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Tanja Grmovsek and I wanted to visit the Qionglai Mountains in China’s Szechwan Province in the spring of 2003, but due to the SARS outbreak we changed our plans to the autumn. In the second half of September we traveled to Rilong, a small tourist town at the foot of the Siguniang Shan part of the Qionglai Mountains. Our goal was to free climb the area’s large granite walls that were supposedly almost untouched by climbers. We didn’t have much information about the mountains in the area, but were inspired by Tamotsu Nakamura’s article and photos published in the 2000 American Alpine Journal. We were also a bit scared: bad weather and primarily unsuccessful attempts were reported by the few rock climbers who had visited the mountains. Because of this, we planned on very light and fast alpine ascents.

From Rilong we took a tourist bus on a paved road to the Shuangqiao Gou Valley. The valley is thirty-five kilometers long, with many interesting granite walls up to 1000 meters high; almost all are unclimbed. The access was very simple: we just got off the bus, made a base camp and then hiked for four to seven hours to the base of the walls. We had variable weather, but most days were without rain or snow. First we chose an easier, lower wall for acclimatization. On September 25, in a one-day push, we climbed the route Don’t Fly Away (V 5.11+/5.12-, 11 pitches, 450m) on the south face of a nameless, previously unclimbed peak that we called Tan Shan (4943m). We used only Friends for protection, which made the climbing serious at times, especially on the hardest pitch, which had a fifteen-meter runout on a smooth slab.

After some days of rest we went for our next goal. Fortunately, the snow on the 800-meter west face of Putala Shan (5428m) had almost melted, allowing us to take only climbing shoes, some clothes, bivy sacks and a small bottle of water. We climbed as fast as possible and reached the north summit of the mountain in the evening. We endured a freezing bivy on the summit and rappeled the wall the next day. We used only Friends and nuts for protection on the route, but left rappel anchors-mostly nuts and slings, but also bolts where necessary-on the wall. We called the wandering route Dalai Lama (V 5.11, 22 pitches, 800m). We also believe this to be the first ascent of the mountain.

Snow then came to the valley, concluding our climbing. There are still many interesting walls to climb, and we will probably return in the coming years.

— Andrej and Tanja Grmovsek, Maribor, Slovenia