Gongkala Shan, foiled attempt to gain the mountain; Haizi Shan, attempt. In September and October Toto Gronlund, Peter Rowat, Dave Wynne Jones, and I attempted the peaks of Kawarani I and II (5,992m and 5,928m) in the small Gongkala Range of Western Sichuan. In two days by road from Chengdu we reached the town of Garze and spent three days reconnoitering the north and south sides of the Gongkala peaks. There were possible routes from the north, but they did not appear easy, and we decided the south side offered better prospects.
A good grazing trail led from the village of Khur Chong into the gorge of the Yalung Jiang River and around the hillside to a hanging valley directly below the southern glaciers of Kawarani I and II. From there it appeared possible to reach the ca. 5,500m col between Kawarani I and II. From the col there seemed to be routes to both summits.
Below the village were two or three apparently inactive monasteries. We stopped at the principal one but found no one to talk to. We continued to the village, where we found the people friendly and cooperative. We explained our plans and learned they were happy to assist us, making horses available to carry to base camp. On the afternoon of our first visit there was a thunderstorm with lots of large hail; this was not unusual, as it appeared the monsoon was not yet over.
Two days later we returned with our gear and had an uneventful journey to a base camp at 4,200m. The monastery showed its good will by providing a monk leading a large white yak at the head of the column. We were told he had been sent to bless our climb. There was no evidence that any climbers had been in this area before, so we could hardly have gotten off to a more auspicious start.
Four days later we had just completed carrying to a second camp at 4,800m when a delegation of around 40 monks came up the hillside and insisted we leave at once. They were from the same monastery that had assisted and blessed us earlier. They simply said that they had changed their minds as a result of two thunderstorms, which they believed we caused. They had no respect for our permit from the Sichuan Mountaineering Association and were thoroughly confrontational and unpleasant to deal with. We were clearly outnumbered, and after a long and unproductive discussion, during which distinctly non-pacifist attitudes were repeatedly displayed, we decided we had no alternative but to go down.
We spent part of the following day retrieving our gear from the depths of the monastery. Nothing went missing, but money had to change hands to get it all back. A protest to the civil administrator of the Garze Tibetan Ethnic Group Autonomous Prefecture, which governs this area from Kangding, drew only the comment that these monasteries can be difficult to deal with. (This gentleman himself is a reincarnate Lama.)
We are not the only party to have encountered difficulties of this kind in Western China. See, for instance, AAJs 2001, p. 408, and 2003, p. 410. Part of the problem may be the relative independence of the Garze Tibetan Prefecture from central control. The monastery’s stated reasons for their actions have little credibility, as thunderstorms and hail were regular events in the area. Possibly the simple fact that we were the first outsiders to go into these mountains was enough to spook them, but it seems more likely that we got into the middle of a feud between monastery and village, which we could hardly have foreseen. (There was some fragmentary evidence for this.)
We were able to get our permit switched to Haizi Shan (5,833m) and spent our last 10 days attempting to complete the route which Geoff Cohen and I had tried on the north flank in spring 2004 (AAJ 2005, p. 415). Unfortunately, the weather was poor, and on October 10 we retreated in a foot of new snow from the bottom of the northern glaciers at 4,800m. The peak, we believe, is still unclimbed despite several attempts.
Dick Isherwood, Alpine Club