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  2004 Expedition to Kunlun Shan: Update 11


23 August, 2004: After two successful new summits, the whole team descended to Throne Camp at 17,400 feet on the evening of 21 August.  Yesterday we broke camp where we have been for over a week, and brought everything down to Base Camp at 14.800 feet.  It is surprising how much stuff you can end up with when running back and forth between camps!  Most managed to get everything through Dr Seuss in two carries.  There has been significant change in the glacier since the last time we went through...

Below Dr Seuss some managed to get their things to base camp in a single carry, but it was certainly not fun, walking through boulder fields with over 100 lbs on one's back is not advisable!  Dale, Ben, and Randall all left a cache at the split of the canyon, about 500 feet above Base Camp.  The plan is to head up the unexplored canyon and look for access to the peaks nicknamed Lefty and Left of Lefty.

After requisite fireworks and nasty vodka last night, four members of the team, Karen, Brook, Trevor, and Toma, headed back to Kashgar to catch earlier flights.  They left with the driver Gus, who has spent the past three weeks with us at Base Camp, mostly singing songs from "The Sound of Music" and taking care of vodka consumption while we were up higher.

Now we willl be down to five.  The highest peak in the area has been climbed, and with four virgin summits for the expedition we will split up and see what else we can find worthy of a summit.  This evening Dale and Randall plan to head up the left branch of the canyon, and camp at 17,000 feet.  Ben and Gerard will follow in the same direction tomorrow. 

Randall

25 August, 2004: After an incredibly windy night camped on a glacier at 19,300 feet, Dale and Randall made what has become known as a "Kunlun start" and headed up the West face of Lefty.  Following a snow couloir up 1,000 feet, they ran into the end of the line and cramponed through broken rock to another 70 degree couloir on the South Face of Lefty.  Arriving at the top of the climb at 20,560 feet, it became apparent that this point was not the highest, but a long ridge headed higher to the North.  After a water break, and views of an unknown team member heading up the South Face, Dale and Randall continued North along the top of the unclimbed ridge.

The high point of the ridge, heavily corniced from the high winds, measured 20,800 feet, but from that point it started to become clear that the broad peak at the head of the cwm was not a separate mountain, and the ridge dipped negligibly in between.  Heading onwards, the ridgeline narrowed to a sharp apex with 60 degree snow sloped dropping 1500 feet on either side.  This made for exciting climbing, and luckily clear skies and low winds cooperated.  After only two close calls with crevasses near the summit, Dale and Randall achieved yet another first ascent of a virgin peak at 17h00 on 25 August.  This one measured 21,500 even on the GPS, and constituted a broad East-West snow ridge which was reached via the South off Lefty Ridge. 

From the summit a third team member could be seen approaching along Lefty Ridge.  Descending to meet the mystery member, Dale and Randall discovered that Gerard had been following their tracks all along the ridge.  After sharing water and stories, it was discovered that Gerard has started at Base Camp at 9h30 in the morning, and had already climbed 6,000 feet in under eight hours!  Gerard continued to the summit, and reached it at 18h00, to fly his Irish flag before a quick glissade back down. Randall

Kunlun Update - take three [a new e-mail containing some from the past and more...]

(as an aside, I've tried to get this out three times now...sorry to all for the many delays - I typed up the whole thing three days ago and it was lost as I ran out of time on my card at the internet cafe.  It's taken me two days to build up the motivation to come back and retype it.)

20 August, 2004: After a long hike up to high camp yesterday, the team set up camp as the sun was setting at over 19,500ft on Dr Suess glacier.  The night proved to be fairly restless for many of the team as a storm blew snow throughout the night and the altitude did little good for our slumber.  We awoke to find a few inches of fresh powder and thick clouds filling the valley below.  As we embarked on our summit attempt, the weather worsened rapidly.  After only a couple hours, the team gathered to rest and debate the feasibility of continuing on.  We waited for an hour while perched on the side of the ridge leading up the Matterhorn.  Unfortunately, the weather only got worse and the team agreed that a decent back to high camp was the only option.

The team debated whether it was worth waiting it out another night to see if the weather was clear and after some coercing by Trevor and Toma, it was decided that the team would stay.  The afternoon was spent trying to pass the time with name games, as many were suffering from cabin (and/or summit) fever.

-Brook

21 August, 2004: Although the morning weather appeared to be as bad as the day before, we received some encouraging news from our friends at Jason's Deli who had been sending us text message weather updates from the FAA.  There was a chance that the weather would clear intermittently in the afternoon, potentially providing an opportunity for a summit. 

