Mount Crown is the highest peak of the Hill Yengisogat range in the Chinese Karakoram and it is situated about 42 Kilometer to the Northwest of K2 mountain. Its local name is Huangguan and that means "crown of the emperor" so Crown, for one time is not a Western name given out of arrogance but simply a translation of the existing local name. It is indeed worthy of its name: Maybe even more than K2 it completely dominates the scene of the range which is in, being, (apart from her secondary northern peak, 6853 meter Dezhi peak), more than 1000 meter higher than its surrounding peaks. It is splendidly white, adding to her majestic look.
Although the range name suggests a close connection with the Yengisogat glacier - with 42 kilometer length and an average width of 3 kilometer the biggest glacier in China - this is actually not the case and only two minor glaciers coming of its massif run into the Bei Yengisogat, (Yengisogat means "many crevasses"), a norther tributary of the main glacier. Its major ice streams run to the North, feeding the Dezhi and Qingian glaciers.
There is no population at all in the wider area of Huangguan and it is all unspoilt wilderness with wild animals like Bear, Wolf, Snowleopard, wild Donkey, Ibex and so on. The extreme beauty of the area has led to a growing popularity for trekking parties in recent years. But as Mnt. Crown is very difficult to reach and the drive/walk in taking over a week, costs of getting here are high and this is a garantuee that it will not be overrun by the masses soon.
The short climbing history of Crown
Because it is so remote and above that well protected in the middle of its own jagged massiv, the Crown had to wait a long time before the first mountaineers came and tried to scale it. It was 1985 when a fairly large Japanese party did go there. Their first interest was doing a reconnaissance for gathering data to aid a later serious try. But the team had in mind of trying to scale it the first time if it proved possible. Unexpectedly they did get very high, within 250 meter of the summit, before almost vertical ice and the approach of bad weather made them abandon the attempt. In 1986 the Japanese were back in force on the mountain, but with no better result as the previous year. A party under the same leadership returned in 1990, and this time tragedy befell them: Already early in the expedition, when going up from base camp to advanced base camp along the right side of the Yengisogat glacier, the leader and the team doctor were killed by a huge avalanche, unexpectedly coming of a smaller mountain in the Hill Yengisogat group.
1993 finally saw succes when a large party of the Tokai climbing club of Japan returned to the mountain. It was one of the mega expeditions for which the Japanese are reknowned: using as much as 100 camels and transporting to base camp over 8 tons of gear and supplies, total expedition duration was over 3 months. The organisation of the expedition however was meticulous and although they encoutered enormous technical problems and dangers on the mountain they succeeded in climbing the very severe route on the East wall. As after the first ascent Crown has lost some of its former magic, the dangers and difficulties are great, the drive/walk in very long and difficult, and the total price for an expedition to it thus very high, (It is only marginally cheaper than going to K2 northside), very few have, during the last 10 years, visited it for climbing reasons. A mounting number of trekking parties however visit the area now. Hiking here is among the most beautifull that can be done anywhere, but it is hard and on almost all hiking routes some climbing in the lower grades is necessary. It could take a while before the peak will see new ascents. Members of the alpine style K2 north expedition of spring 2003, who did some acclimatisation climbing on lower, easier peaks near Crown describe it as "desperate to hopeless"
Difficulty of climbing Crown
The easiest route on Crown is already very difficult, all in the Alpine grade VI and over. It is in fact not even known what is exactly the easiest route. Most likely the Japanese of 1993 found one of the most feasible lines up it. At all sides the Crown is very inaccessible, angles on the peak itself being over 60 degrees minimum and at several places perfectly vertical and even overhanging. It is a great future task for parties of very experienced and able high altitude climbers to put up new routes on Mount Crown.
History: The pioneer team of 1985.
In 1985 I went with the first team ever to try and climb the crown. As now many of my friends of this splendid exploration venture are not among us any more, I want to remember them with some photographs in this special chapter.
