American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Yangmolong (6,080m GPS), North Buttress

Asia, China, Shaluli Shan

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Jon Otto
  • Climb Year: 2011
  • Publication Year: 2012

Reaching the summit of Yangmolong was the accumulation of three years’ effort. In 2009 we attempted the south side, but unseasonably warm conditions made climbing unsafe. Rocks and ice raining down on the party from the summit ridge forced a hasty retreat (AAJ 2010). Later we were inspired by photos of the mountain’s north face published by Dave Wynne-Jones after his 2009 trip. It looked attractive but there was one small problem: locals were stopping climbers going up the main northern valley, preventing direct access to the mountain’s eastern and northern sides.

We returned in 2010, this time pioneering a complex approach to the north side that would avoid ethnic problems but required traversing a difficult 5,100m col. We attempted a rock and ice spur below the summit [inspected by Japanese and British], but heavy snowfall prevented progress above 5,400m.

In October 2011 it took over 20 hours of driving from Chengdu, on dirt roads that were in constant repair, and two long days of walking over the pass, down 400m, and up again to the base of the route. In many ways getting to the mountain posed more challenges than the actual climb. In Chengdu Tim Boetler had become deadly ill with a supposedly blocked intestine and was in the hospital on an IV drip for three nights. This delayed our departure by a week, but Tim was miraculously with us when we left Chengdu. A couple of days later a large sand truck lost its brakes and smashed into the front of our jeep, causing further delays. Near the trailhead at Gongba, west of the mountain, I had an accident while catching a ride on a local’s motorcycle, which almost put an abrupt end to my climb. (The driver was waving to friends and forgot to steer.) We contemplated turning around several times, but something kept us moving forward.

After a rest day at our base camp at 4,880m, Tim, Liu Yong (Daliu), Su Rongqin (Asu), and I returned to the line we all tried in 2010. The only relatively safe route is a buttress that splits the lower half of the north face. Overhanging crevasses block the rest, and in 2010 we witnessed an avalanche that took out the entire left side of the face. The technical climbing started at 5,150m.

We got onto the ridge by climbing a frozen scree and snow slope, then climbed several pitches of mixed rock and snow. The rock was loose and blocky, and it was impossible not to send chunks down on your buddies. Above 5,500m it was sustained snow and ice (up to 70°) to the summit. We camped at 5,370m and 5,780m. In the upper section we climbed with running belays, for efficiency. We reached the top mid-afternoon on day three and returned to our second camp that night. Next day we regained base camp, the roundtrip occurring in a weather window between two storms. Difficulties were probably around TD, 5.6 WI3 M4, and while established sources quote a summit altitude of 6,060m or 6,066m, our GPS read 6,080m.

Yangmolong was not the most technically challenging alpine route I’ve done, but it takes the cake for something I’d call discovery factor. I’ve never spent so much time researching and analyzing a feasible

route, best time of year to climb, weather, approach, etc. There was so little known about this area. And what I found most impressive was not the climbing but the small monasteries tucked high up in the valleys, the local Tibetans’ livelihood, and religious practices.

Adapted from text supplied by Jon Otto, AAC

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