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Asia, China, Qonglai Shan, Siguniang National Park, Bipeng Valley, Banji North, North Face, Attempt

Bipeng Valley, Banji North, north face, attempt. Banji (Banji Feng; Half Ridge Peak, 5,430m) was the first main peak to be climbed in the Bipeng Valley. It was first ascended in May 2004 from the west via the drainage that flows down to the valley below (north of) Shanghaizi (see AAJ 2005, pp. 418-419). I climbed Banji the following October via the same route. Beyond the approach, the route ascends the north flank of the mountain and is mostly glacier travel of the order Alpine F/PD. It has become a voie normale and sees three or four repeats every year. Jon Otto's company (Otto made the first ascent) guides it at least twice a year (May and October); that’s a lot of traffic by Chinese standards.

Driving up to the Bipeng Reception Center, you cannot help but be impressed by Banji Norths huge north wall, dominating the southern skyline up and left from the main valley. The face is 600-800m high, and the summit of Banji North is marked as 5,400m on the Chinese topographic map. Banji North is connected by a knife-edge ridge to the main summit, and when I first I photographed these peaks, I began to dream about a traverse along the jagged skyline between the two summits.

On January 21 Cosmin Andron, a Rumanian living in Guangzhou, and I, an American living in Shanghai, arrived at the accommodation in Shanghaizi (3,600m; GPS N 31° 14.776', E 102° 52.778') after driving that day from Chengdu. Cosmin had food poisoning, so the following day we did a couple of new icefalls in the valley. On the 25th we went down to Lixain for a night’s sleep in a warm room and the next day, with two porters, walked up to camp in the basin below the wall. A direct line up the center of this wall proved too difficult to access due to deep powder snow, so we chose a line toward the right side. Cosmin led off on granite that was mossy, particularly in the cracks, requiring a lot of cleaning for gear placements. We climbed three pitches before settling down for a cramped bivouac.

The next morning, as the sky lightened, we could clearly see the distant Outaiji, a magnificent lone peak near Heishui. Also visible were spectacular peaks with high icefalls splitting blank rock walls. These lay to the east, probably in the Tazi Valley. There is no shortage of stunning peaks in this area. Most of them have never been explored or named, and none has been climbed. The only difference between these peaks and their counterparts in Europe and the Americas is a climbing history. Once climbers start putting up routes in these mountains, they should be recognized as classic, beautiful climbs. And these mountains are becoming more accessible. A plane ride to Chengdu, followed by a five-hour drive into the canyons, and you are near the base of giants waiting for new lines. The rock quality is great, the avalanche danger relatively low, and the various forms of accommodation are getting more comfortable.

On day two the line was obvious: straight up a dihedral with great cracks. The temperature was only -6°C, though it felt colder because of a chilly wind. The first pitch took three hours, and it was dark by the time we were on the third. The bivouac was as uncomfortable as the previous. The next day we climbed a pitch, before we realized we had bitten off more than we could chew. The route would require more aid gear, food, and fuel, and at least three more days. By evening we had reached the foot of the face and our high camp in the basin.

Bob Keaty, Shanghai