EAST FACE OF MAEHOTAKADAKE: BUGS, HEAT & SUMMER ICE

you dont hear much about the east face of Maehotakadake (3090M). the north ridge is a classic alpine techy scramble, and a panoramic trail crests its top, but the big, jagged, looming east face is usually little much more than an ominous view as people go past it on the way to other things. with good reason. its a loooong way to the base, via dense, barely maintained trails, endless loose scree and – if you get caught up in the many complex gullies – year round ice.

planning with a different route in mind, we set out for the east face, thinking it was something else, to find a true corner of rarely visited Japanese alpine climbing that easily fits the distinction of Alps-style in Japan. soaring buttresses, detached pillars, high icy cols, hidden lakes, waterfalls and couloirs leading into rarely seen upper faces. with 3 days to spend we were soon overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the terrain – 3 days is barely enough to into the faces upper reaches – and relinquished to return another day. scant attention means access is hard, requiring adhoc navigation and guesswork in the faces swirling complex of gullies – most ending in ice-smoothed chutes and dangerous ravines. tell-tale evidence from ancient pitons, few and far between, denote this place has escaped the hardware-happy decades. a trip here demands more than the short ropes and anemic rack often suitable for the popular routes.

the east face of Maehotakadake: plenty of alpine ice in those gullies, a lot of complex terrain

a 400 – 500m summer ice line, looking across at the east ridge

the east face of Maehotakadake is a beguiling objective, mysteriously bridging the gap between established routes on the Japanese survey maps. this is unique climbing, a hybrid of european scenery with asian details and the heart of Japanese alpinism. anyone who thinks Japan has nothing new left to try hasnt been up here. with a lot of gaps filled in the plan, we will be back to try again, with more time, more gear and a higher degree of commitment. a mention in dispatches for Matt for cheerfully soloing dodgy ice and wet rock, brushing off the bugs and knowing when we were beaten.

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.

2016 EXPEDITIONS

welcome to another year of iceclimbingjapan expeditions. if you like your climbing comfortable, commercial, standardized and with minimal unknowns then please exit this website now

by the time you get to the start of the climbing a LOT of planning needs to have been done: Dan Dasilva at the drop-off for the first winter attempt on Se’erdengpu’s SSW face.

motivated by the successes of recent expeditions, over the coming year we will be going further into unknown areas with bigger ideas and more dynamic agendas – including ideas that are raising the eyebrows of even some of the most vanguard climbers around. like previous trips, we will be combining the latest in styles, logistics and resources to match objectives previously off the radar. not all trips are regular alpine climbing and this years schedule includes ice and mixed trips to places you’ve never heard of and peaks that dont even have names.

 

ice & mixed climbing in the edgiest parts of Asia. if you thought you knew where the frontier was, think again.

new routes on (barely) known peaks attempted in cutting edge styles ranging from big wall to big push

full first ascents of unnamed peaks, done in true expedition style

 

needless to say, these trips need commitment, both leading up to and during the trip itself. you will be expected to function as a full team member and that means having the physical ability, climbing ability and expedition mentality appropriate for the trip. these things can all be developed – but not overnight. if you need to sharpen your edge, you need to commit asap.

unusual places take unusual levels of commitment to get to.

this process starts with intelligent contact, which includes detailing your previous climbing experience. we dont hide the fact that not every trip suits every climber and we give priority to the right team, not the profit. each team is kept small and streamlined so logistics stay smooth and allow for optimum adaptability at the sharp end, and our unparalleled access and logistics in places like Tibet opens up options only dreamed about a few years ago.

obscured by clouds: for nearly 20 years we have visited the less known parts of Asia, sometimes under the radar, sometimes working with explorers like Tomatsu Nakamura. we take pride in our constant search for unknown objectives.

all expeditions are costed to include all exped-relevant costs, ie the permits and paperwork, ground logistics, logistic support & staff wages, operating management, hotels/meals when not climbing, team equipment and contingencies. on some trips paid positions exist for photographers.

part of the process will be inclusion in aspects of our custom equipment process. this takes time and once the production dead-line passes its gone.

 contact & inquiries encouraged

NEW JAPAN ALPINE ROCK ROUTES GUIDEBOOK

finally!

its been about 20 years since the last comprehensive guide to japan’s mountain routes came out, and finding them for sale has been near impossible for the last 6 or 7 years. the older versions became classics, recording much about the Japanese attitude at that time, like a time capsule of climbing at the end of the bubble era.

