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Setting the Stage for Everest: Cho Oyu, 1952

Person standing in front of Cho Oyu during an expedition, with a beautiful white mountain background and clear blue skies during a guided expedition with Alpenglow Expeditions..

In the storied world of Himalayan mountaineering, the 1952 British Expedition on Cho Oyu stands as a testament to the grit, determination, and pioneering spirit of the climbers of that era. Led by renowned mountaineer Eric Shipton, the expedition aimed to reach the summit of Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world, located on the Nepal-Tibet border.

Cho Oyu had already garnered attention from mountaineers due to its impressive stature, as it was clearly one of the world’s tallest mountains. However, the British team, which included notable climbers such as Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans brought a fresh approach to the endeavor. Their expedition was notable for its early test of high-altitude supplementary oxygen systems and more dedicated attempts to acclimatize properly on the mountain as high as 25,000 feet.

Notably, among the members of the expedition was Edmund Hillary, whose participation foreshadowed his historic ascent of Mount Everest a year later. Hillary’s experience on Cho Oyu undoubtedly contributed to his success on Everest, where he, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first individuals to reach the summit in 1953.

Setting out from the base camp in the Nangpa La pass, the primary trade route between Tibet and the Khumbu, the team faced a series of challenges, including treacherous weather conditions, technical difficulties, and logistical hurdles created by poor planning, team consideration, and leadership from Shipton. The younger members of the team recall feeling “half starved” throughout the trip. Despite these obstacles, they made steady progress towards their objective. On October 19, 1952, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans reached a height of approximately 25,900’/7,894m, setting a new altitude record for the time.

Though they fell short of the summit, the 1952 British Expedition on Cho Oyu endures as a milestone in the history of Himalayan mountaineering and undoubtedly set the stage for the next year’s first ascent of Everest. It not only expanded our understanding of high-altitude climbing but also paved the way for future expeditions to the region.

Today, Cho Oyu continues to see climbers who are hopeful to break into 8,000 meters and serves especially as a training ground for bigger, more technical peaks like Mt. Everest.

Interested to join our Cho Oyu team? Click HERE to connect with our team and discuss your mountaineering experience, goals, and ambitions, and see if you qualify to join us on Cho Oyu.

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