Klaus Dierks
©  Dr. Klaus Dierks 1982-2004


National mayor expeditions whose reports are sounding like news from a battlefield and whose mountaineering activities are tackled like a war situation are not complying with our chosen style and the financialpotentialities of a country like Namibia.

Due to these restrictions and due to the fact that all financial means must be generated privately, it is an absolute must to limit the expedition equipment to the utmost minimum, to the real vital necessities. For these reasons we have to abandon an expedition doctor, oxygen gear for medical purpose, extreme rope aids, radio equipment and many more. Our two Namibia Himalaya Expeditions with only about two hundred kilogram expedition equipment surely have been the smallest mini expedition ever which have approached the Himalayas with such an ambitious mountaineering programme. This advantage is paid for dearly by the greater chance to land into dangerous limit situations.

The limit of expedition mountaineering, the death zone in the Himalayas, begins at an altitude of approximately 5 500 m. Before one reaches this region, the top of the world, one has to negotiate the approach walk through the foot hills of the Himalayas for some weeks.

Nepal is a poor country and the gigantic mountain range of the Himalayas which is exceeding all known dimensions on earth is creating nearly insurmountable problems in the building of a physical infrastructure. Consequently, contrary to the Alps, the Caucasus and the South American Andes, we don’t find railways and roads in this part of the world. The biggest part of Nepal is crisis crosse by an extensive system of foot paths to the remotest corners of the valleys in the High Himalayas where the goods traffic is taking place mainly on human backs of the Nepalese porters, the most frequent profession in this Himalaya kingdom. These foot trails on the approach march to Mount Everest for instance are not resulting in any extraordinarily dangerous experiences. These trails are often miserable, are attached to breathtaking steep mountain slopes and are never on even grounds. The often unstable hair-rising small bridges which are swinging above ice-cold torrential glacier rivers are resulting in greater experiences of fear than real technically difficult ice walls in the High Himalayas. There are nuisances like numerous aggressive leechee in the tropical jungles during our approach walk through the foot hills to the roof of the world. Mountaineering problem situations are not to be expected here.

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One of the many unstable Bridges in the Himalaya which have to be crossed  (over the Samling Khola in the Lapchi Kang in Nepal)
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

One of the gravest dangers on any expedition into the Himalayas are besides natural risks like crevasses on glaciers, avalanched, soft snow, inclemency of the weather and others mainly death by exhaustion and the ill-famed "Acute High Altitude Sickness". This unpredictable disease can occur in altitudes as low as three- to four thousand metres and will be caused by the decreasing partial oxygen pressure which is resulting in considerable disturbances in the human body. One has to differ between mild and life endangering heavy symptoms of the High Altitude Sickness. The mild symptoms like headache, nausea, insomnia, loss of appetite, breathlessness as well as altitude cough are suffered by each high altitude mountaineer. These symptoms disappear usually after a few weeks due to acclimatisation. Optimally an eighty five percent adaption to high altitudes can be reached after five weeks of staying in heights above 5 000 m..

The grave symptoms like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Cerebral Edema are representing nearly always a deadly risk. No scientific theory regarding High Altitude Sickness has been established yet. It is a gloomy and not calculated disease which even can strike at mountaineers with optimal condition and high altitude experience. Up to this day no medical precaution is known. Drugs like Azetazolamid can at their best combat the mild symptoms. The optimal prophylaxis for each expedition is still a well planned phase of acclimatisation. It should be considered in the course of said acclimatisation to estimate one week for every thousand altitude metres beyond four thousand metres.

The time of adaption and preparation at home serves another purpose as well. To climb in high altitudes one needs great willpower due to the fact that normal living and breathing alone without any physical exertion represents already considerable suffering. The necessary psychological power in generating this willpower must be build during long periods. Only in that way, during the critical phases of an expedition, compacted energy and fitness can be generated. This dense energy field will remain even in great heights.

During a very critical stage of the Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1982, while we were traversing the deterrent difficult Amphu Laptsa mountain range between Mount Everest and Makalu, we did need desperately this psychological power. In one of their proverbs the Tibetans are saying that it will create disaster to approach the thrones of the gods of the Himalaya.