There are three ways of reaching Kashgar --- our starting point for going to the Mt.Crown (Huanguan, 7265m). One possible way is taking a plane from Beijing to Urumqi (3,270km ,a five hour-flight) and then fly to Kashgar(950km) about 1 and half hour flight. The second one is taking train to Kashgar (36 hours, one and half day) The third one is driving all the way from Urumqi to Kashgar. It takes you three days to go there.The first day Kurla (460km) about 7 hours’ driving and next day it is to Aksu (400km) about 5 hours and last day is Kashgar (626km) about 8 to 10 hours’ driving. Then it is best to have one day rest and sightseeing in Kashgar. We will continue our driving to Yecheng (260km), the last city town before our walk in to to Mt.Crown. It will take us about 5 hours’ driving. The next we will drive along the rotten mountain roads and riverbeds for about 250 km to Mazadala or Korul, (depending if the road condition allows reaching the last village), and camels are waiting for us there. It will take us 6 days’ trekking to the Base Camp of Mount Crown. The first day, Yilike to Liang Cha(two branches), it take us about 4-6 hours to go to our next stop --- Agela Pass. The second day, we will trekking another 4-6 hours to our next stop --- Da Hong Liu Tan. Then our third day is KerQing. It takes us 6 hours’walking to go there. Our fourth day is Second Da Hong Liu Dan, it need 5-6 hours’ trekking. Then the fifth day is the Base Camp of K2, it take us about 5 hours’ walking. And from there we are heading to our Base Camp of the Crown Peak, which is about 4100 m above sea level.
General information of first ascent route.
In the summer of 1993 a Japanese party of the Tokai branch of the Japanese Alpine Club managed the first ascent of Mount crown. I was able to obtain some information about the route they climbed, but it contains to little detail to make a special route page for it. Still I think for those planning to climb Crown in future it might contain some usefull information, so I just made an overview of the route.
The team consisted of a total of 14 climbing members aided by a large party of local personel. The walked in to base camp in three seperate parties, the first with 6 of the members leaving Kashgar at 19 may 1993 and arriving at Yengisogat base camp late in the afternoon of 29 may. Base camp was established at an altitude of 4100 meter on a side moraine of Yengisogat glacier.
Navigating a route to the advanced base camp through the difficult terrain of the glacier moraines cost them a total of three days. During the process an intermediate deposit camp was set up at the right hand side of the glacier at 4300 meter. Finally at 4350 meter the Advanced base camp was set up on the side moraine of the glacier. Just where a small tributary glacier coming of Crown Southeast wall joins it.
The Southeast glacier of Crown is very steep and here the actual climbing starts At little over 4400 meter a huge, vertical band of rock bars the way up and for convenience of descent it is best to fix about 125 meter of rope on this section. The lower part of Crown's East wall is an exceedingly steep Icefall with considerable danger of avalanche and it is best avoided by venturing into the South east face up to the height of little over 5000 meter. At 5100 meter on a moraine like feature there is a convenient and safe place for putting up camp I.
From Camp I to Camp 2 the route proceeds on the Southeastridge, which terminates at a height of 5800 meter. This feature is over 60 degrees on average and makes for very difficult iceclimbing. To easen load transport on this section it is best to completely rope it up with fixed lines. Given the frequent detouring around obstacles 900-1000 meter of rope is needed for it. At the termination of the ridge there is a good spot for erecting tents for Camp II.
Above camp II one should traverse into the main East wall, first among a rock band, soon in a very steep slope, usually covered in deep snow. The original plan of the Japanese 1993 team was to make a 3rd camp at around 6500 meter and a final, summit assault camp at 7000 meter, but the plan proved impossible. Higher up the East face it is all hard ice of 65 to just over 80 degrees steepness which neither allows digging of snow caves nor the preparation of tent platforms. The Japanese set up their highest camp at just over 6300 meter, and even here they had to spent a whole day of hacking away at the concrete hard ice to scope out some, poor quality, tentplatforms. Again the stretch from II to III demands roping up. Including the traverse, some 800 meter of fixed lines are necessary.
