Staffer Aims to Conquer World’s Highest Peaks

Staffer Aims to Conquer World’s Highest Peaks

Looking up at Mount Cho Oyu from the Advanced Base Camp
Photo Courtesy of Edita Nichols

When Rome-based Emergency Simulation Training Consultant Edita Nichols and a six-person team set off to conquer the summit of Tibet’s Mt. Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth–highest mountain, she didn’t realize she was starting a 43-day adrenaline-packed adventure that would take her through an earthquake followed by an avalanche, rope-climbing across dangerously crackling ice, and the unsettling discovery of two other climbers who had died trying.

Many climbers will say that the true quest for the Summit begins at ‘ABC’, otherwise known as ‘Advanced Base Camp’. For most people, it is already an extreme sport if you can make it to 5,700m, where ABC is situated, and still have the energy to go further. But for climbers like Edita and her teammates, this is where the real journey began. Here they met their Nepalese climbing experts, or ‘sherpas’, who would accompany them all the way to the top – planning their daily routes, cooking, and ensuring their safe passage.

While a few mountaineers are either insanely brave or have miracle lungs, most climbers use oxygen to help supplement the thin air at such high altitudes. But it’s not just the lack of oxygen in the air that presents climbers with difficulties.

Overlooking the camp as the climb begins
Photo Courtesy of Edita Nichols

Shortly after arriving at Camp 1, the team was greeted with a startling welcome. While settling into their tents, walls suddenly began to shake. At first it seemed as if a hidden hand were brushing the snow from the tent, but as the intensity increased, the unmistakable roar of an avalanche quickly filled the air. The long and tense moments that followed finally ceased when the sound of radio chatter broke through the silence, signaling that no one had been immediately injured.

A short time after the avalanche, Edita’s team leader discovered a tent hidden under a mound of snow. Inside was the body of a man. His cause of death couldn’t be verified with absolute certainty.

“The unpredictability of climbing mountains as large as this can really test your mind and body,” Edita says. “Physical strength is only half of what you need to succeed. The other is mental perseverance.”

A native Lithuanian, Edita’s passion for climbing mountains began when she was 16 years old, after her older sister came back from an expedition to the highest peak of the Altay Mountains in Russia. After hearing stories of avalanches and crackling ice, Edita was sold on the idea of an exhilarating, high-altitude adventure, but she also admits there was a bit of friendly sibling rivalry.

“In my mind, I was determined to climb higher and farther,” Edita says with a smile. While she may not have inherited her adventure streak from anyone in her family, she attests that her love of mountains came from her father. With a fascination for snowy peaks and a passion for adventure, Edita also acknowledges that a quest for the Summit can be sometimes be riddled with the unexpected.

On the way to the summit
Photo Courtesy of Edita Nichols

More Than Just Avalanches

While avalanches and earthquakes aren’t uncommon, climbers can also see the dire consequences that have befallen fellow climbers before them.

On mountains accustomed to receiving many climbers each year, various ropes often dot the area – strategically placed to help aid in the ascent over cliffs and steep peaks. Upon nearing one particular cliff, Edita noticed that there was something which seemed to linger against the white wall of ice, almost as if floating. Unable to make out the shape from afar, she slowly realized she was looking at a person. Lifeless and frozen to a dangling cable, a man had made it about halfway up the cliff, his hands still firmly grasping the rope. No one knew for sure how he may have passed or how long he had been there, as rescue teams are unable to reach these levels of immense altitude.

While this experience would send most people running away screaming, the team hiked on, for the next night they would be going for their Summit bid.

Race to the Summit

Edita stands at the summit of Mount Cho Oyu, with Mount Everest behind her.
Photo Courtesy of Edita Nichols

At 1:00 a.m., they set out from Camp 2 into –30C temperature and 35mph winds. “As with most peaks reaching over 8,000 meters, it’s normal to leave in the dead of night when the weather is the calmest,” Edita explains.

Due to unstable weather conditions, the team only had a two-day window to reach the Summit – which seemed more hopeful than realistic, as only one team had reached the top so far this season.

Even with the help of oxygen, the slope was steep and unrelenting. Step by step, they hoped for dawn, when the prospect of climbing this enormous mountain would seem more possible. As they reached Camp 3, the sun’s rays began to creep across the Himalayan skies, with Mount Cho Oyu casting its ominous shadow. They continued on until it seemed the mountain would end in the clouds. Before they realized it, the tops of Everest and other Nepalese peaks began to appear, and suddenly, there was nowhere else to climb.

Nine hours from when they started and now finally at the top, Edita stood as the very first Lithuanian woman to reach the Summit of an 8,000 meter mountain. While it’s a lifetime achievement for anyone, she already has her sights set on Cho Oyu’s more famous neighbour: Mount Everest.

Leighla Bowers
(10 Feb. 2012)

Asta DUPUY
Congratulations, Edita! I’m so proud of you!
Posted on 10/02/12 13:33.
Sergio ARENA
Brava Edita! I really envy you. I also remember another colleague, Mark Squirrel, at the time field security officer in Nepal, who about 4 years ago interpreted the Walk the World initiative in his personal and original way by climbing Mount Everest and waving WFP flag on top of the world!
Posted on 14/02/12 07:57 in reply to Asta DUPUY.
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