watch this space. answers to what people are asking, added as they arise.
Why this peak?
Most of the Gangga range is unknown and is difficult to access with multi-day approaches and glaciers, made harder due to no local set up for porters. In time we will get to these other peaks, after we have recced them. Gangga 5690m has been chosen as it is reported to be the true highest peak in the range, access is straightforward and several route options exist – all factors that make this the likliest first ascent in the range
What’s the weather like?
Detailed weather records of the range dont exist, only what we have recorded ourselves in previous trips. The Gangga range does see the very fringe of a monsoonal pattern, which ends in late September/early October. At that time theres a sudden drop in temperature and humidity. Expect temperatures between +15c and -20c.
What’s the climbing like?
Previous trips have shown the climbing to be mixed alpine on rock of varying quality, depending on orientation. At this tine we expect ice to have started forming reliably. Previous observations of Gangga 5690m show lots of options from classic alpine to steep ice routes and big walls. Climbing begins above about 4250m. Being expedition climbing we expect to have a large range of styles and methods to employ, with a focus on moving rapidly, in pure alpine or ‘capsule’ style. We will not be leaving fixed ropes. It is likely we will establish a high camp (HC).
How well do i need to climb?
The unclimbed nature of this trip means a broad spectrum of climbing abilities and styles are integral to the process. From previous trips the following abilities are recommended (all on lead, multiple pitches, expedition equipment);
- rock, trad gear, on lead 5.8 / HVS / UIAA VI
- ice WI3
- mixed M4
- Scottish winter IV
- aid A2
- jumar 60m vertical pitches
- descend independently with minimal back up
- multiple nights sub-zero bivvies / portaledges
No one needs to be a super-star climber, but you do need familiarity with the process of lots of pitches, climbing in less-than-ideal conditions and efficient descent. For climbers unsure and wanting to develop their abilities we run a series of exped-specific shorter trips in Japan in the lead up to each expedition.
How long from Chengdu?
It takes 2 solid days of driving to drive from our hotel in downtown Chengdu to BC. Driving days are long but a fascinating journey up thru central China to Tibet. Enroute we stay in Tibetan towns and eat at good local places, and can usually stop for photos, coffee etc.
Can we climb other stuff?
Anything on a ‘peak’ requires a permit, including non-summit routes, and in this case we will call a peak ‘any individual prominence that is the extent of topography’ – basically anything that looks like a mountain marked on Nakamura’s map, or a route on such a thing. This means we can climb on crags, boulders and minor spurs so long as a) its on the peak we have a permit for, b) it leads to the peak we have a permit for, or c) its a non-significant crag or spur that leads nowhere.
What is BC like?
Base Camps in China are comfortable. We usually each have a large personal BC tent each then a huge mess tent. As always in China life revolves around cooking and food so the mess tent is where its happening. Unlike many places, BC locations are pristine and previously unused – making them clean and healthy.
Can i leave earlier, arrive later etc?
Climbers can alter their scheduling but it requires altering logistics and that comes at a cost (additional transport, accommodation etc). iceclimbingjapan and our partners can only be responsible for changes made thru us. Independant alterations outside of what we confirm we accept no responsibility for.
What climbing style will we use?
We have options. Sticking to contemporary ‘clean mountain’ ethics we prefer either alpine (no fixed lines) or capsule (ropes temporarily fixed only upwards from a moving bivy. include big wall). Aside from style issues, we wont have the gear or time to fix multiple pitches to ferry people and supplies up a route. For the sake of speed we may short-fix pitches, but these ropes will not be left in place.
Do we enter ‘Tibet’?
We are several hundred kilometers inside Tibetan territory but don’t enter Xizang Province, which is commonly and mistakenly referred to as ‘Tibet’ by itself. ‘Tibet’ is a geo-cultural term that denotes the plateau area inhabited by people of various Tibetan tribes. Culturally Tibetans are divided into several groups, and in the last few decades the Chinese authorities have divided them between provinces (Xizang and Qinghai) and various ‘Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures’ (TAP) in surrounding provinces. The Gangga range is in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, near the border with the Yushu TAP in Qinghai. Previously this area was in the old ‘Tibet’ province (then known as Xikang) but was later sliced off into Sichuan. Today the border with Xizang Province is about 80km away. The population is about 80% Khampa Tibetan, with the remaining 20% made up of nomads from Amdo, Hui Muslim Chinese and Han Chinese.
