American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Gongga Shan, North Face and Northwest Ridge Ascent and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1983

Gongga Shan, North Face and Northwest Ridge Ascent and Tragedy. Our expedition was composed of Ruedi Alder, Guido Bumann, Claus Coester, Andreas Eschmann, Georges Herren, Thomas Hess, Kurt Weibel and me as leader. We had planned to climb the mountain by the route attempted by the tragic Japanese expedition of 1981, from the Yan-Tsöko valley and over the Sun-Yat-Sen col. The approach under the north face was so threatened by avalanches that we gave up the plan and climbed through a steep snow basin up the north face to reach the northwest ridge, the first-ascent route, just beyond the “Hump.” On April 28 we reached Chengtu, where we were joined by our liaison officer, Xiao Mong. We got to the last village, Sin-Sin at 6000 feet on April 29. On May 1 we started to our 13,600-foot Base Camp, which we reached in three days. The 15 porters made four relays to there. On May 8 we got for the first time to Advance Base at 17,000 feet in the snow basin. From Base Camp we first followed a lateral moraine and bypassed an icefall on the eastern edge of the glacier to the basin. Good weather favored our establishing Camp I three-quarters of the way up the couloir beside the north face. I suffered a broken arm while returning to Base Camp and had to spend the rest of the expedition there. On May 16 the northwest ridge was reached and on the 17th Camp II stood at 21,325 feet on the northwest ridge. On May 23 we placed Camp III on an ice bulge at 22,800 feet. The first summit bid by Coester and Weibel failed in high winds on May 24. On May 25 Alder, Eschmann and Georges Herren set off for the summit at six A.M. and got there at two P.M. The last part of the ridge was of difficult ice and rock and steeper than we had expected. About a quarter of an hour below the summit on the descent Eschmann broke the sharp edge of the ridge and plunged down the north face to his death. We gave up thoughts of a further ascent. The weather had a nearly daily pattern. Each morning thick clouds rose from the lower parts of Sichuan up the valleys until they formed a sea of clouds with an upper level from 11,000 to 16,500 feet. While Base Camp was under heavy clouds and for days in heavy rain, lovely sunny weather reigned above. In the afternoon the clouds rose and the weather deteriorated in the evening, often with snowfall, but by morning the weather up high was lovely again.

Erwin Herren, Schweizer Alpen Club

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