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Looking down valley from Ben Clark and Josh Butson’s camp at around 3500 meters in the Quonglai mountains of China’s Sichuan Province. When the pair were denied a permit for Mt. Siguniang (6250m), the prominent peak in the distance, they changed their objective to the nearby Changping Goa Valley, where they climbed The Falcon (ca. 18,000′), a previously unclimbed and unnamed summit north of Siguniang and Celestial Peak, and attempted a new route on the Camel (ca. 18,000′).
[Photo] Ben Clark

After Ben Clark and Josh Butson’s permit to climb Mt. Siguniang (6250m) in the Quonglai mountains in Western China’s Sichuan Province was denied by Chinese officials in October, 2006, the pair salvaged their trip with a visit to the neighboring Changping Goa Valley. This area, accessible via Rilong township, engaged them for a month (October 6 to November 3) of climbing adventures.

Clark and Butson’s first climb was The Falcon (ca. 18,000′), a previously unclimbed and unnamed summit north of Siguniang and Celestial Peak. The pair made the ascent (AI3+ 50 degrees, 6,000′) on October 11 as a storm cycle kicked into gear, inhibiting their visibility.

Ben Clark seconding a fine pitch of M6 at around 18,000 feet on the Camel. Clark and Butson climbed 1,400 feet of terrain up to AI5+ 5.7 M8 before being turned back by weather. [Photo] Josh Butson

Even better climbing–and more severe weather–absorbed the pair on their next attempt, on The Camel (ca. 18,000′). The pair climbed terrain up to AI5+ 5.7 M8 for 1,400 feet before weather caught up with them ca. 1,000 feet from the summit. Undeterred by the lack of a summit, Clark called the climbing to their highpoint “the most technical mixed climbing that the Changping Goa has ever seen,” with long snice runouts and “weird hoarish AI5+ ice that disintegrated as we climbed it and left a blank dihedral in its wake.”

Their impromptu reconnaissance has motivated the pair to return in the future for more unclimbed lines in the area. Clark said he’s most excited about a 1000-meter long ridge on the nearby Celestial Peak, south of The Falcon, after their successes in October. “The Changping Goa might just very well be the only place on earth where two people looking for adventure could find an unclimbed route of that quality, and an experience of that intensity, at that time of year…and come home.”

Clark had spent many days in the San Juans and the desert southwest with Charlie Fowler, the renowned climber who disappeared in the Genyen Region of the same Chinese province in December.

A mountain podcast of Clark and Butson’s trip is available at:

Josh Butson cruising through the lower reaches of the Changping Goa valley on the four day approach to the Camel (ca. 18,000′), visible in the background. [Photo] Ben Clark