This calamity hits us in the remote world between Amphu Laptsa and West Col in the Hongu when my mountaineering friend from Zimbabwe develops a late phase of the Acute Mountaineering Sickness, a High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. This deadly threat makes it appearance in spite of an acclimatisation period of four weeks in altitudes between four- and six thousand metres in the region of Cho Oyu and Mount Everest. In isolated and remote parts of the Himalaya like the Hongu there are no means of communication or medical assistance whatsoever. In our case the only way out is the evacuation of the fatally ill man, who actually belongs into an intensive care unit of a modern hospital, from 6 000 m to a meagre 5 000 m, the lowest possible point in the Hongu before we have to ascend again. This nightmare descent takes place under difficult alpinistic conditions. It can be attributed to the clemency of the Tibetan gods only that our expedition didn’t end in catastrophe.

Apart from the constant threat of disease and accidents which without the possibility of any rescue assistance constitutes in itself a great psychological stress, there are other problems on any Himalaya expedition. In times of a permanent state of exhaustion in an environment which is regarded by oneself and everybody else as hostile, one will certainly react differently as one would react at home. This different behaviour comes to light particularly in the social relations with one’s co-climbers on such expedition. Conflict situations are almost unavailable. The closeness of the companionship during long periods which often are lasting for several month and in a environment of gigantic dimensions and continuous states of danger causes stresses which during the expedition can only be solved with difficulties. Psychologists who have dealt with such problem situation on Himalaya expedition speak about the three physiological phases of the high altitude mountaineer.

The first phase is the "blinker stage". It appears normally during the approach into the base camp in altitudes to approximately 5000 m. Even in this stage of problem free mountaineering the mountaineer experiences a physical and psychological stress situation. It is not the first indication of mild symptoms of High Altitude sickness or the blisters at the mountaineers feet, the continuously attacking leechee, the frugal food, the normal strain on miserable frustrating trails but fears, uneasiness and doubts. The mountaineer is almost cocooned in this framework of worrying thoughts which are caused by the fear of the forthcoming limit state experiences.

The next phase is the "champagne cork stage" which occurs usually in altitudes between 5000 m and 6000 m. Normally well balanced and peace loving personalities develop here remarkable irascibility attacks. One is again and again amazed from where one is taking the power to these outbursts of fury in this thin air. One is, however, well advised to ignore these "champagne cork attacks". These attacks have not a great significance and are indicating purely that the diminishing aveolaric partial oxygen pressure begins to affect the brain cells of the mountaineer.

The most dangerous phase is the euphoria phase, the "Hallelujah Stage" which occurs in real great heights, in the death zone. In this phase the mountaineer losses any relation to reality and to performance and condition regarding his own person. Here it can occur that in nearly 7000 m altitude one is passing a glacier full with crevasses without the usual rope security. The latter happened to me at Mera Peak in the Hongu south of Mount Everest. Under these circumstances inexplicable abandonment of co-climbers, mysterious occurrences which are responsible for so many mountaineering tragedies in the history of climbing in the Himalayas.

It is by all means possible that these occasions which are deeply rooted in the human soul are more dangerous that the unpredictable weather in the Himalayas, avalanches and crevasses. Each mountaineer is well advised to be aware of these correlations.

In the region of Chomolungma, the highest mountain on earth we are moving on the tracks of world famous mountaineers. Even here a small and poorly equipped mini expedition such as ours can enter new territories and "walk off the map" as was done during the crossing of the Amphu Laptsa mountain range by means of a new route and as well as with porters.

During our Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1980 we follow the most difficult and impassable but most beautiful route to Mount Everest. We are moving through the Rolwaling Himalaya which is situated at the boundary between Nepal and Tibet with its very old pure lamaistic culture. We intend to traverse the ill-famed Trashi Laptsa which was once called the most difficult mountain crossing in the world by Sir Edmund Hillary. The Sherpas from Beding, the main village of the Rolwaling Himal with its ancient Tibetan monastery, are warning us about the unpredictable dangers of Trashi Laptsa which is nearly reaching 6000 m in altitude. Especially during the post monsoon period which is during October and November it is not advisable to cross the pass due to the sudden changes of weather and the danger of blizzards. Specific dangers are its treacherous snow conditions and the permanent hazard of avalanches. For a not very well equipped expedition like the Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1980, however, a vertical overhanging ice wall int eh Drolambao icefall, just below the Trashi Laptsa represents a grave problem. Before we reach this infamous icefall at which many well equipped expeditions have failed in the past we have to cross the Trakarding glacier first. This crossing represents a two day sweating glacier exertion. During this exercise we are continuously threatened by rockfall and snow avalanches which come down every couple of minutes from the 6000 m to 7000 m high mountains above us. It is like Russian Roulette to cross these constantly moving unstable slopes. Below us steep ice walls are falling almost vertically to a frozen lake. Large boulders come whistling down toward us like artillery projectiles. Our Sherpas are spitting against the approaching boulders and are muttering a hurried "Om mani padme hum" to appease the demons of the Himalayas. It doesn’t represent mountaineering delight any more to safeguard ourselves before the rockfall with painfully lounges in altitudes above 5000 m.

