American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Nyanchen Tanglha East, Yigong Tsangpo, Shashim Valley, Reconnaissance

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Yigong Tsangpo, Shashim Valley, reconnaissance. In November Stuart Holmes and I made a further exploratory sortie into the Nyanchen Tanglha East. The original plan, to reconnoiter the valleys south of Niwu, in the heart of the main chain, rapidly fell foul of the infamous Lhari–Niwu road. (The road is being reconstructed in its entirety, reflecting the boom in the local economy on the back of medicinal grass and caterpillar fungus. The new road is wide and fast, and the 110km journey should be possible in three hours at any time of year after January 2008.) Instead, we were deposited at the settlement of Shing Sham, at 4,050m in the main valley of the Yigong Tsangpo, 10km east of Kajaqiao and almost exactly halfway between Lhari and Niwu. The friendly local farmers/herders invited us to camp in a walled field that gave protection from wind and yak horns. Like everywhere in the deep, hanging valley systems of eastern Tibet, only a wooden footbridge gives evidence of easy livestock trails to yak pastures higher in the side valleys. This one, the Shashim Valley, gives direct access to two valley forks, each with summer settlements at 4,500m at the feet of short but steep glaciers. The Shashim Valley is dominated by pointed, fluted Peak 6,432m, for which no other name was found. The western fork is a cirque consisting of a north-facing wall extending from Peak 6,432m to Peak 6,278m and predominantly west-facing slopes on a ridge capped by rocky 5,000m summits. Although the locals spoke of a pass, Hongka La, leading directly south to Upper Niwu, the entire cirque appeared to be guarded by icefalls. The eastern fork is longer, stretching back to massive Yashimcho (6,502m), the highest peak in the Kajaqiao part of the chain, and to the shapely Chomo (6,434m). The eastern side of this glacier is dominated by steep, rocky Mandingcho (6,230m) and the western side by Peak 6,432m. While acclimatizing, we also walked 4km up- valley to the next bridge and hanging side valley, which is the end of a large glacier descending from the east side of Kajaqiao. The peaks around this glacier are Peak 6,278, shapely Champa- ponga (ca 6,000m), Manamcho (6,265m), and the commanding pyramid of Kajaqiao (6,447m, known locally as Chachacho). The early November weather was unstable and showery, with dark clouds blowing over the summits from behind (southwest) on most days. Total snow accumulation was below 5cm in the 4,500m pastures, but did not melt. On one of the better days we hiked to a rounded snow ridge at 6,008m directly north of Mandingcho and affording excellent views in all directions except straight south. After 10 days the weather pattern broke, being replaced by blue skies and cool temperatures, with occasional solid afternoon cloud, for the remaining two weeks. However, the transition was accompanied by a windstorm, which deposited large amounts of snow on north and east faces. This allowed us plenty of time to re- explore the two valley systems with excellent visibility, Holmes choosing the north side of the Yigong Valley to see the chain in full perspective, and me choosing to re-ascend both the Kajaqiao Valley and Pt. 6,008m. Fresh footprints on a snow ridge photographed in the former were identified instantly by the locals as “yeti,” presumably a type of small bear. Pt. 6,008m yielded a full panorama of the Sepu Kangri Range and views over the original target peaks south of Niwu.

With time to spare, we chose to complete our exploration of the chain by accessing the part west of Kajaqiao via the Manam Valley. This wide, flat valley is reached by a steel bridge at km 26 from Lhari and descends from a pair of glacial lakes almost directly beneath the west face of Manamcho. Rising directly out of the lakes are the extremely steep, rocky peaks 6,088m, 6,146m, and 6,066m. The ridgeline running northwest from Manamcho contains many rocky summits and towers in the high 5,000m range, and Kajaqiao looks over the scene from the neighboring cirque. Joining the Manam Valley from the southwest are two further valley forks, both 10km long, straight, flat, and easily accessed by yak-grazing trails. While the more northerly fork is dry and notable for a number of vertical granite faces, the more southerly leads to further shapely peaks, such as 6,186m and 6,056m, the first in particular with a number of potentially excellent mixed lines on its northern and western aspect.

Bruce Norman, Switzerland

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