Daxuetang-feng (5,364m), second ascent, new route. Daxuetang-feng is a well-known mountain visible from the road from Chengdu to Balang Pass (south of Rilong and the Siguiniang massif). More than 10 Chinese teams have tried to climb this peak. On the 8th of October, five Japanese and one Chinese members of our joint party summited Daxuetang-feng. However, a pennant on the summit established that a Beijing mountaineering team had already reached it. Much to our disappointment, this proved that we were the second party to reach it. However, our route ascended the center of a glacier at a slope of more than 70°, and it will possibly become the standard route for this mountain. Therefore, we consider our climb very meaningful.
The team members of the China-Japan Joint Party: Japanese members from the Hakusan (Matto) Fuuro Mountaineering Club: joint team leader Rentaro Nishijima, assistant team leader Akira Hoshiba, climbing chief Masanori Kawamura, and members Yasunori Tanaka, Toshiaki Tamai, Sachiyo Manizaki, Shigeru Yasuda, and Takashi Suzuki. Chinese members: team leader Li Qing, members He Qin and Feng Yilong, and support staff Gao Yi, Qin Znenglin, and Tang Ping.
Ascent of Daxuetang-feng (October 1-11): We hire 35 porters for a total of 49 members, including 8 Japanese and 6 Chinese. Leaving Dengsheng in fog, we make our way to Yeniugou, a valley beneath Dengshen, cross a bridge and go along the left bank of a river flowing from Daxuetang-feng. A mossy path continues through a forest of conifers, rhododendrons, and bamboo where pandas likely live. After walking more than six hours, we reach Baishuitaizi Plateau (3,600m). The steepness of the place does not justify its designation as a “Plateau.” Further up, we see that the north face of Daxuetang-feng is unclimbable due to loose rocks. We then climb along a valley from Ganhaizi, go around to the right where the east face of Daxuetang-feng becomes visible, and establish Base Camp at Heihaizi (4,700m).
The team decides on the ice wall route right in front of BC. The lower part of the ice wall is shaped like the bottom of a funnel. Two pitches are fixed, but snow begins to fall heavily in the afternoon, so we decide to cancel tomorrow’s route operation. It snows all the next day. Route operation resumes on October 6 despite new snow accumulation of about 30cm. The fresh snow appears to be holding down falling rocks. Four members extend the route another two pitches from the previous spot. The porters who carried up the last of our loads shout with joy to see the top member of the operation team appearing from behind a rock after passing a difficult crux. The members return 200m short of the top.
October 7: Through binoculars, Suzuki can be seen standing only with the toe points of his crampons stuck into the ice wall, with almost the entire soles of his boots visible to us at BC. We see him inserting ice screws with one hand. This is quite a risky climb at high altitude and lack of oxygen. We hold our collective breaths as we fear he may not withstand the fatigue in his calves, or the toe points may not hold. We feel a sense of relief as his wheezing voice reaches BC by radio: “Belay removed. Climb on.” At about 13:00, the three members of the operation team can be seen from BC standing on the plateau after climbing the 400m ice wall with a slope of 70°. They report by radio: “There are two peaks. We can’t tell which is higher. We have time, so we’ll climb the right peak today, and climb the left one tomorrow. The left one may need a lot of rope fixing.”
The right peak is probably the pyramid-shaped peak seen from Balang Pass, and the left peak is the trapezoid-shaped, snow-capped one peeking on its left. In appearance and on the map, both peaks seem to be 5,364m. The team names the right peak Peak I, the left Peak II, and another peak, which is described as 5,354m on the map (hidden by Peak II) is called Peak III. Peak III is presumed to be the glaciated peak on the right side of Peak I, as seen from Balang Pass.
October 8: The advance team aims for Peak I and proceeds beside the walls of the crevasses and glacier. As the ground is relatively flat, no fixed rope is used. At the head of the glacier a gully 20m long, 1.5m wide, and 70° leads to a col. From there, a narrow 60° ridge of loose rocks crumbles easily with each step, making it impossible to hammer pitons to fix ropes. The Chinese member, He Qin, retires, saying, “It’s crazy.” At 09:36, Tanaka and Kawamura reach the summit, followed by Suzuki and the Chinese team leader, Li. The summit is only one square meter in size, so all of them cannot stand together. However, it commands a spectacular 360° view. Siguniang-shan and the Ganzi mountains can be seen. They find a relatively new pennant of a Chinese team with “Beijing” printed on it. Nishijima and Hoshiba come up after a while.
As I take in the scene while descending to the col from the summit, I have mixed emotions as the joint team leader. Looking up, I can see the massif snow-capped, trapezoidal Peak II on the left. It may be unclimbed, but there is no time for us to reach it. Satisfied with the second ascent of Peak I by a new route, we descend.
The team left behind a fixed rope in the gully after cutting close to 15m to be used for descent. Also left behind were two pitons on top of the ice wall. By using the 100m rope on those pitons, all the other pitons and ropes were recovered. Although not perfect, the team endeavored to leave the mountain as clean as possible.
Rentaro Nishijima, Hakusan (Matto) Fuuro Mountaineering Club, Japan
*Adapted from Japanese Alpine News, Tamotsu Nakamura, Editor