Asia, China, Tien Shan, Xuelian Massif, Various Ascents

Publication Year: 2010.

Xuelian massif, various ascents. Following exploration of the north side of the Xuelian massif in 2008 (AAJ 2009), Bruce Normand (Scotland) returned in August 2009 with Americans Jed Brown, Kyle Dempster, and Jared Vilhauer. Goals were the major satellite peaks of Xuelian Main (Xuelian Feng, 6,627m), all of which remained unclimbed. On August 3 Brown and Normand established an advanced base on the side glacier that runs below the northwest face of the Xue- lian’s west satellite (6,422m). On the 6th they made an acclimatization climb of a 4,000m summit directly north of the west satellite and the following day climbed the west ridge of Xuelian’s north satellite (6,472m). A 600m snow couloir (50°) led to the crest, where the team pitched a tent at 5,300m. On the 8th they continued up largely rotten snow and then over the 6,150m forepeak to reach the summit. They noted that the continuation ridge to Xuelian Main would offer 300m of technical rock climbing, and sported considerable cornice formations.

On the 12th the pair reached the foot of a snow ramp leading to the crest of the east ridge of Xue- lian’s ca 6,400m east sub-summit. Next day they made a 1,700m push to the top, first climbing the ramp via a very thin ice pitch and a long section of unprotect- able snow-covered rock to the crest and then strenuous wading through deep, rotten snow. Once on the ridge they were surprised to meet Dempster and Vilhauer, who had climbed a harder line up the north flank, involving much steep ice and difficult snow-covered rock in the last 500m. The pairs operated largely independently throughout the trip, but on this occasion they all combined forces for the last 800m.

Brown and Normand had planned a one-day round trip, but when the four were hit by bad weather during the descent, they crammed into a small bivouac tent brought by Dempster and Vilhauer. The storm produced the worst weather of the trip, and the tent saved the climbers from possible frostnip. The four climbers descended the Brown-Normand line on the 14th. The American- Scottish pair returned to base camp next day, but Dempster and Vilhauer remained on the upper Muzart Glacier for a further week, climbing a 1,600m ice route up the impressive northwest buttress of Yanamax, stopping on its 6,180m sub-peak (virtually a separate summit), which they named Yanamax II. The route, which took three days and had difficulties up to M4, they named Yanamaniacs.

In the meantime, on the 21st and 22nd, Brown and Normand tackled the west ridge of Xuelian’s northeast sub-summit (6,231m). Bad snow conditions, together with knife-edge and rocky sections, made this particularly time-consuming, and that night they pitched camp below a hard rock section at 5,000m. Next day Brown led five tenuous snow-covered slab pitches, and by the time the pair reached 5,400m, it was obvious that the route would require considerably more time than was available. They retreated.

On the 24th Brown, Dempster, and Normand returned to the previously established advanced base below Xuelian’s west satellite (6,422m), Vilhauer prudently opting out of further climbing after frostnipping a toe during the Yanamax II ascent. Over the next four-and-a-half days they climbed the fine 2,650m marble prow that separates the north-northwest and north-northeast faces. They descended the west ridge, then the southwest ridge, and finally rappeled onto the southwest face, regaining the west ridge at 5,200m, below its steepest section. Down- climbing the northern flank they reached advanced base that night. Kyle Dempster’s account of this route, named Great White Jade Heist (5.7 WI5 M6 R), appears earlier in the Journal. The three climbers were recipients of one of the 2010 Piolets d’Or.

Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO