Cho Oyu. Record breaking ski

Cho Oyu. Record breaking ski 2008

In 2003, four women who love laughter and adventure with equal ferocity came up with a cunning, drunken plan to form the first ever all women's adventure racing team. A hilariously unmacho name, the 'lipstick blondes' was decided and off we ran, biked and kayaked.

In 2004 we climbed Aconcagua, a 7000m peak in Argentina. On the descent, as we staggered and shambled down the scree, a big idea was formed: to ski and board some of the World's highest mountains, ultimately getting ourselves to the top of an 8000m peak. Over the next few years amidst adventure races, ultra marathons and babies, other mountains such as Elbrus, Denali, and Mustagata were skied. Then in September 2008 the time came to realize our dream. Cho Oyu at 8201m has been skied by fewer than ten people and no British women, and has never been bum boarded by any body. Ever.

The three day walk to base camp was staggeringly beautiful. From the Tibetan plain unclimbed sacred peaks, glistening glaciers and Everest encircled us. Every morning the tinkling of yak bells awoke us as we crept closer to Cho Oyu, the 'Turquoise Goddess'.

The sensitive political situation had made getting visas tricky and we were closely monitored by Chinese officials. Our walk to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) took us towards the Nangpa La pass, a Tibetan refugee route into Nepal and the way used by the Dalai Lama during his flight from Tibet. The yaks, our gear porters, were even more closely monitored and at one stage got stopped at a police checkpoint because their permits were incorrect. Yes, you read that correctly, the yaks had permits too. So on arrival at ABC we had Squash's face cream, one down jacket and a bar of chocolate covered Kendal mint cake between us. Perfect.

Offers of international aid flooded in from other teams to ensure we would survive and then luckily some one managed to persuade the Chinese that the yaks and our kit were of no political threat and they sauntered by moonlight into camp.

Before we went further up the mountain, a 'Puja' was held, which is a religious ceremony to request a safe passage on the mountain and to bless vital equipment like ice axes, crampons and of course Squash's 36 pairs of knickers. As with all good parties this involved singing, dancing and lots of alcohol.

Crazy party time was followed by the first walk to Camp 1, carrying a load up to stash. We were supposed to leave at 7.30am but despite gentle enticement with cups of tea and egg, Squash couldn't get Suzy out of her cozy sleeping bag. She finally shambled out, hoovered half a bowl of porridge, set out at a storming rate and then wondered why she felt so ropey?

During the 8 hour round trip, there was a steep scree section where Squash was first dragged up by a whistling, chortling Sherpa and then relieved of her backpack altogether. To complete this good fortune, another Sherpa then offered to take her half full pink water bottle, the only thing she was left carrying. She gracefully declined.

After a couple of days of rest back at ABC we headed up to Camp 1 to 'sleep' and acclimatize for a few nights. Camp 1 was picturesquely perched on a snowy ridge at 6,400m. It started to look a little less pretty when the wind began to blow.

The first night at a new altitude, you don't really expect to sleep, but this was exacerbated by the slapping and shuddering of tents in the increasing wind. By lunchtime of the second day at Camp 1, we had lost two tents and clearly the other twenty were making a bid for freedom. Indecisive as to whether to stay up or retreat, we stayed. Not a good decision. The second night was a fight for survival in the raving wind. An incredible clarity of thought came over us as we planned how to avoid losing kit, tent and our lives in the wind, which was now over 100mph. As we snaked out of our tent at 5am pinning our kit and selves down with ice axes, the tents ripped from under our hips and legs and flew off into oblivion. Unable to stand, we slid along on our bellies, securing ourselves with ice axes until we reached a crevasse where we sheltered and stashed our kit. At first light we fled Camp 1 for the tranquility of Advanced Base Camp. All 22 tents of our expedition were lost and amazingly we only had a 4-day wait at Base Camp for new tents to arrive.

We brilliantly entertained ourselves during this time at ABC with a solar powered i pod disco, bat and ball, sit down table tennis and snowball fights. We knew, however, that the wait was jeapordisng our summit bid and that we would be lucky to make it to the top. The appalling weather meant that no one at this stage had got beyond Camp 1, and therefore no ropes were fixed higher on the mountain.

Eventually we set off for our summit bid. Ideally this would involve one night at Camp 1, one night at Camp 2, one night at Camp 3 and then the summit. Ours was not quite like that. Due to storms halting us at both Camp 1 and 2 we had three nights at Camp 1 and four nights at Camp two. Most of the team by then had retreated, battered by the wind and altitude at 7,100m.

When we arrived at Camp 2 both of us were feeling very weak and quite incoherent. We forced water and food down, made ourselves get up, walk around camp, continue melting snow for water, keep clean and not allow the wind to irritate or frustrate us. Lots of deep breathing, gossip and laughter is how to survive this stuff.

We had planned to wear matching knickers on summit day. They were a splendid pair of black frilly pants with skulls and crossbones all over them. We liked the irony. But at Camp 2, Suzy realized that she had forgotten hers. Squash was not impressed.

Our patience and survival at this altitude did eventually pay off and after 4 nights we left for Camp 3 at 7,500m and the summit. It was the first summit day this year and our only chance.

When we set off from our tent at 3.30am, the last thing we expected was to be waiting in the bitterly cold wind for 60 people to climb the rock wall on the one fixed rope. For two hours.

Then began the slow snow slog to the summit, which finally came at 1.15pm. Out of oxygen, Squash could barely breathe or walk. With stunning views of Everest (just 600m higher than us) it took 40mins for Squash to change her oxygen tank and Suzy to put her skis on.

Rather emotional we descended, Suzy Britain's first female 8000m skier and Squash the World's highest ever bum boarder. The snow was surprisingly good, like a really rubbish piste with small sastrugi. Suzy was managing to link turns together easily and not collapsing from exhaustion after every turn, which she had been warned would be likely. Her lightweight Trab skis had been a dream to carry up and skied pretty well too. After the summit plateau was a great pitch of about 35 degrees where she flew past astonished climbers still on their way up. Whizzing down until the abseil, we watched, in complete disbelief, a Chinese woman who had apparently never seen a figure of eight before, just throw it away. A three-hour wait and rescue ensued.

Fairly cold by now, during her abseil, Squash caught her crampon in old rope and flipped upside down, passing out and losing her oxygen mask. Not good. A knife wielding Sherpa reached her first, but fortuitously Dan Mazur, Summit Climb leader, suggested cutting the rope wouldn't be the best plan and rescued her.

Freezing cold by now, as if there hadn't been enough drama, we then came across a snow-blind man. It was dark and he was hallucinating. "I'm waiting to be rescued by my team," he said. "How do they know you're in trouble?" We asked. "Because I'm calling them with my flashing headlamp." Camp was miles away. Realising the flashing headlamp wasn't going to alert anybody's attention, we half carried, half dragged him down, otherwise he would have died there. What should have taken us half an hour took three.

The icing on the cake was the skiing between camps 3 and 2, which was an incredible and joyous surprise. Powder at 7300m is suffocating with pleasure.


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