How paranoid are the authorities?
In the past the authorities have been upset about foreign journalists documenting issues in Tibetan areas. It’s undeniable that issues exist, but they are complex and go back a long way, and to secure our permits we need to confirm we have no agenda aside from climbing. Things that bring unwanted attention and possible detainment include:
- photographing sensitive subjects
- photographing in senstive areas
- interviewing monks
- interviewing locals about sensitive issues
- displaying political or religious motives
- approaching construction, mining, military and religious sites
What’s the travel element like?
From Chengdu it’s an amazing journey up thru the river gorges, over high passes and across the ranges to the northern Tibet plateau. From the warm and fertile Sichuan Basin we go thru pine forests and grasslands to the wide arid valleys that lead to Ganzi, much of it with 6000m peaks on the horizon. Travel is comfortable – the roads are good, we have good vehicles and we eat in excellent places, but a few things need to be planned for:
- your bulk gear wont be available till we get to Ganzi or BC, so
- bring a small pack with travel documents, overnight stuff, camera etc. include a down jacket and headtorch (hotels can have weird power issues)
- stock up on snacks and water
- ibuprofen isnt a bad idea as we gain altitude fast.
- we stop to eat at local places enroute. local as in the real deal but always clean and fresh. We eat Chinese style which means multiple plates of food everyone goes at. Educate yourself on the ettiquette of Chinese eating before hand.
- some areas we pass thru are restricted and require checkpoints and timed access.
- full schedule climbers stop a day in Ganzi so can repack there if needed. Short schedule climbers dont. When packing, arrange your gear so your general BC stuff is available straightaway to get to BC
- from the road to BC could be 1km – at 4000m. Consider this when packing as there wont be porters. Large, ridgid-ish duffels with shoulder straps are the easiest to carry, as are haulbags. Barrels are not.
What are the comms like?
Private satellite phones are restricted in China and previous experimentation has shown them to be of very limited use – in the Gangga range regular cell phones work better, tho require finding a sweet spot. Receiving updates from weather services, emails and local news is a frustrating process but not impossible. Public internet access in Ganzi is minimal and monitored, requiring identification. Private internet access in hotels with a lap-top is ok.
What if something goes wrong?
China does not have an established system for climbing emergencies in the same way Nepal, Pakistan, Patagonia etc does. Any problems we have will be addressed by a mix of local services, our local operators and the China Mountaineering Association, plus our own abilities. International assistance groups like Global Rescue etc have minimal capacity in China. Private aircraft will not be available and government aircraft very, very unlikely. The good news is Gangga 5690m is close to all weather roads and about an hour to Ganzi with a ‘county level’ hospital. The nearest airport is Kangding 8hrs drive away but very weather affected. Kangding is also the nearest hospital with extensive facilities. Chengdu has several international level hospitals and is a major medical hub in China. We will carry a comprehensive first aid kit for immediate use, plus a selection of emergency care items to use till full facilities are reached.
Can I send gear earlier?
No problem. We will have gear storage in Chengdu and will get your gear all the way to BC. a few things to note:
- dont send unpackaged food (ie a stack of Clif bars are ok, bags of loose muesli are not)
- dont send really valuable stuff
- dont send stoves and certainly DONT SEND GAS CANISTERS (even empty liquid fuel ones). bring those with you.
- dont send anything remotely controversial including any electronics like sat phones or printed material about Tibet, Chinese recent history etc. stuff can get looked at.
- pack everything exped-friendly, ideally in a duffel, pack or haulbag. no boxes or nylon bags
- if you’re on the short schedule note that your gear will probably go out with the full schedule transport – meaning you wont see it in Chengdu to repack
- for sending gear home again its your responsibility to repack it. bring duct tape, marker pens etc for this.
- send it early. you dont want stress about it arriving on time
Do I need to bring tents, ropes, portaledges etc?
suitable equipment is expensive and can sometimes get left behind or destroyed, as can hardware like pitons, nuts, beaks etc, so for general team use iceclimbingjapan supplies all team equipment. Of course climbers are welcome to bring their own gear if they prefer it, and climbers wanting specialist gear will need their own, but for regular cases BC and alpine tents are supplied.
