Shahkangshan Range, Pt. 6,603m, southeast ridge, west summit; Pt. 6,210m, southwest ridge; Pt. 6,390m, west ridge; all first official ascents. Our team from Imperial College London approached the Shahkangshan Range from the south, via Saga. The name Shahkangshan is that listed on the Alpine Club’s Himalayan Index. However, other visitors have used the name Shar Kangsum.
During our first night spent in tents, water rushed through camp in the early hours of the morning, dramatically forcing us to evacuate the site. Quick thinking by our drivers and base camp staff minimized damage to and loss of equipment.
A landslide blocked the road that runs east of the Shahkangshan Range, forcing us to drive as far as we could up the western flank. We established base camp at the head of the valley (ca. 5,050m), midway along the western side of the range. From there a four-person team consisting of Naomi Bessey, Ben Gready, Joe Johnstone, and I headed north on foot to explore the higher peaks in the range.
Low cloud and poor visibility hampered our reconnaissance, but we finally established an ABC at ca. 5,500m. In a brief clear spell we set up a high camp at the foot of a hanging glacier (ca. 5,800m), from where Joe and Ben continued up to a snowy bowl, bivouacking at 5,950m in preparation for an attempt on Pt. 6,603m.
That night a storm rolled in, and all climbers were forced to sit it out for two nights while the bad weather deposited enough hail and snow to create a high avalanche risk. On August 3, with the weather starting to ease and supplies running low, Ben and Joe made a last ditch attempt. A snowy ramp led to the southeast ridge. Continuing through lightly falling snow, they followed the snow-topped, sharp crest, to a more rounded and steeply inclined snowy ridge with occasional cornices on the eastern side. Having waded through knee-deep snow in whiteout conditions all morning, the pair made the western summit, recording its height as 6,603m (Alpine grade PD+). Exhausted, they descended by the same route, arriving safely back at the high camp by mid-afternoon.
After restocking ABC with food, the same pair headed farther north up the valley to attempt the highest peak, Shahkangshan (6,822m), via the southwest flank and southeast ridge. However, a few days later, as they were commencing their summit bid, three avalanches higher up roared down their intended line of ascent, forcing them to abandon their attempt.
Meanwhile, on August 8 Naomi and I reached the snowy bowl and headed up to the col southwest of Pt. 6,210m. Having set out along a mixed ridge toward the peak to the south (ca. 6,500m), it soon became apparent that the way ahead was longer and more technical than first envisaged. In building cloud we turned around, returned to the col, and headed northeast up a short snow slope with patches of scree to the summit of Pt. 6,210m (Alpine grade F+).
Taking advantage of the now settled conditions, we launched a lightweight assault on Pt. 6,390m. Leaving base camp at midday, we ascended a series of nightmare scree slopes to gain the west ridge. The ridge was no better, with similar terrain punctuated by areas of extremely loose, in situ bedrock. That evening we arrived at the snow line and bivouacked under clear skies. On the 10th we continued up the ridge on hard snow, past rocky bluffs, to gain a snowy plateau. From there we headed east up snow slopes and over a false top to link up with the heavily corniced east ridge, along which we gained the top (Alpine grade PD-). We returned to base camp the same day and started our return home that evening.
Daniel Carrivick, Imperial College, London
Editors note: the Shahkangshan Range lies west of, but nearly alongside, the Tsochen road and the highest summit, 6,822m, has received at least one unauthorized ascent.