this new book does away with a lot of the introductory stuff the old ones had – its a straight up guide. its also a summer only guide, in that it doesnt cover the ice and winter routes that made up much of the earlier versions. also, its a weird selection of peaks, showing big routes right across the country with a lot of new data and infinitely more detail, but big chunks are missing. included are great chapters on Tanigawadake and Kaikomagadake, showing a lot of newer stuff, but missing are supposedly unmissable peaks like the Tsurugi massif. presumably theres another volume planned…

Japanese mountain routes, with one of Tanigawadakes infamous faces on the cover

now note that these are Japanese routes, most dating from the era of Japanese hard climbing. these are not polished trade routes covered in pin scars and detailed with minute descriptions – these are gritty, wild, gnarly routes on bizarre gear that ride the features of the faces they are on, many see little passage year to year, some like the one on the cover have claimed a lot of lives. this is Japan’s soul of climbing in its unique style. these routes say a lot about the timeline of the country’s climbing right up to today. these are the routes the Giri Giri Boys graduated thru, and names like Yuji Hirayama are throughout the book. any international climber wanting to get their head around the enigma of Japanese climbing should start with this book.

of course its written only in Japanese….

 

 

 

 

CLIMBING IN THE HEAT

climbing in serious cold is one thing, and climbing in serious heat is another. ‘serious’ here means the process of climbing is changed due to the direct effects of heat, and like serious cold can damage tissue and compromise ability.

50c / 122f at the rock’s surface: hot enough to limit the amount of time contact can be made with the rock

today’s session was expected to be hot, so it was planned to be over by midday. a degree of discomfort was factored in, but antidotes like water, sun cream & shade were included.

but, by 11:00am the heat coming off the rock was hitting 50c, making it too hot to touch, and we called it early. consider that to be radiating at 50c the actual surface will be hotter. consider too that to a tenderloin steak is cooked at 55c, for less than an hour. its not enough to kill bacteria but it is enough to break down the fats, collagen and protein to make them digestible and be released as juices.

heres what climbing in 50c entails:

  • reflected heat onto the front of the body feels like an open oven. unlike direct sunlight, its not from a single direction, so hits all surfaces

  • above about 45c the heat is felt straight thru the rubber of climbing shoes, even thicker stuff like the rand of TC Pros

  • around 50c the heat on the toes can only be tolerated for about 10mins

  • temperatures like this massively soften the rubber, nice for sensitivity, painful otherwise

  • finger contact, especially open handed, is limited to about 1 min. that most holds face sun-wards compounds the problem

  • any metal device getting friction (belay / rappel devices etc) get hotter than normal and take longer to cool. they certainly get hot enough to burn skin, and sizzle when water or sweat is dropped on them when rappelling.

  • any hard dark surface gets really hot, including helmets, shoe rubber, the insoles of shoes left at the base of the route, buckles, pitons etc

  • any water carried gets hot fast unless frozen first

essentially, the combination of radiated and reflected heat from the rock creates a zone maybe 1m deep over the rocks surface that is habitable for only short periods. the rock itself is possibly significantly hotter. like intense cold, a degree of adaption with the right actions can be achieved, which would include:

  • wear full coverage, reflective coloured clothes. especially for any jamming arete route where large areas of the body contact the rock

  • cover every skin surface with sun cream, including downwards facing areas like inside the nose, under the chin, backs of legs

  • consider easier route options that minimize prolonged static positions

  • consider the rock type: lighter rock stays relatively cooler but reflects more. darker rock is obviously hotter.

  • on harder routes plan around areas of shade and consider aiding, even just for rests, to reduce contact with the rock surface

  • wear larger sized rock shoes to give extra buffer from pushing against hot rock

  • carry water on route – delaying hydration even slightly when inside a zone of 50c gets dangerous fast. supplement with electrolytes. stuck on a rock wall is not a good place to be when the effects of dehydration or hypernatremia hit.