Can you supply clothing, packs, sleeping bags etc?
iceclimbingjapan works with several distributors, retailers and design companies that can we source from. If you want anything particular we can often supply it at an industry rate SO LONG AS WE HAVE ENOUGH NOTICE, ie 2 or 3 months, ie the start of July.
Will it snow?
at some point it will. in 2014, in the final days of the monsoon pattern, we had snow down to about 4500m a few times, then down to 4000m (BC level) after the pattern ended and it got colder. After the monsoon pattern ends its much colder, so the snow that does fall stays on the ground a while.
Can iceclimbingjapan run a parallel second BC for a different objective?
yes we can, tho it depends on what and where as to how it costs out. Things like permits and some logistics will need to be independant, but other elements like transport etc we may be able to share.
How should i be training?
- build as big an endurance base as possible by covering as many vertical meters you can, adding elements like weight and time/distance incrementally. speed doesnt really matter so long as you’re not too slow. training long and consistant uses your hours far more effictively than training short and fast.
- climb as much as you can. like the endurance stuff, cover as much vertical ground as possible. it doesnt need to be hard stuff – just lots of it. get used to long sessions on rope.
- get your skills up to the levels stated above. these are not arbitary numbers, they are what we’ve seen to be a functional baseline. this stuff is easily mixed in with the simple volume-climbing.
- avoid wasting valuable training hours on: endless HIIT sessions, upper limit indoor sessions, miles on flat road, junk sessions that dont directly contribute to the objective, ie alpine climbing at highish altitude. these less-useful forms of training are fine in their own way – but get your alpine-specific stuff down first. with less than 6 months to go every hour to train gets more valuable.
- recovery properly. training in an existing state of damage just wastes energy and time. recovery better, minimize the damaging factor – or both.
Is this a guided trip?
simply put – it cant be guided if it hasnt been climbed. iceclimbingjapan crew are present to lead and consult on the trip, but there’s no guiding going on. no one gets hauled up anything they cant climb themselves. think of it somewhat like a ‘BC services only’ trip offered in Nepal, Pakistan etc
Are we free to wander around and check the place out?
To a degree. the region is tightly monitored and we have a Liasion Officer present to keep everything in order, but so long as nothing that contravenes security, our permits, local sensitivities or flags the attention of local authorities is going on it’s usually ok – but like all good sensitive regions theres a lot of grey area. most problems that could exist occur by interacting with people. the authorities worry about contact with nomads, industrial facilities, monks and the military so anything away from all that (ie the mountains) should be fine.
Will we place bolts?
No. Aside from the contemporary ethic of not doing so we wont have the hardware with us to do so. We have a pristine peak before us and the opportunity to do things right from the start so we aim to leave as little metal as possible on the mountain, leaving it in as clean a state as possible for the future.
Can solo attempts be made?
If you have what it takes, more than welcome. BC is a shared utility for anyone with an idea.
Is this a commercial expedition?
No. Whilst established companies take care of the logistics (as pertaining to the law in China – you cant just go climb without that any more) and oversee the way things function, this trip differs in many ways from commercial trips like you get in Nepal etc.
- trips are not run for max profit – positions are limited to realistic team numbers, not whoever signs up
- the companies dont control the climbing – whilst we get you to the peak we dont show you how to climb it
- this trip is not ‘off the rack’ – the permits, logistics and climbing are all unique to this trip. unlike commercial trips which are pre-planned, just waiting for the numbers to fill up
- its not guided – theres no commercially employed staff engaged to fix ropes, carry gear, point the way or set the schedule. everyone is part of the process
- its not done under the name of any commercial entity – whilst companies turn the cogs, the accolades and responsibilities sit with the climbers
another way to think about it is as a joint venture between climbers, with iceclimbingjapan doing the collective work that provides the organization and logistics. rather than several single groups doing it each on their own, resources are combined. this makes a much more efficient trip, with much lower costs and better resources.
what’s the altitude gain like?
Chengdu sits at about 100m. from there we drive to about 3500m, over several +/-4000m passes to Ganzi, staying 1 night at about 3350m on the way. from Ganzi it’s 90mins to BC at about 4100m. a high camp at the base of the routes would be at about 4500m. so for the Full Schedule climbers its a nice acclimation process. the first night out of Chengdu can be a bit restless and the day in Ganzi wont be spent running marathons, but it works well. Short Schedule climbers will find it the minimum that’s doable and this schedule expects more acclimation happening at BC, tho by the time they arrive the work of setting up BC will be done. If necessary the schedules will be tweaked for the best possible altitude profile.
