Qungmo Kangri, first solo and first alpine style ascent, via south ridge. After a month of mountaineering in the central part of the Nyanchen Tanglha, Gerhard Gindl and I went to the far southwestern end of the range to make a reconnaissance of Qungmo Kangri (a.k.a. Jomo Kangri; Tibetan name Neiji Kangsang: 7,069m; N 29° 54.162', E 90° 01.521') and surrounding mountains. The only information we had was that the mountain had been climbed only once before, in 1996 by a Chinese-Korean expedition via the east ridge. However, I later found the mountain had received three previous ascents: on October 7, 1996, by the Chinese-Korean expedition via the south ridge; on May 17, 1997, by a Japanese expedition via the south ridge; and on August 15, 1999, by another Japanese expedition again via the south ridge.
We established base camp on October 6 at 5,450m after spending a day looking for the best site. This proved to be on the shores of a moraine lake, on the far side of which huge columns of ice stood in fragile equilibrium on the underlying bedrock. As we spent the following days exploring a possible route on Qungmo Kangri, it became obvious that the logical way was from the south, over a subsidiary south summit and on up the south ridge.
We went into the next valley west of base camp for a couple of days and climbed to the west- southwest summit of Qungmo Kangri (6,116m; N 29° 53.506', E 89° 58.694'). We had fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, among others Qungmo Kangri West Peak. Apart from two days of snow, the weather was sunny with few clouds, but temperatures were starting to get very low.
On the last day before we had to leave, everything seemed to be right for a serious attempt on the main summit: the night was cold, the sky was clear, and the following night the moon would be full. However, Gerhard thought the route would be too difficult for him, so I let him sleep as I left the tent at 6.30 a.m. carrying minimal equipment.
As dawn was breaking on October 16, I had left the moraine and was heading east up a narrow ca. 45° couloir. At the top I found a snow anchor driven into the rock. At the time I thought it came from a previous attempt but later realized it must have been left by one of the successful expeditions. A slope of 45-50° led to the foresummit, from which I had to descend 50m on the far side to reach a ca. 6,000m saddle at the base of the south ridge. I took a short break to warm my toes and fingers in the sun. As the temperature was around -15°C, I wore my down jacket the whole day.
The saddle had a crevassed area, but this was well covered by debris from a huge snow and ice avalanche. The remaining 1,000m up the south ridge were exhausting and steeper than expected (average angle of 40-45°, with the steepest section at 50-55°). The lower 600m culminated in a hard shield of 55° snow, while in the upper part I had to bypass a rocky ridge on the left and then slant up left crossing large snow-filled crevasses. Close to the top the ridge became a moderately angled slope, before it reached a junction with the east ridge. After crossing a flat plateau I reached the highest point at 6 p.m.
The view was terrific, as this mountain overlooks all the surrounding peaks, which have a maximum height of about 6,600m. On the east-northeast horizon, perhaps 75km distant, I could see the great ice face that rises to all three 7,000m summits of Nyanchen Tanglha. To the northeast the deep blue of Nam Tso (lake) dominated the view. After hoisting prayer flags and taking pictures, I started my descent. I regained the saddle around 8 p.m., by which time the sun had gone down, and the moon was rising in the east. I used my head torch in the couloir, and when I reached the first cairn I’d constructed as a marker on the moraine, I knew I was going to make it back to base camp safely.
After 16 hours with hardly a break, I reached base camp at 10:30 p.m. Gerhard had prepared delicious noodle soup, which I ate and went straight to bed. No time to admire the bright starry sky and smooth moonlight outside the tent.
Christian Haas, Austria