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Quick Overview - Mountains
Nochma5575 m
P. 4975.74976 m
Minya Konka7556 mup to 5340 m

Two Against the Clouds

Diary of our two-person expedition to Minya Konka (Gongga Shan, 7556 m), Sichuan, China
08 April - 20 May 2001

Claudia Bäumler and Hartmut Bielefeldt

Expedition Diary

Author: Hartmut Bielefeldt

Contents
  1. Preface
  2. Frankfurt - Bejing - Chengdu
  3. Chengdu - Kangding - Liuba (by car)
  4. Trekking from Liuba to the base camp
  5. at Minya Konka
  6. Trekking back to Zivilisation
  7. Drive Liuba - Chengdu
  8. Chengdu
  9. Beijing

[Preface]

Why a preface? Well, maybe because you never heard about this mountain. That's no shame, indeed. Nevertheless it is one of the very big ones. With an altitude of 7556 m it rises up far east of all other high mountains in the Chinese province Sichuan. In most overview maps of Asia, two mountains are included: Mount Everest and Minya Konka. Good reasons to have a closer look at this mountain. Since its first climb in 1932, only five expeditions have reached the summit. Until 2001, only 18 persons stood on top. In spring 2001, we attempt the seventh climb of this mountain. We, this is a two-person expedition, consisting of Claudia Bäumler and Hartmut Bielefeldt from Frickingen-Leustetten near Lake of Constance, Germany. The rest of this page consists of our expedition diary.

[Part 1: Frankfurt - Beijing - Chengdu] [Part 2]

Sunday, 08 April 2001 / Monday, 09 April 2001

Frankfurt - Beijing

Our flight Frankfurt-Beijing starts on Sunday evening at 21:15 with more than an hour of delay - due to overbooking. After a more or less restful night we are landing at 12:30 in Beijing (Peking). Customs formalities are quickly done, but very sobering is the English knowledge that even the airport personnel shows. How should that be in the province far away? Fortunately, we should have our interpreter for these things then.

Thanks to the internet printout, the hotel is quickly found. Since we have to leave early tomorrow, we chose a hotel near the airport. We take the airport bus to go downtown for sightseeing, this is definitely cheaper than a taxi. Along the main streets in the city we see mostly huge, clean hotel and company buildings, most of them newly built, everything very tidy. We don't stay long at Tiananmen, because it is rather cold with pouring rain.

Finally a supermarket is found, we can complete part of our supplies. Supper is more problematic, there is hardly any foreign restaurant, and reading a Chinese menu is beyond our skills at this time. Therefore, for this evening we have a soup kichen with pictures of the dishes.

It is not too easy to get back to the hotel. No success with the first taxi, either he cannot read the printout or he doesn't know the hotel. The second - more expensive1 - taxi finally brings us home.


1 In Beijing there are three classes of taxis, 1.20, 1.60, and 2.00 Yuan per kilometer. 8 Yuan are about 1 US$.

Tuesday, 10 April 2001

Beijing-Chengdu

The "European Style Breakfast" is basically restricted to the fact that people who don't really like a soy-noodle-soup in can find some kind of cookies.

After a three hour flight we arrive at Chengdu, immediately being welcomed by our liaison officer Mrs. Cheng and interpreter Tori. From here on, the SMA (Sichuan Mountaineering Association) will take care of us.

With about 3 million inhabitants, Chengdu is rather large. (The 3 million is the city area, the official community of Chengdu counts 10 millions). As in most other larger Chinese cities, there is no subway, and people are on the way by bus, car, taxi, or bicycle. The jammed streets are one thing, the Chinese driving style is another - based on the main philosophy: push as far as you can get. The intention to turn off can only be realized by decidedly rushing forward and therefore leaving no more space to the oncoming traffic, therefore the latter has to stop. Anything like flowing traffic is quite seldom in the city. As in Beijing, there are wide bicycle lanes. At crossroads, pedestrians should be extremely careful: The cars may turn right also at red lights (showing no foresight at all or even something like a respectful style of driving). Therefore, a green light doesn't mean that a pedestrian would reach the other side of the street with an acceptable risk.

Chengdu is generally not as tidy as Beijing, since it hasn't been so much involved into the construction surge as Beijing. (Beijing was especially spruced up for the 50th anniversary of the nation's foundation in 1999.)

Wednesday, 11 April 2001

Chengdu

The "Tibet Hotel" offers a much more abundant breakfast choice to the European traveler than the "Beijing Airport Garden". This morning we are doing the shopping in the supermarket (Carrefour), where we stock up on the needed supplies for the expedition. Although it is a French supermarket chain, the range of items is very much oriented to the Chinese market. For example, cheese is available only as very expensive imported items.

Now we have to fetch the cargo that we had sent to Chengdu last week. It contains of two plastic barrels containing ropes, equipment, and food supplies, altogether 50 kg. The freight company demands a fee of Y 450 Gebühren - it remains unclear if this is mainly their handling fee, the storage fees, or customs.

Since we were needed personally to fetch the barrels, the visit at Carrefour was a bit hectic. Unfortunately we do not succeed in finding again the supermarket without our Chinese escort.

Now as our Chinese hosts have got an idea about our preferences, the restaurant food is tasty and not too spicy - almost always there are alternatives to the local Sichuan food (which is extremely spicy).

