Weather Update – ICJ Change

Looks like there has been some snow and temps to minus 2 at 2200m.

I’ve also been watching Ice Candy being built. Looking at this seasons wall; there’s a lot of lower angle stuff in there…

Perhaps to be more beginner friendly? Some Seminars? Might be worth going during the week to avoid crowds.

Also wanted to update, ICJ’s Ed has traveled back to Australia for a while. Jason, spent a lot of time with Ed last winter here in Japan, and will be taking over assisting clients this winter.  The spirit of iceclimbingjapan, will not change. Our focus is still on logistics and finding the right climb for the right client. We are not focused on teaching you how to swing an axe, but putting you in the best and most interesting places in Japan to climb.  Don’t hesitate to email if you have any questions or wish to talk about climbing this winter.

ICECLIMBINGJAPAN (AT) HOTMAIL (DOT) COM

YATSUGATAKE: THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN

daytime temperatures are hovering around 12c at 2200m and hitting 0c on the 3000m peaks, so with the shortest day soon things will get cold fast. being in the cold sink between peaks and in the shade, as usual the ice forms fast, with the first alpine routes doable in about 4 weeks and Ice Candy ready to go in about 6 weeks.

inadvertently by tradition, we are usually the first and the last to climb on it, having earned a bit of approval over the winters. time to start making plans now.

yatsugatake’s Ice Candy ice wall: seems like only a week ago when they pulled it down

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.

WANTED:AMAZING WOMEN FOR AMAZING CLIMBING IN IRAN

wanted: amazing women for amazing climbing

Sarah Hueniken, the archetype for elite women climbers, establishing Fun Chimes M9 on an exploratory trip with Will Gadd in Japan

after a lot of interest from both inside and outside iran, we will be running a special trip to connect women ice climbers. radical, meaningful and an extension of goodwill, this trip will combine frontier ice climbing across several locations in iran, great food, amazing places, outstanding ice, and a place in climbing history. climbers of any level are encouraged, all logistics including visa support are included, all questions about iran and the region will be answered and an incredible experience is guaranteed.

men, as either partners or individual, are of course invited too. these trips will be run together, as a kind of road trip thru iran’s best ice areas, climbing the classics and putting up new ice and mixed lines. vast potential exists and our local friends are highly motivated to show us around with their famous persian hospitality.

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.

6 ‘DEEP’ EXERCISES FOR EXPEDITION CLIMBING

expedition climbing differs from alpine climbing by how much the day to day stresses effect the outcome. on an expedition youre as likely to get hurt or run down by the loads, the approach and the way you sleep as you are by the actual climbing. you need to be fit and resilient to pull the moves AND to survive the general process, often exposed to altitudes regular alpine climbing may not entertain which means recovery is compromised.

strength for expedition climbing isnt just the obvious bulk capacity to carry stuff upwards. by developing the deeper, unseen elements like breathing musculature, body tension, load bearing musculature etc  you can go far beyond what just endurance and climbing training can cover. Dan DaSilva arriving at 4600m with a 30kg load – he may look like a male stripper but he climbs like like an orangutan.

training for expedition climbing needs to address the specifics often glossed over with regular alpine climbing, namely: the load bearing muscles, the diaphragms and the ‘sleeping muscles’. lots of climbers get very good at the general and the climb-specific elements only to find that endless pull ups and hill intervals havent prepared them for the workhorse stuff. these exercises address that by making stronger max function and increasing range of motion to help prevent injuries.

‘deep’ exercises are ones that develop stuff you cant really see and address weaknesses you probably dont know you have, making them powerful when integrated with the usual climbing training. these sorts of things pull together the rest of your training and increase overall energy efficiency but they are not quick fix only-10-minutes-a-week vanity exercises. these exercises may be targeting things you have never consciously trained before so may find surprisingly weak and deserve to be a fundamental part of any training regime. other types of these sorts of exercises exist, these are just ones that require little/no gear and have direct applications. remember these are all strengthening exercise – do them at about 3-6RM.

 

1) Lung Lifts

the drop in diaphragmatic efficiency as you gain altitude is startling – the other muscle groups that see such double-digit loss of capacity get huge attention but are peripheral by comparison. just as groups like leg and thorax musculature require a blend of max strength and base endurance to optimize, so does the diaphragm. running etc provides the basic base line, but Lung Lifts target the max strength.