Can i come on a 3 week schedule?
No problem. this will mean either arriving with the Full schedule / leaving with the Short Schedule team (25 days), or arriving with the Short Schedule team / leaving with the Full Schedule team (20 days). the Mid-length schedules will allow for more time on the mountain obviously, to acclimate etc, but also a bit more time in the towns enroute. there will also be a day or two of work setting up / breaking down BC etc. this is a good option if youre going for the walls or something more involved like multiple routes, or a traverse of the peak. the Mid-length schedules will price at US$7750 or US$8750.
What are the power options out there?
solar. previously weve looked into recharging battery packs and generators but solar has proven the most reliable and independant. as everyone has different energy needs everyone is expected to be responsible for their own energy sources and bring the electronica they need. loading up on charge before leaving town is very doable, and its not impossible there will be a chance to reload for climbers on the Full Schedule, but having a solar set up negates the logistics that go with that. small solar set ups can also be taken to a high camp or onto the wall.
Has the quake in Nepal affected the Gangga region?
No. The north side of the Himalaya seems mostly untouched away from the border areas, tho Tingri, Xigatse and small towns on the Lhasa-Kathmandu highway are damaged with about 25 dead. Lhasa apparently isnt affected. The north side of Everest was shaken but there were no casualties reported. Gangga area is about 1200km from the epicenter so a long way off and in a different tectonic area.
what will we do about coffee????
dont worry. the core ICJ team is an elite coffee-making machine that takes the matter seriously. we are open to any version of coffee you want, but as ICJ tradition we prefer moka espresso. despite requiring extra implements, time and skill it packs the greatest punch. we will have several moka pots handy and a good supply of beans brought from abroad, along with hand mills to grind it fresh. for bivvys we may not take the moka set, so instant or infused are used.
Will we have a Liasion Officer with us?
Yes. Under Chinese law we have to. The LO is a government representative there interface between us and the authorities. Along with sorting out security, redtape and overseeing logistics the LO is also there to observe and report on us.
the good news is iceclimbingjapan has an extremely good relationship with our LOs. Unlike Pakistan, Chinese LOs are not military, and also unlike Pakistan the LO plays a realistic role in the way things work. Rather than disappear after a few days, LOs on our trips are as keen on the mountains as we are and do an exceptional job in making things work. Best of all, the LO engaged on the 5690 trip is an extraordinary cook. Combined with our regular translator the two turn out endless high quality food. During transit they also have the knack for choosing good restaurants.
Is this trip commercially supported?
Yes. As a team we have commercial support from several companies giving members discounts on equipment. The range of equipment includes clothing, boots, hardware, packs, ropes and sleeping gear. Companies include La Sportiva, Cilogear, Teton Bros/Polartec, Black Diamond, Klymit, Edelweiss, Grivel and others. Discounts range from 60% to 15%
Be aware this process takes time so request lists NEED TO BE SENT ASAP. note too that only confirmed members are open to the discounts.
Will this trip be filmed?
Possibly. We are interested in documenting this trip so are looking at options that fit both the expedition and promotional elements. Any ideas on this we are happy to consider.
Can i arrive / leave Chengdu before / after the schedule dates?
No problem. Send us the extra days and we can confirm them at the hotel.
Most recent: Are there more images available of Gangga 5690?
Yes. More images are available including multiple Hi Resolution images specific to the route options and a selection of alternative angle shots from another source. these images are available to confirmed trip members.
How big is the wall on 5690?
approximations put the base of the wall at about 4300m and the wall’s highest point at about 5500m – so about 1290m. this makes it almost 400m higher than el Capitan and maybe 60m shorter than the highest face of Great Trango and one of the biggest walls in the world. there is a further 190m or so height gain to the summit, tho note as yet the peaks actual height has not been verified.
note also this makes 5690’s SW wall the highest unexplored big wall in over a decade.
Will we have radio contact between BC and the mountain?