  • consider a gri gri for belaying – the part-plastic construction reduces the chance of burns over an ATC or all-metal device like a cinch

  • use gloves for belaying and rappelling. anything that normally gets hot will get hotter and remain hot longer

  • factor for much longer times…

…this session was meant to be 14 x 25m pitches at 5.8 to 5.10, expected to take 2 hrs. instead it took 1.5hrs to do 5 pitches, then we called it. rather than 5 or 6 pitches back to back, each pitch required a prolonged rest between to hydrate, allow metal gear to cool from the rappel off and boots to be cooled. really.

consider too: daytime peak temperatures were expected at between 1:00 and 2:00pm. if it was hitting 50c at 11:00am….

seriously, climbing in intense heat involves limited fun. on big routes, entering conditions like this for more than an hour or so could get nasty fast. unlike intense cold where options can exist for retreat into sleeping bags, shared body heat etc, retreat from serious heat is at the mercy of what the route offers. when the hottest zone extends several feet off the rocks surface, the shade of a portaledge may help, but the radiated heat will still be huge.

its funny how the suffering from intense heat makes one long for the suffering of intense cold that seems so far away…

TRAINING FOR WINTER IN SUMMER

before worrying about 20 pitches of 5.12, get good at 20 pitches of 5.10

theres plenty of suffering to be had in summer: long days on baking rock, drenched in sweat, fingers raw, soaked by the approach, dehydrated and sunburned. all winter you fantasize about things being lighter once all the gear is gone, but in the end it just becomes water instead. still, some things are easier in a t-shirt and daylight, so summer is the time to reduce complex systems to robotic reflex and develop the body that can withstand mile upon mile of vertical gain. neither comes fast nor by accident.

after endless winters of long alpine routes its easy to devolve by dedicating too much effort to short but hard rock routes in the belief that harder makes you better. and whilst theres no doubt that some upper threshold training is important, letting it take over and losing your hard-earned endurance edge is a serious training mistake – as seen in the many climbers who complain at the start of each winter how theyve lost their capacity for long hard days.

you get better at what you do by doing it and what you dont do atrophies. analyse any alpine objective and you see that above all other factors its the time on-route that is the baseline. pulling a single pitch of m11 or 5.13 is irrelevant if you cant stay up there and cover the other dozens of 5.9 pitches to get to it. in real time this means sucking it up and hammering out infinite pitches efficiently and well within your zone – something that comes no other way. by pitch 20 – climbed consistently and well – 5.10 will start to feel more and more like 5.12, and that 5.12 pitch it was all about starts to look much harder than the 5.12 you just squeezed out at the wall. the weak link is failed endurance.

so summers need not feel like a diversion from cold alpine – all those hours on rock pay off in many more ways than just endurance – but if youre going to keep the edge sharp between winters it needs consistent and intentional effort and that in turns means suffering, just in a different way. at the height of summer you will long for the simple agonies of winter.

55 VIRGINS: ENTERING GANGGA’S ALPINE PARADISE

if a climber leads a life of virtuous vertical achievement they are eligible for mythical elevation to alpinist paradise – the land of virgin peaks, where unlimited climbing pleasure awaits, all is permitted and the only limitations are those of the self.

whatever is desired – from big walls and huge ice to aesthetic boulders and endless mixed alpine – is available, the price of entry is to swap the mundane for the unknown. for climbers that have not considered the idea of paradisical climbing the notion may be obscure.

Tomatsu Nakamura’s map showing peaks in the Gangga range over 5000m

its been centuries since any part of China was associated with paradise.  perhaps the last time was during the Han Dynasty when Daoist hermits wandered off to the western mountains, deeming them rarified and therefore a better place to refine the body and mind. then a few years ago Tomatsu Nakamura published his expedition findings in the AAJ and Alpinist, using the word ‘paradise’ for those same western ranges, and providing a peek to a new wave of travellers wanting to pursue frontiers of the body and mind.

distant and virtually unknown: the main western Gangga massif as seen from Ganzi town – as close as anyones come to climbing them. central peaks 5688m, 5670m, 5650m

until recently the Gangga massifs and other ranges of North Eastern Tibet were off limits to climbers, with even Chinese climbers being turned away. beneath the radar, guerilla ascents were made of course (and who would ever do such a thing…?), then climbers like Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden, finding ways thru the Chinese governments new redtape, started getting access to entire new regions of unclimbed peaks. it was the stuff of alpine dreams – hundreds of unattempted peaks, with relatively good access and a relatively stable infrastructure to work with – but the message was slow to emerge. a conservative climbing media, inward looking fraternity and warped China view has kept interest in these places distant and esoteric – and thats a good thing.

why repeat the mistakes of over-indulgence from the past?

forget it: even when the authorities granted permits the local monks locked it down. Kawarori as seen from about 5200m on Gangga VII

two of the gems in the crown of NE Tibet’s virgin peaks are the Kawarori and Gangga Shan massifs – steep, complex peak systems with acute prominence from the river valleys, laying just on the fringe of the monsoon pattern to gather enough precipitation for ice to form well, flanks to collect snow and grass to cover the approaches. annoyingly, the Kawarori peaks have proved off-limits after agressive reproachment by local monks, but the three massifs that make up the Gangga range remain accessible to those with the permits and nouse. perhaps even oddly so; indeed the Gangga range is so obscure even the locals dont know or dont care about them, making them unnamed, unvisited and unmapped. and it is here that the 55 virgins await.