  1. hold 2 x weights (combined weight about 90% of 1RM overheard press) at chest level, pushed together to focus the load onto the sternum area. breathing should obviously move the load.

  2. stand against a wall or horizontal bar to prevent leaning back and shifting the load onto the lower back and hips. you should feel a forward pull.

  3. exhale and allow the abdomen to collapse, dropping the shoulders forward to allow the diaphragm to retract as much as possible.

  4. inhale, using the expansion of the lungs and strength of the diaphragm to raise the load and straighten the body against the wall/bar. hold for 4 or 5 seconds.

  5. repeat for the usual number of strength-oriented reps (3 – 5) and sets (3 – 5).

 

2) Tension Push Ups

being able to maintain body tension in a prone or reclining position is key to resting in grim bivvies, long drives on bad roads, miserable belays and cramped tents. its usually a matter of holding a static state of tension from the shoulders to the feet, length-ways AND across the body. Tension Push Ups build the recruitment to body needs to know what is doable and the range of motion necessary to engage it across a spectrum of forms. if you thought you have body tension down, think again.

  1. place hands on floor, arms extended as for regular push ups.

  2. place the soles of the feet flat against a wall with no support aside from friction (no toe holds, no smears etc). height same as shoulders to create a horizontal bridge of the back.

  3. raise your back and use tension to hold feet against the wall. perform push ups. reps as usual (sets up to 12 before adding resistance)

  4. raising feet or placing hands further forward makes it easier.

3) Plate Stretches

carrying serious loads (>25kg) for serious time (>5hrs repeated daily) requires strong hip connections and lateral strength, plus a strong range of movement to keep it safe over uneven terrain. standard core strength focuses on forward -back strengthening that also compresses or fails to elongate the musculature (front squats, front levers etc), limiting the range of movement and overlooking the direction of real-world loading. Plate Stretches are an old school gymnastic exercise used to strengthen the waist for things like pommel horse that require lateral strength to keep the legs and shoulders aligned – sound familiar? they combined several functions linking static holds with stretching and core strength. start light to get the movement before risking lower back strain ie <5kg to begin.

  1. sit with legs splayed as wide as possible, hamstrings to the floor, feet pointed at the ceiling, both ass cheeks evenly seated.

  2. raise load (plate, KB, DB etc) above head, arms straight, body straight.

  3. lower to each side in alignment with legs, aiming to touch elbow to knee and hands to feet. bend by compressing one side and lengthening the other NOT by raising the ass/hips. keep the body straight.

  4. raise the load by lifting compressed side and retracting extended side NOT swinging load upward with momentum.

  5. 5 or 6 reps to each side before adding weight.

4) Squeeze Bridges

bridge exercises are good because they develop the muscles along the spine (ie the stuff thats often weak because they cant be seen in a mirror…). this helps with heavy packs, hanging in a harness, bad sitting positions and steep or awkward moves. but – like sit ups, dips etc – once threshold is reached its easy to keep doing them mindlessly with diminished results and as the rest of the body gets stronger it becomes a weakness again. Squeeze Bridges combined the dorsal development with the lateral development useful for all those climbing moves that require pulling the body into position, perhaps most obvious on ice when climbing pillars and delaminated features where capacity to simply position the body may be undeveloped. lots of exercises strengthen the ability to push with the legs, but in the ugly, gnarly climbing common the mixed alpine pulling and torquing with the body is common.

  1. lay on floor, hands positioned as for a regular reverse bridge. raise feet and position either side of an object thats about twice shoulder width, feet are unsupported aside from friction between them and the surface. exercise balls are easy, sides of a squat rack are hard.

  2. feet should be placed about same height as shoulders when arms are extended into full position. squeeze inwards with the feet and push torso upwards into bridge position with abdomen raised as high as possible. hold until capacity starts to diminish. lower to floor.

  3. get to 6 reps before adding weight (plate on abdomen etc). similar to Tension Push Ups, Tension Bridges are a progression of this exercise.

5) L-sit Levers

we all know L-sits. we all know Front levers. both are usually employed as static tension exercises which is great for hard overhanging moves (and so should be kept) but have little base level function for the other 90% of expedition climbing that isnt at the hard sharp end. L-sit Levers take the body tension of these exercises and combine controlled movement, joint rotation and core connection across a spectrum of function that develop the shoulders for carrying, the waist for moving and the body connection for balance and the stresses of awkward belays/bivvies. the classic gymnasts version is done on rings or a pommel horse, here hexbells (that wont roll) or push up bars will do. dip bars work once you get the motion. hands flat on floor may compromise wrist movement so use bells etc or knuckles to floor if you have the training or even fingertips if youre Bruce Lee.