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Big-Pher-Go Shar, south from theTrakarding Glacier
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

Glaciers in the Himalayas are rubble covered monsters, a ragged, bizarre, chaotic moon landscape which is difficult to traverse. We are harassing ourselves in crossing these rubble covered ice mountains of the Trakarding. Below ourselves the rubble stones are continuously rolling away, the step is losing in rhythm and is becoming distressingly irregular. We are groping our way along deep glacier crevasses and deep gigantic ice craters filled with green icewater. During the day this grandiose ice wilderness can develop tropical temperatures. The sun which is shining with incredible intensity changes the icy world into a hell of white heat, and the ill-famed glacier lassitude starts to affect the human being. As soon as the sun is setting behind the ice giants it is becoming very cold and the coldness is falling out of the universe which we have reached so closely.

Somewhere in this icy uninhabitable primeval wilderness we are to erect our camp. We are sleeping in small coffin like double tents on a approximately ten millimetres thick rubber mat on the bare ice which is smelting according to our bodily structure during the night. Our Sherpas are trying to cook the frugal dinner on our primus stoves. In great altitudes it is not easy to prepare warm meals because water is boiling at 70B to 80B C in these heights. For this reason rice and potatoes, the staple food of the Sherpa people, cannot be sufficiently cooked. We are eating day for day boring "chaura", an especially treated rice or tsampa, the Tibetan form of coarse barley flour which are stirred to a luke warm porridge. Additional we have "pika tscha", the ill-reputed Tibetan buttered tea, of which the ingredients are Chinese tea, salt, soda and mostly rancid yak butter which is in most cases thoroughly mixed with yak hairs. One could come to the conclusion that this meatless almost vegetarian one-sided diet in combination with permanently required physical heavy duty stress will cause a hallucination for Namibian king size steaks. But strange enough these hunger hallucinations don’t bother us. We are only noting that we are continuously weakening in altitudes where our bodies cannot anymore generate themselves.

After sunset we can only move into our tents and crawl into our sleeping bags which are hopefully quickly warming up. In the nights one is put before grave decision conflicts to go out into this icy cold or not when nature calls. I am remembering one night at Cho Oyu during March 1982. I was forced to leave the warm sleeping bag and to go out during a heavy blizzard. Every couple of seconds the lightning of approaching monsoon flashed through the almost horizontally pelting snowline, an incredible although for the weather during the next couple of days unfavourable spectacle. The climbing in and out the ice covered sleeping bag with nearly all clothes is a puffing effort in this altitude and awakens normally the partner and takes a couple of minutes. But it is still worse to slip into the deeply frozen double mountaineering boots. This exercise can take up to twenty moaning and swearing minutes. It is bad enough to spend these nightmarish nights in a close coffin like tent on bare ice and snow. During these long cold nights the interior of the tent is covered with ice which is falling into one’s face with each labourious breath. In regular intervals roaring snow- and ice avalanches are coming off the icefall and the gigantic peaks surrounding us. Every time the blast is shaking our tent and the glacier ice is starting to tremble below us. In these gloomy dark nights on the top of the world this can be a real horrifying experience.

Difficult gasping heavy breathing, the movements of the partner, doubts, fear, loneliness, nightmares which are most probably caused by the lack of oxygen and insomnia - nights in the Himalayas, this experience is likewise part of a Himalaya expedition.

Normally we are getting up before five o'clock. Usually the first thought is the not very encouraging but famous quotation which is known to every mountaineer in the Himalaya and was made by F S Smythe on the British Everest Expedition 1931: "Another bloody day". Outside it is ice cold, maybe twenty to thirty degrees below freezing point, but the weather is crystal clear during the early mornings in the pre- as well the postmonsoon periods. The giant mountains around us are clearly visible in the quickly withdrawing down. The stars above us are shining point blank gloomy with luminary intensity. In Namibia, in the desert Namib, the stars are not shining brighter than here. The tracks of avalanches we have heard during the night are now also clearly visible and are indicating the tremendous difficulties in front of one’s eye because we have to climb through this avalanche ravaged steep wall this morning. Our Sherpas are serving lukewarm early morning tea which has been made out of smelted snow and some biscuits which we are swallowing through our permanently sore throats. Our Sherpa guide of the Himalaya expedition 1980, Nina Lama, is praying continuously his Tibetan Buddhist prayers in monotonous sing-song since four o’clock in the morning. Shortly before our departure the devout Sherpa burns down some fumigating candles in front of a quickly erected rock altar to pray for support to the Tibetan mountain goddess Tseringma to help us to pass safely the dangerous Trashi Laptsa.

