American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Gankarpunzum, Reconnaissance, and Liankang Kangri, First Ascent

Asia, China, Gongka Mountains

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Tsuguyasu Itami
  • Climb Year: 1999
  • Publication Year: 2000

When we attended the 40th Celebration of Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) in May 1998, in Peking, we inquired about the possibility of receiving a mountaineering permit for a peak on the China- Bhutan border. We received a good reply. We set about planning the expedition to Gankarpunzum (7570m), the highest peak of Bhutan, for the next year, and sent a reconnaissance party to the mountain in mid-October 1998. Prior to our attempt, successful ascents on the China-Bhutan border included both Khula Kangri (7538m) by a 1986 Kobe University party and Chomolari (7326m) by a joint China-Japan party in 1996.

The members of the reconnaissance were T. Itami, S. Nakamura and A. Yamamoto, and two news reporters for the newspaper Yomiuri. The approach to the mountain was made in a ten-hour ride from Lhasa by Landcruiser; we traveled alongside Yamudo Tso Lake and over the Monda La pass to arrive at Yojitsongtso (4500m), the last village. We gathered information from all the available sources in this village, after which we went on horseback into the old valley trail used by traders from Tibet to Bhutan. We set up Base Camp at Sumdo (4750m), the confluence of the glaciated valley of Namsang and Liankang Glacier. In the beginning, we entered the Namsang Glacier and made a camp on the left bank of the glacier. We advanced up the Namsang Glacier to see the upper side of the valley and the summit of Gankarpunzum. We found two possible routes to the summit, one on the northeast ridge via Liankang Kangri and the other directly up the east face of Gankarpunzum. Still more recon- noitering led to the south side of Khula Kangri Massif, which gave a general view of the possible routes on Gankarpunzum. (We also reconnoitered the Liankang Glacier, but found that there is no secure route to the upper part of the glacier.) We stayed in the hills for three days, and returned to Lhasa on November 12.

After returning home, we formed a mountaineering expedition to Gankarpunzum by selected JAC members. In February, the JAC received a notice from the CMA: the climbing permit for Gankarpunzum was postponed. The authorities in Bhutan had protested, stating that the peak lay on the Bhutan border and was thus forbidden. The notice confused the expedition committee, but we decided to send a younger members party to Liankang Kangri, which the CMA had proposed as a substitute.

We established Base Camp on April 21 at the same place as we had the year before. From Camp I, we made a route toward some seraced slopes, veered off the crevasse zone to CII, and pitched CIII below the 6921-meter pinnacle. On May 9, K. Suzuki and four men stood on the summit of Liankang Kangri (7534m), and the next day A. Yamamoto and four men climbed to the top as well. From the summit of Liankang Kangri, we could see the long knife-edged ridge stretching toward the summit of Gankarpunzum; it looked very serious, especially below the summit. Members of the expedition were T. Itami (leader), S. Nakamura, A. Yamamoto, K. Suzuki, H. Kadoya, H. Kobayashi, H. Takeuchi, K. Takahashi, Y. Kato, J. Takahashi and T. Sato.

Tsuguyasu Itami, Japan

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