interest for the 2015 China expedition season is already pouring in, with several objectives lined up as things take shape. the right questions are being asked at the right time – with 9 months to confirm and put the wheels of preparation into motion – so a distilled version is offered here.
unclimbed +/-5500m peaks. there for those who have the motivation. photo Tom Nakamura
its been decades since significant new expedition climbing destinations have opened up. as expedition ability has evolved in the cauldrons of Alaska, Baffin and elsewhere, true exploratory climbing to unexplored ranges has been a little thin. many climbers have glanced over China (with exceptions of course) but dismissed it as too hard to organize – which has been a good thing, leaving vast areas untouched.
the tightening up of protocols for climbing in China deterred many, but in effect has done exactly what was intended – preserving the high peaks of China from a rush of crass commercialism. now the high peaks of China are there only for those with the motivation to approach them as true expeditions. theres no ‘sign-and-climb’ safaris here.
China realistically has several hundred >5000m peaks that are unnamed, unexplored and more often than not, unseen. climbing here reignites the same ideas about furthering the greater body of climbing knowledge as climbing in Nepal and Pakistan did half a century ago. these opportunities come often….
what a trip to China involves
trips start by landing in Chengdu – a large modern city totally unlike most entry points to high altitude climbing areas. consistantly in the top 5 chinese cities to live in, Chengdu is a major player with international flights, a subway, an easy layout, international hospitals & supermarkets and embassies. hotels are comfortable, and being the capital of Sichuan the food is world reknowned. along with 3000 years of heritage theres a large Tibetan quarter and as the self-proclaimed center of Chinas outdoor industry theres even a gear district. Unlike Kathmandu & Islamabad, things like gas canisters and energy bars are not hard to find in Chengdu, so we stock up here.
Chinas roads go to above 4500m so we do the trip up onto the plateau over two days. after leaving the Sichuan basin the roads go thru alpine forest and huge gorges as we ascend, eventually coming above the treeline then crossing over high, barren passed strafed with prayer flags and following the rivers where settlements are. usually we stay another day in medium sized Tibetan towns sorting redtape before heading out into the blank areas around the peaks. depending on the objective this may involve horses and yaks to get stuff to BC.
Chinese basecamps are comfortable and well supplied. at around 4000m we are low enough to acclimate to quickly, with the added advantages of theres no dhal baat and anything edible is permitted. the cooks that oversee the BC logistics take food very seriously and resupply of fresh food for longer trips is regular, meaning the level of recovery is greater. far from the uninhabites moodscapes of southern tibet or Baltoro, most BCs are on grassland and sometimes take advantage of existing rock structures left by the semi-nomadic tribes that cross the area between the lower forests and the upper reaches of the Yangzi and Yellow rivers.
the climbing itself is unique to the objective. the general area is the extreme fringes of the monsoonal pattern so rain helps carve up the geology as much as the movement of snow and ice. above 4000m freeze level starts hitting from around late September as the weather gets drier and clearer. day/night temps can vary as much as 20c. unlike further south towards Yunnan, snow doesnt build year round, making for more exposed rock including huge alpine walls. some peaks have glacial approaches whilst others have alpine grassland right to the base of the scree.
with so many objectives and such civilized access its easy to spend weeks and weeks looking into potential routes – only the dropping temperatures and ever-present redtape limit what can be done in a season. for long trips occasional forays into town to keep things sane are possible, with hotsprings, massage, restaurants and internet cafes to keep life on track.
returning to Chengdu is easy and can involve alternative routes thru other areas hiding new climbing potential. the descent from the high plateau is usually comfortable and the luxuries and sophistication of Chengdu a welcome distraction before flying out.
who are these trips for?
first ascents in unheard of places are not for everyone. if the safari-like process of summiting is all that matters and you want a contingency of support staff to make things as comfortable as possible then the obscure ranges of the Tibetan plateau will be a disappointment. there will be almost no climbing scene to fraternize with at basecamp, no well trodden trails and no mass-industry to answer every matter that arises.
these trips are for climbers who enjoy the process of working it all out; the route finding, the organization, the on-mountain processes and the bigger picture of going into undocumented places. unlike commercial ‘pay to climb’ trips that are guided along well-established schedules, iceclimbingjapan trips are real expeditions and require every climber to be part of the process.
the profile of a climber who ends up on an unclimbed peak somewhere near Tibet includes;
having a head for organization
a high degree of team awareness
a functional ability to self-schedule
an applied ability to use the right resources for the job
a clear perspective of undertaking complex activities in alien cultures
a comprehension of their contributing to the tradition of mountaineering
iceclimbingjapan specializes in unclimbed peaks. direct consultation with Tomatsu Nakamura, explorer of the Tibetan Plateau and Alpinist correspondent, provides a huge resource for peaks that are almost unknown. options exist for alpine ascents, big walls and technical routes, on peaks ranging from c.5500m to 6500m.
whatever your objective is, it will involve all the elements of exploration. despite iceclimbingjapan pulling together all the logistics, the lack of comprehensive cartography and local information pertaining to climbing still leaves inevitable gaps that need to be considered; in this part of the world simply getting to the base of a route is a significant objective, and all that is acheived – summit or not – furthers the greater data base of international climbing.
what you need
TIME: climbing in unexplored areas takes time – time to do it and time to prepare. whilst some peaks can be attempted with a 3 week schedule, most require about a month, especially if they have glaciated approaches. ground logistics in China are usually very good, with good roads going to high altitudes – but beyond the roadhead things things change; the absence of a developed ‘sherpa industry’ and the obscure nature of unexplored regions means approaches are hard to quantify exactly. but thats the nature of true expeditions.
MOTIVATION: these are not ‘sign up and climb’ trips. all members need a high degree of motivation and independant ability, integrated with a perspective that caters to the exploratory nature of these trips. unlike trips to well trodden areas, not all of the process is known. a climbers motivation but be as much to explore as to climb, and must cope with the uncertainties that entails.
RESOURCES: whilst nowhere near the outlay of an 8000m trip, expeditions to unclimbed areas still entail ‘exped level’ costs and equipment. costs depend on team size, location, duration and specific logistics. iceclimbingjapan’s logistics covers everything to the mountain then a lot of whats needed on the mountain itself, but individual climbers need to have the right gear and make the right food choices for themselves.
what you get
iceclimbingjapans in-country logistics partner makes the perceived impossible happen. permits, accomodation, food, transport, liason, redtape and consultation are all arranged to support the on-mountain process. iceclimbingjapans unique and extensive background in the region pulls together a range of styles and possibilities that adapts to each trip, far removed from the normal commercial climbing experience.
the basics for planning include;
3 week to 9 week schedules
multiple peak & route possibilities
costs cover all logistics from Chengdu and back again, except personal on-mountain equipment & food*
all team climbing equipment supplied**
all permits, chinese insurance & chinese taxes included
liaison staff, logistics staff & translators provided
all accommodation pre-booked
visa support letters provided
basecamp-only & on-mountain options
*some personal climbing hardware can be supplied at additional cost
**additional costs for specialized big wall equipment and objectives with glacial approaches requiring fixed ropes
China has unique logistics that once demystified opens up unprecedented possibilities