Yes. We are juggling a few options depending on power sources. members can bring their own radios, but be prepared for possible questions at customs (“rock climbing in Yangshuo”)
What size pack works best?
there are 3 solutions:
1) use 2 packs; 1 x +/-60L to move gear up to higher camps, then use a small +/-30L pack for climbing. this works well so long as you know you can fit several days gear into the small pack.
2) use a single large pack for everything; either a 60L which is perfect for hauling but a bit big for climbing, or a +/-45L which will just manage a haul to HC and be ok for climbing.
3) between 2 climbers use a leaders pack / seconds pack system; this needs preparation and practice but is perhaps the most efficient method on the mountain, tho there will need to be a second large pack for moving gear. if used the small pack can be as small as 20L.
its recommnded to have a small pack already, for travel, and some large packs cinch down very small, so the option to go with is the one you know.
What’s the ascent profile like?
each schedule obviously has a tweaked version, but the profile for the shorter schedules goes:
- Day 1 Chengdu 100m – high pass 4000m – sleep Xinduqiao 3500m
- Day 2 Xinduqiao 3500m – high pass 4100m – sleep Ganzi 3300m
- Day 3 Ganzi 3300m – sleep BC 4100
- Day 4 BC 4100m – HC 4500m – sleep BC 4100m
- Day 5 BC 4100m – sleep HC 4500m
- Days 6 – 9 have bivys within a further 1200m to 5690m
this profile has a small amount of room for adaption and contingency. longer schedules have a less acute profile with extra nights at 3300m & 4100m and options for returning to BC before launching from a HC.
the short schedule profile is about the shortest possible and to optimize relies on climbers adapting their behaviour on the way in. this includes;
- eating and hydrating properly enroute from Chengdu – snack and drink regularly, minimize/avoid alcohol, minimize junk food
- getting gentle activity enroute – walk about when stopped but avoid higher heart rate stuff
- sleep properly – avoid late nights, nap if required
- stay relaxed at BC – resist the urge to go straight up. get comfortable, sort your gear, exercise
transport on the way out will be instructed to take regular breaks so you can exercise. it’s advised to stock up on snacks and fluids during transit.
What are we doing for water?
Unlike many BC sites that are filthy with years of accumulated human waste, our BC site is pristine with a water source coming off the peak. We dont expect it to freeze entirely, but regardless will have ample storage, including for hot water. with no humans or animals above us this water should be very clean, tho all water used for meals and stored in BC will have been boiled. Higher on the mountain will probably rely on melting snow / ice, tho trickles may be found. Its suggested each climber brings about 3L water capacity, ideally insulated.
Is this trip Big Wall specific?
No. tho the big wall element has gained a lot of attention it is only one of several options for 5690.
note: a big wall ascent of 5690 is a very specific objective requiring a lot of preparation and additional equipment that differs from the ‘regular’ alpine route objectives. climbers intending to climb in this style are required to give us extensive time to ensure the logistics are in place.
Are there ski options?
Currently we are weighing this up with members and sponsors and looking at the logistics. When computed we will cost and announce the proposed schedule. From looking at satellite images it appears there are options but we need to see what is possible logistically as most of them will need specific support.
Will there be Japanese language options?
Yes. Members of our crew speak Japanese and we can translate any material into Japanese.
What tents are you recommending?
after using dozens of different tents over the years we have started working with a specialist company from Wyoming, Big Sky International, who develop insanely light and functional tents for specialist demands. for members wanting to buy their own tents we can supply at a team cost but will require enough time (4 weeks or so).
note: a ski descent will require additional logistics and planning in addition to the ascent.
Why those dates?
after previous trips to the area we have settled on the window between the end of the monsoon and the start of the real cold. we have given a buffer of a few weeks in case the humidity of the monsoon lingers, during which any ice should define itself and the rock should start to cool. beyond later November things get seriously cold and days very short (we are a long way north of the regular higher altitude areas).
ideas for extended later trips are possible, but need to be planned with further regard to the temperatures.
Any more info on the ski option?
So far so good. looking into it, things appear very possible, with good logistics and a doable plan.
NOTE: the probable area for a ski descent is into TOTALLY unmapped territory. satellite images show signs of human activity, but its waaaaay off the map and even the pick up point holds several elements that require detailed planning. members looking at this option need to join the planning process asap to confirm they are up to the commitment.
