‘Standing Room Only’; Xialong Rezha, First Ascent, 5625m, Sichuan/Tibet

Xialongrezha west face. Pitches 1 – 4 continue obscured below the fin of rock.

12 pitches, Russian alpine grade 5A (Scottish IV, M4, some pitches run out, some simu-climbed or soloed). 650m. descent by rappelling the route. Photo: Rob Baker

During unbroken perfect weather from late October to early November we made the first ascent of the previously undocumented 5625m Xialong Rezha (unnamed and incorrectly marked as 5851m or 5346m by some sources) to the west of the Ge’nyen massif in the Shaluli Range, Sichuan. A quintessential Eastern Himalayan peak, Xialongrezha is the closest +5500m peak to the near-completely closed border to Xizang province, Tibet (see http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web16f/newswire-british-alpinists-climb-a-virgin-north-face),

Relatively well known, the eastern and central areas of Ge’nyen have been visited regularly for over a decade, including ascents by Sarah Hueniken, Dave Anderson and Joe Puryear, with Mt Ge’nyen itself first climbed in the 90s by a Japanese team. That our trip coincided exactly with the 10th anniversary of the deaths of Charlie Fowler and Kristine Boskoff wasn’t lost on us.

 Inline image 1

Border post to Xizang, Tibet. As far as we could go. Photo Alex Tang.

the western side of the Ge’nyen mountains is accessed via 4 days travel along the Sichuan-Tibet highway from Chengdu via Kangding, Xinduqiao, the ‘Tibetan Disneyland’ town of Litang and the border town of Batang, then a small road over a 5000m pass almost unknown even to the locals. 25km from the upper Yangtze that forms the administrative border, Xialongrezhe is prominently visible from the small hamlet at the end of the road, the name translating as ‘place of big horned animals and large boulders’,

We planned to do a first ascent with no additional support, something developed over many previous trips to western Sichuan/eastern Tibet. going into undocumented terrain completely self-sufficient, our only limitation was the loads we could carry, acclimation and the weather, having banked on the dependable early winter window directly after the last squall of the south Asian monsoon and before the first snows arrived. This year didn’t disappoint, with an unbroken string of 15 days without any form of precipitation.

 Inline image 2

Where the wild things are. Xialongrezha from the edge of town. Photo Alex Tang

BC I was several kilometers from the village thru a beautiful pine and lichen forest to a sunny vale at 4200m. a pastoral delight, with clear aquamarine rushing streams, flocks of pheasants and lazy yaks, we did sorties higher up and after 3 nights to consolidate decided to move the entire BC up to 4900m rather than just a light ‘assault bivy’. This involved heavy carries up several kms of marsh, bouder fields and scree.

BC II was a true high Tibetan location; stark and lunar. By a small glacially fed lake, the high moraine and room-sized boulders showed no signs of visitation aside from thirsty antelope and small, colourful birds. The difference between direct sun and shade was a +20c and -10c differential that bookended each day.

 Inline image 3

BC II below Xialongrezha at 4900m. Photo Mitch Murray.

From vantage points along the approach it was clear the premium route on the west face was the jilted central couloir. we juggled thoughts about various other route alternatives but confirmed the central couloir after a recce day onto the glacier beneath.

as the route was steep, our acclimation at threshold and the amazing weather window getting on, we lead in blocks, seconding together for speed. With good team work, good rock and solid snow this worked efficiently.

 Inline image 4

Ed below the traverse to the upper pitches at around 5350m. Photo Rob baker.

after soloing the 90m glacial snout to the couloir’s base cone, Mitch powered us thru the next 3 pitches, then Ed lead up to and around where the couloir changed direction, including a long double pitch with a vigorous traverse. This was followed by Rob launching up 5 run-out pitches on lessening snow quality that ended in a pitch dug thru to the slab below to the cornice on the summit ridge. a further half pitch by Ed confirmed the sketchy snow and serious fall potential, leaving the bizarre summit formation unclimbed out of respect for sanity and local Tibetan lore.

 Inline image 5

Xialongrezha summit stack, across dangerous granulated snow over seamless granite slabs. We left that to the gods of another time. Photo Ed hannam.

The couloir presented no good options for bivies so all 12 pitches were climbed in a single push, non-stop effort on new terrain.