[Part 1] [Part 2: Chengdu - Kangding - Liuba] [Part 3]

Thursday, 12 April 2001

Chengdu - Kangding

On time at eight o'clock our two ladies (and the two drivers and their vehicles) pick us up. Until Ya'an (130 km) there is an excellent, obviously new expressway; the following 100 km to Erlang Shan, the road is paved and wide but very twisting through a narrow valley. The valley base is almost completely coverd by the scree of the river. Erlang Shan is passed by a 4.2 km long tunnel, its interior fittings not yet being completed, but anyway already in service. After once again lots of curves behind endless military convoys on a somewhat bumpy road, we reach Kangding at 4 p.m., situated at 2500 m in the narrow valley on both sides of the river. The town marks the border between the traditionally "Chinese" main part of Sichuan province and the west which is more influenced by Tibetan culture. To the "real" Tibet, however, there would still be several hundred kilometers to go.

Here we find a market where we can buy (amongst other things) canistes for the fuel (for our stove). The hotel "Kangding" seems to be as new as expressway and tunnel. For our expectations, it is almost a bit too comfortable. Astonishingly, not far from the hotel there is a small bakery with excellent cream cakes and Swiss rolls.

Kangding
Kangding

Friday, 13 April 2001

Kangding - Liuba

After breakfast (Tibetan style today) we ascend (again in between a lot of military trucks) to a 4298 m high pass. Fresh snow beside the road. After about 50 km we leave the paved road - now it really gets bumpy. From the open high lands which remind very much of Tibet we travel downwards through green, soon densely forested valleys and gorges. Later the road goes up a very narrow side valley on the left-hand side. Road conditions become quite rural; even when the valley opens again further up, there is only slow progress, especially beyond Liuba main village. Since there is some doubt about our destination, a one-hour detour is addded, until our accomodation for this night is found, a Tibetan farmhouse.

At the pass
At the pass
The road becomes worse and worse
The road becomes worse and worse

Altough the valley is culturally mostly influenced by Tibetans, also many Chinese live here. The latter seem to preferably live in the villages, while the Tibetans live on the more or less isolated farms. Compared to Tibet where we were in 1999, the more abundant vegetation seems to contribute to a better wealth here. At an altitude of 3800 m there are trees and firewood. The house where we stay for the night is a large stone building, the living- and eating-room skilfully decorated with wooden carvings. There is even a stove. For dinner, we first have - Tibetan - salted tea, tsampa, and potatoes, later (taken from Kanging, therefore Chinese) noodles.

[Part 2] [Part 3: Trekking from Liuba to the base camp] [Part 4]

Saturday, 14 April 2001

Liuba - Zimei La - Zimei

At eight in the morning, the two jeeps leave back for Chengdu. We, i.e. our two ladies and the two of us, set off to Zimei with a caravan of 11 horses and their drovers.

Following a good path, we soon reach the valley that was found yesterday only in the second attempt. It rises only slowly, being covered with bushes and some trees. The last slope is steeper and snowy, so the ascent becomes slow and tiring there. Not for our Chinese escort who make most of the way on horseback. After four fours, the Zime La , 4560 m, is reached. The view to Minya Konka is already obscured by many clouds on this early afternoon.

On the other side, the trail steeply descends, soon free of snow. The caravan already walked ahead, we - being unacclimatized - are slower than the horses, of course.

In the steep scree traverse below, we meet our fate: A horse fell down three hundred meters, it was the horse that carried our two equipment barrels. With the frightened remaining horses, we carefully descend to the area where the contents of our barrels is scattered. The barrel containing the cans and climbing equipment is still intact, but many beverage cans are damaged, their contents forming a sticky mixture together with several instant powder packages. The second barrel - the one with the instant food and soups - is damaged. The Tibetans thoroughly search the slope for usable remains. Many instant food packages are open, cough sweets and lots of instant drink packages are wet, the bread consists of crumbs only.

About one fourth to one third of the carefully arranged calories is lost. A desaster, since it was planned to last exactly for 28 days. Our chances on the mountain will be substantially reduced: We either have to hurry up with normal rations, or we have to live with reduced rations. Only the unneccessary things like instant coffee, the most beer cans, and even the wine bottle have remained intact.

What we learn from this incident: Better take care that your supplies are not loaded onto one single horse.

After anything that could be useful was collected2, provisonally cleaned and somehow wrapped up, we have an hour's walk to Zimei (3480 m), where dense forest is found again. We find accomodation in a Tibetan house again, one of the horse drovers lives here. The dishes in the shelves are not as numerous as where we started today, and also there is no stove - there is only a large open hearth (in the living room...).

In the evening snowfall begins, this seems to be the usual daily course of the weather here.


2 The Tibetans have searched very carefully and collected even single cough sweets.

Sunday, 15 April 2001

Zimei - Gongga Gompa - Meadow

The fire was on for quite some time last evening, so we get up well smoked this morning. The lost horse could be replaced, we have eleven horses again: Three and a half are used by our stuff, two are riding horses for our Chinese, and the remaining 5 1/2 carry their baggage and what they apparently need for their stay at Gongga Gompa.

