later, we suddenly notice a long caravan of yaks and hikers coming over the ridge ahead. As we get closer we get a better glimpse of this group, and realize that this is our expedition team! They have packed up and are headed down to Chinese Base Camp. What is going on?
I sink to the ground in amazement. So they did not wait for us to get to ABC and try to figure out a way to keep the expedition going? Had Tom told them to pack up and leave when he was there last night? Did he neglect to tell me that last night in his agitated state? What's going on?
When we reach the team, they explain that they are ready to leave, given all the problems they have faced. George and Pete said they still felt a little sick, and the Sherpas had not been able to climb above Camp 1.
They had given away all our high-altitude food to the other expeditions, emptied the large tanks of propane used for cooking, sold all the fuel for the generator, packed up all the equipment, and are headed for Chinese Base Camp. An Austrian team has taken over our team's location at ABC. I never even got to see Advanced Base Camp, and now we are leaving the mountain. I feel shattered.
So this erases all possibilities of trying to reorganize our team and climb higher on the mountain. This is the end of the climbing attempt. After much discussion, the team descends to Chinese Base Camp that night, except for Linda, who stops at Middle Camp to rest instead of walking the remaining four hours in the dark.
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The ice penitentes in a glacier near Cho Oyu glowed a striking shade of turquoise blue in the sunlight, making it clear why this mountain is known as The Turquoise Goddess.