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Asia, China, Gongg Shan (Minya Konka) from the South

Gongga Shan (Minya Konka) from the South. The objective of our expedition was to find and climb a new route on the south face of Gongga Shan (24,891 feet, 7587 meters). The climbing in China consisted of Dr. Lance Owens, Henry Barber, Gary Bocarde, Louis Reichardt, Jed Williamson and me as leader. We were accompanied by Chang Xian, liaison officer, Liu Xikang and Sun Haitao, all from the Chinese Mountaineering Association. Terris Moore, Bob Bates, Adams Carter and Nick Clinch participated in the organization of the expedition. Permission was granted for this climb by the People’s Republic of China in March 1980. Bates and Owens went to Beijing in April to negotiate and sign the protocol governing our permission to climb. While I assembled the team, Owens ably organized the complex logistics required to meet the detailed specifications of the protocol. We left the United States on September 8, arriving in Beijing on September 13, after a Hong Kong stopover. We traveled by train to Chengdu, then by truck and bus to Lubai Xian. The road does not follow the 1932 party of Moore, Emmons, Burdsall and Young, but it traverses roughly the same ground. From Lubai Xian we walked for three days, supported by a train of horses, to reach the site of the Gongga Gompa at 12,500 feet. The once beautiful monastery has been in ruins since the “cultural revolution” of the 1960s. There we established Base Camp, later shared by the Mountain Travel USA party, which arrived in the area to conduct a commercial trekking operation and to film an attempt to repeat the 1932 first- ascent route. Relations between the two parties were carried out in a spirit of mutual cooperation. In consistently bad weather we spent nineteen days ferrying loads up the south side of the Greater Minya Konka Glacier and then probing the icefall and south face. Camps were established and occupied at 14,925 and 17,050 feet. From the higher camp Bocarde, Barber and I made several probes for a safe route through the icefall to the upper southwest face of Gongga Shan, only to be turned back on each probe by local objective danger in the complex and highly active icefall. A final unsuccessful probe by all members on October 10 led to a decision to abandon the route through the icefall and seek the upper face by a longer route starting farther back down the glacier. Avalanches then chased Reichardt, Williamson, Bocarde and Barber off the central portion of the lower south face. A high point on the western edge of the lower south face at 20,750 feet was reached on October 12 by Reichardt, Williamson and me, but the ridge above was a complex of cornices. It proved a dead end from the perspective of logistics and time. The bad weather continued, leaving the lower south face too dangerous to climb this year. We abandoned our attempt on the night of October 13 and after clearing our camps, descended in time to assist the Mountain Travel party in the final stages of their evacuation. Although we did not reach the summit from the south this year, I doubt that any of us consider the route impossible. Heavy snowfall and cold weather might improve the icefall in any given premonsoon season. In the suitable weather which normally follows the monsoon the central portion of the lower south face will be an excellent climb. (See Die Grossen Kalten Berge von Szetschuan by Eduard Imhof, Zürich: Orell Füssli Verlag, 1974 for maps and detailed area descriptions. An American translation by Katrina Moore is in press to be published by the American Alpine Club.)

Andrew C. Harvard