Within the majestic Khumbu Himal, Cho Polu towers at 6,700 metres, long attracting mountaineering enthusiasts from around the globe. Recently, David Goettler, Lucien Boucansaud, and Guillaume Pierrel took up the challenge, following the route forged in 2011 by Jordi Corominas and Elena Maria Parga. This daring path directly ascends the dizzying west face before joining the south ridge, leading to the summit.
Ascent of Cho Polu: An Adventure of Valour and Determination
On 10th October 2023, a team comprising of David Goettler, Lucien Boucansaud and Guillaume Pierrel ascended Cho Polu, thus adding a new chapter to the annals of mountaineering. This third ascent of Cho Polu proved to be both a physical and mental challenge.
Before embarking on this quest, the team took significant time to prepare for their ascent. “We intentionally acclimatised ourselves by spending a night at the summit of Island Peak, which is six thousand one hundred metres high,” says Guillaume Pierrel. To further hone their acclimatisation, they also explored the Kumbo Valley and the branch of the Chouk Valley, where they conquered minor summits reaching altitudes of 5,800 metres.
However, the weather conditions posed challenges. “There was an immense amount of snow, numerous wind slabs, thus wind slab avalanches,” recalls Pierrel. Despite the potential dangers, the team set out in search of a feasible route. They eventually settled on a particularly steep face with spines. Pierrel describes it as “very wild” and shares his awe at a “beautiful starry night” during their bivouac.
Following meticulous preparation, the team embarked on their assault of the mountain. Their trek proved challenging due to the snow (struggling to progress through 50 centimetres of fresh snow, requiring alternating leads to break the trail), punctuated by bouts of fog, lengthy traverses and periods of climbing. However, Guillaume Pierrel notes one particularly striking aspect: “It’s truly an extraordinary experience. We’re on our own, not belaying each other. It’s easier, not being roped together; we’re more efficient, it moves along faster.”
The final climb to the peak proved to be extremely challenging. “From sixthousand four, we take the route towards the summit. We take two steps. We stop to catch our breath,” described Pierrel. But despite the challenges, the team reached the summit, where they were met with a bitterly cold wind and thick fog.
The descent too, was not without peril. Fearing rock falls, the team decided to spend the night at an altitude of 6,400 metres. “It was an unforgettable night. Very cold, major discomfort, utterly exhausted,” relates Pierrel. Nevertheless, the following morning, they embarked on their return journey, retrieving their bags from the base of the face before returning to the village of Chouk.
Their journey has been documented using a variety of equipment, including drones, cameras and GoPros. Pierrel also teases a “little extra surprise,” without giving away further details.
Upon their return, a warm reception awaited them at the lodge: “They were waiting for us with a large cake”. This ascent of Cho Polu is the perfect testament to the courage, determination, and adventure spirit of these passionate mountaineers.
Enigmas of Cho Polu: Between History and Ascents
In the spring of 1954, Edmund Hillary, accompanied by a team from the New Zealand Alpine Club and several British climbers, travelled to the Himalayan region. They conquered several peaks during their expedition. In a book published two years later, Hillary reports that the Kiwi climber, Norman Hardie, made the first ascent of Cho Polu on 3 June, climbing under reduced visibility from the east along the north ridge.
The Himalayan Index attributes the first ascent to Edmund Hillary and George Lowe in 1954, a fact corroborated in 1955 by the publications Mountain World and the New Zealand Alpine Journal. In their book “East of Everest”, Hillary and Gregory mention that Hillary, alongside Sirdar Urkien, climbed an icy dome-shaped peak of 22,060 feet on 3 June 1954, a mountain the inhabitants of Imja would call Cho Polu. However, the exact nature of this 1954 ascent remains uncertain. The Himalayan database and the editors of the American Alpine Journal agree that the first recognised ascent of Cho Polu was made in the autumn of 1984 by the Spanish climber Nil Bohigas, in an unauthorised manner, by way of the north face and the northeast ridge.