Asia, China, Sichuan, Qionglai Range, Siguniang National Park, Suang Qiao Gou Valley: Mi Mi Shan (5,018m), First Ascent; Heart of Cow (Niuxim Shan) (4,942m), North Face, First Ascent

Publication Year: 2005.

Siguniang National Park, Suang Qiao Gou Valley: Mi Mi Shan (5,018m), first ascent; Heart of Cow (Niuxim Shan) (4,942m), north face, first ascent. Giant pandas and Chinese acrobats swung the balance. After being inspired by Tomatsu Nakamura’s splendid photographs of blank-looking granite and unclimbed walls featured in the Japanese Alpine News, we were inspired to find out more about this magical-looking area. No mega objectives presented themselves, but nevertheless we headed off in search of an Oriental adventure in the Suang Qiao Gou Valley, close to Mt. Siguniang.

Mick Fowler helped out by providing more useful information, as did Tanja and Andrej Grmovsek from Slovenia. With only three weeks to climb, arriving in Chengdu in July was a gamble due to forecasts for heavy rainfall. Our Chinese helper and cook extraordinaire Lenny was enthusiastic as we shopped for provisions playing the pass-the-parcel, guess-what’s-in-the- packet game. The bus to Rilong called, and we set off on the six- to seven-hour journey through wooded panda-infested valleys. After visiting the curiously named “Tourist Service Centre” for our permissions and paying an environmental protection fee and park entrance, we set off on the tourist bus up the valley.

On this expedition we climbed two new peaks, one a subsidiary and one a main peak in the Suang Qiao Gou Valley. Setting up base camp at 4,100m, we took equipment to the base of the route near a stunning aquamarine lake and some fine three-pitch E6 climbing leading to the shoulder of Putala Shan. On the walls of a long rock ridge opposite Putala Shan we ascended right of a spur for 9 pitches, 350m at E3/E4 5c, to reach a sub peak we called Mi Mi Shan (5,018m). Should you be feeling particularly brave it may be possible to descend into a notch and then ascend a tricky loose and extremely narrow ridge from here to reach the main summit of 5,400m. We were in no fit condition for that. The granite intermittently formed rubble strewn ledges as we weaved our way up. Behind, the pointy snow-flushed cirque beckoned for another day. Many big walls and spires rise up and extend into the distance, as well as a feast of unclimbed peaks in the 5,200m-5,900m range.

The second objective we went for was “Heart of Cow” (Niuxim Shan), named by the Chinese. According to Lenny a Japanese team had attempted it the year before and reached approximately half way. Rhododendrons repelled us from attempting the longest face, as swimming and wriggling proved unbearable without a machete. We set up the ABC bivi cave at 4,400m and spent a day hanging out, huddled, freezing, and surrounded by low-lying mist. During the night we recycled our last tea bag three times, unable to sleep without sleeping bags.

A sporting damp British 6a traverse led to a section of beautiful rock. The unclimbed Mt. Hunter and its rotten dark rock lay behind, still shrouded with stubborn cloud, and other unclimbed peaks behind winked at us in view. Just another couple of pitches and we emerged at 6 p.m. on the easy but occasionally narrow summit ridge. We climbed the north face and ridge to reach the summit. Heart of Cow (4,942m) became for a moment “our” peak and we realised looking at the descent why it had not been climbed before.

Many thanks to the Mount Everest Foundation, BMC and UK Sport for providing some expedition funding.

Anne Arran, United Kingdom