Siguniang Region, Various Activity. In September, the American/Italian team of Craig and Silvia Luebben traveled to the Siguniang Mountains in China’s Sichuan Province hoping to climb new big wall routes. They established a camp in the Shuanqiao Valley below the beautiful granite walls that tower to 1200 meters in height. The team set their sights on an impressive 800-meter pillar, scoped a line, and began ferrying loads to the base at around 4500 meters. For the next three weeks, they endured incessant rain and snow storms, and only managed to climb a single approach pitch to the pillar. Between and during storms, they bolted a slab low in the valley that they had initially dismissed as being “insignificant.” They climbed three pitches, with two more pitches possible to reach the top of the wall, and dubbed the line Rain, Rain Go Away (5.11). They found the granite in the area to be high quality, though the walls appeared to have few continuous crack systems.
A team from Trento, Italy, was camped nearby while working on a route up a beautiful streaked wall. Marco Sterni led all the pitches, climbing 300 meters of hard, wet granite, but in the end the Italians abandoned their route, 100 meters shy of the finish. They reported bad rock fall during the storms, emanating from another wall above their route. As the two teams departed, another team of Italians arrived, and reportedly succeeded on a new wall route (no details available), with the help of improved weather during mid-October.
During the three tent-bound weeks, the Luebbens speculated that the excessive moisture must combine with the huge vertical relief to form hellacious frozen waterfalls during winter. Craig Luebben returned with Topher and Patience Donahue in February, 2001, hoping to find big, steep ice. They recruited top Chinese sport climber Kai (last name unknown) to serve as their translator and fourth climbing partner. Holding their breath as they drove up the Shuanqiao valley, the team was relieved to find a plethora of waterfalls—rambling low-angle flows, vertical sheets, free-standing pillars, and danglers, including flows that appeared to be 700 meters high.
After opening a few routes of quality comparable to the Canadian Rockies or Val d’Aosta, Patience Donahue fell seriously ill with an intestinal bug. The team evacuated her to Chengdu, then back to the United States. Luebben and Kai returned to climb one more route in the Shuanqiao Valley and another in the nearby Changping Valley, then retreated to Beijing because the high sun at 30 degrees north latitude was severely deteriorating the ice (a route that Luebben and T. Donahue retreated from due to bad ice fell down less than a week later).
The climbing ranged to WI6+/7 M8 in difficulty, and the ice was often brittle. The valleys were dry of snow, making for easy approaches. Locals said that no ice climbers had been in the area prior to this season, but that another team did climb in a nearby valley just prior to the Luebben/Donahue trip. In the Shuanqiao Valley, the following routes were climbed: Dragon Breath (WI6+/7 M8, 320', Luebben-Kai); Ah So Lion (WI4, 500', Luebben-Kai); Culture Shock, (WI6, 100', T. Donahue-Luebben-Kai); Ma Dynasty (WI6, 300', T. Donahue-Luebben); T&C Messnerized (WI4, 250', Luebben-Kai); Gang of Four (WI6 M6/7, 250', Donahue-Donahue-Luebben-Kai). In the Changping Valley, the following routes were done: Translator SuperKai (WI5, 200', Luebben-Kai); Peking Duck (WI5, 250', Luebben-Kai, first free ascent). (This list does not include the routes that the Donahues did on their own.)
In Beijing, Luebben taught rock climbing and self-rescue clinics to 50 Peking University students on their outdoor, artificial wall. Two days later more than 30 well-equipped Beijing ice climbers traveled to another valley to share the weekend with the American ice climber. The ensuing clinics, climbing, and party turned into Beijing’s first ice festival.