It is cloudy today, we don't know if this is the rest of the departing bad weather or if it would simply stay bad. After a steep descent of 150 meters, the river is crossed on a bridge. Through dense, misty forest the trail ascends the slopes of the side valley; after two hours, the lamasery Gongga Gompa (3741 m) is reached. The building seems at least partially restored, after it had been almost completely destroyed in the cultural revolution. Now it has a Chinese rather than a Tibetan roof.

Our Chinese will stay here, until we will be back from the mountain in about three weeks. Some of the Tibetans agree to help us carry the equiplemt to the "real" base camp at the base of the mountain - for an additional Y 70 per porter, of course. With five porters - three women and two men - we continue our way soon. First, unfortunately, hundred meters down to the base of the valley, then slowly ascending following the river and the northern edge of the glacier. The heavy loads slow down our progress, more and more often the porters (and we, too) need a rest. As at two o'clock snowfall sets in, the action finds its end at a more or less tent-friendly meadow. Further up there is no possible campsite in view.

4090 m, there are still about four hundred meters missing to our planned base camp site. And, we have only made four and a half of the eight kilometers. We will see how the two of us will get all our stuff to the basecamp tomorrow.

A short time of clearer sky makes it possible to quickly bring up a load further towards basecamp. On return to the tent, it is snowing again.

Monday, 16 April 2001

Carry loads to the base camp

The night was spent quite well, except that the smoky smell of yesterday doesn't leave the sleeping bag so quickly. The morning is misty with about 0°C temperature. Each of us carries a load to the basecamp; we find a good site at 4380 m. At twelve, it begins to hail again, at one o'clock we are back at the lower tent on the meadow. The weather doesn't allow a second transport, the afternoon is misty and uncomfortable. Snow and soft hail all the time.
The terrain is not too well suited to carry heavy loads.
The terrain is not too well suited to carry heavy loads.

Tuesday, 17 April 2001

Carry loads to the base camp

The weather is better today, already in the morning we can see further than five meters. Further away there is even some blue sky. Until ten o'clock it becomes sunny also here, and as late as five in the afternoon the next hail will come. We profit from the good weather and carry three loads to the base camp. Except for the few things that are still at the depot at 4280 m, our home for the next three weeks is complete now.

Considering the altitude of 4380 m there is a lot of vegetation here: besides grass there are dense bushes, lots of juniper, and mostly three different kinds of bush on the slopes: one without thorns, one with some, and the third one consists amost only of thorns. All of them are about half a meter high. Everywhere lots of different birds can be heard - a nice area for a base camp. Except for us, not a soul to be seen in this valley; tomorrow the four comrades from Magdeburg should arrive. That would make six people in the valley this spring.

Meanwhile there is also some water running in the creek. Strange, why we could't find the slightest trace of water there yesterday.

[Part 3] [Part 4: Minya Konka] [Part 5]

Wednesday, 18 April 2001

Finally in the base camp

It snowed quite a while during the night. In the morning, however, it is cloudless. Unfortunately, Minya Konka is standing exactly in the sun's way, the basecamp gets sun not until nine. But that doesn't matter, we don't have any larger excursions planned for today.

The material from the depot is quickly fetched, and then the remaining food supplies are looked through and sorted. Since we have running water nearby, also some personal hygiene is possible.

The weather is beautiful and nicely warm. Minya Konka is towering 3200 meters above the basecamp, an outstanding view.

Thursday, 19 April 2001

Reconnaissance of the route to camp 1

The first transport of loads to camp 1 is due today. Of course, we should first know about the route. The slope that gives access to the Minya Konka northwest ridge is divided by three buttresses, and in between those there are large hanging glaciers. The normal route follows the left buttress; its lower part consists of rock (the so-called "Pyramid"), further up the buttress is covered by the glacier. The most expeditions went around the Pyramid and reached the buttress through a glacier ramp. This ramp, however, has lost a lot of glacier meanwhile, and a steep rock band must be climbed directly under the séracs - this seems not too avalanche-safe to us.

Therefore we begin with the rock crest towards the Pyramid, but about 200 height meters before the end we come to the conclusion that there are some steep and delicate passages ahead, making the route not a good way up and down the buttress. We'd have to use the route as an access to camp 1 which will have to be made quite often in the future. So this is not a really good route.

Meanwhile it is 11 o'clock, the snow gets soft. We can deposit some material in the moraine basin on the Pyramid's right side. No idea about continuing the ascent, our steps are already knee-deep in the snow. So we'll have a look at the normal route tomorrow and leave two hours earlier than today.

In the afternoon, a single huge yak walks around near our tent. Mutual distrust lets us keep some distance, so we see it only from further away. We are not too sorry to have avoided a close encounter.

Our base camp at Minya Konka, 4380 m
Our base camp at Minya Konka, 4380 m

Friday, 20 April 2001

Carrying loads to camp 1

Started at 5 am, the weather seems not to have decided yet if the clouds are the rest of yesterday's snowfall or already the beginning of the next bad weather period. Due to the clouds at night, the snow could not freeze, so the way up to the moraine basin is quite arduous. Further up it becomes better, fortunately. The way from the moraine basin to the big couloir that leads behind the pyramid is a steep rock passage full of scree, not too difficult (I-II). Since there's a lot of snow and we will surely be tired on our way back, we leave a fixed rope for the descent.

