Access and potential climbing in the range between Lhari and Lake Basong. In November 2006 I trekked from Niwu to Punkar over the Laqin La, passing the highest and steepest peaks of the central range. The following information on access and climbing potential may be useful.
Niwu is currently accessible only “from above,” i.e. from the Tibetan plateau, via a 110km drive from Lhari (Jiali). The last 50km of this road are closed by landslides in summer and are reopened during the latter half of October. However, they are in poor condition until repaired, usually in early November. Only Land Cruisers should be considered for this road before November, and one should allow two full days from Lhasa (one and a half by mid-November). It is promised that a much better road will be completed “from below,” i.e. from Tongmi, in 2008, which would radically alter access to the area. The road from Lhasa directly to Lhari appears passable all the time, despite at least one high pass, and is far quicker than the northern route via Nagchu.
The road from Bahel (on the Lhasa-Bayi highway) is paved to Lake Basong; from the turn-off there are 53km on a relatively good dirt road to Punkar, with few of the problems of the Niwu road. The valley floor is flat, so there are no canyon walls causing landslides, but mud can be a problem in September and early October; thereafter, Lhasa-Punkar should be one long day’s drive.
Once past the roadhead, the valleys are narrow and densely forested, which, combined with the hanging nature of the main valley, means many peaks have never even been seen. Every side valley I attempted to reconnoiter did have a reasonable grazing trail, but this may not be the case for some of the narrower, north-facing side valleys.
The people around Niwu are strange and not easy to work with. Generally, other Tibetans regard East Tibetans as rude, crude, and unhelpful. In Niwu these features are compounded by a special medicinal grass that grows well in the area, so the people are relatively rich. They are inundated every summer by traders (Tibetans, usually from Amdo and Kham), who are prepared to pay top dollar for their services. The current price is 100Y per day per horse and 100Y per horseman per three horses. A horse carries 50-60kg. There is no negotiation for anyone or at any time of year: apparently they would prefer not to work than to earn 80% of this amount during a period when they and their horses are otherwise idle. I suspect that there is a strong cartel system, and anyone violating it is penalized by other horsemen. However, if you pay the going rate, you will move 180kg (three horses) 16-20km up valley for around $50; this speed and price are difficult to match in Nepal. Horse prices may fall if the main road, and perhaps a drivable road from Niwu to Upper Niwu, is completed. On the plus side, the people neither steal nor beg, although like all Tibetans they crowd around a camp to see what the strange foreigners are doing and therefore have plenty of opportunity for both. As more foreigners enter the area, it would be good if these two attributes could be maintained, particularly as potential trekkers may be manifestly no richer than the traders.
The region contains a wealth of steep, spectacular, and unclimbed peaks. The monsoon comes in May and lasts until late October, so climbing activities involve, by necessity, wintry conditions. To date only Kajaqiao and Birutaso have been climbed, while Nenang and Chuk-porisum have been attempted. Other extremely inviting targets include Lumboganzegabo, Jiongmudazhi, and Chuchepo. The majority of the high peaks are guarded on their approaches by extensive icefalls, particularly on their northern aspects, and prospective climbers should budget their time accordingly. Climbing officially in the East Nyanchen Tanglha requires contacting the CTMA and paying a virgin-peak fee of $8,000 for everything except Kajaqiao and Birutaso (both climbed with permits in 2005), plus approximately $3,000 per climber for a guide/liaison officer and vehicles.
Unauthorized climbing is not an option for anyone approaching from Lake Basong, and probably not from Punkar. It did not appear that it would be a problem farther from the paved road, where locals know little and climbers are generally in remote side valleys. However, this situation will not last. As has happened once already around Lake Basong, the first group of unauthorized climbers to be caught will cause a major clampdown, destroy the plans of all the expeditions aiming to go there the following season, and end up paying at minimum all of the costs they forgot to pay the first time. They may also be banned from China for some period and damage the livelihoods of the agency employees that provided their basic logistics.
The best information and sketch maps are available in the recent publications of Tamotsu Nakamura (see, for example, the article in AAJ 2003 and the annual editions of the Japanese Alpine News). The summit heights in these sketches are based on Chinese maps; Russian military maps also exist. The maps are reasonable for general topography but poor for peak heights.
Bruce Normand, Switzerland