The Least Deadly Mountain In The World!

Well, not exactly - Cho Oyu is an 8,201 metre peak, the 6th-highest mountain in the world, and any mountain of over 8000 metres presents a difficult challenge to climbers. However, Cho Oyu does have the reputation of being the easiest of all the 8000-metre peaks to summit.

Its name usually gets translated from the Tibetan as "Turquoise Goddess"; however, this derives from only 3 of the four Tibetan words in the name (jo bo dbu yag) and other translations have included "Mighty Head", "Bald God" and "God's Head". Apparently in Tibetan legend there is actually a bald god called Cho Oyu, who turns his back on the mother goddess Chomolungma (Mount Everest) because she refuses his advances, preferring to marry Makalu.

The main reason for Cho Oyu being regarded as a comparatively easy climb is its accessibility. It is located on the Tibetan/Nepali border, about 20km west of Everest, and only a few more km to the west is the Nangpa La, a 5500m glaciated mountain pass which forms the major trade route between Tibet and the Khumbu Sherpas. Proximity to this pass means that Cho Oyu's Base Camp can be reached by jeep in a day from Kathmandu.

In addition to its accessibility, Cho Oyu is also relatively free of technically difficult climbing sections or hazards, such as the hanging glaciers and avalanches of Nanga Parbat and the long, exposed ridges of K2. The standard route along its northwest ridge brings climbers up quite a gentle slope and does not present any serious problems. All this has resulted in its exceptionally low fatality rate of 2.5% - there have been roughly 1400 successful ascents and only 35 deaths.

The first reconnaissance of the mountain was in 1921, when Charles Howard-Bury took account of a possible route up the north-west face on his way to do the same for Mount Everest. Edmund Hillary attempted Cho Oyu in 1952 in an expedition led by Eric Shipton; however, they turned back at 6,850 metres, having performed a more detailed reconnaissance. It was not actually summited until 1954, when an Austrian party of Joseph "Sepp" Jochler and Herbert Tichy together with Pasang Dawa Lama, their Sherpa guide, reached the top, making it the 5th 8000-metre peak to have been climbed, after Annapurna, Mount Everest, Nanga Parbat and K2. They made their ascent alpine style, without oxygen, a feat which would have been even more remarkable if not for Hermann Buhl's dramatic, risky ascent of Nanga Parbat solo and without oxygen in 1953.

Somewhat neglected after the 1950s, possibly due to its "easy" reputation, as well as some problems with border disputes after China's occupation of Tibet, Cho Oyu became very popular again in the 1980s and 1990s, and now has the most ascents after Mount Everest. Its gentle slopes have made it a popular destination for skiers and snowboarders as well as "tourist" mountaineers. It has also been summited several times in winter, a difficult prospect for any 8000-metre peak due to the weather.

"Finally, the peak is reached, the infinite hardships are ended. The last nine hours fighting with the mountain; the time in the death zone above 24,000 foot, the weeks of privations and hardships, even the risk of one's life - is this reward itself really? Yes, certainly! Not because of fame but inner satisfaction: To have found the mountain as friend and have been so near to the sky."
- Sepp Jochler