The base of the couloir is completely harmless (except that all avalanches from further up would rush in here, so there is quite some reason for a hurry); further up the couloir becomes steeper, about 40°. But the snow is good, we reach the buttress at 10 am, but it is too narrow to pitch a tent. It might be possible in the snow saddle a bit further up. We deposit our load (tent, rope, material) at 5310 m and begin the descent. The couloir is sunny now, and soon the wet snow would become dangerous.

Descent from camp 1
Descent from camp 1

Back at base camp around 1 pm, again so very impressed by the beautiful descent from the moraine basin to the valley through deep wet snow between hidden smaller and larger scree.

We meet our friend, the huge yak, again on the descent. It is rather uninterested. There is nothing to see about the Magdeburg group.

Saturday, 21 April 2001

Rest day in the base camp

Last night, it has diligently snowed again, 10   cm lie this morning. The morning is misty but quite warm; this will become a rest-day.

Although the sun comes out soon, one hears and sees astonishingly few avalanches. We read, eat, sort food and consider the further tactics. If it works, we will not use the bad place at the pyramid as a camp site at all and rather set up a camp in the moraine basin (4800 m) and another on the northwest ridge (6000 m) instead .

In the evening, three of the four Magdeburg guys (Steffen, Heiko and Jens) arrive at half past four after extensive hikes on the wrong glacier side 2. Their fourth man (Dirk) still remained in Gongga Gompa, but they must anyway still go several times to and fro till they have everything in the base camp.


2 This couldn't happen to us because there we had our not very successful porters. At least they knew the way quite well.
Minya Konka
Minya Konka

Sunday, 22 April 2001

To the camp in the moraine basin

Not before noon, we go to the moraine basin with a tent, high camp sleeping-bags and a lot of food in order to set up a camp there. Through the soft and wet snow, this is a arduous task, taking 2   3/4 hours for only about 500 height meters. The new camp lies at 4850 m shortly before it really gets steep, at the last place safe of rockfall and avalanches.

From here one can nicely watch how the evening cloud worm wanders up the valley, first flooding Gongga Gompa with fog, later also the base camp. In the evening, the rockfall at the glacier still rumbles a long time, but this is far away from the route. Of course the noise nevertheless disturbs our sleep.

Monday, 23 April 2001

Back to base camp

Left the camp at half past two, basically only to find out that the snow is much too soft - after twenty minutes we only gained 50 height meters, so we can forget about the 1200 meters to the ridge. Also up to the pyramid it would be a tremendous work. So we turn back and go down to the base camp.

As we catch up on our sleep, we hear people passing by around ten in the morning. It cannot be the Magdeburg guys, they want to be back in the afternoon. It is four Czech people who have chosen some lower mountains around Minya Konka as their destination - according to the information they give. They only have time until May 4.

Today's weather is rather cloudy with sunny stages. In the sun it quickly gets very warm, but already at 3 pm the cold mist comes in again together with wind and hail - time to retreat into the tent.

Tuesday, 24 April 2001

Carrying loads to the moraine camp

Snowfall at the moraine camp
Snowfall at the moraine camp

Once again we leave the base camp at 5 am, once again in slight snowfall. But that changes: the snow gets more and more dense. Our original plan to pitch the tent at camp 1 and eventually stay there has moved to the future. It wouldn't be a good idea to stay up there in bad weather and maybe not have the possibility to descend due to avalanche danger.

Anyway, everything that we might need is at the moraine camp, and we are well acclimatized (rest pulse 52 in the base camp, at home I have 54).

After our visit at the moraine camp and a short attempt further above, ending in snow flurry, we return to the base camp. The snow-covered loose scree and grass slopes give enough occasion for an extremely quick descent.

It continues to snow all the day. In the evening at about 7 pm it suddenly clears up, and we can see Minya Konka in the sunset for the first time.

Evening in the base camp
Evening in the base camp

Wednesday, 25 April 2001

Ascent to camp 1

Starry night at base camp. Again it takes two hours to the moraine camp; there we take the baggage that we deposited yesterday - maybe we can finally take it to camp 1 today. Since the overnight stay in the moraine camp is very uncomfortable and since it is completely unclear if one can go up to the northwest ridge in one day, we have decided to use camp 1 at the pyramid as a regular campsite.

Yesterday's snow is still very deep in the couloir. The upper part still looks a bit unstable; an attempt to avoid it and climb on the right side of the small glacier tongue in order to traverse back to camp 1 is not successful. The ice is very bad and steep. So our second attempt leads us over the snowy rocks on the left side of the couloir, and then on the horizontal ridge crest finally to camp 1, 5310 m - after seven hours! Of course, our ruckacks were rather heavy, but now we have everything here that we need for an overnight stay.

After two hours, we have gained a platform for the tent out of ice and snow. Meanwhile hail is setting in again, and the wind moves the snow to different directions.

Soon in camp 1
Soon in camp 1

Thursday, 26 April 2001

Unsuccessful attempt to continue; back to the base camp

After we spent the night at camp 1 quite well, we start our reconnaissance of the way up at half past four. It is not very cold, but the wind is somewhat annoying. The conditions are very bad: as soon as it gets steeper, there is hard water ice below a 10 cm thick loose snow. At more than 45° slope with a free view down to basecamp, we are not very keen on this terrain. Also our second attempt further to the right is finished after ten minutes.