Experience from previous trips had us carrying an array of alpine pro, but we ended up using a time-proven rack of small to mid cams and wires, beaks and pitons and an occasional screw. aside from the upper two pitches the snow was excellent, with ice a mix of glacial and alpine. rock in the western cluster is A grade granite, fissured with finger to hand width cracks splitting contiguous slabs and faces topped wild gendarmes, gargoyles and features.

Chopping thru the cornice we could see eastwards into the main Ge’nyen area, with 6200m Mt Ge’nyen and other +5500m peaks clearly visible. Westwards, in the other direction, we could make out long ranges of robust peaks over 6000m beyond the closed Tibetan border.

At 16:00 we began the many  rappels that would get us back to camp at 22:00.

 Inline image 6

Mitch & Rob at the final anchor, 5610m, with BC II just visible at the lake 700m below. Photo Ed Hannam.

Continuing the good weather streak we spend the following day laying on sun-warmed granite boulders and eating, before starting the heavily loaded return to the village where we were welcomed by the local monk and school kids. Returning to Batang we consumed the hotels entire supply of roast duck.

the team consisted of organizational legend Zhang Jiyue, sharp-end expert Alex Tang (China) and climbers Mitch Murray, Rob Baker & Ed Hannam (Australia).

 Inline image 7

L to R: Ed Hannam, Rob Baker, Mitch Murray. All smiles before the weight of the packs and altitude set in. Photo Alex Tang.

This trip was entirely self-funded, with no sponsors, no grants, no awards and no film deals, though a special thanks goes to Sea to Summit for their sleeping mat solutions, and to Cilogear for producing the unique packs that made the unsupported nature of the trip doable.

 

 

 

 

CHINA CLIMBING PERMITS: HOW, WHAT, WHY

despite not being the best weather window, now is the time when many climbing teams head to Sichuan to climb. seeing the region as a blossoming frontier – and in a way it still is – teams unfamiliar with the mechinations of China show up thinking things will be like Nepal, or Pakistan, or Kyrgyzstan or wherever. and every year some climbers get into trouble. sometimes its just a sudden confrontation with the authorities, and sometimes its deaths. its not unusual for the former to result in the latter and some areas are the resting places of good climbers who may still be alive if only theyd done the paperwork.

a permit from the CMA: ‘3 climbers to an unnamed peak above 5500m’ in a suitably vague range so we can keep our options open. who said Chinese climbing permits had to be hard?

iceclimbingjapan has been climbing mountains in China for nearly 20 years. weve climbed under the radar, above the radar and when there was no radar. weve been caught by the PSB, weve helped the PSB, weve been harassed by brigands, robbed and shown great hospitality. weve seen it go wrong and seen it go right, and weve spent a lot of money, time and effort to get things smooth. if theres one thing weve learnt thru all this – it pays to do it right.

the single biggest thing aspiring climbers come up against in China is the climbing permit system. despite being well publicized and simple, time and again climbers get it wrong simply due to a lack of familiarity with China. so here we demystify things;

1) they are serious. the days of a $20 ‘penalty’ and a blind eye ended in 2010. the PSB and the CMA check and arrest people now. they have no qualms with shutting trips down and detaining climbers. they dont care how special it is to you, to them you are a foreigner trespassing in sensitive areas. journalists have masqueraded as trekkers in the past.

2) the locals are serious too. when things go wrong often the nearest locals are Tibetan monks, who already occupy a delicate place with the authorities. in the past PSB investigations have trashed monasteries in the search for evidence – not always without reason. not every monk is escaping samsara, some have checkered pasts. other times the peaks are sacred to them, and tho the authorities have given you a permit the monks may shut you down. its happened to A list climbers and money wont make a difference.

3) permits are expensive, sort of. for a previously climbed peak permits are affordable and a great deal as often a significant peak is still barely touched, meaning its still a real exped. usually the first ascent is via the easiest route meaning serious new routes can be attempted for good prices. virgin peaks are another story. tho a peak over 5000m can be thousands of dollars, by international standards its not that abnormal. Russia, Myanmar, Xinjiang, Xizang, Bhutan and some parts of Pakistan will charge you lot more for lower peaks, often by adding various other permits to the order. if youve come from repeat ascents in the Himalaya or discounted peaks in parts of India and Pakistan, then yes, things cost more, but its worth remembering that climbing in Tibetan areas never has been as open as elsewhere.