>>> What are my other costs beyond the trip price?
the prices given cover almost everything from the start to finish dates. what isnt covered includes:
- airfares to from Chengdu
- visa costs (tho all supporting documents are provided)
- personal gear (clothing, personal climbing gear, eating stuff etc)
- on-mountain food (ie above BC, plan for the maximum number of days + 2 of your schedule)
- around town costs (taxis, entrance fees, day food in Chengdu, snacks, coffee)
- extra room costs (massage, room service, business services, late checkout, extra days)
- personal power source
- unscheduled costs (personal side trips, room upgrades, early-leaving costs)
- personal insurance
after airfares, personal expenses are usually very little as the expedition schedule is streamlined to BC and once there, there’s almost nothing to spend on. note that not everything in China is uncommonly cheap – on-mountain food, snacks and taxis cost a lot less than most places, but cafe coffee, entrance fees and big brand climbing gear cost the same, sometimes more.
What travel insurance is good for this trip?
thru the US there are several plans thru companies like GNI that work and can be acquired on-line almost instantly. you dont need to be a US citizen nor reside in the US. these plans, with names like ‘Patriot’ cover emergency costs for the area and altitudes we go to but do not cover initial rescue.
What are the chances of summiting?
this depends on multiple factors including climbing style, personal condition, weather and time frame, but beyond that, strategically – very good.
the most straightforward-appearing route on 5690 looks to be a series of tiered snow fields, stepped by steep rock faces, mostly with gullies and icefalls on them. steep climbing seems to be relatively safe, on exposed faces and bivvy sites seem to be common. assuming climbers can sustain themselves on-route for several days, the route options seem clear.
>>> What are the training priorities?
assuming we are talking about the alpine mixed route:
with about 1500m of height gain, probably over 2 big days, preceeded by a few hundred meters gain to HC, you need to get to the best ability you can for each of the climbing components. that might be something like covering about 750m of steep ground with your exped gear on (or the equivalent in pack and boot weight) and 300m of steep mixed climbing (again with gear on). you need the cardio training of steep ground and the tech training of alpine or large rock faces, plus probably a simple conditioning set up to fill in the gaps when youre not on a mountain (leg and body strengthening stuff).
upward endurance ability is the priority as it covers every aspect of climbing, and hardish climbing comes next. gym-style conditioning needs to be about 10% of what you do.
its unlikely there will be V10 / M10 / 5.12 / WI6 climbing so going hard at the upper limits of your tech ability isnt time well spent. instead getting used to hour after hour of V5 / M5 / 5.9 / WI3 – with gear on – will be much, much more useful.
over the course of a week or 10 days this might translate to;
- 2 x endurance sessions with height gain (1 x fast and lighter / 1 x less fast and heavy),
- 2 x climbing sessions (1 x maximum meters climbed / 1 x maximum ability with gear)
- 2 x conditioning (1 x specific upper and lower body / 1 x general power circuit)
- whatever recovery and rest is needed to stay healthy, mix up hard and easier cycles
- ALWAYS the priority to is get better at the expected demands of 750m alt gain non-tech / 300m alt gain tech / all with exped gear on
>>> What boots are you looking at?
doubles, because they are better for multiple days. la Sportiva Spantiks, Scarpa Phantom 6000’s, The North Face SK6 Verto’s etc. Sportiva have a new double boot we will be using if they arrive in time (let us know if you want a pair). better to go warmer than skimp, so ‘big’ doubles are a better choice than single boots for those who dont want to buy more gear.
>>> What stoves are best for this?
we will supply stoves but for people wanting to bring their own:
we are low enough for canister stoves to work OK, and can easily get cannisters in Chengdu. MSR Reactors are powerful and best for melting snow but very dangerous to use inside a tent. Lighter and safer but less powerful is a Jetboil Sumo (regular Jetboil pots are too small), with the newer MSR Windboiler being just a bit heavier – tho as yet without a large pot (maybe hitting the market soon enough).
the ultimate stove we have found is a Primus Spider rigged to hang, using a flux ring pot and a homemade wind shield – the power of a Reactor, even safer than a Jetboil and a remote canister fitting that is much better in the cold / up high. its just more expensive and takes effort to buy all the bits.
whatever you bring, a 2L pot is needed for efficiency between 2 people.