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Noijin Kangsang (7,206m), First Quasi-Winter Ascent, South-Southwest Spur and South Ridge

Noijin Kangsang lies immediately north of the Gyantse-Lhasa road at 28.9° N, 90.1° E. At least five routes have been climbed: the west ridge (Japanese, 1999); southwest ridge (Tibetan Mountaineering Association, 1986); south-southwest spur and south ridge (Japanese, 1995); south ridge (Japanese, 1992); and east ridge (Japanese, 2000). Approaching the south-southwest spur is really easy: you get off the bus at 4,950m and start climbing. I tried this route with a Tsinghua University Student team in 2007 and reached 7,130m. When I decided to climb a non-technical 7,000er in December, to know what it’s like to climb at high altitude in winter (and in preparation for a future attempt on Minya Konka), Noijin Kangsang was the obvious choice.

Li Lan and I needed decent acclimatization. We left Lhasa on December 2 and camped by the road at 4,950m. The next day we went up onto the south-southwest spur, found a flat snowy spot at 6,050m partially protected from the wind, and camped for the night. We returned to the road and hitch-hiked to Lhasa the next day, leaving our tent and equipment behind.

We came back on the 6th and regained our camp at 6,050m that night. We set off in the dark at 8 a.m. on the 7th, taking a stove and sleeping bag but no tent. We wore harnesses and carried 10m of rope but never used it, as the snow was sufficiently hard to rule out crevasse danger. The only steep part of the route lies between 6,200m and 6,400m, where the crest rises to 40° before joining the south and southeast ridges. After following the south ridge for a while, we traversed right to take the shortest path. By 4:20 p.m. we had reached 6,900m, crossed a covered crevasse, and could see the summit in the distance. However, we were also breathing hard, and the snow had become softer; our feet often sank to the ankle. The crevasse did not offer protection from the wind, but nearby we dug beneath a layer of hard snow and constructed a shelter within an hour. It proved to be the highest and most comfortable bivouac I’ve ever had.

At our 6,050m camp my watch had stopped recording temperature, meaning it was below -10°C. Up here I estimate it could have been below -30°C at night. However, inside the snow hole it was dry, calm, and actually not so cold.

We left at 8:20 the next morning. I reached the summit at 1:20 p.m. and Li at around 3 p.m. Although the wind was westerly, and we mostly stayed east of the south ridge, it was still windy all the way. After passing the 7,130m col, the route became more exposed to wind, and it was hard to stay on my feet. The temperature on the summit might have been -20°C; the wind was wild, and high tufts of cloud occasionally dimmed the sun. I could not expose my nose and lips for more than half a minute before they went numb.

We returned to our shelter, melted some snow for a drink, and then started down at 4:30 p.m. We reached the top of the south-southwest spur at sundown, then down-climbed the spur in the dark. Li Lan later told me that one of her crampons came loose in the middle of the steep section, but being on a few centimeters of hard snow over ice, she was afraid to stop and fix it, so she just continued down with it dangling. She reached the 6,050m camp at around 11 p.m. We then ate, slept till noon, continued down, and hitchhiked back to Lhasa.