4) youre not entitled to anything. youre a climber on holiday, not a brain surgeon. climbing doesnt cure HIV, its a sport of affluent white people, its very rare anything is gained by it. being a westerner with lots of gear means nothing to the Chinese authorities, they dont care about Alpinist, sponsorships, publishing deals or who you are. its their backyard, they call the shots. whereas in europe, Nepal etc where climbing is the mainstay of entire economies, in China its not. basically you are asking not to climb, but to indulge yourself in a pointless exercise in a sensitive area you share no responsibility for. you gotta ask why they should let you at all, then approach with that logic. given the chance, the PSB would happily have no one out there.

5) its the same for Chinese climbers. think $5000 is a big hit for you? talk to a Chinese climber. they get the same issues, if not more, because they come under the eye for a bigger chunk of attention. we appear in China, do our thing, then leave. a Chinese climber with resources and connections to put towards a first ascent on the Tibet border has twice as many hoops to jump thru.

6) the effects are real. show a permit and the doors open. the CMA/SMA/YMA/XMA etc all have offices and connections way out into the ranges and villages. its China – the system is embedded. like most heavy bureaucracies showing the right paper usually gets you waved thru and a degree of priority. but….show up without it and things grind to a halt fast, especially if you dont know the fuzzy logic of Chinese negotiations. people choose to ignore it but the CMA blacklist is very, very real. yes, there actually is a data base that has the names and details of blacklisted adventurers. as the whole system is one (ever noticed its the police that handle immigration…) being on a government list means you can be seen by every department, including the embassy back home. and it goes both ways – a history of good relations is the #1 advantage you can have in China. more on that later…

7) the penalties are real. weve not been detained in a provincial Tibetan jail, but its probably not fun. many the time weve peered over the walls of the facilities in Litang and Ganzi, thru the razor wire, and we know which side wed rather be on. you may not be serious problem, but your time will be wasted. if youd rather see a detention cell, fair enough, but some people would rather be out climbing. even 10 years ago the PSB didnt consider western climbers picked up somewhere they shouldnt be worth more than a cheap bribe over a cup of tea, but its not like that any more.

8) big brother IS watching. in a state where all infrastructure is state controlled you dont move thru it without being noticed. the bus driver and the check point cop work for the same boss, and being western you get noticed. this why the authorities require teams to have liaison officers – but remember, they work for the CMA, not for you. unlike Paksitan etc liaison officers are not military and as yet weve never met an LO who didnt become a trusted friend. but they have job to do, in part to field any problems, but also to apply the rules. you messing about behind the PSBs khaki back means you may get a slap on the wrist – but it will be a much bigger issue for the LO whos watch it happened on.

9) its ‘Tibet‘. western Sichuan, Xizang and other Tibetan areas are still unspoiled simply because western interest hasnt forced commercialization like it has in Nepal. the reason we can still do first ascents of 6000m peaks a day or two from town is because China hasnt turned things into Disneyland – and it easily could. Gangga, Genyen, Minya Konka, DaXue etc are all easily accessible from the 12 million people strong Chengdu but they are still genuine, wild, Tibetan ranges. and in part that because access is restricted. 100 years ago it was wax sealed parchments and the threat of death, 50 years ago it rubber stamps between high lamas, local warlords and Beijing, even 20 years ago it was bottles of scotch, days patiently awaiting letters and contributions to all involved to get into there places – today its never been easier despite the expense. Tibet is simply Tibet.

10) what you get for it. its not India. for the cost of a Chinese permit you use 6 lane highways and wifi-enabled hotels to get to the peak of your choice. no maoists, taliban or separatists shoot at you, the electricity works, cell phones work at 5000m, the vehicles work, the food is clean, the beer is cold and women are not veiled. unlike in some places where all the cash from the permit goes towards some fat bureaucrats holiday, in China some of it goes to park maintenance, conservation and climbing projects. what you pay the LOs is a decent salary, drivers earn enough and the money goes into the small towns. of course a healthy cut goes to baiju, hotpot and karaoke, but youve only got to see the way places like Shangqiaogou have benefited from climbing dollars to know. where this is felt most perhaps is when things go bad and rescue or extraction is required – foreign organizations are basically useless there. whilst its true the PSB wont put a heli out just for some climbers (and private helis dont exist, simple) only the CMA has the capacity to assist from a remote range. but they have to know where to look. many examples of CMA assistance exist, perhaps the most covered being when Johnny Copp and Micah Dash died. having god-like power as part of the greater machine, the CMA can cast aside the rules when they need to. consider the other options – which has also happened – and the impotency of of westerners bumbling about trying to manage a rescue in China is sadly unrealistic.

