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Asia, China, Geladaintong, Northeast Face

Geladaintong, Northeast Face. I was invited by Geographic Expeditions to guide two American clients, William Rom, M.D. and Dan Luchtel, Ph.D., on a peak called Geladaintong (one of a few spellings), which is 6621 meters high and located at what the Chinese like to call the source of the Yangtze River. Technically speaking, there is a source located farther south and west that is a half mile or so farther from the mouth of the river, but it’s an unspectacular mud flat at a lower elevation than the glacial source at the foot of Geladaintong. To geographers, tourists and travel agents alike, Geladaintong makes a more attractive source for the mighty river that China is damming to create the largest hydro-power plant in the world.

Geladaintong is located in Qinghai Province, just north of Tibet, approximately 60 kilometers northwest of the Tangula Pass. The main road from Tibet to China, which goes from Lhasa to Golmud and on to Xining, traverses the Tangula Shan mountains via the Tangula Pass.

We arrived in Tibet on August 27 and spent several days touring cultural sights and acclimatizing. Then we spent three days driving to the base camp, two along the highway to Golmud, Qinghai Province, and one traversing 90 kilometers overland on a track that disappears entirely several kilometers before base camp. We spent September 3 and 4 doing reconnaissance and acclimating. The mountain had been climbed first by Japanese in 1984 and second by a team from Beijing University in 1994. We found garbage from the ’94 expedition at base camp and Camp I, along with deep ruts from the large truck they drove over delicate tundra vegetation in order to place their base camp two kilometers farther up the valley than where we placed ours.

Bill and Dan rested on September 5, but in order to keep our momentum up and carry out more recon, I carried a load of gear to CI on my own. After dropping the load, I crossed the glacier on the flank of the northeast face and proceeded to climb a steep snow line up the northeast face that I had carefully scrutinized two days before. Presumably it was a first ascent, as neither the Japanese nor the Chinese had mentioned anything about climbing any route other than the north ridge. The line started at the lowest point on the face (5800m), crossed a small bergschrund, traversed up and slightly right past a small serac, entering a 50° couloir at around 6300 meters, and topped out within five meters of the knife edge summit. The crux of the climb was a section of 55-60° ice about four meters long. The rest of the climb was entirely on snow, varying between ankle and knee deep. I downclimbed the standard route on the north ridge. The round trip took just over nine hours from base camp.

The next day Dan, Bill and I started up together, stopping for the night at CI (5600m) on the east edge of the glacier that aprons the northeast flank of the peak. We spent a second night at 6100 meters in a col at the base of the north ridge. The glacier that spawns the Yangtze river is several hundred meters below the west side of this col. The following morning (September 8), we set out at dawn along the gradually steepening north ridge toward the summit. The climb is non-technical, though it’s worth carrying two or three ice screws and/or some snow protection in order to protect a couple of short, 45-50° bulges. We encountered weak, sugary snow on two of these bulges, triggering a small slab avalanche (about 15cm deep) on one of them.

The ridge leads to a plateau a couple of hundred meters long at around 6550 meters. Geladaintong’s sharp summit rises from the southeast end of this plateau with one short pitch of steep snow leading to the peak. We summitted around 1 p.m., and returned to CII around 4:30 in the afternoon, descending all the way back to base camp the following day.

Mark Newcomb, unaffiliated