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New British Line on Unfrequented Dangchezhengla

In October a four-man British team made only the second attempt to climb Yangmolong in Western Sichuan, exploring the northern approaches in generally good but never clear weather. They failed in their attempt on this summit but managed to climb a new route on neighboring Dangchezhengla (5833m), making the probable third overall ascent of this peak.

Yangmolong (6066m) is the highest of a small group of snow peaks in the middle of the Shaluli Shan, north of the Genyen massif and immediately east of Batang on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. Three other main peaks make up the group: Dangchezhengla (referred to locally as Bongonzhong); Pt. 6033m (unnamed on maps though local people refer to it as Makara) on the ridge connecting Dangchezhengla with Yangmolong, and an unnamed Pt. 5850m to the northwest of Dangchezhengla.

The only previous attempt on Yangmolong also was made from the north, in 1991 by a Japanese expedition that was thwarted by avalanche-prone slopes. Kiyoaki Miyagawa and Junta Murayama made the first ascent of Dangchezhengla in June 2002. This pair was part of a four-man Japanese team that approached the south side of the mountain from Batang and fixed ropes through the ice fall to the 5565-meter col between Dangchezhengla and Pt. 6033m. Most of the Japanese members were not in the full flush of youth (Miyagawa was 61) and decided that attempting either Pt. 6033m, or Yangmolong over the top of 6033m, was too difficult. Instead, they concentrated on Dangchezhengla. After climbing a 500-meter face of steep ice on the right (north) side of the east ridge above the col, they rejoined the corniced summit ridge and followed it to the highest point.

The second ascent was made in March 2007 by a Chinese team. Although it is believed they approached from the south, it is not certain which route they followed. However, what is known is that during the descent from a successful summit bid, lead climber Liu Xinan fell around 300 meters and died of his injuries. Although largely unknown outside his own country, Liu Xinan was one of China’s top climbers and winner of China’s National Sport climbing competition in 2000. Amongst other climbs, in 2005 he had made the third ascent of the difficult Celestial Peak in Siguniang National Park via a new route.

The British quartet of Steve Hunt, veteran Himalayan climber Dick Isherwood, Peter Rowat and the expedition organizer Dave Wynne-Jones walked south down the Sanchu valley and eventually established an advanced base at 4900m below the glacier descending the northwestern flanks of Yangmolong. At this point Isherwood developed breathing problems and was subsequently unable to climb above 5000 meters. The remaining three acclimatized by making the first ascent of Pt. 5600m, a fine snow peak south of Pt. 5850m. The grade was PD.

After a day’s rest the three climbed the north face of Dangchezhengla. They first ascended a rocky buttress south of the main glacier to gain a snow ridge leading to a steep foresummit. Here, their new line joined the 2002 Japanese route. The summit ridge proved tricky and at one point involved a 70-meter pitch of deep unconsolidated snow, which Wynne-Jones led by burrowing up to his shoulders. The corniced ridge continued: sometimes the snow was crusted but hollow to a depth of about a foot. Tip-toeing the break line, they eventually arrived at the highest point. The grade of the ascent was estimated to be D.

Climbing was then put on hold for a week by cold, snowy weather. A camp was subsequently established at 5100m on the most easterly glacier descending north from Yangmolong. From this camp Hunt and Wynne-Jones made a valiant attempt on the north spur falling almost directly from the main summit. It wasn’t to be. Poor conditions, extreme cold and a threatening storm turned them around at 5400m. With a few days left the team opted for a circumambulation of the mountain, traversing valleys south, west and then northwest to end up at Dangba (aka Dongba, 2690m) on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. They were most likely the first westerners to make this trip through beautiful and varied country. Although the main goal was not attained, the team is still one of few to successfully summit a named peak in the Shaluli Shan via a new route.

Source: Dave Wynne-Jones