Cholatse is a stunning peak with narrow snow and ice ridges and steep faces. It is on the ridge separating the Gokyo and Khumbu valleys, just north of Taboche and just south of a 5420 meter pass used by Sherpas and trekkers alike to go between the Gokyo and Khumbu valleys. Interestingly, there is a lake just below this pass to the east, and in Tibetan 'cho' is lake, 'la' is pass, and 'tse' is peak so Cholatse means literally "lake pass peak".
It is one of the more prominent peaks on the approach to the Mt. Everest Basecamp. Although it does not have quite the commanding position of Ama Dablam, it is prominent as people ascend above Pheriche all the way to base camp, with beautiful views possible in the region of Lobuche. Athough not seen by as many people, the views of it from the Gokyo valley are also stunning. Due to its proximity to the viewer, the peak dominates the scene if you are ever fortunate enough to view a sunset from the summit of Gokyo Ri.
Unlike many mountains, there is no easy way to reach or descend from its summit, so any climb of the mountain is a serious mountaineering undertaking. Through the 1950's 60's and 70's, Everest, Ama Dablam and the other named peaks of the Khumbu were climbed one by one but no permits were granted for Cholatse, so it remained unclimbed until 1982 when it was infact the last named but unclimbed peak in the Khumbu. In that year, Al Read from Mountain Travel secured a permit for the peak. In April of that year, Vern Clevenger, John Roskelley, Galen Rowell and Bill O'Connor reached the summit via the South West Ridge. The climb was described as some twenty pitches of difficult ice climbing.
Later that same year, a Swiss expedition with Heidi Ludi, Niklause Alpiger and the Nepelese climber Kancha Tamang reached the summit after fixing ropes on much of the South East Ridge. The following year, the startling North East face was climbed by Todd Bibler, Catherine Freer, Penny Jackson and Sandy Stewart. At a slide show, Bibler, who had waltzed up the Eiger's North Face on an earlier European trip implied that the climb was quite scary (VI AI5 5.9 A2). It wasn't until many years later that Tomaz Humar, Aleš Koželj and Janko Oprešnik made the 2nd ascent of the NE face of Cholatse with a new variation on 23 April 2005. Several additional lines have been climbed including the prominent Western Rib of the West Face and the long corniced North West Ridge. During 2005 a number of variations of the North-East and North Face climbs were achieved including the first Winter Ascent of the North Face by the Koreans Park Jung-hun and Choi Kang-sik who were unfortunately both significantly injured by frostbite following an accident on the descent from the summit. Ueli Steck made a solo ascent of the north face including a direct finish in a 37 hour push from base camp with a single bivouac on the face. He reports the difficulty as "rock to F5, ice to 90 degrees, and M6 terrain noting the climb was similar in difficulty to the north face of the Eiger. He was named as one of Europe's three best alpinists by "Climb!" magazine as a result of this climb and that of neighboring Tawoche.
The number of climbs has accelerated in recent years. The North, and North-East Face routes have become test pieces for mountaineers wanting to challenge themselves on a beautiful and fairly accessible peak. In addition, the peak has started to see a few commercial expeditions coming to it in recent years, with most following the South-West Ridge, a route that wasn't repeated until 1993, and then again in 2005. It has been called both harder and much less crowded than the standard route on Ama Dablam.
Day 5: Leave Namche on the trail to Mt. Everest. If you are climbing a route on the Eastern or Northern side of the peak you will continue on this trail for several days towards the town of Pheriche. If you are climbing a western route, near the town of Khumjung, take the trail that climbs steeply up and over a 3973 meter shoulder of Khumbui Yul Lha then descends steeply to the small hamlet of Phortse Drangka. There are spectacular views of Ama Dablam this day if the weather is clear.
Day 6: Climb steeply up and out of the trees and lush fields into the higher alpine zone around Dole. Continue along a more level path to Machhermo to spend the night. Legend has it that in the early 1970's, yeti came down into this town and attacked a couple yak, so be on the lookout for this elusive creature. There are also spectacular views of Kyajo Ri on the west side of the valley and the first views of Cholatse to the east side if the weather is clear.
