Asia, China, Sichuan, Daxue Shan, Haizi Shan, Northeast Ridge, Attempt
Haizi Shan, northeast ridge, attempt. On April 28 an American expedition led by 83-year-old Fred Beckey arrived in Chengdu. The team included Dave O’Leske, Jeff Wenger, Ralf Sweeney, and I. Our objective was the first ascent of a 5,833m peak called Haizi Shan (a.k.a. Ja-Ra, Zhara, or Yala Peak). Beckey had been eyeing the mountain for over 15 years and had photos of the north and west faces from a trip he made several years ago. While our goal was to climb Haizi Shan, the team’s overriding objective was to film Fred in his element, to use in a documentary of his extraordinary life story.
We drove overland to Haizi Shan and established a camp at the end of the valley, under the peak’s north face. After several days acclimatizing, we moved the camp, with help from local Tibetan horsemen, to a large lake at the base of the north face. We then established our first camp at 4,580m. Nearby we discovered snow stakes of Korean origin stashed under a boulder. We shuttled gear and food to this camp over several days and then made a summit attempt via the northeast ridge. We were halted by deep snow and the heavily corniced crest. One week later, after waiting out a three-day storm that dropped a few feet of snow accompanied by strong winds, we pushed a weaving route through the icefall directly under the north summit, establishing a second camp at 5,425m. The next day we climbed to the ca 5,700m north summit, experiencing deep snow and hard ice on steeper ground.
Dave and Jeff attempted to traverse across the saddle to the main summit but were stopped by a giant crevasse spanning the ridge and effectively separating Haizi Shan into two peaks. We descended from the north summit to Camp 2 and continued down the next day. The weather turned bad again and never gave us an opportunity to mount another attempt. The climbing had been mostly moderate but was made difficult by fresh snow and high winds.
Haizi Shan’s north summit had been previously reached, but it is unclear if another team had climbed the route we called the Beckey Direct. In the lower icefall above Camp 1 we found fixed rope, white nylon static like that used in water skiing. We presume this to have been placed for descent by a Korean team.
Fred remained in base camp for most of the trip due to illness, but his mountain-aware- ness and route-finding proved invaluable to every aspect of the climbing. More importantly, it was a great experience to spend a month in the mountains with the legendary Beckey.
Todd Offenbacher, AAC