ForwardThe following test is a translation for the Chinese Original and is reproduced here with permission from G-View. Original by Han Yao
Although we had done our research on the mountain before setting off, our plans changed while en route. We had planned to climb the west peak, but by the time we got to the base of the ice tongue we changed our minds and decided to climb the east peak instead.
It is not that we are particularly reckless in our climbing, it is just that after we had climbed to the base of the ice tongue and stood looking at the coulior up the north face of the majestic east peak and were seduced by the elegant line, just as most mountaineers would have been. I think it had something to do with the recent ascent of the fourth sister of Siguniang by the two Brits, we read the story and so often imagined ourselves on their climb. Suddenly, right before our eyes, we had a chance to make these imaginings come closer to reality and we quickly decided on this more exciting climb.
Nov 4: Chengdu - Rilong, Clear skies
I woke up feeling bad and had a slight fever. I went down stairs and took some medicine and somehow stumbled onto the bus. The entire drive I was in and out of a shallow sleep: maybe I have been to Siguniang too many time recently and I cannot get excited about another climb into the heights. By 3:00 pm we are at Lu Sange’s place but neither Sange nor San Sao are anywhere to be found. Sange had taken a group from Chengdu Adventure in to climb Camel West and San Sao had gone in looking for him. Only their children were home so we set about to find a room nearby so we could off load our gear and find something to eat. Later that evening we sorted through our gear and took out kit we had brought for our attempt on TianhaiZi which was to follow the climb of Camel West. We took out 6 bolts because we figured all we would need on the west peak was 2 snow pickets. We would later come to regret this decision. At about 11:00 pm we were in bed and fast asleep.
Nov 5: Rilong - BC, Clear skies
We got up early to an exceptionally cold morning and got underway without eating breakfast. In Changping Valley we came across two travelers from Guangdong who were surprised we were carrying so much kit. They walked with up to GanhaiZi where we stopped for breakfast. We continued on alone after breakfast and picked up the pace. At 1:00 pm on the way to BC and ran into Lu Sange and his group from Chengdu Adventure who were just coming down after a successful climb of the west peak. We asked them for as much beta on the route as we could and also borrowed another two ice pickets from them. Lu Sange was afraid we would not be able to find C1 and he insisted on coming with us and he let the rest of his group return to Rilong on their own. I had dressed to lightly in the morning and my fever was turning into a full blown cold. In my sleeping bag that night I could not stop coughing and sneezing which I am sure bothered my tent mates to no end, but they put up with it.
Nov 6: BC – C1, Clear skies
I woke up realizing my cold was getting serious but I was still in good spirits and was not feeling any effects from altitude sickness. Ze Yun gathered our sleeping bags and put them in the sun to dry while I made breakfast in the tent. The hike up today would be much more strenuous; my cold plus a 25kg pack plus an altitude of 4700 m combined to make me feel especially tired. In general my fitness for climbing on this trip was not great, I felt a dry sweat a few times and the work brought me easily to exhaustion. We had decided that once we reached C1 we would take a day to practice glacier travel, probably because the evening before I was coughing and sneezing too much and this was having a negative effect on the others.. At C1 we put up tents, boiled water and I began falling asleep. Still it was quite early and after I woke up I moved to the door where it was easier for me to clear my nose and throat while sitting erect in the doorway. Fortunately our 4-man tent was quite roomy and there was enough space for us to play cards to pass the time. Actually I find the time in camp quite boring and each time I go climbing I have the experience that once in the tent, no matter how hard the wind blows or how much it snows outside, all of us men all have the same topics on our minds to talk about. This time it was a bit different because we had a woman with us and the topics of conversation were more varied and interesting.
One aspect of alpine climbing is that we don’t bring as much fuel and we decided to bring only two canisters. Because we needed to conserve, we did not bring our water to a complete boil but we did bring enough sour plum powder to bring out a bit of taste. We had a big meal and ate fresh rice and meat we had brought from Chengdu and avoided the usual instant noodles. The night was very cold and we figured this meant clear skies and good weather for our summit bid in the morning. My cold was getting worse and after downing a handful of pills for the fever we all got into our sleeping bags and fell asleep early.
Nov 7: C1 - Summit - C1, Clear Skies
We got out of our sleeping bags at 5:00 wanting an early start for this long and difficult day. For breakfast we had coffee and chocolate mixed with milk, which was very rich and would guarantee that we have enough energy for the day. The first few rock sections took us about one hour to cross and this brought us to the bottom of the ice tongue at around 6:30 am. This is where the real climbing began. Both sides of the ice tongue beneath the summit had great amounts of rock fall coming down continuously and you had to pay attention constantly. Sange mentioned that the last party was carrying packs up to C2 and they chose to climb up the scree slopes, but we decided to avoid the rocks and limit our exposure to rockfall by climbing on the ice in the middle. After one pitch on the ice tongue, Zi Yun set a belay station to bring Liu Jie and Sange up while I took video from the side.