Before the snow settles, there is not much to be done further up, except to secure everything with fixed ropes. For that, however, we don't have enough ropes. But when should the snow settle, if there is hardly half a day of sunshine?

We descend to base camp. The couloir remains stable, the snow is very inhomogeneous due to the wind during the night. Besides hard passages, there are some deep snow passages, too.

The access to the northwest ridge where camp 2 should be established at 6000 m causes a lot more difficulty than expected. The weather is completely unpredictable (except that it is usually bad in the afternoons), the time of day that can be used for climbing is very short (at eleven the snow gets wet and avalanche danger increases), and the conditions are simply far from being good. It is not just a couple of meters but several hundred meters of hard ice. We don't have such an amount of ropes with us, and for a high camp access this passage must be well equipped.

tent in camp 1
Our tent in camp 1

Will we have a realistic chance at all, after we have hardly come beyond camp 1 after a week, that is only about a third of the height difference to the summit?

If the next attempt doesn't proceed better, it probably makes no more sense to try. On May 10, we will have to close down our base camp. For a summit attempt, we need eight days, even if everything goes perfect up there:

  • Day 1: to camp 1
  • Day 2: to camp 2, pitch the tent, and back to camp 1
  • Day 3: to camp 2 and stay there
  • Day 4: fix ropes for the way to camp 3, back to camp 2
  • Day 5: up to camp 3
  • Day 6: summit and back to camp 3
  • Day 7: descend to camp 2
  • Day 8: descend to base camp

Friday, 27 April 2001

Rest day in the base camp

Everything is grey this morning. Around noon there is a little bit of sun. We have another rest day. Steffen und Jens will inspect the situation at camp 1. In the afternoon we look around in the basecamp region. The little valley at the side moraine of Xiaogongba glacier is quite nice, at 4600 m there is an interesting niche in the rock wall, apparently a location for religious ceremonies. The way up there is so densely overgrown with the thorny bushes that this is apparently a location of penance.

Soon the small valley abruptly ends on the steep moraine, and there would be a beautiful view to the wild icefalls and Minya Konka, if the clouds would not completely obscure the summit. We continue up the steep scree slope, reaching a shoulder on the ridge at 4970 m which gives a good overview over the slopes of the northwest ridge. The Czech have reached camp 1, as we can see from here.

Up to 5000 m, juniper and the thornbushes are growing here. The approaching bad weather forces us to a quick descent. As there is no running water in the basecamp for the third day now, a one-hour excursion inside the valley where some whater can be found is added in the evening. Later, snowfall and thunderstorm.

Saturday, 28 April 2001

Rest day in base camp

Almost the whole night it snowed again and again, but in the morning there are only a few centimeters in the base camp. The weather is not too bad, but Claudia has a little diarrhea. So we postpone our final leave for camp 1 until tomorrow and recover in the base camp.

Through the binoculars we can see that the Czech apparently are the first ones to tackle the steep slope above camp 1, however only three rope lengths far.

Today, the snowfall already sets in at two o'clock. Nevertheless one has to walk an hour up the valley to find some water. Out of the 15 days after we left the Liuba valley, only two were without snowfall up to now.

Sunday, 29 April 2001

Ascent to camp 1

Ascending in the couloir
Ascending in the couloir

The usual two or three centimeters of snow in the base camp, but the morning is cloudless. The snow makes the way to the moraine camp quite uncomfortable with all the snow-covered scree. In the couloir, we find a lot of accumulated loose snow, sometimes waist-deep. So we need six hours to camp 1. Steffen and Heiko are out for a reconnaissance of the way to camp 2, together with the Czech. What they tell us on the radio does not sound very good: A major part of the slope is steep and icy, probably requiring fixed ropes. The Czech have indeed equipped all of the lower part; we will have a closer look at it tomorrow.

The Czech become more and more puzzling to us. After having fixed ropes for our way to camp 2, they will descend again tomorrow, intending to hike around the southern side of the mountain to Moxi and Kangding in order to be back in time on May 7 in Chengdu.

Monday, 30 April 2001

Snowbound in camp 1

Yesterday evening at eight, it began to snow after all. This morning, too, snowfall and only a few meters of sight. So there will be no ascent today. We wait until tomorrow, and if it is still bad then, we'll have to give up. Even if we would reach camp 2, we wouldn't have overcome the main difficulties of the mountain. Bad weather on the northwest ridge would be a major problem, and our schedule contains only one reserve day.

As if there were not enough adversities, my isolation mattress breaks, the so indestructible Therm-a-rest. I admit it does not leak, but if one inflates it, one doesn't get a soft mattress, but a huge round air bubble in the center. The stove doesn't work, too; probably dirt in the fuel pipe. This can only be repaired in the base camp. Cold dishes today.

Continuous snowfall all through the day. Twenty centimeters of snow and the corresponding snowdrift.

Tuesday, 01 May 2001

Final descent to base camp

The night on the defective mattress was not very comfortable. This morning, we have a quite good weather, but in the morning the camp is in the shadow, and it is very windy. Despite the good weather, we cannot stay here or even further ascend without stove and mattress. It is too late to get replacement from the base camp - we would be back to camp 1 not before tomorrow, and then the time to our departure3 would be too short for a summit attempt.

