Asia, Tibet, Himalaya, Everest, Kubi Kangri (6,721m), First Ascent; Glacier Measurements

Publication Year: 2008.

Kubi Kangri (6,721m), first ascent; glacier measurements. The Kubi Tsangpo Headwaters Expedition 2007, which I headed, made the first ascent of Kubi Kangri, the highest peak in the Kubi Tsangpo headwaters, without the assistance of Sherpas. Our climbing leader, Atushi Senda, and six students reached the summit from C2 via the east ridge and descended to C2 via the north ridge. Beside the main objective of the first ascent, we attempted two unclimbed peaks—Absi (6,254m) and Langta-chen (6,248m)—surveyed glacial shrinkage; retraced the steps of a Japanese Buddhist monk, Ekai Kawa-guchi, who traveled through this remote borderland in 1900; and studied the relation between psychology and high altitude. We saw many wild animals around our base camp, including wild yaks, Tibetan wild donkeys, a snow leopard (just 20m from camp), and the tracks of a Himalayan brown bear (also known as the Yeti).

The headwaters of the great Yalung Tsangpo (which turns into the Bramaputra before joining the Ganges) is split between two branches at 82°54'E 30°20'N: the Kubi Tsangpo and the Chema-yundung. In 1907 Sven Hedin surveyed each river by volume and length and concluded that the Chema-yundung was the main stream.

The local Tibetan name of this mountain range is Chang-la Himal or Asja Himal. The Nepalese name is Chang- la Himal or Gorakh Himal; the range continues into the Ronglei Himal and Kanti Himal, including Kaqur Kangri (6,859m) east of this area. All peaks surrounding the headwaters of Kubi Tsangpo are called Kubi Kangri, and most of these peaks have no proper names. Access is difficult, either from Tibet or Nepal. In 1983 the Japanese Northwest Nepal Women’s Expedition, headed by Kyoko Endo, failed on Kubi Kangri, the highest peak of the Chang-la Himal, largely due to the difficulty of access.

Nepalese locals are not well acquainted with Kubi , because other peaks on that side block their view of the peak, and so they don’t have an individual name for it. However, as our Tibetan guides call this peak “Dong Dong” or Kubi , we applied the name Kubi to the highest peak (6,721m) in the range. The Tibetan side is easier to access, because the glacier complex is more stable. But only recently have bridges spanned the Yalung Tsangpo and its tributaries, which previously could only be crossed in winter. We owed our success on Kaqur (6,859m) in 2002 (AAJ 2003, p. 418) to this easier access.

There are many unidentified 6,000m–6,500m peaks around Kubi . On the border, from north to south, are Chang-la (6,563m), Kubi (6,271m), Langta-chen (6,248m), Asja (6,265m), Absi (6,254m), and Ngomo-dingding (6,133m). On the Tibetan side are yet more beautiful mountains, including Anro, Cnema-yundung, Gave-ting, and Mukchung. They are all virgin peaks, except for Kubi .

These mountains have gentle, heavily crevassed glaciers in the headwaters of Kubi Tsangpo. Some of the glaciers have glacial lakes at the terminus that can easily be reached by four-wheel- drive vehicles, except when it’s raining hard, and the streams swell. The tracks run through yak and sheep pastures, utilized from April to August.

Foreigners are prohibited from entering this region without permission. In 2007, because of preparations for the 2008Olympic Games and the prevalence of chicken flu, the Chinese authorities were particularly nervous before giving permits.

We spent six days, from August 18 to 24, driving from Kathmandu through Zangmu, Nieram, Saga, New Tongpa, and Paryan to base camp at 4,800m on the shores of the Kubi Tsangpo. It was rainy and cloudy until we reached base camp, when it turned to sunshine.

Twelve kilometers of route finding through moraines to Cl at 5,600m was exhausting. It only got worse to C2, and we had to fix ropes. At 6 a.m. on September 14 we left C2 and reached the east ridge of Kubi . We had to fix ropes on 15 more pitches because of steepness. At 12:40 all seven members stood on the summit in bad weather. Soon after taking pictures, we descended the north ridge.

After Kubi we tried to climb two other peaks. Huge crevasses and icefalls stopped us low on Langta-chen. On Absi, after fixing ropes, we gave up at about 6,000m on its rock-and- ice northwest ridge. This peak would be suitable for alpine-style climbing.

There is lots of information about the glaciers of Nepal, but little on those of the Tibetan side of the Himalaya. In 1907 Sven Hedin made invaluable observations on the glaciers. In 2007 we could use Hedin’s work to find evidence of receding glaciers in the last 100 years. We measured the termini of the Langta Glacier and the Absi Glacier. A picture that Hedin took in 1907 shows no glacial lake on either glacier. Soviet maps of 1946 also show no glacial lakes. But now there are. Comparing Hedin’s picture to our observations leads us to estimate that in the last 100 years the Langta Glacier has retreated by 1,500m to 2,000m, and the Absi Glacier by 1,200m. [Editor’s note: the Japanese Alpine News Vol. 8, May 2007 features articles on climate change and fast melting glacicrs in Bhutan, Central Tibet, Tien Shan, Altai, and Yunnan in China.]

Toyoji Wada, Japan