American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Asia, Tibet, Kangri Garpo, Ata Glacier, Reconnaissance

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

Ata Glacier, reconnaissance. The Alpine Club of Kobe University (ACKU) has been pursuing unexplored mountains for the past several decades. Our new target is the Kangri Garpo Mountains. More than thirty 6,000m peaks in this range remain unclimbed. In 2002 we found an approach to the main peak of the Ata Glacier, Mt. Ruoni (6,805m), the highest point in the 280km Kangri Garpo Range. In 2003 ACKU sent a climbing party led by Kazumasa Hirai (the first summiter of Chogolisa, in 1958) to attempt Mt. Ruoni from the Ata Glacier, but the party failed at 5,900m on the northeast flank because of bad weather and dangerous conditions.

[Editor’s note: See AAJ 2002 p. 429 and AAJ 2007 p. 429 for more history of the Kangri Garpo].

Ever since the ACKU made the first ascent of Que-er Shan (6,168m) in a joint expedition with the Mountaineering Association of the Chinese University of Geosciences Wuhan (MACUGW) in 1988, both parties have maintained a good partnership, not only in mountaineering, but also in academic collaboration. In May 2007 ACKU and MACUGW agreed to hold joint expeditions to unexplored areas of Tibet. They focused on the Kangri Garpo mountains, which are close to the heavily restricted border between India and Myanmar. Our 2007 reconnaissance party intended to find possible climbing routes on Ata 3-Sisters (KG-1, Mt. Ruoni, 6,805m; KG-2,6,703m; and KG-3,6,724m). These peaks were discovered on the southwest bank of the Ata Glacier during past ACKU expeditions, which were sent to survey peak heights. For example, Mt. Ruoni (Bairiga) has different recorded altitudes: 6,805m on the USSR map, versus 6,610m and 6,882m on old rough Chinese maps. KG-4 (6,290m) and KG-5 (6,300m) are not shown on existing maps but were discovered by these explorers. Positioning and height identification are still pending. We do not know whether the Chinese authorities have made an aerial survey. The Chinese Army supposedly keeps the up-to-date and precise maps of this area, but these are not open to the public. Even though we tried through the Chinese University of Geosciences, we were not granted permission to view the maps. We have also failed to get permission from the Chinese Academy of Science to see surveys of peaks in this area.

On October 3, in unsettled weather, seven members of the joint party—three from ACKU led by Takeru Yamada, and four from MACUGW led by Niu Xiao Hong—with ten yaks left Lhagu and headed to the Ata Glacier via Kogin and Chutsu. Because the stream flowing from the Ata Glacier is blocked by two lakes and a gorge above Chutsu, they detoured and followed a yak trail crossing over the Hyona flat.

The Ata Glacier has unique topography, in that it flows southeast from the divide of the Kangri Garpo mountains and splits into two branches. The south tongue descends into a tributary of the Kangri Garpo Qu. The north tongue drops into a glacier lake, Cuo Cho Hu (4,265m). Our base camp was sited on the east bank of the glacier near the lake (29°13'12.1" N, 96°49'11.2"E ±13m, 4,291m).

One of challenges of a joint party involving different cultures is to overcome cultural gaps and differences in climbing style. On the first day at BC part of the team practiced rope work on the glacier. Meanwhile, others reconnoitered the route to advanced base camp (ABC). Since ACKU had reached the Ata Glacier in 2002 and 2003, we knew just where to put ABC despite the cloudy weather: on the break point of the glacier (29°12'3.2" N, 96°48'42.9" E ±7,4,391m).

On November 5 we three Japanese members sited Camp 1 on the upper crevassed area (29°11'36.3" N, 96°47'17.3" E, 4,588m). We put on Japanese-style snowshoes to avoid sinking deeply into the snow.

On November 8 a half day of fine weather gave us our only chance to take pictures and look for climbing routes on the south flank of the northeast divide of the Ata Glacier, the highest point we reached in this reconnaissance (4,797m). Three days of snowy weather erased our tracks in the crevasse-labyrinth, as over two feet of fresh snow covered the crevasses. Takeru Yamada decided to return to the base camp on the tenth in dense fog. We had only a few meters of visibility, but we safely returned to ABC without falling into crevasses, thanks to our GPS track-back function and flags.

We tried to measure the height of Three Sisters from the point 29°12'47.9" N, 96°46'39.9" E ±6m, 4,725m, on the Ata Glacier. We used a simple level, scale, and a GPS to get a vertical view angle on each peak. The heights of the 3 Sisters, calculated using the measured data, as well as the Google Earth peak position, are KG-1 (Ruoni), 6,900m; KG-2, 6,650m; and KG-3, 6,700m.

While we were in the mountains, a large cyclone hit Bangladesh, and a week later, an unusual snowstorm ravaged eastern Tibet and Shangri-La (Zhong Dian). We had expected good weather during the first week of November, but this year it did not happen. [Editor’s note: We were unable to secure photos of publishable resolution in time for the AAJ 2008. However, we have posted Takeru Yamada’s original report with photos and a map at www.ameri-]

Takeru Yamada and Tatsuo Inoue, Alpine Club of Kobe University, Japan

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