Final descent. At half past nine we have packed the tent and all of its contents, and we begin the descent through the couloir with rather unhandy rucksacks. Astonishingly, there are no major avalanches, but certainly careful behavior in the couloir was not wrong. After three hours we are back at the base camp. The good weather stays all the day, there is only a slight wind.


3 On May 9th, latest 10th, we have to pack our base camp and go th Gongga Gompa.
Avalanche in the slopes above the couloir
Avalanche in the slopes above the couloir
Our fixed rope has a centimeter ice layer.
Our fixed rope has a centimeter ice layer.
View from the moraine basin upwards, along the route
View from the moraine basin upwards, along the route

Wednesday, 02 May 2001

Attempt at Nochma

While the Magdeburg group starts their summit attempt with the way to camp 1, we spend our time at the smaller mountains. Nochma had an impressive appearance from camp 1, so we decide to visit it. That turns out to be easier said than done. The map doesn't show that the east ridge is a steep and exposed climb for well about hundred meters, a thing for which we were not prepared. Until there it is a nice ridge with easy rock and snow, but the final 300 meters to the summit cannot be done from here.

Also if we couldn't climb the summit of Nochma today: The weather still is perfect, and there is a really unique view of Minya Konka from there. There is hardly another mountain that is enthroned in such a way above a mess of glaciers and secondary peaks.

Surprise in the afternnon, back in the base camp: Two Germans are visiting us. One of them is working in Chengdu, and his friend is vising him in China. The two had planned a trip to Minya Konka base camp for a long time already.

In the evening, clouds are gathering again. There is still no water in the brook, so we have to go to the source down the valley for an hour.

P.4975.7 and Nochma (5575)
P.4975.7 and Nochma (5575)

Thursday, 03 May 2001

Climb of Nochma

Another attempt at Nochma today. Also today, the weather is nice. We choose the small valley towards the base camp mountain (P.4975.7), reach the glacier from the south and after six hours the summit, with an altitude of 5575 m. A nice, not very difficult trip. The view is not bad due to the isolated position away from the main mountain group. We can nicely study the big Minya Konka, 2000 m higher.

Minya Konka
Minya Konka
On the summit of Nochma (5575)
On the summit of Nochma (5575)
Summit picture, though not on the very big one
Summit picture, though not on the very big one

Soon dark clouds come from the northeast, and thunderstorm, hail, and rain set in. After three hours of descent, a little tiring due to the soft snow, scree and bushes, we are back in the base camp.

For the "only" 1200 m height difference, this trip was rather exhausting. But probably simply our short food supplies have weakened us. Most of the nice things that one likes to eat in between the meals (e.g. mayonnaise, cheese, sausage) were lost in the horse accident, and the main meals don't deliver enough calories.

Friday, 04 May 2001

Rest day in the base camp

Moderate weather with some hail showers: Good occasion to take down the depot tent at 4850 m. In the evening, the sun comes out, and we can dry our stuff and begin to pack the things that are not no more necessary, e.g. the high camp equipment. For the way back to Chengdu, we can think about three options:

  • Stay here in the basecamp and climb Nochma's neighbor P. 5604. The 6000 m peaks in the main crest are too difficult to reach.
  • Attempt at the 6000 m peak at Dagongba glacier (at least 2 days)
  • Trekking around the south side of Minya Konka, as the Czech had planned it. This might even be an interesting alternative to the transport back to Kangding.
The mist is coming around the corner
The mist is coming around the corner
Cleaning up in the base camp
Cleaning up in the base camp

Saturday, 05 May 2001

Rest day in the base camp

Really ugly weather, so this is day to read in the basecamp. Fortunately we could exchange some books with the Magdeburg group, otherwise we wouldn't have anything left to read. This afternoon we even have two thunderstorm, or it is one that came back again.

Sunday, 06 May 2001

Carrying loads down to Gongga Gompa

Today, we descended down to the lamasery with the first loads. Especially the lower part of the route is very tiring, there the route follows the scree of the riverbed without a trail.

Our attempts to gather information about the trekking possibilities on the south side of Minya Konka from our two ladies are not very successful. The lamas in the lamasery give very differing information about duration and difficulty, the Chinese don't know the area, and of course it would be so much easier to drive to Moxi instead of hiking there on unknown trails. Apparently it is not very popular in China to voluntarily go on foot if driving is possible. Since neither our attendants nor those of the Magdeburg group have any means of communication to the rest of the world, it is not possible to have the cars pick us up earlier. It would have been nice if the Chinese instead at least had either a good knowledge of the area, or organisation skills. But, we are in China, not in Nepal. So this is only wishful thinking.

The way back to the base camp is very long and - even without the loads - very exhausting. The sunshine of the morning has disappeared, dark clouds release hail and rain.

The Magdeburg group had planned to install camp 2 today. The bad weather with severe storms in the altitude force them back to camp 1, and they decide to finally give up.

Monday, 07 May 2001

Rest day in the base camp

Sun, clouds, wind and mist in varying composition during the day. Since the clouds are very low, we stay in the base camp. Three - understandably frustrated - Magdeburg members arrive at the base camp in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 08 May 2001

Rest day in the base camp

The weather seems not to like us to climb Nochma's higher neighbor (5604 m): All the day is snows, everywhere avalanches are roaring, but we cannot see them in the mist.

