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Wuse Shan, Another Day

On February 10, 2010, Li Lan and I summited Wuse Shan (“Five Colors Mountain,” 5,430m) via the south face. The North Face sponsored our climb. The peak had been attempted several times, but we believe our ascent was the first. We named the route Another Day (V 5.9+, 18 pitches). It’s serious because of poor rock, especially in the lower limestone folds, and a constant threat of stonefall.

Located between Shuangqiao and Changping Valleys, Wuse got its name because of the many layers of different rock types visible on the peak, especially on the sunny south face. At the bottom there is limestone, above that is shale, and then granite to the summit. The limestone and shale are folded into a striped U, which can be seen from the road a few kilometers down Shuangqiao Valley (a popular ice-climbing area). Geologically, this face must be spectacular.

On February 8 we trekked from Shuangqiao Lodge to the foot of the talus slope beneath the face and set up camp at 4,800m. Leaving at 7:45 next morning, we scrambled up talus for an hour, only to find the limestone above impossible to protect or to climb. Handholds broke into powder in our fingers, so we struck out right, following the U shape for seven pitches of mostly easy 5th- and 4th-class climbing. However, protection was scarce and rockfall frequent. To the left a gap in the folds appeared and we climbed through it to reach more broken, featured shale. Two pitches brought us to a granite buttress. We traversed right along the base, and then scrambled up 4th-class rock for two more pitches before bivouacking.

On the 10th we began climbing at 8:15 a.m. The first half pitch was scrambling, but then it was continuous 5.7 until on our fifth pitch of the day, where we cut left onto a spur. The 6th pitch provided the crux of the climb, featuring an exposed traverse followed by 20m of vertical rock leading back to the crest of the spur. Above, a further half pitch led to one of twin summits; another summit to the east looked identical in height to the one we were on and less than a rope length away. It was past 1:00 p.m., and the other summit looked hard to reach, so we didn’t give it a try.

We started down our route at 2 p.m. The ropes stuck on the first rappel, and while LiLan was prussiking to retrieve them, a piece of rock flew down and hit me close to the left eye, drawing blood. Because of the delay caused by this and the rope jam, we didn’t get off the face before nightfall and didn’t dare try continuing in the dark. The gas canister was still ¼ full, so we bivouacked about a pitch lower than the previous night, where there was snow to melt. (We had used up the bit of snow at the previous spot). The next day we rappelled seven more pitches to the talus. The ropes stuck again, on the penultimate rappel, and because the pitch mostly overhung and one rope end was out of reach, it was more than frustrating. Fortunately, we had dragged down just enough of the other rope that it was possible to sling a horn, tie the rope to the sling, and rap the last 15m on a single strand.

LiLan is perhaps China’s only true female alpinist—the only Chinese woman ready to lead a technical pitch on a high mountain. This was only our second climb together, and I got away with leading all the pitches. We might have simulclimbed some ground and made better time if we had known each other better. The previous month we had failed on a new route up the west side of Chibu (5,430m), a few kilometers north of Wuse. Maybe we’ll try to finish it in September, when it should be warm enough to wear rock shoes.

Yan Dongdong, China