Gangga VII 5429m: the only attempted peak in the entire range, as seen from Ganzi town

according to Nakamura’s map there are at least 40 peaks over 5000m, with 7 peaks over 5500m – ie 2 x the Central Alaska and St Elias Mountain ranges combined, minus Denali. several clusters of peaks have glaciated slopes whilst others have huge cirques full of scree. about three quarters of what is there has simply never been viewed from close range. even the nomadic groups that have crossed from the higher plateau to the Yalong rivers plains for centuries avoid the central part of the massifs, using passes at about 4500m. even the peaks right by the county-level access roads have not been climbed, nor have the endless  miles of +/-300m crags, the thousands of house-sized boulders or the hundreds of icefalls, many within an hour from the road. and whilst there is amazing road access to one part of the range – along the valley between the central and eastern massifs – the rest is a large unknown with distant photos and satellite images showing extensive glaciers and deep ravines. of the plateau-sides of the ranges absolutely nothing is known.

walls and peaks in the central and eastern Gangga massifs. none climbed, named or surveyed. peak on the left 5055m.

but like all paradises, entry is not guaranteed. the Gangga range sits firmly within Tibetan territory and thus has never been open without a price, and despite a straightforward process of permits and access in this era of convenience few rise to the occasion. getting to the Gangga range is more a psychic process than a physical one. in the tradition of Hassan i sabbah, entry requires giving oneself over to new processes more so than just wanting to climb. where there is no concept of climbing the procedure from civilization outwards has none of the tourist bubble and industry convenience the well known alpine destinations have. your reasons for being there are not understood, let alone catered for, none of the decisions have been previously made, the basic questions unanswered. very few climbers will aspire to this, and even less will ever face it.

5098m, Eastern Gangga massif

5241m(L) & 5053m(R) Eastern Gangga massif

5410m (C) & 5400m(R) Central Gangga massif

5207m (L), 5232m (C, behind) & 5457m (R) Central Gangga massif

no porters rush to carry your bags, no signs point the way, no one in town knows or cares what you want to do, no one is concerned if you dont come back, your reasoning appears abstract, the things you want to locals cannot provide. as the old sufi saying goes “it cannot be found by looking, nevertheless, all those who have found it looked”. and the closer you get the less the ideas about summiting matter. first you need to find the base of the mountain – climbing is a priviledge, the notion often being lost in todays climbing world where exploration is a distant reason most will not perceive. to stand on the top of a new route is a world away from standing at the base of a new mountain, knowing nothing above you has been touched. 

5567m (L) & 5690m (R) Eastern Gangga massif

瑞牆山冬の壁 Mt MIZUGAKI WINTER WALLS

deep winter needs to be revelled in, not avoided. so when things get cold its time to hit the ‘winter only’ projects, and for a few years now that means mixed walls. mizugaki is the slightly esoteric sister to japans well known ogawa-yama rock area, all the routes are big, the granite spires high, relatively few routes done and much, much quieter. and whilst ogawa-yama sees climbing year round, mizugaki retains just minimal bouldering interest as the temps plummet to the -20s, the roads close and the snow gets deep.

records of winter ascents of the big routes are near non-existant. which makes it exactly what spikes iceclimbingjapan’s interest.

the deep freeze: mid-winter conditions on the way out to Mt Mizugaki

after succesful failure in china/tibet last year Dan was back for more suffering as part of the process for future trips* in the pipeline. cold walls requiring a lot of unknowns and a lot of motivation and character to overcome them are the nature of these trips and mizugaki never failed to deliver. with a good weather window, 4 days and a mountain of supplies it was time to put ideas into motion.

from the start things were overwhelming: turning 4 days of winter wall gear into (barely) carryable loads.

thats what 35kg looks like.

the boulder chute: littered with randomly sized granite boulders and the excised darker parts of the psyche.

the base of the wall: icy, cold and unstable. a good place to move upwards from

cold walls are dry walls: smashing 3 days worth of ice to carry upwards. mizugaki is so cold and dry that deer chewed at the ice for liquid.