Wednesday, 09 May 2001

Dismantling the base camp, descent to Gongga Gompa

Some time this night the snowfall finally has stopped. We have 15 cm in the basecamp. Despite good weather in the morning, this is too much to break a trail up the steep slopes at the glacier in the backside of the valley.

The morning is completely cloudless, but in high altitude quickly cirrus clouds are approaching, settling at the summit. Soon the sun reaches the base camp, and we enjoy the winter scenery.

A short pleasure only, the clouds gain the upper hand again. We hurry up to have tent and equipment packed in dry weather and leave a day earlier than scheduled.

As expected, the way to the lamasery is a real grind. The snow settled until far down the valley, making the scree nicely slippery. With a load of 25-30 kg this is real fun. In dense snowfall we arrive at the lamasery after about four hours, immediately being received by our Chinese ladies who quickly provided us with some food. The two lamas (monks) inspect crampons and ice axes with interest.

Not only we are a day ahead of schedule, also the horses are already here. So we can go slowly to Zimei tomorrow, and the day after we will reach Liuba.

[Part 4] [Part 5: Trekking back to civilisation] [Part 6]

Thursday, 10 May 2001

Gongga Gompa - Zimei

Again cloudy, slight snowfall. The lamasery is situated in a forest of mulberry trees, there are more animals than around the base camp. A sort of chicken is walking around, squirrels are rushing through the mani piles. The meadows are being inspected by grunting young pigs.

Hartmut, Claudia, Liaison Officer, Interpreter
Hartmut, Claudia, Liaison Officer, Interpreter
On the way to Zimei
On the way to Zimei

After a while, horses and yaks are finally loaded, and we begin our way down to the river through beautiful mulberry forests. The ascent to Zimei turns into kind of a rodeo: Several riding attempts of our ladies didn't last long, they have to make the 150 height meters on foot. The yak that carries our two sacks turns out to be very reluctant. After it threw off the load the second time, the things are packed onto other yaks. We are curious how things will evolve tomorrow on the long way over the pass.

Accomodation is again in typically Tibetan atmosphere - wood fire in the living room. Tibetan houses have usually at least two storeys, the lower one being the barn, the upper one - accessible on steep stairs - containing the living rooms. The main room is very big (in this case about 60 m2), but there is hardly any furniture except for beds and built-in closets at the wall.

In Zimei
In Zimei

The loo is fully biological - it consists of a hole besides the stairs to the loft. Underneath this hole, grunting can be heard (the lower floor is the barn). Fortunately, the loo is at the same place in all houses of a village, so it can easily be found even in darkness. Windows are scarce in most houses.

Here in Zimei, the Tibetans' food consists not only of tsampa and butter tea4, but also rice (in the pressure potm Zimei is at 3500 m altitude) and potatoes. The latter are cut like french fries, so they can be handled with the sticks5. For this purpose, the housewife has a wooden board with a fixed knife, and the potatoes are quickly moved over the knife.


4 It takes a bit of getting used to butter tea. One can drink it more easily considering it to be a sort of soup rather than tea.
5 The ethnic Tibetans here have been living in a Chinese province since generations; correspondingly more pronounced is China's cultural influence, compared to Tibet.

Friday, 11 May 2001

Zimei - Zimei La - Liuba

At quarter past eight in the morning we set off with 6 yaks and 3 horses. It is more than thousand meters of altitude gain to Zimei La, but all the throw-off and re-pack-the-yak actions significantly reduce the speed. The upper portion of the trail is very muddy, there is still quite a lot of snow.

The weather is exceptionally nice; as we reach Zimei La (4560 m) at half past twelve, however, some clouds already obscure the view to Minya Konka.

View back to Minya Konka
View back to Minya Konka

The way down to Liuba makes no problems, but the caravan becomes slower and slower. The yaks get tired, but nevertheless they try some stupid wrong tracks again and again. At about four, the odyssey finds an end at Liuba.

As we already had suspected, this one day ahead of schedule didn't help us. Although the date was clear since our first carry down to Gongga Gompa, our ladies didn't get managed to forward this information to Chengdu. There would have been an occasion to do so, since the contact person of the Magdeburg expedition walked down to Liuba in order to inform about their earlier return. So the Magdeburg group gets their cars according to the new plans, but we won't - ours will come tomorrow as scheduled. This is a basic problem in China: Changes of plans are obviously very, very difficult. Especially since we never know if the interpreter really understood what we were asking for.

[Part 5] [Part 6: Liuba - Chengdu] [Part 7]

Saturday, 12 May 2001

Drive to Shade

This time, we spent the night on the half-open loft. The air there was definitely better than in the living-room (again with open fire). Architectural difference of this house compared to the others: no problems searching the loo - there is none.

We spend the day hiking up the little valley above the hamlet upper Muji, but after a while this ends in snowdrift. The rest of the afternoon we are waiting for the cars which should arrive soon.

At about four o'clock the first car appears, soon the other two also come. At the same time, also the Magdeburg guys and their caravan arrive from Zimei. Loading all the baggage into the cars is a very complex task whoch is solved more or less successfully. Altogether we drive for two hours (60 km) until the village Shade6 (3240 m), where we have Chinese style supper (and even beer). This night is spent rooms with real beds, and without smoke.


