Friday, November 25, 2011

Success in the Daxue Shan

We are back from China and happy to say that the trip was a complete success. Everything worked out incredibly smooth and Jeff and I were fortunate enough to make the 3rd ascent of Mt. Grosvenor via a new route.

Traveling to China was amazing and very different from the everyday life we are used to. The hospitality we were meet with was unlike anything I’ve ever experience.

Rural traffic jam

Moments after being kicked to the curb

Preparing for the approach

After 34 hours of travel we arrived in Chengdu, a city of 19 million people. Chengdu struck me as any other old city; used and abused and polluted. It has run down sections as well as very up scale places. We spent a day there before getting on a shuttle bus and heading for the city of Kangding, and then on to Laouylin. It was to be an 8-hour ride, but after a few traffic jams, drug on for 12 hours. On the outskirts of Kangding, our bus driver decided to call it quits. Within minutes, we found ourselves on the sidewalk beside our bags. Our L.O. quickly got us another ride and we were in Laouylin shortly.

Beginning the journey

Acclimatizing hike

The next morning the horses were loaded with packs and we began our trek into the mountains. The 15-mile journey was to be split into two days for the sake of acclimatizing. It took most of the first day to reach camp just under 13,000ft where that night, it dumped about 12 inches of snow. In the morning, with the new snow, the horseman refused to travel for fear of injuring their horses. Luckily that night no more snow fell and we were back on our way the next day. Half a day’s hike finally got us to base camp at 14,500ft.

Base camp

Organizing gear for the climb

The weather had turned nice to we quickly focused our attention to acclimatizing. A few day hikes here and there as well as making an advanced base camp got us acclimatized to around 17,000ft. We were feeling good and just waiting for a good weather window. On the morning of Oct. 24th we received conflicting weather reports, but despite the discrepancy, left for our high camp.

We woke to a star filled night and made the decision to climb. The snow cone at the base proved to be more exhausting that anticipated. Rather than firm snow to crampon up, I found myself in knee to crotch deep snow. Eventually the snow gave way to ice and we were back to a good pace. I eventually built a belay and Jeff took over the lead. We swapped simul-climbing pitches and soon found ourselves below a steep looking section. Jeff charged off and when the rope came tight, I followed. As he reached the steeps, his pace slowed and he moved with precision. After climbing unprotected for 60-70ft, he finally found some pro and topped out. I followed in amazement.

Zero light pollution

Local residents battling

We were now two long simul-pitches from our proposed bivy, so we made haste for the site. With the sun setting we reached our bivy and found it less than ideal. I pounded a picket while Jeff backed it up to an anchor above. We chopped a ledge to sit on, pulled our bags over us, and settled in for the night.

Base camp

Bouldering in camp

Jeff beginning the climb

In the morning light, we could see a weakness transecting the rock above. Delicate ice placements along with some dry-tooling got me through to the more moderate slope above. Jeff began simul-climbing and soon I reached another crux of steep rotten ice. Again, delicate climbing got me to a belay above. We swapped leads and Jeff headed for the last of our mystery pitches. When I reached him, the ice was awesome, nice and thick. Exhausted, I limped my way up the pitch. After about 2 hours I found a belay and brought Jeff up. Half frozen, he took the lead and headed for the ridgeline. Hopes of a bivi were crushed when I reached him and discovered we were on a knife-edge ridge. With no options, I continued up in search of somewhere to sleep. With daylight dwindling, I stopped at a rock buttress with nowhere to sit, but did provide a great anchor. We again chopped ice buckets and prepared for another miserable night.

A few pitches up

Nearing the crux

Bivi #1

The next morning was freezing, so rather than get cold cooking, we headed for the summit and morning sunshine. The last 120 meters were grueling, but eventually I was standing on top with Jeff. In the sun, we brewed up and prepared for the descent. It took the rest of the day to rappel the East face and find a camp.

A few pitches from the ridge

Jeff nearing the ridge

Looking down from the second bivi

We woke to high winds and were forced to break camp quickly. The entire day was spent slogging across the glaciers and moraine until we reached camp, nearly broken.

Cold temps and poor weather plagued the remainder of our time in camp. Eventually, our patience was worn thin and we decided to head back to town a few days early. For a couple of days, we hung out in the town of Kangding shopping and sightseeing. We made our way back to Chengdu where we had another day to kill before beginning out journey home. After 40 hours of travel, we very happily made it back to Missoula.

On the summit

Our route

The team

Monastery in Kangding

Buddhist shrine in Laouylin

Art in Kangding

Panda world research center in Chengdu