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First Ascent of Siguniang Southwest Ridge

The southwest ridge of Siguniang (6250m) was summited in eight days by Dylan Johnson and Chad Kellogg. [Photo] Dylan Johnson

From September 21 through 30, Chad Kellogg and I completed the first ascent of the southwest ridge of Siguniang (6250m), Changping Valley, China. The route began with 2,500 feet of steep rainforest, weaving through cliff bands to the base of a granite wall at 14,200 feet. Making three bivis on the 2000-foot wall, we climbed a direct line through vertical crack systems with free climbing up to 5.11 and much A2 complicated by grass and moss in the cracks.

We topped out the wall after seventeen pitches in the middle of the fourth day, and from this point onward, the route changed to remarkable alpine ridge climbing while the weather deteriorated to white out fog and snow flurries. The rest of day four and all of day five were spent navigating the crest, weaving between dozens of gendarmes. This rock ridge, which we dubbed “The Rake”(after a similar peak in our local Cascade Mountains), ended at camp 5 (16,800′) just before the notch below the upper mountain.

Throughout day six the weather worsened to sleet with near zero visibility as we ascended through the notch and up a 500-foot verglassed rock step. The notch itself proved to be the crux of The Rake, with several outrageously slender gendarmes and much snow-covered rock. We chopped camp 6 (17,400′) into the hanging glacier above the rock step.

Day seven included the mixed climbing crux of the route, two pitches of snowy rock (M5) to gain the crest above the seracs on the north side of the ridge. The weather continued to provide snow flurries and no visibility. We enjoyed absolutely classic alpine ridge climbing for the second half of the day. Hundreds of meters of happy cowboys (riding the crest like a bull) on both snow and rock, hooking tools on the crest, and navigating rocks and cornices. Camp 7, on a glacial shelf at 18,300 feet, offered the first flat ground we’d set foot on since base camp.

The two climbers encountered several sections of ridgeline which required them to straddle as they traversed. [Photo] Dylan Johnson

On the morning of day eight (despite being three days behind schedule) we cached our camp and set off for the summit amid yet another whiteout. We were quite thankful the ridge was so well defined, as we could climb in poor weather and stay on route. Snow and ice runnels bisecting the upper rock steps led to a happy cowboy finale followed by a mixed traverse on the south face. By mid afternoon we reached the summit seracs. A short vertical ice pitch provided access to the upper snow slopes, and we traversed north under the false summit, reaching the rimed summit at 4:35 p.m. Promptly encouraged by the darkening wall of hate boiling and flashing to the west, we began our descent. Just before dark we reached the happy cowboy as the lightning storm worsened and drew close, striking the ridge several times directly above our heads. We took refuge on the mixed traverse south of the crest and waited for the lightening to subside. One hour later we dashed across the happy cowboy and continued rappelling towards our high camp cache. By 11:00 p.m., at 19,000 feet in stormy weather, we could not find the gully leading down to the high camp cache. We spent the night climbing and down climbing the sixty-degree snow in an attempt to stay warm. At dawn, both encrusted in rime ourselves, the clouds parted and we saw the route down to high camp.

Chad Kellogg after a long night out at 20,000 feet. [Photo] Dylan Johnson

Delighted to find our cache and finally get some improving weather, we gathered our things and started to rappel the south face from a point directly below our high camp. Nine days into our seven-day supply, reversing the ridge to the cache to descend the gully south of the notch was out of the question. The climbing separating us from the cache was much more difficult and time consuming than we had expected. After approximately thirty rappels with our skinny alpine rack we touched down on the glacier at 15,600 feet with no pins, four stoppers, three cams, no runners and about 15 feet of tat left on the rack.

Anxious to avoid another night in our soggy down bags, we opted to descend to base camp that night. At 10:30 p.m., in the pouring rain, we found ourselves hopelessly lost in the brush at 14,200 feet. Lacking flat ground, we built a crude stone ledge in the talus, pitched the tent and settled in for a final, miserable night (forty-two hours had passed since our last bivi and fifty-two since our last meal).

The tenth day we hiked down to the Changping Valley, getting cliffed out in several locations and having to cross a gorge at 13,600 feet. The yak trail, as we saw from below, is on the north side of the valley, along the base of the walls. We reached base camp that afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

I lost over 30 pounds during the climb, Chad over 20. The route followed one rest day after a six-day acclimatization climb, a second ascent of a nearby peak by a 3000-foot rock climb (5.8, 12 pitches) topping out at 19,000 feet. Spanning a six-day weather window, sixteen of seventeen consecutive days were spent climbing.