Mt. Siguniang (6,249m), southeast ridge, second ascent. Mt. Siguniang was first summited in August 1981 by a Japanese team via the southeast ridge (AAJ 1982). We made the second successful ascent of this route, with six members summiting on November 17 and 18. The approach to this route is via Changping Valley from Rilong town, then up a side valley named GanHaizi to basecamp. The route follows the glacier to a 600m long (450m altitude gain) couloir up the west face of the southeast ridge. The route then continues along the southeast ridge to the summit.
We had attempted this same route in August of 2003. At that time, there was constant rockfall from all sides of the mountain, raining down pillow-size chunks of rock from several hundred meters above. The mountain has two obvious rock strata. The lower layer seems to be granite or a hard conglomerate of excellent quality, while the upper layer is a brownish, fragmenting, at places almost shale-like rock of poor quality. The dividing line between these two rock types is around 5,200m.
After almost being killed by this rockfall below the couloir, we went around the backside to the glacier between Siguniang’s main peak and 3rd peak, climbing up 14 pitches on the southeast side of the southeast ridge to an altitude of 5,600m.
It is clear that the mountain conditions have changed since the 1980s. Rockfall during the summer months make the mountain too dangerous. Whether subsequent summers will see as much rockfall as in summer 2003 is hard to say. Judging by that year’s quantity of falling rock and reports from previous years, it is safe to say that summers will be unpredictable.
In 2004 we chose to climb the mountain in November, when the route is frozen, there tend to be more days of clear weather, and it is not too cold (though it was pretty cold). The first 15 vertical meters at the bottom of the couloir was good ice. The couloir was mostly snow and ice climbing. We secured the fixed line with pitons on the lower half of the couloir and with ice screws on the remainder of the route. There are no flat spots to put a tent on the entire route. For our high camp we had to shovel the loose snow off a section of the ridge at 5,834m to create a small platform. This platform was no more than five feet wide, just wide enough for a small tent.
Seasonal climbing conditions: I made my first visit to Mt. Siguniang’s glacier in late April 1996. At that time there was a heavy, wet snow pack starting around 4,600m. Although April can be nice, the heavy spring snows do not melt off until May or June. During the summer months you get longer stretches of alternating good and bad weather, but due to potential rockfall, I do not suggest attempting Siguniang July through September. Autumn months are good because the weather tends to be clearer and there is only moderate snow accumulation, but there can be heavy winds and it is quite cold. Winter ascents are possible (very, very cold), and from December through spring be especially aware of avalanche danger.
Team members: Cao Jun, China (Leader); Jia Guiting, China. Summiters on November 17: Jon Otto, USA; Ma Yihua, China; Tim Boelter, USA (film maker). Summiters on November 18, all from China: Chen Junchi, Kang Hua, Chen Zigang.
Jon Otto, AAC