The gang started out once again making fairly good time up onto the ridge, but the weather deteriorated rapidly again.  While on the ridge, the snow began accumulating faster and the winds picked up, providing horrible visibility during the ascent.  After an hour or so climbing along the ridge, the gang again gathered to debate the feasibility of continuing on.  There were many differing opinions about the severity of the weather, and the fact that this would be some climbers last chance for a summit was doing little for objectivity.  We waited again for an hour, only to have the winds pick up to 35+MPH making visibility even worse.  Three members decided to make their way down, while the other six continued to wait it out.  Forty-five minutes later, as if scripted by the FAA, the clouds began to break and the sun started shining through.  With periodic breaks in the clouds it became apparent that we were closer to the summit than we had previously realized.  As the summit was teasing us only 1500 vertical feet away, the six quickly realized that a summit attempt was in order.  We promptly got on our way and made steady progress as the ridge became steeper with every step.  The last 500 feet were climbed on all fours, with every other cramponed kick-step slipping and not finding traction.  Finally, after so much debate and our failed attempts, we reached the summit to find the elevation reading on the GPS to be 22,222 feet!  The team spent about a half-hour on the tiny summit, carefully slotted between the giant cornice on one side and the 1500+ft drop on the other.  In true form, Dale flew his kite high above the ridge losing it a couple times over the cornice only to have it kick back up as we cheered him on.

The decent to high camp was fairly quick, with a couple sections of nice glissading.  One section Randall and Dale pulled nice aerials jumping into their glissades off a 10ft cornice.  The team quickly broke down high camp and continued on our way to advanced base camp.  After a very long day, the crew made it back right at sundown at nearly 22:00. 

-Brook

22 August, 2004

Long day of double carries and heavy loads as the team broke down advanced base camp and returned to base camp.  We were greeted with a fantastic display of fireworks by Akram, the cook and Gus as each member made their way into base camp. 

One highlight was Dale's attempt at getting into the Patagonia catelogue by jumping into an icy glacier river bath in his skivvies, making it look like a typical day in the mountains!

-Brook 

23 August, 2004 - Colorado Kids and Karen 

Toma, Brook, Trevor and Karen left to catch early flights to Beijing with Gus late in the afternoon after much debate over who and how much could fit in the battered Land Cruiser.  After leaving, the jeep quickly started on a long path of deterioration getting a flat tire and breaking the rear window after jumping a ravene that Gus misjudged, sending the gas barrel through the rear window - all within the first two hours of our journey.  That night we slept at the border while waiting for the military guard to arrive/awaken.

-Brook

24 August, 2004 - Colorado Kids and Karen

We woke up at 8:00am only to find out that we would have to wait until the following day before we could be allowed to pass through Mazar.  After 11 1/2 hours of waiting, complaining, and card playing we left with a couple hours of sun still left - a full 12 hours ahead of schedule!  We made it about 1 hour before the truck sputtered to a hault, just below the top of the pass.  After a replaced fuel filter and a cleaned carburetor, we were on our way once again.  At about 22:30, we lost sight of the road and were forced to do some route finding before we could continue.  Another half hour later we came upon a massive road construction project which threw us another two hour delay.  Slow progress continued until about 2:00am, while making our way up the second high pass as the jeep once again sputtered to a stop sounding more like a two-stroke than a straight-six.  Gus worked for two hours under Karen's headlamp rebuilding the distributor cap at least six times before an electrical fire finally caused him to call it a night.  We all slept cozily through a cold night at over 15,000ft.  The next morning Gus managed to get the car going again and we were on our way until halted by military at the next village.  They told us we would have to wait 8 hours for a road construction project to be completed.  Luckily (if that's what you could call it), we got through after only 4 hours of waiting.   

FINALLY...we were seemingly on our way to Ye Ching.  However, after about a half hour of cruising we were flagged down by a motorcyclist with blood on his shirt.  He had crashed while carrying his wife on the back of his bike and he said she was badly injured and asked if we could take her in our jeep.  We made room in the back as Karen put on her Florence Nightengale cap and did her best to clean the blood from her head and keep her conscious as we made quick time over the roads. The woman had clearly suffered from a severe concussion and possibly had head and neck injuries.  We met her family in a village before Ye Ching and she was transferred into another vehicle as they sped off towards the hospital.  Hopefully everything turned out OK! 