Day 7: Continue up the valley, but instead of going toward Gokyo, take a spur path across the river to Na. From here, work up first trails then open slopes to reach the base camp in the flat fields of the valley above Ganglha. The base camp is on the left side of the valley right where an old lateral moraine dips down into the flat valley floor. This is a beautiful place with clear running water and a spectacular view of Cholatse, the surrounding peaks and a row of sharp spires on the ridge just to the north.
If you are desiring one of the North Face approaches, on day 5, after reaching the vicinity of Khumjung, continue up the Khumbu Valley instead of turning left towards Gokyo. At Sanasa, turn right and descend down to cross the Dudh Kosi River before ascending steeply to Tengboche where there is a famous monastery. On day 6, continue up the Khumbu Valley, leaving the trees behind and arriving at the wind swept town of Pheriche. After possibly acclimating here for a day (there are some beautiful hikes on the surrounding hillsides), continue up the Khumbu Valley to the steep rise up towards the small village of Dughla. Instead of going in this direction, follow trails up the side valley in the direction of Cho La, setting up a base camp in an appropriate place for the route desired. There is a beautiful lake here to enjoy as you acclimate.
There are a couple other options for approach. There is an airstrip above Namche that some use. This would cut out a day or two of approach but you would want to add the time in acclimating anyways. A third option, and one often used for the bulk of the supplies and equipment is to take a vehicle to Jiri and then walk in through the beautiful Nepalese hill country, over a series of high passes and deep lush valleys to reach Namche. This is a spectacular hike and well worth considering for either going into or coming out of the mountains.
For many years, permits were not offered for Cholatse. The well known American climber Lute Jerstad tried repeatedly to get one from the Nepalese government without success. Once the peak was opened to climbing in the early 1980's it was an expedition peak. However, recently, the mountain has been reclassified as one of the trekking peaks making access and the administrative aspect of an ascent easier. Information about the trekking peaks as well as a great photo of Cholatse can be found here. SummitPost has this website on trekking peaks. Currently, the permit costs $500 for the first seven people and $100 for each additional member up to a total of 12 people.
There is a Rs3000 fee required to enter into Sagamartha National Park that is payable at the entry point in Mongo. You are also required to show your passport at this point. There is further information on this and other Nepalese parks here. There is also a $250 fee for garbage removal. This fee is refunded at the end of the trip if the sirdar and trip members sign off that the base camp site in a clean state.
In the early 2000's there were reported there were Maoist rebels active in the mountains of Nepal. Although they did not generally attack tourists, trekkers, or mountaineers, there were instances when climbers were held at gunpoint and required to pay a fee in order to continue their expedition. The situation has stabilized, though, and I have heard of no such instances in recent years.
There is a short article on a 2010 ascent of a new line on the north face of Cholatse here, and a descripton of a 2009 ascent here.
Some nice photos of a climb if the South Rib can be found in Stephen Venables and Andy Fanshawe, Himalaya Alpine-Style, Mountaineers Books, 1996. However, it is worth noting that Canrad Anker reported that this line did not look safe at this point due to the melting of ice on the peak.
Panorama from the Summit. This link give a 360 degree panorama from the summit of Cholatse. I'm not sure who took the video. It's grainy but interesting never the less. The summit has changed since 1993.
Movie of Cholatse Ascent
The 2005 expedition to the S.W. Ridge of Cholatse made an outstanding movie, Light of the Himalaya, of both their climb of Cholatse and work by the team to fix cataracts in the Nepalese people. The film has won multiple awards and shows detailed pictures of the South West Ridge Route to the summit of the Peak. It can be purchased herehere for about $30. Sixty percent of the money goes directly into the foundation that works on curing cataracts. By buying this movie you will be donating enough money to more than cure a person from blindness.
In recent years, several companies have begun to offer trips climbing Cholatse. Below is a selection. I have no experience with these companies, so their presence here is not an endorsement.