Departing with stiff knees and surprisingly small looking and surprisingly heavy weighting rucksacks all uncertainties and fears are falling away. At first we have to cross the glacier below the icefall. The deeply frozen snow bridges are carrying us safely across the fathomless crevasses. Above us the sun is shining already onto the sky-high towering peaks. Down here at 5200 m altitude everything is still enveloped in blueish cold. Parts of the rock wall which we have to climb are vertical and covered with ice but have fortunately sufficient footholds. The fixed ropes which our Sherpas have attached are safeguarding the most difficult pitches for our porters. After three hours we have overcome the first two hundred and fifty metres of steep wall climbing. After that a nearly hundred metre high ice channel nearly 70 degrees steep, is following. This couloir is approximately three metres wide and here everything is howling down what the icefall above holds in readiness for us: Frightening rockfall, powder snow avalanches and terrible slippery rock covered with ice. It is the hell for the porters and for us. Again and again we are pulling ourselves together, stimulating ourselves and one or other time all sweating exertion is coming to an end. We have reached the end of the pitch.

Above us ragged ice seracs are hanging in impossible angles. Any moment these unstable monsters can collapse and bury us underneath. The rockfall, at least, comes in this icy world to an end. Therefore an chilly wind is freshens up. Our bodies are numb with cold and our clothes are beginning to freeze. The icefall is looking impossible. Here, as I know, even Hillary has failed. During our climbing exercise all these disquieting thoughts are going through my head. The ice is brittle and we are not able to knock proper steps with our ice axes into the overhanging, greenishly shining ice wall. Each axe blow causes a small ice avalanche. Unfortunately we have no ice screws to our disposal to anchor our ropes. With ice covered faces looking like icy walruses we are battling like madmen, gasping and puffing and shouting for each other. It is to no avail. We haven’t got the right equipment to overcome this tremendous icefall.-

We have to return, we have lost, we have failed, all this is beyond our means. The bitter taste of defeat, the terrible exhaustion in 5500 m altitude, the feeling that we haven’t been treated fairly by nature, - all these too are limit experiences. We are passing through all phases of desperation but sooner or later we feel calm and peaceful and we know that we have to accept the inevitable. Here we have reached the end as well our limits. To this part of the world we will never return. We have to abandon the whole undertaking. This means a formidable realisation for us. We are battling back across the terrible avalanche- and rockfall sections which we have passed some days ago. We are passing the deep valley of defeat in the full sense of the word, and we are returning to the world of human beings in Beding, the main village of the Rolwaling Sherpas. No hope is left to bring the expedition to a successful end. But in some way or other a sound stubbornness is upholding us. In Beding we obtain the missing ice screws from a Sherpa and again hope is bursting into flame like a veldfire. We are beginning to live again, so intensively and actively as one can live only between these huge peaks. Again we are fighting our way back to the Drolambao icefall, passing the difficult avalanche section during two long exhausting days. This time we do overcome the icefall which we had abandoned the first time. Our way is free to Mount Everest. We have done what we have wanted to do.

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Drolambao Icefall at the Big-Pher-Go Shar
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

Success and defeat, happiness and mortal terror are close to each other in the Himalayas. The mountains are dictating the conditions, not the human beings. Our fate is not dependant on personal ability and condition. Hanging on a rope above the unfathomable icy abyss in the icefall I am slipping and falling into this tiny instrument of mountaineering. The thoughts flashing through the brain in the fraction of a not measurable instant of time do enclose nothingness and the full life, a further limit threshold has been crossed.

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On the way to the Trashi Laptsa, in the Background the more than   7 000 Metre high Tengi Ragi Tau
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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We nearly reached the top of the Trashi Laptsa ereicht
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Our Camp in nearly 6 000 Metre Altitude on the Trashi Laptsa
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Pacharmo 6 246 m, south of Trashi Laptsa, where the author failed due to Acute Mountain Sickness, 1984
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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View from the  Trashi Laptsa to the East, into the Khumbu
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Trashi Laptsa Icefall
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Nameless Giant at Trashi Laptsa
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Eastern Base Camp of Trashi Laptsa
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

That our small Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1980 has attacked the Trashi Laptsa twice and that we have climbed it successfully the second time is not so much a success but victory against ourselves. In the Himalayas success has no meaning at all. The Lama Rimpoche of the monastery Thame in Khumbu dedicated to me wise motto: "The path is the destination".