11) they have their reasons. we may not see it that way, but the risks in Tibetan areas are very real. people imagine the paranoia is about spies and journalists, but thats minor. along with the risky environment that includes earthquakes, blizzards, altitude and landslides, parts of Tibet have long histories of dangerous tribal politics. over our 20 years weve had our vehicles held for ransom, been assaulted, been blackmailed by police, had our rooms ransacked, been accosted by prostitutes, been heavied by local strong men, been confronted by illegal gem miners, been pickpocketed by kids, been cornered by smugglers and played by con men. all things the world doesnt associated with Tibet but things that are made resolvable by having a paper with the stamp of the government on it. its ok if you dodge the system and things go as planned, but when they dont….

12) it can be surmounted. the good news is that given tact, research and patience – the keys to all things in China – the permit scenario can be harnessed. we know because we have done it. rather than subvert the authorities, get to know them. make your intentions clear and play a long game. basically – show that you respect the lands you are climbing in. even a fool soon learns fast that in China getting snarky only works against you, whilst playing the game forward makes everyone happy. weve spent our years there connecting the dots so today we have an unprecedented position in relations to the authorities with access, security and freedom, which is what we extend to climbers climbing under our name. where other teams get the heavy end of the process, we have earned the trust to take care of ourselves, and if it can be done, we get to do it.

now this all sounds like iceclimbingjapan has a stake in selling permits for the CMA. no. what we have an interest in is seeing things done over a bigger picture so areas wont get shut down (its happened), climbers wont get hassled (it happens all the time) and the locals get a fair part of the process (they rarely do).  its taken decades to get to the freedoms we have and people have put a lot on the line to make it happen. what none of us want to see is a bunch of upstarts shut down plans some climbers who know China have had on the boil for years, waiting for the crack in the door to get access. foreign climbers play a real role in the way access to fringe areas develops, and its built on trust – something harder to get in China than money.

EASTERN TIBET STYLE

since Messner appeared a while back stating how the eastern Tibet ranges would be his choice should he be a young man again, knowing what he knows, interest has bubbled. and tho climbers like to invoke the name of Messner, not all actually apply what his ideals were for self-supported, clean, committed, daring and integral climbing. at iceclimbingjapan we saw what Messner said as a kind of indicator of somewhere the climbing world can go: towards a cleaner, more streamlined, more sustainable direction less burdened by the undesirable commercial elements that have warped expedition climbing elsewhere.

the Minya Konka range: most peoples introduction to eastern Tibet is via this range, either out the window or thru the escapades of western climbers. despite being close to the lowlands, its still remarkably unexplored, with huge potential.

climbing in Tibet is its own thing. it differs from Greater Himalayan climbing in that there’s no industry surrounding it, it revolves around 5500m – 7000m peaks, it has Chinese infrastructure around it and the bulk of whats there is unknown. it also differs from former-soviet Central Asian climbing, where despite similar altitudes, again there is no industry behind it and there is simply far less known about the geography. whilst decades past saw huge interest in the Himalaya, Karakorum, Central Asian ranges, Tibet lay mostly off-limits and unclimbed in.

since gradually becoming accessible the Tibetan ranges have been slow to see action. even though ‘Tibet’ is synonymous with alpinism, the onslaughts of activity seen in Central Asia and around 8000m peaks that bought airstrips, hotels, seasonal base camps, guides, piles of trash, sanitation problems and celebrity have never arrived in Tibet. even the most well known places like the Siguniangshan and Minya Konka areas are startlingly quiet, and despite now being open, the other ranges of eastern Tibet are barely climbed in at all. for all the media and spray about climbing these days, most of Tibet is still a huge area as unclimbed, unseen and unnamed as the Khumbu was in the 1950s.

