East of the Himalaya, Part III: West Sichuan Highland-Yangtze River Basin

Part III: West Sichuan Highland-Yangtze River Basin
Author: Tamotsu Nakamura. Climb Year: N/A. Publication Year: 2003.



"Part I: East Tibet"

"Part II: Three Rivers Gorges of The Hengduan Mountains"

"Part III: West Sichuan Highland-Yangtze River Basin"

Topographically, the area from the River of Golden Sand to western Sichuanówhich contains the drainage basins of the Yalong and the Dadu rivers, the tributaries of River of Golden Sand, and further east the Min Riveróis usually described together as a geomorphological region called the “West Sichuan Highland.” This area shares the same landscape characteristics as the Three River Gorge country, but it possesses a little different geological history and structure.

Western Sichuan and the adjacent areas of Yunnan to the south are characterized by much more varied topography. The extensive plateau-type landforms stretch north to unite with the Tibetan Plateau proper. Many of the highest peaks of this area exceed 6,000 meters, the most conspicuous massif being Minya Konka, otherwise known as Gongga Shan (7,556m) (see AAJ 2002, ppg. 22-23, for the story of the 1932 first ascent).

Unlike southeast Tibet, where almost all 6,000-meter peaks remain unclimbed, in Sichuan there are only a couple of virgin 6,000ers. Nevertheless, countless alluring unclimbed rock and snow peaks lower than 6,000 meters await their first ascents. (See Rock Peaks of the Siguniang Region, by Tamotsu Nakamura, AAJ 2000, ppg. 127-134, for a comprehensive survey and a regional map.)

The first part of this section outlines the major mountain ranges and massifs in the eastern Hengduan Mountains between Jingsha Jiang (River of Golden Sand) and Min Jiang of the Upper Yangtze River. These are described from west to east. Unless otherwise mentioned, all these peaks are unclimbed.

Chola Shan (22,23)

Towering at the southern fringe of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Chola Shan stretches northwest- southeast in the northern part of the Hengduan Mountains. It is linked up with Mola Shan in the north and joins Shaluli Shan in the south. Within its large and complex terrain of rock and snow peaks, Chola Shan’s main peak is lofty and magnificent at 6,168 meters (99.1°E and 31.8°N). The second highest peak is 6,119 meters, three kilometers away; there are several dozen snowy peaks above 5,000 meters. In September 1988, the main summit was first ascended by the joint expedition team of Kobe University and the Geological University of China, taking their route up to an eastern glacier from the base camp of Lake Xingluhhai. Some 5,000-meter peaks were climbed by a UIAA team in September, 1997. Chola II (6,119 meters) was first climbed by the American Charlie Fowler, solo in 1997.

Shaluli Shan

This mountain range covers a vast area and there is no clear boundary between it and the other mountain ranges. Each massif is introduced in succession from north to south.

Gangga Massif

This massif stretches to the southeast from the end of Chola Shan, south of Yalong Jiang. The main peak, Gangga (5,688m), and other 5,000-meter peaks have small glaciers. No one has attempted climbing here.

Jarjinjabo Massif (24)

The highest peak is 5,812 meters and the second highest is 5,725 meters. Both are unclimbed. The most impressive peak is a brilliant granite rock tower (5,382m) soaring like a small Fitzroy in Patagonia. These mountains are located along the northern rim of the wide Zhopu Pasture north of Xiashe (5,833m). To the west there are several 5,500-meter peaks, and to the east the challenging fortress of Hati (5,524m) rises proudly. The granite rock tower (5,382m) was first climbed by a Japanese party in July, 2001. An American party climbed various rock peaks in August, 2002. (See Jarjinjabo, by Peter Athans, in this Journal.)

Xiashe Massif (25)

Xiashe (5,833m), the highest peak, has beautiful lakes on its southern side, while the north face attracts climbers. The massif also has 5,500- to 5,600-meter peaks adjacent to the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. Everything is unclimbed, including Xiashe.

Yangmolong and Dangchezhengla Massif (26)

This massif is situated 15-20 kilometers from Batang to the east. Access to basecamp is short and easy. Four principal peaks of 6,060 meters (Yangmolong), 6033 meters, 5833 meters (Dangchezhengla), and 5,850 meters dominate. A Japanese party attempted the highest peak from the northern side in 1991, but they were stopped by avalanche danger. The two 6,000-meter peaks remain unclimbed. On the southern side of the massif, a heavenly lake called Yamochouken lies at 4,800 meters. Dangchezhengla was first climbed by Japanese party on June 17, 2002. (See Climbs and Expeditions in this Journal.)

Genyen Massif and neighboring mountains to the north and northwest (27-28)

To the south of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, between Litang Plateau and Batang, lies a vast mountain area. The highest peak, Genyen (6,204m), is a divine mountain situated at 99.6°E and 29.8°N. It was first climbed by a Japanese party in 1988. However, more than 10 untouched rock and snow peaks of over 5,800 meters await climbers. In particular, a 5,965-meter peak towering like a sharp beak looks magnificent, and the scenery surrounding the 600-year-old Rengo Monastery amid spiky rock pinnacles is truly enchanting. In 1877, William Gill had a glorious view of the highest peak. He wrote in his narrative (“The River of Golden Sand”) that “No word can describe the majestic grandeur of that mighty peak.… The traveler can appreciate the feelings of the Tibetans that have led them to call it Nen-Da, or The Sacred Mountain.”