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Sherpa Settlement Na in the Kumbu (between Trashi Laptsa and Thame) 
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Thame Gompa, north of Namche Bazar in the Sherpaland 
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Thame Gompa, left: Nima Lama, our Sherpa-Sirdar 1980 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Thame Gompa: View to Tramserku, south of Namche Bazar 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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North of Namche Bazar: My Wife Karen Dierks (née Karen von Bremen), 1984 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

Each expedition into the Himalayas is falling into two phases. The first phase serves the slow and well planned time of acclimatisation. This is dictated by the necessity to adapt to high altitudes to avoid the grave and live threatening problem of the Acute Mountain Sickness. The second phase consists of the actual expedition.

During the first Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1980 sufficient adaption time was obtained by means of the long approach walk from Kathmandu via the Rolwaling to the Khumbu, the region south of Mount Everest.

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Namche Bazar: Main Settlement in the Sherpaland: View to the West to the Kongde Ri 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Namche Bazar: Old Tibetan from Tingri Shekar in Tibet
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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View into the DudhKosi Valley from the Khari La: south of Namche Bazar
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Dudh Kosi Valley near Phakding: south of Namche Bazar: My Sherpa Sirdar Dawa Thondup from Khunde: during two Expeditionens: 1982 und 1984 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Kangtega 6 779 m seen from Khunde north of Namche Bazar
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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View from Khunde on Tramserku 6 808 m
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Dawa Thondup with his youngest grandson Ang Tshering Sherpa from Khunde: with Ang's Mother and my Wife Karen Dierks: 1984
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Ang Tshering's Mother in Khunde
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

During the second Namibia Himalaya Expedition 1982 we are pursuing quite an ambitious undertaking in spite of our limited means. We are planning to connect the four base-camps of four peaks above 8000 m in East Nepal: Cho Oyu 8153 m, Chomo Lungma or Mount Everest 8949 m, Lhotse 8501 m and Makalu 8475 m. These four bases-camps themselves are all situated between 5000 m and 6000 m in altitude. By crossing the difficult mountain range which are between six and seven thousand metres high from Everest to Makalu our mini expedition is acquiring a serious mountaineering character. Moreover it is planned to climb a high peak in the undeveloped, partly unsurveyed and deserted Hongu.

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Amai Dablam 6 828 m
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Tsiringma in the Amphu Laptsa Range, east of Amai Dablam: between Mount Everst and Makalu
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Cho Oyu 8 153 m: View from southern Base Camp: South Face
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Nyimagawal La 5 690 m between Cho Oyu and Mount Everest
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Pumori 6 576 m: West of Mount Everest: View from Kalar Patar
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Chomo Lungma (Mount Everest) 8 849 m: View from Kalar Patar: Southwest Face
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Chomo Lungma (Mount Everest) 8 849 m: View from Gokyo Kang:
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Nuptse West Face 7 861 m: View from Gorak Shep: Everest Base Camp
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Khumbu Glacier: The Way to the Khumbu Icefall
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Ice Formations on the Khumbu Glacier: The Scramble to the Khumbu Icefall: in the Background the 7 550 m high Changtse in Tibet
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Ice Formations on the Khumbu Glacier: View into the Khumbu Icefall and the South Col between Chomo Lungma and Lhotse
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Khumbu Icefall with Lhotse 8 501 m in the Background
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Tibetan Village south of Pang La, on the Road to the Monastery Rongbuk and Mount Everest from the North, 1997
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Rongbuk-Gompa, Tibet, 1997
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Village Passum on the Way to Rongbuk, Tibet, 1997
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Chomo Lungma from the northern Tibetan Base Camp in Rongbuk, 1997
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Lhotse 8 516 m South Face
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Makalu 8 463 m South West Face: View from Mera Peak 6 461 m
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

The time of acclimatisation of approximately three weeks to adapt to an altitude of 6000 m is leading us into the region of Cho Oyu. Here we are climbing two nearly 6000 m high peaks and after that we are crossing the technically difficult Cho La Col from the Cho Oyo base-camp to that of Mount Everest.

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Cho Latse 6440 m: View from the Gokyo Kang
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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