American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Nyanchen Tanglha East, Menamcho, Attempt by Northwest Ridge; Kajaqiao, First Ascent, Via West Face and Northwest Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Menamcho, attempt by northwest ridge; Kajaqiao, first ascent, via west face and northwest ridge. October 2005. Mick Fowler, Adam Thomas, Chris Watts, and I are stretched out on the dusty Tibetan tundra at the village of Tatse, not quite believing we are here. Across the valley Kajaqiao looms overhead, praying hands reaching to the sky and a plume of cloud cloaking the north face. It’s taken 18 months of planning, two days driving, and nine permits to get here, and now we’re less than half a day from base camp. [Original plans to attempt Kajaqiao in 2004 had been thwarted at the last minute by permit problems. See Mick Fowlers article earlier in this Journal—Ed.]

A week later base camp is 400m below us. Mick and Chris are setting off up the west face of Kajaqiao, and Adam and I are heading south across the glacier to reconnoiter a route to the foot of our goal, the south face. But it’s hard work; the snow is never less than knee deep and frequently up to our thighs. The view changes every half hour, and Menamcho, the perfect replica of the Matterhorn if ever there was one, reveals more of itself with each step. We make the end of the main glacier by late afternoon and can see Mick and Chris bivouacking on the west face. As we settle down for a brew, an alternative plan begins to form. In this snow, the south face of Kajaqiao is still two days away and doesn’t look as good as we’d hoped. But Menamcho is only one day away and the northwest ridge looks superb. Our spirits begin to lift and then soar above the exhaustion, as we realize Menamcho is our objective.

Next day we head southeast up a steep convex slope and onto the glacier between Kajaqiao and Menamcho. Finally we reach the northwest ridge. We are only four kilometers from and 700m above base camp, yet it has taken three days of snow ploughing to get here.

We reach the shoulder that forms the start of the northwest ridge via four pitches, at Scottish IV/V, up the north flank. This is snow-covered ice and mixed ground: steep broken slabs and frozen rubble. We construct a ledge on the crest, erect the tent, and stretch out in relative comfort. The weather has been great for the last two days, and tomorrow night we’ll be on the ridge with no hope of getting the tent up.

But tomorrow is a different story. By morning the weather has deteriorated, with strong winds blowing across the ridge, and temperatures of -20 to -25°C. In the 20 minutes it takes to pack up, I lose feeling in my fingers three times. “What’s your gut feeling?” yells Adam. I point. “What’s yours?” He nods. We hug. I can’t believe it’s happening, not again: our third trip in five years with the same outcome, turning back a stone’s throw from the top. I begin to cry but stop when my tears start freezing. A GPS reading of our high point gives 5,880m, and at the time we thought the summit of Menamcho was around 6,400m, still a long way off. Finding out later that it was only 6,240m hurt. We descend the north side of the ridge, reaching the glacier with three 60m rappels. We have to remake our tracks down the glacier and arrive back at base camp the following day—the day that Mick and Chris summit. The A team had made it, whilst the B team were going home with their tails between their legs.

Phil Amos, Alpine Club, United Kingdom

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