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China, Qonglai Shan, Siguniang National Park, Patala Shan (5,428m), North Face, Solo

Putala Shan (5,428m), north face, solo. The north face of Putala Shan is an impressive big wall, which I have tried twice. I have not attempted the same mountain twice since 1990, when I made my last winter solo attempt on Fitz Roy in Patagonia. My first attempt on Putala did not go well. I hoped success would be the sign of my comeback, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was not finished as a climber.

I first saw Putala Shan in the autumn of 2003. I was trekking as part of my rehabilitation a year after my accident in Gyachung Kang. [In 2002 Yamanoi lost a total of five fingers on both hands and all of the toes on his right foot as a result of bad weather during an alpine-style ascent and descent of the north face of Gyachung Kang—Ed.]. Even compared to the big walls of places like Yosemite, the face on Putala seemed most attractive. In fact, I noticed many beautiful crack lines extending up to the crest. Although I made my final attempt after carefully evaluating my physical condition and cold weather equipment, the climb was as difficult as expected.

On June 25 we established base camp in a beautiful meadow at an altitude of 3,700m. My wife Taeko Yamanoi supported me as base camp manager, with a cook and an interpreter. On the 27th I carried equipment and provisions to the bottom of the wall, at approximately 4,500m, then spent a week fixing rope on the first 300m, in weather as bad as on my last attempt. Progress was difficult due to continuous rain and snow. As I chose a route following a large corner, ice fell on me frequently.

On July 13 I began in earnest my capsule-style attempt with a portaledge. The rock, especially on the lower part of the route, is solid granite, but as I climbed higher expanding flakes slowed my progress to about one pitch a day. Ice coating the rock prevented free climbing, so I was forced to use aid. Shortly after beginning, I got slight frostbite on my hands and feet, which are now my Achilles heel after my accident in 2002. Both my down jacket and sleeping bag were soaked, so my extremities were unable to recover, and as I was unable to sleep, I also began to suffer from exhaustion. To make matters worse, the sun never reached the face, and the snow and ice sticking to the upper part of the wall made the climb very stressful. However, on the 19th, the seventh day of my climb, I topped out on the crest at an altitude of 5,350m. I needed two more days to rappel the route and return to base camp.

Summary: first ascent of Putala Shan north face (not to summit) via Jiayou (Chinese for “come on” or “do your best”); 850m, 18 pitches, 5.8 A3+.

Yasushi Yamanoi, Japan