  1. raise into the L-sit position; legs straight, arms straight, active shoulder.

  2. from the L-pose raise the hips and waist, straightening the body. keeping hands under center of balance, rotate shoulder joints so arm angle to floor drops. at maximum extension return under control to start position.

  3. from start position push waist back and raise knees towards chest. angle of arms to floor opposite to previous stage.

  4. get to about 6 reps of extensions in both directions where the angle between arm and body exceeds 45o. increase angle and/or add weight by putting weight in the lap and moving out along legs with progress.

6) Weighted Hip Rotates

hip rotates are stock-standard warm up exercises usually not thought much about. Weighted Hip Rotates are a way to develop the sort of leg-waist connection strength and quality range of motion that assists with carrying loads, prolonged periods sitting on belays and in tents and athletic moves requiring wide steps and stems. beyond just increasing the function motion of the hip joint, this exercise develops the inside of the upper leg and the static tension of an extended leg – this is the panacea for disco leg.

  1. lay on the floor, shoulders, ass and hamstrings evenly flat against the ground. raise one leg so knee to chest. raised foot weighted (use a leg weight, Bulgarian bag etc).

  2. starting clockwise with right leg (for the point of discussion, it doesnt matter) extend raised leg across the left leg until straight, keeping ass and shoulders evenly against floor. keeping extended, move leg in a wide arc till out from body, foot as close to ground as possible. continue arc, bringing knee to chest.

  3. 5 reps each direction, each leg, before adding weight.

these exercises may look like esoteric gymnastics stuff, but they are all doable like any regular movement and have arguably more real world function that much of what gets done in the name of climbing. done as strength exercises means twice a week is optimum, or once a week if other strength/power work is being done. the effects of this stuff wont be seen as cool abs or vanity muscle but it will be felt when climbing or carrying under load, especially at altitude where its like a plug for energy leaking out of a body that looks strong but actually has unseen weaknesses.

GOLDEN WEEK – BE CAREFUL

golden week is here. the highways are jammed, the trains are booked out and the carparks are full.

Yatsugatake’s Ice Candy. perhaps in Honshu’s most stable winter environment at 2200m in a shaded amphitheater, its usually still pretty solid in late April. photo from the Akadake Kosen blog.

every year it seems winter gets a bit shorter – certainly shorter than when the aging guidebooks were written – so those old favorite late spring routes are now really early summer ones. every year sees a few more accidents as climbers find out the hard way. the snow pack isnt what it once was, the slopes arent as stable as they once were, the rock isnt as frozen as it usually is, the 24hr  temperature fluctuation can be broader.

add to that the undeniably weird weather over the last winter and theres real unknowns out there. be careful where you camp. be careful where you climb. be careful of the bigger picture.

2015 / 16 WINTER THAT WAS

2015/16 was a strange winter. conditions were strange, the atmosphere was strange, the locations were strange. it may be part of a greater cycle…or maybe its not.

to go with the strangeness, we spread ourselves over a large spectrum this winter. avoiding being too focused in a season that had a large degree of unpredictability from the start. we avoided some places we usually focus on and spent a lot of time in areas with a lot of untapped potential. we didnt get everything done we had planned, but we did set in motion the wheels for the next phase. fresh back from Tibet, we entered the winter with a bigger perspective and with trips to Iran on the horizon we had another objective to channel things towards.

unusual weather meant some places had easier access as the streams froze. a rare convenience.

FUJI

we really consolidated things on Fuji this winter, with a lot of trips over a very short period. at the peak of it we did nearly 13,000m of ascent in 11 days in winter conditions.

the South West face of Tanigawa-dake. theres a reason people dont know about this place.

ICE

some people called it a ‘bad ice year’. we thought it was excellent. late arrival meant no trash ice in the mix, so what formed was lean but clean. in some regular places no ice formed at all, whilst other icefalls formed the best weve ever seen them,perhaps due to the widely oscillating temperature variations.

we also worked hard on the ice we had, fortifying what we could do with straight volume sessions. this winter we were simply better climbers.