a tough approach by headtorch got us to the well frozen base of the walls, carrying loads of 35kg each and pushing thru waist deep snow to the cave we knew so well from summer. a few hours sleep and more slog for a few hours and we finally got off the ground onto the first of up to 11 pitches over 400m height gain. pitch one usually goes at 5.11d mid-summer, but in mid-winter it became an A2 blend of bolts, nasty ring rivets and small gear that became sketch A3- onto a face of thin cracks, tiny pro and snow melt. as the sun went and the temps dropped, A3- became A3+ as the melt refroze that made for scary stuff. by midnight we’d hauled the gear, set up the ledge and melted ice to settle in for a frozen night on the wall.

finally getting off the ground: the 5.11d first pitch brought us up into the warm sun…

…until day became night, everything refroze and the hard, cold work continued

living on the ledge: by midnight wed hauled 70kg of gear up a boulder chute, aided 2 pitches and hauled everything up to our first bivy

getting above the trees was a crucial factor for being above the shaded frozen base of the wall. up in the ledge the sun could reach us, and nothing beats a clear view across to peaks as the first espresso of the day gets milled.

mornings up high are always memorable, especially in winter where it brings you into the sun. the view across to Kaikomagatake, Yatsugatake and the central alps

even tho the night was long but the sleep was short and every muscle burned, the first espresso of the day brings everything back to equilibrium

with a full day on the face before us Dan geared up and set off on what the topo noted as a series of 5.7 and 5.9 cracks…..which no doubt in summer they are. several hours later after a few heartrate-raising falls, multiple hook moves in a row and a heroic battle across granite slicked by snow melt Dan pulled onto the first belay stance, a gradually melting patch of ice on an smooth slab of granite. the transition wasnt prolonged as he headed into a foot crack that outside of winter is a jaunt, but in winter requires lots of digging. the next stance was mostly free of snow but the sun was going fast so another quick transition lead out onto an exposed face and up a perfect hand crack on good gear, arriving just as things got dark.

Dan heading off on a crash course about hooks, marginal gear and high-stepping: from V12 bouldering to winter walls via high altitude expedition climbing, Dan’s progression curve with climbing is impressive

the belay stance above pitch 3: probably quite nice when the snows not melting and sliding off

 Dan leading off onto the steep hand crack that for a change wasnt choked with ice.

a long rap back to the ledge got us in tired and trashed, realizing that our window was far too short for the route. inverting the summer grades, the short easy pitches were terrifying efforts across iced slab, whilst the hard stuff became long aid pitches on thin techy placements – neither of which went fast, only compounded by days still only short with most of that below freezing.

happy with what we had, knowing wed attempted something with almost zero beta it was time to go. the weather was crashing anyway as the next morning showed us, with gusting winds howling across the spires and faces – as it usually does out there. retreat was long and grinding, with Dan arriving zombie-like with a thousand yard star after grim exploits deep in a gully and getting by on a damaged knee from a fall the day before.

retreat: exhausted but happy we were beaten by the clock and conditions and started the long haul out

aching and frazzled we resorted to dragging the haul bags thru the flat sections….

…or simply threw them down anything step enough

before we had time to cool down was Dan was flying back to Australia, trashed but not succumbed, with a haul bag full of dirty gear, a damaged knee and plans already forming for the next chapter.

turns out Dan had climbed, slept and walked out with a 30kg load thru waist deep snow with a torn medial cruciate in his right knee

*further plans in the cold wall project take us to sichuan and pakistan. please get in touch if suffering on frozen rock walls appeals.

UNSEEN, UNNAMED, UNCLIMBED: GANGGA VII 2014

anyone saying the era of real exploration is over is simply wrong

gangga VII, 5425m, north east tibetan plateau. south east coulouir, 5.7 M4 VI, 85degrees ice, 40 – 60 degrees snow, +/-500m, 9 pitches to 5340m. no summit…this time

over a month from September to October iceclimbingjapan lead another trip to the Sichuan/Tibet plateau to find & climb new peaks – new as in totally unclimbed.

based on 15 years of trips to remote parts of China ICJ teamed up with the master of Tibetan exploration, Tomatsu Nakamura, to get the inside knowledge on whats out there to do. from his vast base of data we settled on an objective that suited ICJs model of small footprint, highly mobile trips that shed many of the problems associated with the big, dinosaur industry ‘expeditions’ found elsewhere. the Gangga Massifs were chosen with their +/-5500m mixed peaks and relative easy access, which made for a streamlined ascent profile that fitted our window.

