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Haizi Shan (5833m) in the Daxue Shan, Sichuan, China. The line of the first ascent (crux of Scottish 4 mixed, ca. 1150m, Bass-Deavoll, October 2006) on the north face is marked. The ca. 5700-meter north summit, which has been reached at least three times, is the rounded snow dome to the left, and the previous high point (Cohen-Isherwood, 2004) was the broad saddle between this and the main top, the party having climbed more or less on the left skyline. [Photo] Malcolm Bass

British mountaineer Malcolm Bass and the New Zealand female alpinist Pat Deavoll have made a much-coveted first ascent of Haizi Shan (a.k.a Ja-ra or Yala–the King of the Mountains–5833m) in the northern Daxue Shan of Sichuan. Theirs was at least the seventh attempt on this isolated mountain but the first on the true north face, directly beneath the summit.

Fred Beckey had tried the mountain some years ago and left a cache near the foot of the peak. In 2003 Neil Carruthers from a Hong Kong based party reached the 5700-meter north summit in a long day from the glacier leading to the northeast ridge. The way ahead to the main summit looked long, fairly narrow and rather corniced, so retreat was sounded. The following year a British expedition tried to complete the ridge but after traversing the north summit, Geoff Cohen and Dick Isherwood retreated at the base of the final rise to the main top. In 2005 Isherwood returned but was unable to set foot on the mountain due to very heavy snowfall. However, a little later American Jon Otto and Chinese members of his Chengdu-based guiding company, Arete Alpine Instruction Center, attempted the rocky west-southwest ridge. The three-man party climbed difficult and often loose, snowy rock up to 5.10 and A0, before retreating from a point ca. 200m below the top. The legendary Beckey was back in early 2006 but members of his team could not improve on the height reached on the northeast ridge by Cohen and Isherwood two years previously. The final arete was proving a problem and if good conditions ever materialized, the obvious line up the north face, direct to the summit, would give the most logical solution.

Bass and Deavoll arrived at base camp on October 3 and were lucky to coincide their visit with a period of only one significant snow storm. Having discovered a rhododendron-free route to the basin below the wall via an objectively hazardous gully, the pair established an advanced base at 4500 meters, from which they climbed the face with one bivouac, sited at 5200 meters on a snow rib.

Leaving the tent in place they climbed into an open couloir right of the prominent ‘nose’ on the upper face and then followed this over snow, steep neve, and some mixed terrain up to Scottish 4 to the upper west ridge. The summit was reached at 3:30 p.m., and the route descended with six rappels and some down-climbing to regain the tent that night. Throughout their stay in China, the pair reported no bureaucratic hassles at all. The only troublesome action came from the permit providers, the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Mountaineering Association in Kanding, who took it upon themselves to ply the climbers with copious quantities of yak intestines and goose gizzards at a celebratory dinner.