Trip Report
Gangga VII 2014 (China/Sichuan-Tibet) quite long/crap photos
Monday December 1, 2014 1:02am
in September/October 2014 our team of 6 went to the Gangga range in NW Sichuan province of China to attempt an unnamed, unclimbed and barely recorded peak at 5420m. (note, this range is not to be confused with the well known Gonga or Konka peaks in central west Sichuan province).
we originally put together the idea after consulting with Tomatsu Nakamura the Japanese explorer, and the logistics, on-mountain leading and planning was provided by Iceclimbingjapan, a company in Japan that provides logistics for climbers going to Japan and China.
Gangga VII. the main peak is the to the left, the couloir connects the...
Gangga VII. the main peak is the to the left, the couloir connects the visible lower snow to the distant snow/ice steps below the notch.
Credit: pop.risk
being such obscure peaks meant planning took a lot of educated guesswork and assumption based on scant information. previous visits to the region provided a general idea of the area, but even with the help of local logistics providers, between us there was still a lot of gaps needing to be filled. one thing we did know was that the area was sensitive in regards to unrest amongst the Tibetans, and that foreigners hanging about for a month wouldn’t go unnoticed. to smooth things with the authorities we had a translator and liaison officer from the China Mountaineering Association (CMA) with us, along with a stack of paperwork and permits.
China is vibrant, bustling and even on the Tibet Plateau, well supplie...
China is vibrant, bustling and even on the Tibet Plateau, well supplied
Credit: pop.risk
from Chengdu we drove for 2 long days up onto the northern Tibet plateau, reaching the frontier town of Ganzi where we spent a few days stocking up and acclimatizing (Ganzi sits at about 3500m).
From Ganzi the central Gangga massif is only about 45mins away – incredible considering it was effectively unexplored – meaning we could recce for a BC site and return to town. asking about town revealed almost no local interest in the peaks, that tho despite being spectacular, weren’t viewed as somewhere anyone felt like going except the nomads who travelled down the valleys connecting the high plateau to the Yalong River valley.
the Central Gangga Massif from Ganzi. Gangga VII is the prominent peak...
the Central Gangga Massif from Ganzi. Gangga VII is the prominent peak in the center
Credit: pop.risk
Nomadic groups cross thru the Gangga range between the upper plateau a...
Nomadic groups cross thru the Gangga range between the upper plateau and the Yalong valley
Credit: pop.risk
after weighing up our options we settled on establishing BC in a meadow beside a small spring and at the base of the scree and rock that let us access the southern and south eastern sides of peak 5420m which we came to refer to as Gangga VII (being the 7th highest in the entire range of about 40 peaks over 5000m – no others attempted either).
being China, BC was comfortable and well supplied – plenty of pork, beer, coffee and vegetables which are often hard to find in other Asian climbing areas.
Credit: pop.risk
Basecamps in China are well stocked, comfortable and inviting. Like Ch...
Basecamps in China are well stocked, comfortable and inviting. Like Chinese homes, life is centered around the food.
Credit: pop.risk
the final days of the Asian monsoon made the first week patchy, but allowed us enough time to put in a high camp at 4500m, about 500m from the base of the ‘real’ climbing. HC was in a large cwm ringed by +5200m peaks and walls, on a vast plain of scree. incredible views in every direction presented mountains perhaps unseen before us. if not for the strictness and cost of Chinese climbing permits we could have been on a new peak every day for a month.
Highcamp in the cirque. Gangga VII is approached up the slope to the r...
Highcamp in the cirque. Gangga VII is approached up the slope to the right.
Credit: pop.risk

something apparent from the moment we arrived was the complexity of the range’s geography. a bit similar to the Charakusa, the Gangga is composed of layers of spires and sharp ridges that create mazes that make any approach or route far from direct. instead of having distinct faces, peaks in the central Gangga massif have headwalls that sit behind complex chutes, with most routes twisting from one aspect of the peak around to another rather than forming a direct line. this became a striking element when weather came in as a couloir would collect snow from more than one side of the mountain and channel it downwards.
Gangga VII’s northern aspect
Gangga VII’s northern aspect
Credit: pop.risk

the route we first chose was a seemingly obvious gully of snow slopes connected by ice and rock steps that would from the SE round to the northern side of the mountain – that large chunks of it were unobservable was just accepted. a 500m approach on scree lead into the first pitches there were mostly rock, becoming more and more snow-filled and iced as it got higher, narrower and turned towards the northern aspect, and therefore colder.
The initial scree to the base of the real climbing. The couloir winds ...
The initial scree to the base of the real climbing. The couloir winds up around the right.
Credit: pop.risk

each pitch was run to a full 60m rope length, with minimal gear and a few pitches were extended with a second rope (the lack of gear made this easy…). protection was mostly small stuff hammered into varying rock (mostly crap tho some good stuff too) and occasional decent cams (hooray for the yellow alien). the ice only took shorter screws and we used a lot of beaks (including a middle sized pecker that took a 6m fall) and spectres (sometimes hammered into frozen sand).
to save time with a large team we sometimes fast-fixed and the others jugged whilst the next pitch went up. this meant a lot of people on the anchors, so they had to be bombproof, which worked out well as we retreated on them and could rap two at a time off.
Jugging the lower pitches. We fast-fixed some pitches for speed but di...
Jugging the lower pitches. We fast-fixed some pitches for speed but didn’t have any full-fixed ropes sections
Credit: pop.risk

