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The headwall portion of American Standard (65 degree ice, 1060m), Lara Shan (5700m), Qionglai Mountains, Sichuan, China. Joe Puryear, Chad Kellogg and Jay Janousek made the first ascent of this peak on April 18. Due to a family emergency, Puryear and Kellogg were unable to attempt Mt. Siguniang (6250m), just south of Lara Shan, which the pair named in remembrance of Kellogg’s wife. [Photo] Joseph Puryear

Chad Kellogg and I recently returned from our expedition to the Qionglai Mountains, Sichuan, China, where we hoped to climb Mt. Siguniang (6250m). We were unable to attain our ultimate goal, but we managed to make the first ascent of a new peak immediately north of Siguniang before a family emergency–Chad’s wife Lara died tragically in the Alaska Range while we were in China–brought our trip to an untimely end.

The unnamed 5700-meter peak had been attempted several times by the Chinese and by Charlie Fowler on one of his many forays into the valley. Thanks to the McNeill/Nott Award from the American Alpine Club, I was able to return to the Qionglai to attempt the mountain with Chad and our good friend, Jay Janousek.

We arrived in China on April 4, and after reaching base camp (ca. 12,000′) in the Changping Valley, we spent six days, from April 14-19, climbing a convoluted ice and glacier route from the west. The first half of the climb involved hiking up and into a narrow hanging valley due west of the peak to reach our high camp (ca. 15,200′). These three days were relatively short, but important, as we needed to acclimatize.

After a day of unsettled weather, we began our final push early in the morning on April 18. A 700-foot narrow snow couloir beside a jumbled glacier ice-fall provided a perfect keyhole to reach the 650-meter main face. We running-belayed all but a couple pitches of steep glacial ice. Luckily, crevasse problems were minimal, but a large serac band lower on the face put us into serious objective hazard. We avoided problems by sprinting across and under. We were then partially exposed to two higher seracs (that were huge but appeared less active) on the lower half of the headwall. Several steep but short ice steps provided fun cruxes higher up, allowing us to top out the main headwall (ca. 18,000′) onto a large plateau. One major crevasse problem led to snow and ice-slogging up the summit pyramid. We reached the top, where it was perfectly clear and windless, in the early afternoon. It was so clear, in fact, that we could just make out Gonnga Shan (Minya Konka, 7556m) in the far distance to the south. Gonnga Shan is the highest peak in the Sichuan, the easternmost 7000-meter peak in the world, and the third highest peak outside of the Himalaya and Karakoram. It was once thought to be the highest peak in the world. On the descent we made twelve full 60-meter rappels, and downclimbed, to reach our high camp just as the sun was setting.

We named the route American Standard (65 degree ice, 1060m). A few days of unsettled weather allowed us to rest and prepare for our bid on Siguniang, but alas we had to leave. We would like to propose that the previously unnamed peak bear the name Lara Shan, after our good friend, Chad’s wife, Lara Karena Kellogg.

The three of us were glad we climbed in the Qionglai this spring, as access to the mountains will change dramatically over the next couple of years, if not the next couple of months. The Chinese government is actively promoting the area for tourism, and Rilong is undergoing major changes. The small mountain road from Chengdu to Rilong is under development to become a super-highway to handle the expected onslaught of visitors. Many of the residents of Rilong are being compulsorily removed from their homes in the main area of town, where the government wants to build hotels and other large tourist facilities. There are also plans to build a gondola up to a sacred hilltop where several stupas look out toward Mt. Siguniang.

Other changes already implemented are the reconstruction and expansion of a three kilometer boardwalk system that leads into the main Changping Valley. It would not be surprising if this boardwalk one day extended all the way (seventeen kilometers) into the meadow at the main base camp area. The Shuangqiao-gou Valley, just west of the Chang Ping, a few years ago received a paved road that leads several kilometers to its head. While providing excellent climbing access, we must also consider the environmental and social impacts of these roads and developments.

Chad Kellogg and Jay Janousek enjoying the apex of their first ascent on the summit of Lara Shan, Qionglai Mountains, Sichuan, China. [Photo] Joseph Puryear