laying so culturally distant, Tibetan peaks have something in common with places in Central Asia. Unlike North America, Europe and western-oriented locations like Nepal, Tibet shares with the ‘Stans a void in reliability, logistics and data that immediately extends the motivation and attention to detail needed to go there. theres no off-the-rack trips, piles of ready permits and industry maintained infrastructure. like the ‘Stans almost no  specific resources are available in-country, which translates to climbing with only the gear you can bring with you which then means a refined style is default.

a good example of whats out there: this +/-5600m tower, viewable only thru this break in the ridgelines, sits along with others like it in Eastern Tibet. no ones even been to the base of it.

today, Tibetan climbing is perhaps most influenced by Alaskan style climbing, mostly because American climbers with Alaskan histories are taking the most interest. this means light teams, well equipped, with daring ideas and the experience to pull it off. these teams are reveling in the ease of access that allow multiple ascents to be undertaken, using an Alaskan protocol of acclimating on smaller routes then squeezing as many routes into a weather window as sanity allows.

‘Charakusa’ and ‘Garwhal style’ climbing also exerts an influence, with similar elevation peaks and high, grassed valleys to base from. what differs is Tibet’s more amenable approaches (Chengdu and Chinese transport and food is considerably nicer than whats in Pakistan or India) meaning you arrive in better condition with less chance of hygiene problems and a more reliable schedule. rising from similar tectonic processes (ie being newer mountains) means there are similarities in the way rivers cut thru ranges to make dramatic formations into newly exposed rock that offers complex ‘feature climbing’ well suited to small, focused teams.

another big influence on the regions style is of course Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden, bringing to the mix the British near-infinite obsession for style. where the Alaskanites are clocking the lines, Mick and Paul are taking on the bigger peaks with a style perhaps described as Scottish-Himalayan, ie single-objective grungy sufferfests done on ridiculous gear. along similar lines, teams like Dave Anderson and Tzu ting have been focusing on single prominent peaks, sometimes returning over multiple seasons to find the best window in places with almost no records of climate.

between the gaps of these two parallel styles are significant numbers of Japanese, eastern Europeans, Antipodeans and Chinese climbers, mostly climbing in similar ‘hit & run’ styles and dispensing with the accouterments of long expedition climbing. many of these groups have simply taken long weekend style climbing and pushed it to a barely doable degree.

Alps-style climbing is a fairly distant cousin to climbing in Tibet in most areas. theres not a lot of options for short overnight trips from civilization, theres no cable cars and definitely no assistance to give margin to any errors. the actual vertical climbing has more similarities as the glaciers are generally smaller and things get steep fast, but with a base level of about 4000m and the unsupported approach the technical climbing happens in a different context.

even tho this looks like a lot of interest, spread across an area as huge as Tibet it barely registers. entire ranges are still barely recorded let alone climbed in and if not for the distant glimpses and skeletal mapping of travelers like Tomatsu Nakamura almost nothing would be recorded at all.

Tibet will always be Tibet: in many places yaks and horses outnumber cars and theres still populations of people who live nomadic lifestyles.

what defines Tibetan style alpinism?

5000 – 7000m peaks: peaks at these heights offer amazing climbing-to-dollar ratios. rather than weeks on crowded approaches then more time playing connect four and eating popcorn in a mess tent, these elevations generate a high proportion of climbing time. these elevations also allow for more technical and/or hard climbing, and when combined with relatively quick approaches open up possibilities impossible elsewhere.

variation: so much geophysical activity has produced a wide range of mountain types. huge walls, complex massifs, rocky spires, collections of granite towers, long faces of connected peaks, isolated standalone peaks. some areas are heavily glaciated whilst others rise from grassy step and river valleys.

unexplored: most tibetan ranges, even the well known ones and peaks near towns, are barely explored. most have never been looked at with the intention to climb, making even the base of many mountains uncharted ground. of the peaks that have had interest, its often of just a single aspect, with whole other sides of familiar peaks unknown. weather records barely exist and what does is based on models rather than actual recording. even peaks on maps, unless climbed, have not been verified, with discrepancies sometimes show to be by several hundred meters. all this means going into tibetan ranges requires a scope of skills rarely seen since the 80s

high starts: most approaches begin between 3500m and 4200m, making the ascent to the roadhead from sea level Chengdu one needing planning. its easy to rise too fast as Tibet zips past the car window, but smarter ascent profiles can be managed. in the end, it will catch you.