Gongga Xueshan (Kongkaling) Massif (29-30)

These mountains with three snow peaks are located in the boundary of Muli county and Daocheng County, the southern end of Shaluli Shan. They arc well-known among the Tibetan people as the Heavenly Charms in the Snow World. The highest north peak, Xiannairi (6,032m, 100.3°E and 28.4°N) means Buddha’s Mother. Yangmaiyong, the south peak (5,958m) means Manjuist Buddha. Xiaruoduoji (5,958m) means “the Buddha with warriors’ hands.” J.F. Rock visited this mountain in 1928 and took a beautiful photograph of Yangmaiyong (he called it “Jambeyang”), which appeared in National Geographic (Vol. 191. No. January 1997). In 1989, the Himalayan Association of Japan sent a climbing expedition. Bad weather defeated them. In 2001, an American party attempted Xiaruoduoji but was not successful. All the peaks remain unclimbed. Now the Daocheng County government strictly controls climbing permits. (See Gildea in this Journal.)

Gongkala Shan

This is a small mountain range located 30 kilometers from Garze. In 1998 a Japanese party made a reconnaissance from the south of the highest peak, Kawarani (5,992m), and the second highest one, Peak 5,928m. According to the topographical map of the China People’s Liberation Army (1:100,000), there seem to be well-developed glaciers on the northern side. No other records are known.

Daxue Shan

This range has the most famous mountains, including Minya Konka (Gongga Shan, 7,556m). The Tibet- Qinghai Plateau ends at Daxue Shan. The scope of the range is rather ambiguous. Each Sub-Range is described from north to south.

Haizi Shan “Ja-ra” (31)

Tibetans called Haizi Shan (5,820m) ‘Ja-ra’ to signify “King of Mountains,” and many explorers have noticed this outstanding peak. A good close-up view of the southwest side can be had from the Sichuan- Tibet Highway. The north face would provide a possible climbing route. An American attempted the peak in 2001 but failed.

Mountains of Dadu River basin

Along the deep valley of Dadu He, one of the large tributaries of the Yangtze River, there are many 5,000-meter peaks. The highest is a 5,712-meter peak on the left bank of the river. The eastern end shares a boundary with the Jiaojin Shan, a minor range, and the Qionglai Shan ranges. There is no record of climbing.

Lotus Flower Mountains (32)

Although no glaciers have developed, eminent rock peaks can be seen north of Kangding, the capital of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. A Japanese party climbed the highest peak (5,704m) in 1998. The other 5,000-meter rock peaks remain untouched.

Lamo-sbe Massif

This massif, east of Kangding, has been called the Mountains of Tachienlu. In 1993 its highest peak, Lamo-she (a.k.a. Tianhaizi Shan, 6070m) was scaled by Americans, and the fourth highest (Shehaizi Shan, 5,878m) was climbed by an American-Canadian-New Zealand team. Two virgin peaks, 5,924 meters (Baihaizi Shan) and 5,880 meters, are guarded by rocks and hanging glaciers.

Minya Konka (Gongga Shan, 7,556m) and its satellite peaks (33)

Minya Konka, or Gongga Shan in Chinese, is the highlight of the Hengduan Mountains. Minya Konka, which means “Highest Snowy Mountain” in Tibetan, is located in the middle section of Daxue Shan to the north of Lamo-she. Some 60 kilometers from south to north and 30 kilometers from east to west, its main peak (7,556m) lies at 101.8°E and 29.6°N. It has only been climbed eight times, and by just two routes (the northwest and northeast ridges). Remaining problems are the difficult south ridge and southwest ridge. (See Choudens in this Journal.)

Frequent geological movement in the Minya Konka area has brought about a lot of folds and fractures. As the mountain rises, valleys are formed with a height difference of 5,000 meters on the east and west slopes. Teamed with more than 20 neighboring high peaks over 6,000 meters, it has a total area of 290 square kilometers, with 45 glaciers. Five glaciers have lengths of about 10 kilometers each, the longest being Hailuogou (Conck Ditch) Glacier, with a 1,000-meter-long icefall and a glacial tongue that dips to 2,600 meters. The climate undergoes great changes, with the rainy season extending from June to October and the dry season from November to May.

There still remain unclimbed satellite peaks over 6,000 meters. The following list shows the most important peaks still to be attempted: Northern part: Grosvenor (6,376m) and Mt. Fdger (E-Gongga, 6,618m). Central part: Daddomain (6,380m) and Longemain (6,294m). Southern part: Longshan (6,684m) and Nyambo Konka (6,144m).

6,079-meter Massif

This is an independent massif with an unclimbed 6,000-meter peak to the south of Minya Konka. No one has made a reconnaissance of the highest peak at 6,079 meters. Farther to the south, a 5,584-meter mountain is shown on the Chinese map, but no specific information is available.