The remaining 960 meter of the East wall can not possibly be climbed in Alpine style in one day, it is mixed rock and bare ice terrain with angles almost constantly over 70 degrees and with lots of detouring from a straight line. A very dangerous spot at 6800 meter is "The exit of the Funnel", a completley vertical feature of 10 meter where everyting from the upper wall that goes down comes crashing through. The Japanese fixed lines up to 7100 meter at the foot of the summit pyramid in order to be able to proceed much faster. Around 1100 meter of fixed rope is needed for it and it takes several days to get it in place. When setting out from camp III in such a constellation it takes around 10 hours to reach the summit from here. The first summit party of the Japanese however extende the fixed lines to just 50 vertical meters under the summit, enabling the other two assault parties to get to the summit in 7 hours of climbing.
Even so high up the face avalanche risk is still great and a summit attempt should be started very early, preferably around 2.00 at night on a moonlit night and with help of head torches.
Members of Tokai Club first ascent party.
As getting up to the summit all 14 members of the climbing team on a peak so difficult as this one, the first ascent by Tokai Branch of Japanese Alpine Club ranks among the great feats of Asian alpinism, and its members deserve to be mentioned here:
1) Expedition leader Kazuo Tokushima, age 48)
2) Chief climbing leader Hideki Sakai, age 32)
3) Climbing leader (Manager) Tetsuya Abe, age 30)
4) Climbing leader (Tactics) Tetsuya Abe, age 28)
5) Climbing leader (Tactics) Masanori Nakashima, age 28)
6) Preparatory leader Mikio Suzuki, age 26)
7) Climbing Member (Transportation) Akito Yamazaki, age 26)
8) Climbing Member (Accountant) Masanori Natsume, age 25)
9) Climbing Member (Food) Hitoshi Miyasaki, age 24)
10) Climbing Member (Equipment) Kunihito Nakagawa, age 24)
11) Climbing Member (Equipment) Yasuyuki Aritomi, age 24)
12) Climbing Member (Health) Shinya Sasamori, age 22)
13) Climbing Member (Document) Kiyoshi Matsuoka, age 21)
14) Climbing Member (Food) Tetsuya Hasegawa, age 21)
Huangguan-mnt Crown, like all other peaks in China needs a permit to climb it. As it is a mountain between 7000 and 8000 meter the charge is $ 1.080,- for climbing the East face, which has previously been ascended, and $ 2.160,- for all the other, unclimbed routes. For every member in excess of 10 total and additional 10% is charged. Further you will have to pay a little for permission to use the military mountain road from Yecheng to Maza Dara and for crossing the checkpoint at Mazar. Mostly all this necessary paperwork is included in one offer by the organizing agent.
When To Climb
The best time to climb the Crown seems to be the summer months July and August as this is the only period that the harsh Central Karakoram climate sees a little higher temperatures, any other period it is bitter cold. But summer in this part of the range is also the period of the highest precipation and thus avalanches are most common. Apart from that the high level of the rivers make the walk in an walk out most difficult and dangerous in summer. A future party might decide to try it in spring, say setting out early March and returning early June. In winter it must be hellish on the crown given the great cold. But in view that last winters party on K2 did fairly well before being beaten by the cold, maybe in a further future we will see winter ascents of the Crown.
If you have the right permit for mount Crown you are permitted to camp anywhere on the walk in, in the Yengisogat glacier area and on the mountain itself. Be aware however this is a very pristine wild nature area, and you should not damage it in any way, so leave no garbage at all and bury the remains of your fireplace. Use only dead wood from the shrub forests: They grow only very slowly and it costs a brush years to repair the damage if you cut live branches. In recent year trekking and climbing parties have made a mess out of several camping spots in the region, especiallly usual K2 Base camp. Luckily last springs expedition did a fairly good job cleaning the place.
No direct information can be obtained about the conditions on the mountain, as the wide area around Crown is unpopulated. But the peak is unfar from K2/Broad Peak/Gasherbrum, so weather forecasts for this peak give a little indication of what is to be expected.