Changping Valley, first ascents of Chiwen, “The Little Prince,” and Chibu. On September 11 Katy Holm, Aidan Oloman, and I left Vancouver for Rilong, a growing mountain town and access point for the Siguniang Shan National Reserve. From there we made reconnaissance hikes in the Changping and Shuangquao valleys. In the latter the walls are steep, with interesting architecture: fluted ridges and featured faces. However, it rained throughout our trip, and the granite looked slick, mossy, and unappealing. In contrast, our walk through the Changping was bright and sunny. We found an easily accessible hanging valley ringed by unclimbed granite peaks. It was an easy decision.
Back in Rilong we located Mr. Mah. He is a local horse packer, who has served multiple climbing teams; his trophies are fleeces and hats from past expeditions. Mr. Mah is a bargaining tactician who uses the language barrier to his advantage. He upsized us to four horses, yet he was fair, reliable, and entertaining. He dropped our gear by the river below our valley (two drainages north of Celestial Peak and the last main side valley to the west of the Changping before it starts its big bend to the west), and we carried loads up to a high camp.
We waited through four rainy days before attempting Chiwen (5,250m) on the south side of the valley. We climbed 10 long pitches in poor weather to the summit; some were 4th class (400m, 5.9). We attempted a 5,006m peak northwest of Chiwen, on the ridge towards Chibu. We first called the peak The Little Guy, but after he thwarted us three times we upgraded him to The Little Prince. We then bivouacked below Chibu (5,466m), the aesthetic prize of the valley. In a long day we climbed 14 pitches of sustained 5.9-5.10+, linking the steep gendarmes up the left side of the east face. The granite was good, and cracks were continuous. We descended our route in the dark. After waiting out a snow storm we finally summited The Little Prince (300m, 5.10+). We left the valley in slashing rain. In the 16 days we spent there we did not see anyone else.
The weather was poor to fair. It rained almost every second night, but when the sun does come out it dries the rock quickly. From local reports it seems that October is colder but has more consistent high pressure.
There is not a lot of unclimbed technical alpine rock left in the Changping, which is the more popular of the two parallel valleys for Chinese hikers and trekkers. However, a more thorough investigation of the Shuangqiao is warranted, a valley that has the advantage of being accessible by bus.
We acknowledge the support of the John Lauchlan Award and the Jen Higgins Fund.
Katherine Fraser, Canada