A good example of the gear: blades in small stuff, finger-sized cams i...
A good example of the gear: blades in small stuff, finger-sized cams into bigger stuff and beaks hammered into anything else.
Credit: pop.risk
a big issue when in the couloir was it was impossible to see out and determine which of the maze of possibilities to take. due to the big blindspots when viewed from afar we had no indicators to go by for the middle of the route, so were aiming for a series of exposed snow fields where we transitioned round to the northern side (and where we also had a blindspot to the summit). occasional glimpses out between spires showed us we were indeed making the turn round the peaks eastern side, but after 15hrs and ascending 1250m from BC, including 8 big pitches we were stuck in a narrow gully under a series of overhanging mixed steps. group moral had ebbed as things were much harder than expected and with nowhere to shelter from the ice the leader knocked down the risks of injury were getting everyone stressed.
we called it there as the snow started and 9 rappels and stumbling down 500m of scree later arrived back at highcamp at midnight.
our first highpoint (+/-5150m). steep, crusty snow and rotten ice.
our first highpoint (+/-5150m). steep, crusty snow and rotten ice.
Credit: pop.risk

after a few days back in BC we decided to try a route that was spotted on the southern face, up the only non-spire-infested aspect we could get onto. from HC this was another hour or two up the scree and a 4am start got us there as daylight offered enough light to see what was ahead.
using the plan to fast-fix where necessary we wanted to get everyone up onto the face as fast as possible, but as sunlight hit the rock what started as a few random pings became a shooting gallery of head-sized rocks hurtling down. it wasn’t long before we were back in HC and then BC, juggling ideas that we seemed to be running out of. this was made no better after recceing the peaks northern side to find it was not only even more complex with deeper couloirs, but off limits due to a construction project and a gold mine.
The south face of our second attempt. Note the water streaks as the su...
The south face of our second attempt. Note the water streaks as the sun hits the rock.
Credit: pop.risk

with time ticking we decided to return to the first route we tried, choosing this on the back of a weather change that had turned much colder and clearer. this time we left from HC and had a lot of the anchors in place, tho we had to dig for them after a week of intermittent snowfall.
the approach was much faster as were the initial pitches, as now hard snow covered what was before exposed and sometimes loose rock. this meant we could simu-climb what previously needed jugging and some mixed sections were now entirely ice and neve. of course wed had a week more at altitude so were better acclimated.
Belaying pitch 9
Belaying pitch 9
Credit: pop.risk

we reached out earlier high point at about midday to find things were still very steep but were better formed. 2 full pitches of impressive mixed climbing bought us into ever more vertical terrain that was becoming more ice than snow, and our elusive stack of snow fields seemed to never arrive. time was going with more and more technical climbing and at the top of pitch 10 wed ground to a halt. above was a long overhanging chimney of thin ice that looked hard for 2000m, never mind 5300m. compounded by being a large group we called it a second time, with maybe only 4 pitches above us. that said, 2 of those pitches were into totally unseen territory of who knows what.
with the gear we had left we made our anchor using multiple v-threads into thin ice, tied off ice columns and micro wires into frozen rock. everyone agreed that the gradual decline in anchor quality made the pain of retreat a degree less.
The overhang of thin ice at the top of pitch 10. By this time we were ...
The overhang of thin ice at the top of pitch 10. By this time we were too burned out to take it on – not a bad choice considering the storm no one had forseen.
Credit: pop.risk

by the second rap an unforeseen storm front hit that made the choice to retreat easily the better one. insane amounts of spindrift were being channeled into the couloir from several sides of the peak and a trickle of cascading snow became thigh deep faster than expected, made worse as the narrow gully we were descending went thru a series of bottlenecks that meant plunging thru the stream. as we descended the collected snow became deeper, and after several freaky moments where it looked like we may have to wait things out on ledges we managed to get below the cloud base where at least we could see each other. from here we traversed out of the flow and down several rock steps then the long stumble back down the scree to HC. burned out and frazzled we dropped into our tents to eat and sleep.
Gangga VII after snow (main peak behind)
Gangga VII after snow (main peak behind)
Credit: pop.risk

after the days snow any further attempts on the peak were over. there wasn’t the time to recoup, and a second dump the following afternoon sealed the decision. the last days were spent deconstructing BC and a recce trip further down the valley where we checked out some awesome possibilities for next years trip that included huge ice falls and +1000m walls.
A cool looking peak (c. 5200m) further down the valley.
A cool looking peak (c. 5200m) further down the valley.
Credit: pop.risk

returning to Ganzi we showered, ate, hung out at the monastery and repacked everything for the trip home. after a densely scheduled couple of weeks 2 days watching the Tibetan plateau go by the car window was welcome, and the urban delights of Chengdu entertaining to return to.
The drive out was a good time for decompression and rest.
The drive out was a good time for decompression and rest.
Credit: pop.risk

so we returned to Chengdu without a summit, but with all our fingers and toes. no one was too upset as elusive as a summit may be, going somewhere truly unexplored in this day and age is perhaps even rarer. wed been the first in an entire range to attempt anything and wed come away with data that added a small piece to knowledge of the planet. we also checked out dozens of other excellent routes that await.
Rob’s topo of the route.
Rob’s topo of the route.
Credit: pop.risk

wed like to thank Polartec, Teton Bros, Dynafit, Cassin and Zen Nutrition for providing elements of our equipment. trip concept, consultancy and planning was by iceclimbingjapan (see iceclimbingjapan.com for more details of this trip)









