2017 EXPEDITION – CENTRAL ASIA

TO THE HEART OF CENTRAL ASIA, THIS IS EXPEDITIONS 1910 STYLE

Must have;

  • Well developed sense of humor, curiosity and resolve

  • Previous expedition experience with unsupported approaches, alpine climbing and remote areas

  • Navigation experience

Desirable;

  • Desert experience

  • Central Asia experience

  • Glaciological expertise

Dates

  • August 19 – 30. Confirm by May

Members will be joining a motivated and experienced team and expected to function likewise. The trip is self sustained, with minimal redtape, but full immersion in the area and cultures. There will be no grants, no film deals, no sponsors, no porters and no guarantees.

This trip will not suit anyone seeking a predictable, guided, three star, well–trodden experience, nor is it suitable as a first expedition. Commercial interest is not welcome.

This trip is confirmed as going ahead. Price is accessible, covers almost everything in-country for the 12 day schedule, and reflects the logistics, research and work of taking on such an unusual objective.

Serious expressions of interest welcome. Exped / climbing resume will be required. Before emailing have confirmed the dates, physical condition and climbing ability to begin the conversation.

Emails to iceclimbingjapan@hotmail.com with 2017EXP and your name in the subject line. Replies within a week.

Trust us – you don’t know anybody who knows anybody who knows about this objective.

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

 

 

 

 

WILL GADD UNEDITED Q#2

Q: how much of the evolution of your climbing has been planned progression? and how much has been random opportunity?

WG: I’ve always just wanted to go climbing. When I was in high school I climbed as many days as possible during climbing season, and that’s still true today. I never thought about it as a career or way of life really, just pushing and doing the forms of climbing I wanted to do. I am interested in new areas, new forms of all my sports, but that’s interest rather than a master plan.

I’ve had some good opportunities through winning competitions, working in publishing, and working with some great companies including Red Bull, Arc’teryx and Black Diamond. But those opportunities came about through interest and intense focus on doing what I found fascinating, not a master plan. Niagara Falls was a random opportunity in a way, but it happened because I’d spent ten years learning how to climb spray ice, managing film crews in crazy environments, and pulling off big ideas safely. Without that climbing background, track record and long-standing crew of great people I work with over and over again I couldn’t have climbed Niagara Falls.

I’m a lucky guy for sure, but try to reduce my reliance on that luck to go forward…

WILL GADD UNEDITED Q#1

this is the first post in a series of ten with Will Gadd. the rules were simple: no editing, no word limits, no punches pulled, no need to even be coherent. shoot from the hip straight to an audience who want to know. as usual Will delivered 110%.

Q:  where was ice and mixed climbing 10 years ago, where is it now, and what’s happened in between?

WG: Ice and mixed climbing are both healthy and going strong. Not a ton of development there in the last 10 years, just a lot more potential globally. More climbers, more areas, more farmed ice, more towers, it’s going great! I’d say it’s another golden age for ice and mixed, just tremendous opportunities globally, from China to South America, just lots to do!

What has changed is dry tooling. Ten years ago it was headed toward being its own sport, now it is its own sport entirely. Ice tools are used, but increasingly it’s done in steep caves on drilled holds, or with bolt-on logs and other features. Drtoolers have gotten good enough to hang onto ice tools for hours at a time even in a flat roof, which is awesome, but if you can hang on forever in a flat roof it’s hard to make routes harder. The grades from about M12 on are basically meaningless these days, more about ego and length of horizontal climbing than difficulty. Some of the harder routes are hard, but a lot of them are just endurance events without any hard moves, especially in Colorado’s Vail area.

To make the drytooling routes harder we’re cutting off more points. Back in the day we cut our spurs off because it made the routes boring and easy, but now some people are cutting off the “rake” points to make it harder to get rests, leaving only a single frontpoint. This actually doesn’t make things tons harder if you can hang on forever, so we’ll need to cut some more points off to make it harder again… At some point it’s going to make sense to just use rock shoes, and then that will probably get too easy so we’ll just have to use our hands again with a chalk bag. So I think drytooling has gotten to the point where it’s basically rock climbing with hooks. I’ve lost interest in this game. I also don’t like the chipped nature of the harder routes, just seems odd to me even though I’ve done a lot of it…

Boom.

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.

TIBET 2016 FURTHER, BIGGER, WILDER: NEW POSITIONS AVAILABLE

plans for Tibet have solidified. new areas are being scheduled, permits are being shuffled and the climbing being analyzed. with 6 months to go it’s time to set a course with training, gearing up and getting your head in the game.

this all means new positions have opened up for some objectives – all of them first ascents, minimal footprint and to barely mapped areas.

this time round we have new data, new freedoms, new ideas and a new capacity to get things done – and with all this we are headed to a new area to take on significantly grander objectives. in keeping with our ethic of minimally supported, low impact and clean-style climbing we are heading further onto the plateau and to higher peaks. its a logical next step into wilder territory to put our expanded capacity into action