remote: even ranges close to towns are still several days from places where communication and requirements will be easy. just because a town is near doesnt mean youre close to help

acute approaches: tibetan approaches tend to go from 4000m roadheads to 5000m basecamps over quite short distances – often within 5km. consider that the approach to Everest or K2s BC at similar elevations occur over a week, starting at about 3000m and spanning about 65 – 80km. its easy to gain height too fast on the drive up from the Yangzi basin, so transport needs to be arranged to cover this. the good thing is much of your acclimation can take place in hotels and around town, rather than out in a cold tent.

little snow: compared to Alaska and some of central Asia much of tibet has less snow. north of the Minya Konka range snow loading significantly decreases and some areas in Qinghai are high altitude desert in the secondary rain shadow beyond the Greater Himalaya. 20 years on the ground has shown us that dependable weather patterns create incredible windows, but due to the scarcity of climbing they are little known.

no rescue: in China, any form of help will come from days away thru the local mountaineering associations. there wont be helicopters put in the sky for climbers. period. this gives things a degree of risk not seen in high altitude areas for decades and an affect of this means international rescue groups like Global Rescue have reduced efficacy in China.

relaxed cultures: these days Tibet is a safe  culture to be in. aside from occasional pick pocketing and a few hygeine issues like hepatitis and tetanus, Tibetan areas are pretty easy to be in. food is plentiful, hotels are ok, theres no heavy religious stuff or extremism  and in general Tibetans are happy to have outsiders pass thru so long as they dont treat locals like their home is Disneyland. that said, Tibetan liberalism can easily be confused with false security. Tibetans still have good people and bad people, opportunists and ugly elements. in Eastern Tibet especially brigandry has a long history that isnt exactly dead yet, and not everyone is glad to see outsiders.

no industry: aside from the anomaly of the cross-border Everest/8000m industry, elsewhere Tibet has no industry to support climbers. a few Chinese companies provide the logistics and legal stuff and theres a guesthouse or two aimed at foreign adventure travelers, but out in the mountain areas theres nothing. this means no systems of porters, no tea houses, no code of employment, no gear shops, no reason to care. in some areas locals just laugh when asked if porters are available, wondering why foreigners cant carry their own loads.

good infrastructure: despite its image as a hardcore destination, the roads, towns, food and basics in Tibetan areas can be good. much better than anywhere south of the Himalaya or in central Asia. in an effort to keep the population happy China has sunk a lot into roads, power supplies, hospitals, telecommunications etc. you may not want to live there year round, but its certainly enough to bookend the actual climbing.

permits: the days of under-the-radar ascents are pretty much over – as are the days of buying your way out of trouble. permits in China for virgin peaks can be up to $8000, then theres a series of smaller fees and permits for compulsory insurance, the environment and entrance to some areas. but, for all this, what you get is good – crew are well paid and professional, infrastructure gets things done, the system works and for all the expense, it keeps things from becoming crowded. to that end, in 20 years there will still be new areas across Tibet to explore. its worth noting these same fees apply to Chinese climbers as well.

the PSB, politics & restrictions: Tibet never has been open and free and aside from a 10 year window when lack of interest meant no one was watching, its better now than its ever been. yes, big brother is watching, but so long as you stick to climbing they are more curious than problematic. that said, make a problem for the Public Security Bureau and they will be very efficient at shutting things down till its sorted. not all problems come from the authorities tho; local superstitions and monastic rules have shut down their fair share of expeditions, and unlike the limitations of authority, this happens well after youve handed over your cash. politics is never far the surface in Tibetan areas, and its complex beyond what any newcomer will comprehend. to think its as black and white as ‘Tibet vs China’ is the first error to make. authorities are aware that some foreigners have agendas – a history of holding and ejecting journalists is testament to this – and compared to Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan etc this is all more tightly controlled.