aside from that almost nothing was known. first we had to find the base of the mountain before thinking about climbing it – a big matter considering only half a dozen photos of the Gangga peaks existed, all of them from the same side. it didn’t help too that the area was known as a center for civil unrest, with access restrictions forming a large element in the planning…

SO WHAT’S THERE?

even several months of speculation didn’t touch on the amount of climbing out there. what turned out to be extremely complex topography uncovered decades worth of routes in just the one part of the Gangga we recced (approx. 10% of the range). characterized by a series of high cirques (+4500m) ringed with rock peaks theres climbing everywhere. from ideal boulders to 1200m big walls, ski routes, hard alpine, moderate ridges and huge ice lines theres endless possibilities.

basecamps mostly sit above 4000m, on grass yak pasture (nomads use the Gangga valleys connecting the Yalong river to the higher grasslands), with pristine spring water (ie very comfortable). high camps tend to be up the steep scree slopes that lead into the cirques thru openings in the walls (ie not so comfortable).

 Gangga VII highcamp (4500m)

another common feature of the Gangga massifs geology are the formations of spires and pillars that form maze-like networks of couloirs between faces and snow fields, making for complex route choices requiring a broad spectrum of climbing ability. theres lots of steep snow plodding to be had – but it takes solid mixed alpine to get to.

WHAT DID WE DO?

Gangga VII SE face:  SE couloir starts from the top of the visible snow/scree and emerges at the ice/snow that disappears round to the north side at the obvious notch on the right skyline. (note: the peak appearing to the left is a sub-peak foreshortened, +/- 5050m)

our permits were for the most distinct peak in the Gangga’s central massif, unnamed despite being so prominent, marked simply as 5425m in Nakamura’s images and sometimes referred to as Gangga VII. after looking into options from the accessible eastern side and balancing a large team of varied ability, we eventually settled on an ‘easy looking’ mixed couloir that twisted from the SE side thru pillars and faces around to the NE headwall – via several blind spots. other options included direct and variant routes on the SE face, a wandering mostly-rock line on the south face, linking pulpits of snow on the NE side and taking the SSW ridge from a notch in the west side of the cirque. all elegant choices that one by one got crossed off due to time, safety, logistics and ability. in the harsh light of reality – when theres been no one to go before – of all the gear used for climbing Occam’s razor is the right tool for the job.

top of Pitch 1

so the SE couloir it became and 2 attempts under very different conditions got us to within 4 or 5 pitches of the summit after 500m of steep final approach from highcamp and 9 pitches of mixed alpine up to WI4+ of ice and M4+. things ground down as they got steeper, difficult routes choices turned against us, the ice proved thin and an underestimation of the gear needed (twice as much thin gear next time…) meant we pulled out just before the transition to the (unknown) north side, at about 5340m.

mention must be made of Rob’s outstanding lead on pitch 8; run out above minimal gear and a stressful belay and the hardest moves capped with the last short screw left.

as a first attempt on an unattempted peak in an unexplored massif in an unknown range in a restricted corner of the Tibetan plateau things went exceedingly well. all members of the climbing team and support staff came home with the fingers and toes they left with as was the defined goal. the seamless efforts of the logistics staff maintained a perfect platform for the climbing, supplying excellent food, a comfortable BC, happy living atmosphere and unobtrusive local liaison. its no exaggeration that BCs in China are arguably the best anywhere – an even bigger deal considering theres no mass industry running to format with dollar-a-day locals.

imposing: Gangga VII as seen from the approach

SO WHATS NEXT?

as always, further, cooler and more efficiently. back in Chengdu we met up with Tomatsu Nakamura and started laying down the next trips ideas and organizing the next lot of logistics. the team has been solidified, access and BC locations have been mapped and equipment is being arranged. initial interest is centering around a healthy blend of walls, mixed lines and high altitude ice, with short recce trips further into other parts of the Gangga range (including the whole undocumented western side).

fresh food, good coffee, clean water and variation: BCs in China are healthy, happy and relaxing, meaning good recovery and sustainability in remote places

this years trip established the groundwork for pulling the climate data, access, bureaucracy, supply and resources into line with the demands of climbing, creating a ‘light & fast’ model that functions extremely well. yes, climbing in China has its idiosyncrasies, but beyond that is a level of function that can open up serious expedition climbing like its never been done before. when you have the inspiration and know how to do it of course.

as always, interest & inquiries for 2015 are welcome from both independant teams and individuals. numbers will be limited but several trips can run  and several teams can climb from a shared BC