6000m, unclimbed, unexplored: these are not the peaks we are going to, the real ones are secret and a lot more dramatic

what you need to know:

world class objectives. +5500m unclimbed peaks in areas with considerable interest but almost no action – done in the best style possible

all redtape covered (permits, visa support, intro letters, liaison, fees, security briefings, more permits)

all team supplies included (tents, stoves, fuel, ropes, team hardware,basecamp food, emergency supplies etc)

all transport and travel details included (meals, vehicles, translation and hotels)

solid scheduling. experience and China’s infrastructure mean we can schedule a first ascent into a 2 week timeline that includes sane acclimation and ‘off-days’ and puts us on the mountain in peak condition

lead and supported by real people with extensive Tibet climbing experience, first ascent experience and intimate knowledge of the geography and politics

minimally supported which means no porters, no guides, no staff. after being dropped off we are on our own with a unique degree of freedom hard earned over 20 years

clean style means no bolts, no route fixing, alpine-style, acclimating on site, leaving as little as possible behind

minimalist, alpine-style, unsupported and daring: it wont always be easy but it will be to the coolest places you can imagine

if youve wanted to be part of a true expedition to a world class objective these trips are the real deal. its not signing onto a pre-packaged tour, its joining a team for a common objective. first exped climbers welcome but all members are expected to prepare realistically and act responsibly with the team dynamic.

teams are kept small and with dozens of possible objectives we pick the one that suits best – fast alpine, big wall, variations, multiple routes, training for even bigger things.

inquiries encouraged

WHAT MAKES THE EXPEDITION CLIMBER ?

contrary to what the climbing media will show you, expedition climbers are not usually the coiffed, logo-laden, high tech, well spoken ambassadors they are made out to be. after 20 years going on prolonged trips to places barely on the map, weve come across enough of the real thing to recognize it when we see it.

superficially, expedition climbers fit a Jungian archetype somewhat different from ‘trip’ climbers, tho of course theres a lot of overlap and its natural to be both. for this blurb we will define ‘expedition’ as being an undertaking in an area removed by degrees of magnitude from any form of climbing industry. basically its climbing somewhere outside of where climbing usually happens and the industry that provides to it has no sway. by example the Khumbu, Charakusa, Fitzroy or the Alps usually dont qualify, whereas the North side of the Karakorum, Baffin, the Altun Shan and many of the sub-ranges of the Himalaya, Andes, Pamir, Tien Shan, Hindu Kush do. if Global Rescue has an off-the-shelf plan and youre not packing your own toilet paper and paramedic supplies its not an expedition.

what makes the expedition climber is the expedition. the omega point of the expedition objective throws into context all other activity and pulls together the pieces to make it happen. people dont end up on expedition by accident, via haphazardness or wishing and dreaming. expeditions are the result of intent and hardwork and theres a certain character that fits that.

if eating unidentified food from a bag excites you, you are one big step towards expedition climbing

expedition climbers dont come from nowhere. they are not born as such and no one hands it to them. to climb in expedition style requires developing the physical capacity, motivation, technical ability and thought process – and making the sacrifices – to be the type of person who does that sort of thing. it doesnt suit everybody. the commitment over large loops of time to many is not realistic. many simply dont believe in their ideas enough to let it happen. to some the idea of being that off the grid is frightening.

expedition climbers see a process. that its a large loop of feedback is understood and that all the steps on the way are not always glamorous is accepted. expedition objectives are rarely the result of fairweather preparation – if you cant cope with a weekend in the rain its unlikely you be solid on a ledge in a storm.

expedition climbers have the guile to channel valuable resources towards a grand objective. $1000 airfares, $800 boots, expensive permits and destroying ropes is accepted as the entry fee. long periods in obscure areas never has been a cheap undertaking and thats simply that. actually work it all out and it maybe comes to $100 a week over a year, making it cheaper than its ever been, but the value has to be there to start with. some people think $100 a week on beer or weed is justified.

if you like hanging out with a crowd in a big warm mess tent with a crew cooking regular meals then real expeditions might not be for you

expedition climbers live in the tunnel of expedition thinking. this is a general way of living where excitement, curiosity, a work ethic and an objective process applies to everything. the ideas of new places, thoughts of new activity, a penchant for logistics, acceptance of a level of base knowledge area paradigm to view life thru that means the actuality of going on expedition scratches all the little itches of day to day living. more than one climber on expedition has announced a sense of being where they know they should be, at least for part of the time.

expedition climbers know its not about the gear. of course gear is part of the equation, but at a similar level to how craftmen use tools. specialist expedition gear is seen as a series of gateways that let certain things be done. the fetishes for nylon, aluminium, carbon fiber, dyneema and plastic dont last long over function. expedition climbers are the only climbers who find sponsorship a hindrance rather than an accolade.

expedition climbers dont demand a set course of actions. if anything expedition climbing can be defined as the opposite – to go where no prefabricated set of rules exists. if your life revolves around morning emails, dependable weather reports, known approach times and detailed topos, adaption to expedition living may be hard. if any paradigm is central to expedition climbing it is that at any moment it all can change to something totally unexpected. entire sides of mountains can prove unapproachable, complete weather patterns can be found to not apply, unforeseen bureaucracy can scuttle whole schedules, accidents and coincidences can open up bizarre outcomes.

