American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Qiajajima Range, Gujon Ri (5,490m) and the Mekong headwaters

China, Qinghai

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Sergi Ricart, Spain
  • Climb Year: 2013
  • Publication Year: 2014

The Mekong River, the 10th longest in the world, rises in the historically Tibetan province of Kham and flows ca 4,350km to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. It's hard to believe that its source was not reached until 1994, but it lies hidden in a remote and unknown massif of south Qinghai. The Japanese explorer Tom Nakamura feels its discovery solved "one of the world's last great geographical mysteries."

Since 1994, seven or eight primarily scientific expeditions have visited, and in 2007 geographers reached an agreement that the true source (33°42’38.8” N, 94°41’45.4” E) lies 5,175m, at the base of a glacier running northeast from a peak named on maps as Guozongmucha (5,490m). This summit is situated in the northwestern part of a large range of peaks. The highest, toward the southeastern end, is referred to as Qiajajima I (5,930m, climbed in 2004 by Japanese).

In 2011 I traveled to this region but was not able to access the source from villages to the east. Instead, I explored other mountains in the Kham region of west Sichuan (AAJ 2012).

After our climbs in Sichuan's Shaluli Shan (reported elsewhere in this edition) M'Paz Garrido left for home, while Josito Fernandez, Dani Martin, and I crushed our bums for four long days of travel northwest to the town of Zadoi (Drito) in Qinghai. It was the start of high season for picking caterpillar fungus, and we were fortunate to find a taxi driver willing to take us 70km west toward the mountains. Snow blocked the dirt road at 4,700m. On May 11 we shouldered heavy sacks and started walking, camping the first night at 4,790m. On the 12th, after crossing a broad col at 4,925m, we descended to a wide valley and camped at 4,883m. On day three we passed a shepherds' camp, crossed a 5,163m pass southeast of Jify Shan (5,552m), and descended to the Lasawuma Valley, below the Mekong source, making our third camp at 5,089m. On the 14th we moved south to the Mekong source at the foot of the glacier, where we built a cairn. We then climbed the northeast spur of Guozongmucha (500m, PD– 45-50°) to the summit at 33°42'18" N, 94°41'27" E. We had completed our romantic quest of reaching the “real” source of the Mekong, the point where the first drop of the river forms. We named our route El Rio de la Vida [the summit reached was the 5,490m northwest top, directly above the Mekong source; the southeast top is higher at 5,514m].

We returned to camp and the next day started back the way we had come. At the Khampas' shepherd camp we were invited for tea, and on showing pictures of the mountain we had climbed, were told with complete conviction that this was not named Guozongmucha, but Gujon Ri. According to local people, Guozongmucha (on some maps called Saitso Shan) lies to the northwest of Gujon Ri and rises to 5,632m (5,685m Russian Map).

We continued our journey, eventually meeting our driver on the dirt road after a total of six days and 103km of walking. A full report with maps, photos, and topos is available as a download. 

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Photos and Topos Click photo to view full size and see caption