+6000m peaks out the window: the roads into Eastern Tibet go high, well over 4000m, and the approach to the roadhead needs careful planning

the future

add all this up and for high altitude climbing it makes one of the most unadulterated region to climb in – which in this era demands a unique climbing style; the light and unsupported style of  Alaska, the clean ethics of Scotland, the topographical features of Charakusa, the exotic remoteness of Central Asia

todays climbing resources mean there is no reason to use invasive methods to ascend. no bolts need to be needlessly used, no industrial base camps need to be carved out, no fixed ropes need to be installed etc. using the example set in places like Alaska’s Ruth Gorge, small groups with light camps can come and go to serious objectives leaving almost no trace if they apply some basic parameters for conduct. in the absence of any others we have come up with these;

  1. keep trips self or minimally supported; carry your own stuff, go light, dont rely on the locals, pay properly when you do

  2. keep climbing styles clean; no fixed ropes, no bolted progresss, no fixed camps, no reliance on outside technology. if you cant climb without these things come back when you can.

  3. keep cultural impact to a minimum; climbers are not salvation, these people do not need us and they certainly dont need all the crap of our culture in theirs

  4. go remote: spreading climbing activity wide prevents problems associated with saturation. in Tibet this includes banditry, price gouging, sanitation problems and attention from the police

  5. keep the authorities satisfied: pay for the permits, dont project an agenda, be careful with photos. its taken decades to see these places open and they can be closed overnight. its happened before. if you want to push the rules, dont connect it to climbing. this applies as much to the local monks and construction companies as it does to the PSB – remember that in China things dont have the degree of separation they do elsewhere.

  6. collect quality information: useful data on these places helps streamline future trips and minimize potential accidents

  7. understand where youre going: the era for foreigners to blunder unknowingly thru another culture is over. educate yourself so you can apply it

these are not meant as rules by any means, they are simply things weve seen to work and keep working over nearly 20 years, and when the opposite has been done its been shown to quickly result in problems. we vividly recall the years of ‘anything goes’ climbing in Eastern Tibet and yes, it was fun, but the side-effects of trouble with the authorities, security with the locals and probably the deaths of several climbers makes it clear things are better now.

with effectively a clean slate this is a chance to avoid the mistakes of the past and use standards in line with the best thinking of today. right now most of Tibet’s mountains are still pristine and unadulterated by mass tourism. in many places stream water is still safe to drink, nomadic families still move thru the valleys and foreigners have almost no impact on the local way of life. wed like to see it kept this way.

a note on the use of the word ‘Tibet’.

disputes about where and what ‘Tibet’ is are common, usually debated by people with little real experience in the places concerned. the Tibetan people themselves do not use the word Tibet, nor do the Chinese. there never has been any one place called ‘Tibet’ other than in the foreign imagination. What we call Tibet the Tibetans refer to under various names for various lands that over the centuries have shifted and been far, far greater than they are today. even today these lands and people are not unified nor homogeneous, comprising multiple groups with widely varying cultures, languages and beliefs.

today, ‘Tibet’ is often used to mean what in China is called Xizang province. this constitutes only a small part of the Tibetan peoples homeland – other areas including Qinghai, western Yunnan and Sichuan, southern Gansu and the sub-Himalayan regions of Sikkim, Bhutan, Mustang and Northern Myanmar etc. Xizang as it currently is has only existed since 1955. before this its eastern half and the west of Sichuan were the separate province of East Tibet or Xikang. this was the most populous Tibetan state and even since the dissolution of Xikang the region of western Sichuan is still the most populated Tibetan area. today people of Tibetan ethnic groups make up about 75% of the population – more than that of Xizang province. some areas in what is now Sichuan, due to being more remote from the interests of both the Tibetan and Chinese governments, have retained a less adulterated Tibetan culture than the well know areas of central Tibet. administratively, most of these areas are known as ‘Tibetan Autonomous Regions’ or TAR’s and get special interest from the central government, both good and bad.

we use the term Tibet, because we are climbing in the lands of Tibetan people, whether they are in Sichuan, Qinghai, Xizang etc and however it has been carved up, romanticized and politicized by others. we use it to denote the lands that come under the collective Tibetan culture. currently climbing in Xizang province is near to impossible, so we are mostly climbing in the western part of Sichuan province that was Xikang until 1955. in these areas non-Tibetan’s are in a small minority, with little other than Tibetan languages spoken. culturally, ethnically, linguistically and practically it is 95% Tibetan.

over the years weve seen how politics can mess up expeditions – both for ourselves and others who come after – so we keep our thoughts on that quiet. but as a Chinese sage once said, ‘the first step to wisdom is getting the names right’ we know Tibet when we see it and when we look out the window, we see nothing that could be called anything else.