Making tracks on the ‘Turquoise Goddess’
Phoning back to Aspen after another ski descent from the death zone, Mike Marolt was succinct with his remarks.”Everybody’s slammed, tired and dehydrated,” he uttered, “but we’re working on all that, and having a great trip so far.”The call came after a summit attempt and ski descent of Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth-tallest peak, which sits on the China-Nepal border 20 miles west of Mount Everest.Marolt’s 42-year-old twin brother, Steve, was the only member of the party to ski off the 26,906-foot summit. A bad case of bronchitis kept Mike Marolt just a few hundred feet from the top, while a communication snag halted local Jim Gile – although the pair still managed to ski from above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).”Jimmy should have probably gone up there, but a communication gap and a turnaround time change forced him to stay put before he realized that Steve was going for the summit,” Marolt said in his phone message, which can be heard at http://www.everestnews.com. “A ‘go’ was interpreted to say ‘no,’ so that’s the only bummer part of the day.”Cho Oyu – which means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan – is widely considered the easiest 8,000-meter peak in the world. Then again, “easy” doesn’t belong in the same sentence with peaks of such stature – especially when you’re climbing them without oxygen or Sherpa support, as all three Aspenites have done over the years.
In 2000, the Marolts were the first North Americans to ski from the summit of Tibet’s Shishapangma, the world’s 14th-tallest mountain at 26,290 feet. In 2003, the Marolt brothers, cousin Jeramie Oates, Gile, and fellow Aspenites Kevin Dunnett and John Callahan skied above 25,000 feet on Everest for a documentary film Marolt directed.
The party’s failed summit attempt ultimately inspired the Marolts and Gile to return to the Himalayas this spring.The expedition chose Cho Oyu as a warm-up for its ultimate goal of summiting and skiing off Everest. In retrospect, all three misjudged the first peak on their itinerary, Marolt said. “It was really incredibly technical – and really a much more technical route than we had anticipated,” he said. “Notwithstanding my bronchitis, I think the guys would admit that on all the 8,000-meter peaks we climbed on, this was really taxing.”We’d like to go back and get the summit for Jim and I, but we’ve got a bigger objective and that’s Mount Everest. … Time just isn’t giving us a second summit bid here at Cho Oyu, so we’re going to head downvalley here … and rest for three or four, maybe even five days.”
According to multiple websites, including local guide Lou Dawson’s blog (www.wildsnow.com), Italians Flavio Spazzadeschi and Lino Zani were the first to ski from Cho Oyu’s summit, in 1988. Laura Bakos skied from the summit in the fall of 2000, becoming the first North American woman to ski an 8,000-meter peak.Cho is also the first 8,000-meter peak to have a historic nonsummit ski descent. According to Dawson’s site, Fritz Stammberger did the first climb of the peak without supplemental oxygen in 1964 and skied down from 24,000 feet.While their summit push was harder than expected, Marolt noted that he and his two climbing partners were rewarded with better-than-expected snow conditions for their descent.”It was just really great,” he said. “We had to rappel a couple of sections because it is not the greatest time of year to be skiing up there, but I would say, since we’ve got here, they’ve probably had 3 to 4 feet of snow. It covered up a lot of the ice and a lot of the rocks.”
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