American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Nideng Gongga (5,690m), West Glacier and South Face

Asia, China, Shaluli Shan

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Tim Church
  • Climb Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

Our initial plan was to explore valleys and the previously unattempted mountains in the Xiangqiuqieke Massif. In particular we wanted to try the second highest summit, 5,867m Xiangqiuqieke (the highest, an unnamed peak of 5,870m, lies nearly three kilometers to the southeast).

We arrived at Baige-xi, located near Batang on the G318 State Highway. Despite problems faced by a previous Japanese reconnaissance party, which was advised by the district secretary not to enter the approach valley west of the village, as the locals would prove unwelcoming, we were permitted access by Land Cruiser on a recently built gravel road. We received a friendly welcome from the villagers of Menzhen, who supplied horses to carry our gear for two short days up to a base camp at 4,500m, south of Xiangqiuqieke.

After several days of reconnaissance to find a suitable ascent route, we were preparing our last load carry when we received word that the village elders were voicing concerns about us climbing in a holy mountain range. To avoid conflict we abandoned our plans and left the valley to find other climbing possibilities.

In keeping with the spirit of our original intent, we were determined to go to another unexplored area. From Tom Nakamura’s documentation we knew that Asa and Hari, south of Haga La, had not been attempted. However, we again encountered resistance by locals, who, in the light of recent mineral exploration, were sensitive to strangers.

Finally we headed for Zhopu Pasture, which our liaison officer, Lenny, knew well from previous expeditions. We stayed four days at Zhopu Monastery, using it as a base to reconnoiter several promising unclimbed peaks in the area. Autumn was settling in, and there were snow falls each night. We eliminated two unclimbed peaks north of Zhopu Lake, as their approaches were long, and there seemed no attractive lines. Eventually we decided on an unclimbed peak to our south, immediately northwest of Xiashe (5,833m). After their successful ascent of Xiashe in 2004, Pat Deavoll and Karen McNeill had recommended this peak as one of three interesting unclimbed summits in the area. The other two, Hati and Garrapunsum (the highest point of the Jarjinjabo), had since been climbed.

We explored valley systems on the south side of the mountain and found a suitable site for base camp at 4,600m. Although the valley was stunning, the site was not so scenic, being in an area of mining exploration. The access road was too steep for our small hired vans, so several motorbikes were required to complete the load carry.

With a good weather window, we decided to make a summit attempt directly from base camp. We set off at 3 a.m. and were surprised to find the lower part of the climb, which we had seen from camp, connected with a glacier on the far side of the prominent northwest ridge. At daybreak we crossed a narrow col 400m above camp and walked onto the glacier. Roped, we negotiated a number of crevasses, most of the 1,100m of ascent being more straightforward than expected. Deep powder from recent snowfalls made progress slow, and we eventually reached the summit from the south, as rock quality on the west ridge was poor. This, combined with unconsolidated snow, made the climbing treacherous. The final 200m provided more technical snow/ice climbing, excess snow having avalanched from the slope the previous day. Finally we burrowed through a small cornice and topped out on a beautiful knife-edge ridge. We only needed to follow this for 50m before reaching the summit, nine hours after setting out. Local Tibetans call this peak Nideng Gongga, and from its top we enjoyed an amazing panorama, including the Yangmolong Massif to the southwest and our original objective, Xiangqiuqieke, to the south.

Nideng Gongga is highly prominent when viewed from the monastery and access road, but Lenny thought it was unclimbed. Subsequent research revealed one unsuccessful attempt, in October 2005 by British climber Tom Prentice. He attempted the northeast ridge while the two other members of his expedition climbed Xiashe (AAJ 2006). We have found no reports of subsequent attempts. Our expedition lasted from September 19 till October 20, and we received generous funding and support from the Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) Hillary Grant, and New Zealand Alpine Club.

Tim Church and Yvonne Pfluger, New Zealand

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