The morning was bitterly cold. I was wearing Asolo double boots and after two hours my feet still hadn’t warmed up. Sange was wearing Salomon Pro Ice single boots and he kept complaining that his feet were cold the entire time. It wasn’t till 9:00 that we finally reached the top of the ice tongue. From here we could see the slanted hanging glacier that extended down from the west peak to where we were for over 200 m and below us the glacier was heavily crevassed. Small and large splits in the ice covered the area and gave us an unsettled feeling. To the east we could see the tracks of the party that had come up a few days before. There were far fewer open crevasses off towards the east. The glacier is well formed and active but presently there was a layer of snow on top of the glacier that was probably two meters deep. If it was not for the tracks left by the previous party we would have needed at least half a day to cover the passage over the ice tongue, but as it was we were able to make good time following in their tracks while at the same time it allowed us to relax about falling into crevasses. The air was cold and dry and soon the mouth piece of my hydration system began to freeze up and it became useless. Soon we were standing on top of the ice section right at the separation point between the east and west peaks. We look at the face on the east peak and decided it was a more interesting challenge. Looking back on it, this decision might have caused to give up and turn back before reaching the top.
Photo to Right: the red line is our ascent route and the blue is our descent. We were afraid of the rockfall during the descent damaging our ropes so we chose to come down in deeper snow. The yellow line is the difficult turtles back.
From the top of the ice section to the base of the coulior on the east peak required two pitches of climbing over heavily crevasses glacier. We used two snow pickets for the belay on this section Ze Yun took the other two pickets and used them to climb with. I took video from off to the side and Sange helped Liu Jie at the rear. Most of the leading, except for the final 2 pitches, was done by Ze Yun. The final pitches were too steep and Ze Yun getting tired at the front so Sange took over.
The recent good weather had made the snow settle and become unconsolidated which made for slow going often causing us to fall back two steps for every one step forward. It was especially tiring to break trail up front. The cold also affected our batteries and I had to warm them in my down jacket after only a few second of filming. Sange would retrive the snow pickets from the belay and carry them up to Ze Yun who would then begin the next pitch. As we arrived at the belay station, we would all attach ourselves to the rock and take a short rest while watching the climbers below coming up.
By 12 noon we had reached the most difficult part of the climb, the ‘Turtles Back’. This was a section of huge boulders that were worn smooth on the top but had no snow on them. We called them the turtles back because they jetted out over our heads and looked like a turtle. Wearing mountaineering boots and crampons made it very difficult to climb over the obstacle. Ze Yun tried to lead it first and gave up after two tries. Then I had a go at it but could not get past the bottleneck. Finally, we got clever and tried to skirt around the bottom but found ourselves unable to more either right or left. Finally we found cracks in the rock and were able to pound in an ice picket that we used as a belay anchor that got us safely past the turtle. The moves over the turtle were dangerous because a fall would have been onto protruding rocks below that we could not protect for.
After passing the turtle the route was straight up and quite steep and I began to worry how we would come back down. By this time everyone on our team was looking rather tired and this meant lunchtime had arrived. Sange looked at the remaining part of the climb and also saw that Liu Jie was already exhausted and recommended that we turn back. It was only 1:00 pm and we felt very near our objective and after discussing it a few times we decided to press on. After this decision Ze Yun also appeared exhausted and Sange decided that he would take over the lead work and the rest of us would follow on mechanical ascenders. Sange’s proficiency on rock was what allowed us to save time and energy and made our summit bid successful. Before the final pitch we came to a ledge about 1.5 meters square where we could safely rest. From here we needed to traverse over towards a coulior on the northwest face of the east peak. In the center of the coulior was a section of vertical, nearly blank rock about 15-20 high that would be our final obstacle before the summit.. After this section we could see that the traverse back to the summit was all rock except for a 20 meter patch of snow.
At 3:20 pm the entire team was on the summit of East Camel Peak. The summit was flat for about 2 square meters. To the west was a large block with a deep crack and we placed our flags and other items there. It was also suitable for a rappel anchor and we rigged it with some flat webbing and were soon on our way back down. Unfortunately, my GPS, which I had carried to the top, froze up and would not give an accurate altitude reading – it read 3200 meters – so we could only estimate the altitude. Looking from west peak towards east peak, and from east peak looking at west peak and Yangmantai we reckoned east peak’s altitude at 5600 m. From east peak we could see all the way to the far away Daxueshan mountain range and all of the Qionglai mountains. We could also see the parking lot high in the Bipeng Valley. The view was amazing but the wind began to pick up and could not stay long.
On the descent we rappelled more than ten rope lengths and left behind many slings and 2 pickets. Finally we were forced to cut 1 meter from the end of the ropes for more rappel anchors. By the time we arrived back on the ice section we were all pretty much exhausted. The sky was starting to show evening colors and we could look up and see the coulior we had just climbed. It all felt like a dream.
Liu Jie tripped and fell a number of times on the way back to camp and her face was bruised. It had been a long time since any of us had been so tired. We fell asleep as soon as we arrive in camp and did not eat anything for dinner.
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