expeditions tend not to include the concept of a nice warm hotel room at the end of each day

expedition climbers are discontent with having followed. the shock of the new is fundamental to the expedition mentality, at near-addictive proportions. the buzz of climbing new terrain supersedes any emotion of standing at a high point and its shadow – the act of following established ground – is seen as a form of failure. by definition its a neuroses, but one that drives a grander vision rather than one that backs into a corner. the association with unknowns and unexplored areas is integral to planning, objectives are decided equally by avoiding known factors as by attraction to unknown ones.

expedition climbers have a solid ability to research. from nutrition to training to languages to geography. by their nature expeditions take place without an industry to fill in the gaps. basic factors like sourcing food, navigating towns, negotiating with locals and making decisions are profound enough to get bogged down in without a large degree of pre-knowledge. obscure places are obscure for a reason and often once there an ability to communicate with the greater world diminishes, meaning information from a bigger scale is not apparent. locals can have entirely alternative ways of determining weather, gaining access, perceiving risks. their perspectives and demands are unlikely to have much in common with a team of foreign climbers, more so when communication is alien.

the basis of expedition climbing is making uninhabitable places habitable, even if just for a short space of time.

expedition climbers understand allocating money. expeditions cost hard cash, and that cash translates into unique experiences. for those experiences to be real the money needs to reflect that. cheap boots save $100 but compromise the $1000’s spent on other aspects. expensive gadgetry can introduce complexities and problems analogue solutions can avoid. dollars spent on preparation can reduce dollars spent on wasted time, other factors cant be changed no matter what amount is thrown at it. take away an industry of guides, porters and liaisons and you cant pay your way to the top of a mountain – let alone home again.

expedition climbers train. you cant get good at expeditions by going to the wall, gym or trail 3 times a week and calling that enough. the basic demands of expedition climbing covers a spectrum of effort far broader than climbing alone that a base of general capacity for suffering accounts for maybe 75% of it, with the remaining 25% being the specific machinations of climbing. you are just as likely to be battered, tested and exhausted by days on bad roads, sleeping in cramped places, hauling big loads and belaying from nasty positions as you are from hard edge climbing, and you dont proof yourself from all that by doing 4x4s and crossfit. expedition training is pure blue-collar grunt work of which the only thing that sucks more is not doing it. a large element is in digging out existing weaknesses and chronic problems so they can be managed, as well as incrementally developing the capacity to push against gravity and the weather for weeks on end.

expedition climbers get the cultural aspects – not necessarily the host cultures, but the process of being out of their own. its ignorant to expect the locals in a barely known place to understand, accept, align to or care about your visiting values. minus a climbing industry it fast becomes apparent just how pointless expedition climbing is. in places that see few travelers provisions for them are not default, and often are viewed as decadent or a novelty. if you cant be bothered to decipher your presence in a culture with minimal place for you then you may need to look at your motives. despite a media telling us otherwise, expedition climbers are guests in foreign lands, interacting with landscapes in alien ways that can range from uninteresting to sacrilegious to those whos backyards it happens in. combined with the subtleties of communication between vastly different cultures and its not difficult to see why so many great alpine objectives are off limits.

when weather reports dont exist you have to roll with the consequences

expedition climbers engage the process of problem solving well beyond the climbing. expeditions deconstructed are a matrix of problems requiring solutions. these problems are a continuum that exist long before the actual climbing phase and continue long after, to edit your perspective to just the romantic stuff is to miss the implications throughout. skip a problem early on and it both snowballs the matter and decreases the contingency to fix it. a snapped boot lace is tiny out on the weekend, but on a huge frozen wall the odds are dramatically changed.

expedition climbers are attached to a broad range of goals. standing on top of an unclimbed feature is a feat that takes hundreds of small goals to get to. to place gear properly, to be precise with navigation, to buy the right food, to be fit enough, to pack properly, to make a good tent ledge – to nail the foundation of subsidiary goals is to set up the primary goals, making them possible. looking back at any failed climb, the failed sub-goals are often the cause of greater failures. wrong boots, lack of ability, lack of clarity, lazy choices….when these goals are not made the vectors that allow big objectives to occur are not present.

expedition climbers get hard work. all of the above covers aspets of character that define an archetype that puts into action the process of going far away to do something pointlessly risky for the sake of a unique experience. its the stuff of life and heroic in its own little navel-gazing, Campbellian way, but without the connective element of elbow grease still comes to nought. in the end its grimy blue collar work that makes it happen; carrying loads thru rivers, lugging boxes of groceries up stairs, decanting kilos of oats into little ziploks, suffering bad roads and delays, weeks without washing, ropes that need coiling, ground that needs covering, snow that needs melting, boots that need drying, weather that needs recording, decisions that need making.

now these things all seem obvious, and most people have degrees of these qualities already  – the difference with expedition climbing is that defining and clarifying these characteristics extends very realistically to the sharp end. you dont come home from an expedition by chance, so all of these attributes need to be clearly cultivated.