  Trip Report Views: 3,591
pop.risk
About the Author
pop.risk lives in japan and climbs all over asia

Comments
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Dec 1, 2014 - 03:22am PT
Ho wow Great!! that is as good and far off the grid as it gets!!
great post and showing the out there is out there!
Shows that imagination is well rewarded.
congrats on a fabulous adventure !!
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Dec 1, 2014 - 06:08am PT
Wow, amazing. Too bad you didn't summit, but you got full value, especially for such a short expedition--just a couple of weeks?

Well done.

BAd
Grippa

Trad climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Dec 1, 2014 - 09:27am PT
Hell fucing yes!
Studly

Trad climber
WA
  Dec 1, 2014 - 12:14pm PT
Way rad!
pop.risk

Ice climber
japan
Author's Reply  Dec 1, 2014 - 01:51pm PT
cool, thanks for the interest and sifting thru the report.
yeah really off the grid. despite being near habitation theres zero climbing industry to pave the way out there. no dollar-a-day locals to carry stuff etc.

too right the trip was short - way too short. we also spent a fair chunk of time just finding the mountain, again - zero data (the google earth images were taken in winter too so no use as snow over everything). the entire west side of the mountain is still unknown - as in truly unknown, no photos even exist.

plus we gained alt too fast to be in a sweet spot to climb as hard as needed. another 10 days would have been great. plus a heap more thin gear (we erred on taking mostly middle sized stuff because again - zero beta).
thats all excuses tho, really theres a degree of just being chicken. in China no helis coming if things go wrong, and 2 days from anyone who could do anything about it. takes a while to get comfortable in new places.

back next year with bigger plans. these places dont come by every day.
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Dec 1, 2014 - 02:03pm PT
Awesomeness is upon you!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Dec 2, 2014 - 05:15pm PT
A great write up, and an experience you will remember for ever!!!!
moacman

Trad climber
Montuckyian Via Canada Eh!
  Dec 2, 2014 - 06:01pm PT
Very nice....Thanx for sharing your trip.........

Stevo
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Dec 2, 2014 - 06:07pm PT
Now that is an adventure. TFPU
Ed H

Trad climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Dec 2, 2014 - 08:47pm PT
Great report! What an adventure! TFPU
pop.risk

Ice climber
japan
Author's Reply  Dec 3, 2014 - 04:41pm PT
cool to see the positive responses.

trips like this have a real 'iceberg' quality in that the climbing part is on top of all the planning and logistics that comes with no beta. a lot of what goes on is speculating on multiple scenarios and loads of contingency. differs a lot from more known places (ie almost everywhere else) because the very basics havent been answered yet.

really its a tale of logistics and mitigation, but that doesnt make for as good reading as climbing!

thanks people
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
  Dec 3, 2014 - 05:09pm PT
Nice!!!

I was surprised, the sh#t for food, the Chinese take into the mountains.
ground_up

Trad climber
mt. hood /baja
  Dec 3, 2014 - 05:17pm PT
Awesome ! We don't see TR's like this everyday.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Dec 3, 2014 - 05:42pm PT
Good adventure.
The rock quality doesn't look so good; maybe that explains why it hasn't been visited much?
(What with so many granite mountains available in China).
pop.risk

Ice climber
japan
Author's Reply  Dec 3, 2014 - 05:42pm PT
oh yeah, the food is the biggest difference with pakistan, nepal, india, the pamir etc. you can get anything in china - literally anything. not just pork etc, but fresh food all the way. logistics revolves around this

solves one of the biggest factors as youre not stuck with a narrow choice.

chinese cooks too cook non-stop. always good stuff to eat, not arranged around a lean schedule.

no one lost weight.
pop.risk

Ice climber
japan
Author's Reply  Dec 3, 2014 - 05:48pm PT
rock wasnt brilliant but wasnt the worst either. this place is further up on the plateau than the granite belt. some other parts we checked out had better rock, including the north sides. a bit later and colder would have been better.

hasnt been climbing in because of permits mostly. we had a channel to sort that.
theres dozens of places like this in China, they dont get climbed because the organization process isnt easy and its relatively expense (tho you get much more for your $$$).

but if that means there will still be new places in the future fine by me.
crankster

Trad climber
No. Tahoe
  Dec 3, 2014 - 08:55pm PT
A grand adventure. Bravo.
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