6 This is the first village with mostly Chinese (concrete) houses along the road.

Sunday, 13 May 2001

Drive to Kangding

Another two hours on the quite bad road up the valley, until we reach the paved road (70 km). Passing the 4300 m high pass, we soon reach Kangding (3 1/2 hours, about 120 km altogether).

This evening, we have a "Hot Pot" restaurant - that is something like Mongolian fondue. One of the two broths is so spicy that no European would have survived it without serious damage.

Monday, 14 May 2001

Drive to Chengdu

The road from Kangding to Ya'an leads through narrow, curved valleys. The apparently usual Chinese driving style is best described as "hellish". We are happy to reach the nice, straight expressway Ya'an-Chengdu. After eight hours, we can lie down in the Tibet Hotel in Chengdu. Anything else wouldn't be a good idea, it is very warm (28°C) and muggy in Chengdu.

Dinner is different today: Instead of the large dishes for all together, there's a lot of small dishes for each one individually. Chickens' feet are not to everyone's taste, but today there is also a lot of less spicy and even sweet dishes.

[Part 6] [Part 7: Chengdu] [Part 8]

Tuesday, 15 May 2001

Chengdu

Sightseeing day in Chengdu: We visit the temple area of Zhaojue Si and have lunch in the vegetarian restaurant there, where vegetarian imitations of beef, chicken and fish are served - part of them quite convincing, part not so much. After the second temple Wenshu Yuan, the cultural program is finished for today.

Dinner is excellent again, this time with a good view to the Big Chairman. (In the center of Chengdu, the last big Mao statue is found.)

Zhaojue Si
Zhaojue Si

 

Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Flight Chengdu - Beijing

We leave Chengdu and our two ladies one day earlier than originally scheduled in oder to have more time for Beijing. Not without having paid Y 200 for overweight baggage before.

In Beijing, we reach the center without problems by bus, and we can convince a taxi driver about the capacity of his car. So astonished is he about the huge amount of stuff that we can pack into his small car, he doesn't accept a tip at all. The hotel7 cannot be compared to those in Chengdu and Kangding, but here we'll have to pay it ourselves. Y 217 for a double room in such a central location is a very good price. A bit unusual, however, that we don't have a room key and we have to ask the "wardress" to open our door to access our room.

In the evening, we meet Dirk and Heiko in the pedestrian zone Wangfujing Dajie. They had reached Beijing yesterday.

Dinner at an internation restaurant chain which has specialized on Italian style dishes. Good, but rather expensive.


7 Fangyuan Hotel, about 10 minutes to walk northwest of Wangfujing Dajie

[Part 7] [Part 8: Beijing]

Thursday, 17 May 2001

Beijing

Since the days are very hot in Beijing, we visit the Forbidden City in the morning at nine. In spite of the Y 40 entrance fee and the lots of people, this is really worth visiting. After that, we visit Beihai Park with the White Pagoda which is not far away, offering a good view of the city - if the city were visible in all the haze.

Tiananmen
Tiananmen
Forbidden City
Forbidden City
From the White Pagoda, the Forbidden City can nicely be viewed.
From the White Pagoda, the Forbidden City can nicely be viewed.

Friday, 18 May 2001

Beijing / Great Wall

Excursion to the Great Wall. For today, 36°C are announced. So we take the tourist bus from Qianmen at half past seven. We have two hours at the Wall at Badaling - enough to go beyond the tourist masses and explore a completely quiet piece of Great Wall. This can become rather exhausting, the stairs are very steep indeed. Having visited the Wall, the bus brings us to the 13 Ming tombs. As this would again cost an entrance fee of Y 45, we spend the time at the snack bar.

Watchtower on the Great Wall
Watchtower on the Great Wall
Great Wall
Great Wall

Back in the city, finally the "obligatory" Beijing duck in a restaurant not far from the hotel. Good and not expensive at all.

Saturday, 19 May 2001

Beijing

Today we visit the Heaven Temple (Tiantan) in the south of the city. More exactly speaking, the park around it - there are tickets for Y 15 and others for Y 35, and only the latter include admission to the buildings. Anyway, we don't want to be on sightseeing tour so long in these hot days, so we choose the cheaper option.

After long search, we even find a post office and get the stamps for the expedition postcards. The Chinese National Museum - Y 20 entrance fee - turns out to be very disappointing. Just 179 exhibits, each of them surely impressive, but without clear order. I wouldn't believe that so many thousand years of history could easily be reduced to 179 pieces.

"Dinner" at the night market northwest of Wangfujing Dajie. There one can find everything to spoil a westerner's appetite: skewers with squids, beetles, grasshoppers, lobsters, crabs, or even scorpions. But there is also more "civilized" food.

Street scene in Beijing
Street scene in Beijing
At Tiananmen
At Tiananmen

Sunday, 20 May 2001

Beijing - Frankfurt

Flight back to Frankfurt. As opposed to the scene in Chengdu, there are no problems checking in our stuff, except that our kitbags are defined as "oversize", they have to be brought to the oversize counter. In Frankfurt, we are delayed half an hour, and the baggage is there after an hour of waiting time, because it was directed to the wrong conveyor belt. At half past midnight we reach home, corresponding to half past five in the morning, considering the jet-lag.


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Hartmut Bielefeldt
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