Minya Konka (Gongga Shan) is the easternmost 7000 m peak, entirely in the Chinese province Sichuan. It is situated about 1000 km east of the any other peak of comparable height. This area has long been a white spot on the maps, and until the 1930s there were rumours that Minya Konka might be higher than Everest.
Although completely situated in Sichuan, the Minya Konka marks a cultural and topgraphical boundary between China/Sichuan with a humid moderate climate in the east and (climatically and culturally) Tibetan influenced dry highlands in the west.
The Minya Konka area was intensely explored in the 1930s, amongst others by the Swiss topographer and artist Eduard Imhof.
It was first climbed in 1932 by an American expedition; they also did an intense surveying work in the area, establishing the height of 7556 m. They describe their climb and the months in China in the book "Men against the Clouds", an outstanding piece of mountain literature.
Until 2001, there were only seven more successful climbs:
- 1957 - June 13: expedition of Chinese labor union, six persons on the summit. On the descent, three members fall to death; another member is killed in an avalanche.
- 1982 - May 25: Swiss 3-person expedition reaches the summit from Yanzigou Valley via NW ridge, one member falls to death on the descent.
- 1982 - Oct. 3: American expedition reaches the summit (D. Coffield, D. Kelley)
- 1984 - Oct. 6: Heinz Zembsch, Gerhard Schmatz, Hans Engl (Germany)
- 1997 - May 2: Japanese expedition from Yanzigou Valley/NW ridge (Yokohama/Nagahara)
- 1998 - November 11: Korean expedition reaches the summit via the north side (Yanzigou Valley) and the northeast ridge, after fifty days. The first successful expedition which was not accessing via the northwest ridge. Three expedition members reach the summit; one member died in an accident.
- 2002 - October 6: a French expedition (High Mountain Military Group, leader: Antoinde de Choudens) reaches summit via the NW ridge (variation of the first ascent route)
Until 2003, the mountain was climbed eight times. 22 persons have reached the summit. 16 climbers did not return from Minya Konka. All except one successful ascents were via the northwest ridge.
The normal route of the NW ridge, as established by the 1932 expedition, has three major sections:
- Access to the northwest ridge
Steep glacier slopes (up to 45-50°), danger of avalanches. There are three pillars leading to the ridge; usually the left pillar is used. The right pillar was attempted by the 1984 expedition, the central pillar was climbed by a 1989 French expedition.
- Long section on the ridge with traverse of the "Hump"
The Hump is a vertical ice formation that blocks the ridge at about 6300 m. It must be traversed, rappelling about 80 m on the other side
- Summit ridge
From the base of the Hump the ridge consists of ice and rock, difficulty probably not more than II (UIAA).
The route from Yanzigou Glacier joins the route described above on the northwest ridge; Hump and summit ridge are the same for both.
The mountain is accessed from the lamasery Gongga Gompa, west of Minya Konka. From Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, one can travel by car via Kangding and Shade to the valley of Liuba (2 days), and the rest is a two day trek:
- Chengdu - Ya'an - Kangding: Mostly a good road, until Ya'an excellent expressway (130 km), then about 200 km reasonable paved road. 6-7 hours to drive.
- Kangding (2500 m) - Shade - Liuba (3860 m): First a paved road over a 4300 m pass (this is the road to Tibet), then about 100 km rather bad road, usually possible with normal vehicles. About 6 hours.
- Liuba (3860 m) - Zimei La (4560 m) - Zimei (3480 m): From Liuba, there is an ascent (on foot) of 700 m to Zimei La and 1000 m down again to Zimei. The village Zimei consists of only a couple of houses.
- Zimei (3480 m) - Gongga Gompa (3741 m): 150 meters down to the bridge over the river, then up 500 meters on mostly a good trail through a forest to the lamasery.
The Chinese refer to the lamasery as "base camp". However, a reasonable place for the base camp is one day further towards the base of the mountain at 4380 m.
One can also access the area from the east side (Moxi, national park with intense touristic activity). Three out of the eight successful expeditions entered the area from there via Yanzigou Valley which is situated on the northern side of Minya Konka. Either the NW ridge or the (more difficult) NE ridge can be accessed from there.
The direct access to Minya Konka from Moxi via Hailuoguo Glacier is blocked by a huge icefall; up to now there were no successful ascents from there, and the way from there to the base camp would take several days.
Climbing this mountain is an expedition - you need a permit.
The climb can be organized via Sichuan Mountaineering Association in Chengdu, or China Mountaineering Association in Beijing.
When To Climb
Minya Konka can be climbed before or after the monsoon, i.e. either in April/May or in September/October. The weather is usually very unstable even during these times, because the mountain group rises high above the surrounding area and thus creates its own weather.
As the success statistics (see Overview chapter) shows, the weather in fall seems a little more promising than in spring.
The only building in the area is the lamasery, so camping is the only way. There is a lot of scrub up to 5000 m altitude - one might have to look a while for a really good place. A good basecamp site is at about 4380 m, there is also running water (at least sometimes). The little valley is avalanche-safe and there are lots of birds singing, a beautiful place.
High Camps (for the normal route from Gongga Gompa on the left pillar):
- Camp 1 - 5310 m
On a saddle on the left pillar leading to the northwest ridge.
- Camp 2 - about 5900 m
On the northwest ridge, where the left pillar ends.
- Camp 3 - about 6600-6800 m
In the lower part of the summit slopes where these allow to pitch a tent.
There is hardly any up to date information about the conditions, since the mountain is climbed not very often.
Generally, the weather in spring seems extremely unstable, leading to pronounced avalanche danger on the "classical" route from about 4900 m to the NW ridge at about 5800 m.
- Two against the clouds
An attempt by a two-person expedition in spring 2001. Weather and conditions didn't allow to reach the northwest ridge. By Hartmut Bielefeldt.
- 2002 French expedition
The TV project of the successful 2002 French expedition
- Richard L. Burdsall, Arthur B. Emmons, Terris Moore, Jack T. Young, "Men Against the Clouds: The Conquest of Minya Konka" - ISBN 0-916890-93-7, reprinted 1980 by The Mountaineers, Seattle, WA, USA.
Unfortunately this book is out of print. The detailed story of the first ascent, including surveying work and several months of travel through the China of 1932.
- Shih Chan-Chun, "The Conquest of Minya Konka", Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1959
- Joseph E. Murphy, "Adventure beyond the clouds", Dillon Press, Minneapolis, 1986, ISBN 0-87518-330-1
The record of the 1982 American expedition.
- Rick Ridgeway, "Below Another Sky: A Mountain Adventure in Search of a Lost Father", 2000
- Gerhard Schmatz, "Höchste Berge, wildeste Meere", ISBN 3-88294-394-1 (in German)
autobiographic book by Gerhard Schmatz, including a chapter about the 1984 Minya Konka expedition
- Michael Brandtner, "Minya Konka, Schneeberge im Osten Tibets", ISBN 3-937597-20-4 (in German)
interesting book about not only Minya Konka but most mountain ranges of the region.
- The American Alpine Journal has a short article about the 2002 French expedition in the 2003 issue (p. 406-407).
New information is welcome...
This mountain page is the result of our 2001 expedition to Minya Konka. Since then, many things have changed in China (although the mountain still seems to be rarely attempted).
Most of the information which you find above dates from 2001. If you were there in the last few years and found things different, please do not hesitate to add a comment, or to contribute directly to a major update of this page. Thank you!