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Asia, China, Sichuan Province, Shaluli Shan, Hati (5,524m), First Ascent

Hati (5,524m), first ascent. It was early May, and within minutes of embarking from the jeep in the Zhopu Pasture, David Sykes, our L.O. Lenny, and I were surrounded by local families on their annual cater pillar-fungus hunting holiday. These ground-dwelling grubs are frequently infected with a parasite fungus, which sprouts from their bodies in springtime. The resulting growth is harvested by the locals, who live above 4,000m and earn a healthy portion of their yearly income selling the grubs for Chinese medicines. The resulting influx of people into the hills at this time of year meant plenty of opportunity for baggage transportation, but also maximum charge as a penalty for taking them from caterpillar-fungus hunting. After a day pottering up the foothills to get a good view of our intended mountain, Hati (Nazdenka), we observed that it was getting warmer. On our arrival the nights had been a reassuring –5°C, but now they were just above freezing at 4,300m. The beautifully clear days meant the beating sun cooked everything to a crisp. We watched the mountain’s snow cover wearing thinner and thinner, and wondered whether our route options were also disappearing. Two days later David and I awoke at 2 a.m. in our bivy tent on the moraine below the route, stumbled across a boulder field onto the snow, and began an ascent of the west face, cursing the warm temperatures with every step we sunk up to our thighs. As I sat at one of the belays, two eagles, of which we had seen many over the preceding days, glided through a notch in the ridge and followed our creeping progress. From here more soloing brought us to the summit snowfield and very shortly the top. We relaxed, duvet clad in the –8°C heat, and soaked in the view. To the south lay the impressive Xiashe, recently climbed by Pat Deavoll and Karen McNeill, with Ed Douglas and Duncan Tunstall hot on their heels fora second ascent by a different route. Surrounding this peak were other imposing summits, all unclimbed. Looking west, the triple peaks of Garranpunsum, the three blacksmiths, appeared in the distance past the spires of the Jarjinjabo rock towers. The far distance was a continuum of white peaks, most of which are unclimbed. Our route on Hati was rather short and sweet, at 500m and AD-ish.

We were back at BC the following day, charged up for the next first ascent. Unfortunately, our buoyant optimism was deflated by an amazingly bad weather system, which came and sat in silence on our valley, getting wetter and colder day by day, until we woke one morning in six inches of damp snow and decided enough was enough. Thoughts of an early return home to family impelled a decision to hightail back for an early flight, but stunning weather on the return bus journey prompted a rethink. A couple of days later (May 23) we were at another base camp, intending a second ascent of stunning Haizi Shan by the unclimbed south face. This peak had presented to the highway a breathtaking view of snow-filled gully lines and white buttresses, and we couldn’t resist. We didn’t pick the optimal approach, though, and the ascent to the approach pass, a valley descent, and the subsequent huge slog up a 45° talus field also took our breath away. The mountain gods had obviously not been heeding our pleas, and we were greeted by ominously warm temperatures that reduced our gully to a waterfall. Further attempts at optimism were set back by three avalanches, one of which made us scramble to our feet. Then came a storm full of thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. And finally came the snow. My impression is that we were perhaps a month too late for good snow/ice. Our feelings about future projects in this area are that Garrapunsum would offer cracking lines, and the south face of Haizi Shan would be spectacular in cold, snowy conditions. The slabs and buttresses of Hati were of rough, compact, good-quality limestone, which bodes well for the quality of climbing on the southeast aspect of Hati (approach via next valley to east from our approach). We recommend visiting the area a month earlier (in April) for snow/ice routes, as the night freezing level went from 4,000m to 5,000m in the first week.

David Gerrard, U.K.