Will Gadd’s WI7 route Frozen Gold in Sendai. setting the new bar high for the possibilities in Japanese winter climbing

MIXED

modern mixed is where japan’s biggest winter potential lays. effectively so little has even been thought about the possibilities are unlimited, no less as the season is also longer and the summer can be spent working the hard bits.

the big event here was Will & Sarah coming over to prove the point, putting up the two hardest routes in the country while they were at it and identifying dozens more. this is exactly what Japanese winter climbing needs before it sputters to a halt.

Espresso Wall at Kaikomagatake. the short, sharp, powerful dose of mixed climbing Japan needs.

ALPINE

as a low snow year this was the time to head to places like Tanigawa-dake’s more esoteric aspects. having been away from the area for a few years it was valuable to return with a fresh outlook and get into places wed overlooked before. what we found was big, daunting, quality and profound and will become a new focus for us, tho it will take time to get it right.

the faces at Mitsutoge became one of our favourite mixed alpine locations.

IN GENERAL

this was the winter to reset directions and launch into new ideas, tho it took several years of accumulated experience to make it  go. as expected we proved to ourselves that motivation and derring do backed up with preparation made it work. new frontiers and climbing goals are needed in Japan and we have done what we could to get things rolling – and the right people have responded.

winter 2016/17 is already falling into blocks. get on board fast.

IRAN 2016: THE FRIENDSHIP TRIPS

it’s been a long time. until the late 70’s Iran had consistent visits from international groups, putting up serious routes on the 4500 – 5000m peaks across the country. as a developed, hospitable and accessible nation Iran had a good reputation. the revolution scared people away, and upheaval in surrounding countries plugged the way in, but despite Iranian climbers continuing to climb abroad, as an international destination thing fell quiet.

behind Iran’s borders the climbing went on and new generations of climbers put up ever-harder routes on ice, walls and alpine faces. it was only those outside that didnt know about it. as the world changed former eastern bloc, Chinese and soviet climbers came in from the cold and bought their individual climbing styles with them. now its Iran’s time.

as sanctions drop iceclimbingjapan is preparing to go back to Iran, linking up with Iranian climbers and being part of the process of change. we did it in China, we are doing in Japan and we will get the ball rolling in Iran. working with climbers who have serious histories in their own country and places like the Alps, Himalayas and Pakistan, the Friendship Trips aim to both open the door and to get some serious climbing done. repeating the test pieces and establishing new lines in Iran’s most profound locations is the objective. along with this we will do a lot of hanging out, a lot of eating, a lot of footwork and a lot of thinking big.

with so much to climb in Iran we are doing a series of trips to showcase what is there

Autumn Walls: October 2016 15 days

Iran gets cold so before deep winter sets in we are heading to some big alpine walls for some serious vertical time. on the agenda is repeating classic Polish routes, trying some of the new Iranian lines and establishing something new. on-mountain time will be a blend of high camps, basecamp and ledges on the face. this is a good trip for anyone wanting real exped wall experience but without many of the problems that come with higher altitude.

Winter Alpine: December / January 15 days

Iranian North Faces are a culture of their own. Iran’s dramatic mountainscapes mean theres alpine faces in several places, each with their own style. like the walls, we will be heading for a mix of established routes and new attempting new routes.

Ice road trip: Early Febuary 15 days

all across the ranges of Northern Iran is ice. our schedule is to link up several ice areas to hang with the local crowd, climb the known stuff and get in new lines where we can. from idyllic mountain villages to stark mountain sides we go where the ice is. this trip is specifically about good times, and we can cover a lot of territory both on ice and across Iran’s varying landscapes.

Beta

these trips have full logistical support and the redtape organized. we have solid processes for visas, insurance and security. no trip goes anywhere with 500km of of the Iraqi or Afghan/Pakistan borders, or restive areas around Baluchistan (ie the UK foreign office advisory areas). as an example, a trip to Thailand will bring you closer to areas with the same level of advisory.

Iran is surprisingly easy to get to, with regular flights thru much of asia and the middle east. Visas are a mixed lot – some nationalities get them on arrival, others need to be booked before. contrary to some reports, US citizens are not banned at all. like several other nationalities you just need to be booked on a trip and all that is organized. where things do differ for US citizens is there is no consular representation inside Iran, tho other consular missions pick up the slack.

note that visas and logistics take time to arrange so the cut off for joining is 2 months prior to the trips start in Tehran.