Qionglai Shan Range

To the east of the deep canyon of the Dadu river lies Jiaojing Mountain, which is famous as the historical “Crossing of the Daxue Shan,” where the Red Army soldiers overcame great difficulties during Long March in 1935.There are several snow peaks over 5,000 meters, but there is no detailed information. Further to the northeast of Jiajing mountain, Qionglai Shan runs south to north. In the middle section of Qionglai Shan, where it joins the western fringe of Sichuan Basin, lie the highest peaks, Siguniang Shan. Further north are a number of untrodden 5,000-meter snow and rock peaks.

Mt. Siguniang (34)

Siguniang Shan (also known as Four Girls Mountain) is considered a holy mountain by Tibetans.. The legend says that four warm-hearted girls fought bravely with a ferocious leopard to save their treasured giant pandas, thereby becoming the four graceful peaks. Rising at 6,250, 5,614, 5,454, and 5,355 meters respectively, the four peaks stand at the boundary between Xiaojing County and Wenchuan County. The main peak, Yaomei Feng (peak of the youngest girl), is 6250 meters, and lies at 102.9°F and 31.1°N. Its extremely steep walls and ridges feature hanging glaciers on the south slopes and vertical rock walls hundreds of meters high on the west and north slopes.

The main Siguniang peak (6,250m) has been climbed three times from the south and once from the north. The first ascent was in 1981 by a Japanese team via the east ridge; they took 16 days and used 2,000 meters of fixed rope. The second ascent in 1992 took 23 days via the south face using 600 meters of fixed rope; also by Japanese. The third ascent was made by an American, Charlie Fowler, who soloed a line between the two Japanese routes in three days.

The north face sports extremely steep and smooth granite walls with intermittent ice streaks. It was first attempted on the right hand side in 1981 by Jack Tackle, Jim Donini, Kim Schmitz, and Jim Kantzler (USA). They reached 5,000 meters after 11 days above high camp, six of which were spent on the final push. The first ascent of the north face was made by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden over 6 days in April, 2002. They descended the unclimbed north ridge in two days. (See Siguniang in this Journal.)

Rock Peaks north of Siguniang (35)

Mt. Siguniang has become so famous and popular within China that the southern side of the mountain, which can easily be reached from Chengdu, is now congested with hundreds of tourists and trekkers, domestic as well as foreign. However, to the north are many towering granite 5,300- to 5,900-meter peaks encircling two beautiful valleys as if to form a grand coliseum.

Many of these are unclimbed.

A brief climbing history follows. 1983: Celestial Peak (5,413m) (Tibetan name: Punyu; Chinese name: Mountain of Gods). First ascent by American party led by Ted Vaill. 1985: Celestial Peak. Second ascent, via a new route of the southeast ridge, by Keith Brown, solo. 1994: Nameless 5,383-meter peak west of Celestial Peak. First ascent by Charlie Fowler, solo. 1994: Nameless 5,484-meter peak and adjacent peak north of the main summit of Siguniang. First ascent by Charlie Fowler, solo. 1997: Nameless 5,666-meter peak north of the main summit of Siguniang. First ascent by Charlie Fowler, solo. 1997: Rock tower southwest of Celestial Peak, first ascent by John Mesler.

Min Shan Range-Eastern End of Hengduan Mountains

To the east of the upper Min river lies the Min Shan range in Songpan County; it defines the eastern end of the Hengduan Mountains. Xuebao Ding (5,588m, 103.8°and 32.7°N), in the middle section of the range, is listed as the highest peak of Min Shan. The main summit has many surrounding peaks such as Yuzhan Feng (5,119m, “the peak of jade hairpin”) to the south- west, Sigenxiang Feng (5,359m, “the peak of four incenses”), and the lesser Xuebao Ding (5,440m), towering to the southeast. On the northern side sits the world famous Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) Scenic Spot.

The main peak was first climbed by a Himalayan Association of Japan party in August, 1986, and the second and the third ascents were made by the Japanese in 1991 and 1992.

Beyond the Hengduan Mountains-Sichuan Basin

No snow and rock peaks with glaciers that attract climbers exist beyond the eastern fringe of the Hengduan Mountains where they meet the fertile Sichuan Basin.


For more information on mountaineering East of the Himalaya, please refer to the Japanese Alpine News (JAN) Vol. 4 “Special Submission on East of the Himalayas—To the Alps of Tibet” (published in May 2003) that contains 40 pages text, 40 pages with 75 color photos, and 32 pages with 27 maps to cover the entire region. The JAN Vol. 4 may be purchased from Chessler Books, Chesslerbk@aol.com, (800) 654-8502 or (303) 670-0093, fax (303) 670-9727. For more information you may write to Tamotsu Nakamura, Editor, Japanese Alpine News, The Japanese Alpine Club, 6-3-21 Matsubara, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 156-0043, Japan, Tel & Fax: 813- 3325-3612, email: t-naka@est.hi-ho.ne.jp


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Map 1 inch: 2 miles and 1 inch: 4 miles of North Burma, surveyed by the British Government in 1942.