Excited to be so close to warm water and cold Coke, we made our way back into Kashgar at around 22:00.  Many pijo's were drunken in celebration as we feasted with John Hu, telling him of the many adventures during our trip. 

23 August, 2004

After two successful new summits, the whole team descended to Throne Camp at 17,400 feet on the evening of 21 August.  Yesterday we broke camp where we have been for over a week, and brought everything down to Base Camp at 14.800 feet.  It is surprising how much stuff youu can end up with when rnning back and forth between camps!  Most managed to get everything through Dr Seuss in two carries.  There has been significant change in the glacier since the last time we went through...

Below Dr Seuss some managed to get their things to base camp in a single cary, but it was certainly not fun, walking through boulder fields with over 100 lbs on one's back is not advisable!  Dale, Ben, and Randall all left a cache at the split of the canyon, about 500 feet above Base Camp.  The plan is to head up the unexplored canyon and look for access to the peaks nicknamed Lefty and Left of Lefty.

After requisite fireworks and nasty vodka last night, four members of the team, Karen, Brook, Trevor, and Toma, headed back to Kashgar to catch earlier flights.  They left with the driver Gus, who has spent the past three weeks with us at Base Camp, mostly singing songs from "The Sound of Music" and taking care of vodka consumption while we were up higher.

Now we willl be down to five.  The highest peak in the area has been climbed, and with four virgin summits for the expedition we will split up and see what else we can find worthy of a summit.  This evening Dale and Randall plan to head up the left branch of the canyon, and camp at 17,000 feet.  Ben and Gerard will follow in the same direction tomorrow. 

Randall

25 August, 2004

After an incredibly windy night camped on a glacier at 19,300 feet, Dale and Randall made what has become known as a "Kunlun start" and headed up the West face of Lefty.  Following a snow couloir up 1,000 feet, they ran into the end of the line and cramponed through broken rock to another 70 degree couloir on the South Face of Lefty.  Arriving at the top of the climb at 20,560 feet, it became apparent that this point was not the highest, but a long ridge headed higher to the North.  After a water break, and views of an unknown team member heading up the South Face, Dale and Randall continued North along the top of the unclimbed ridge.

The high point of the ridge, heavily corniced from the high winds, measured 20,800 feet, but from that point it started to become clear that the broad peak at the head of the cwm was not a separate mountain, and the ridge dipped negligibly in between.  Heading onwards, the ridgeline narrowed to a sharp apex with 60 degree snow sloped dropping 1500 feet on either side.  This made for exciting climbing, and luckily clear skies and low winds cooperated.  After only two close calls with crevasses near the summit, Dale and Randall achieved yet another first ascent of a virgin peak at 17h00 on 25 August.  This one measured 21,500 even on the GPS, and constituted a broad East-West snow ridge which was reached via the South off Lefty Ridge. 

From the summit a third team member could be seen approaching along Lefty Ridge.  Descending to meet the mystery member, Dale and Randall discovered that Gerard had been following their tracks all along the ridge.  After sharing water and stories, it was discovered that Gerard has started at Base Camp at 9h30 in the morning, and had already climbed 6,000 feet in under eight hours!  Gerard continued to the summit, and reached it at 18h00, to fly his Irish flag before a quick glissade back down.

Randall

Dispatches

 

As last minute packing and preparations are underway in London, Tokyo, Anchorage, California, Colorado, and Connecticut, team members are getting ready to fly to Kashgar via Beijing and Urumqi, arriving on 25 and 26 July.  After final preparations in Kashgar, our convoy of three Toyota Landcruisers and one 6x6 rugged military vehicle will head southeast on the Silk Road towards Yecheng. 

From there we will head south onto the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, through Mazar, to our last outpost of civilization in the military village of Dahongliutan.  We expect to pass through on 01 August, assuming there are no issues with our military permits, and no vehicle trouble on the climbs through the 5000m passes of the Kunlun West.

Last minute information is trickling in from Kashgar… A Japanese expedition just came back after an unsuccessful attempt on Aksai Chin I, which had an unconfirmed summit by the Japanese in 1997.  They report that the military road we hope to follow does indeed exist, and though in rough shape, should get us within 10km of Base Camp.  By the time we set up Base Camp, we expect to have been on the road for five or six days.

Armed with coordinates and advice from previous expeditions, we will have to take our chances discovering the differences between the maps and the actual terrain. Thin blue hairlines on the map can easily turn out to be impassable glacial runoff. The maps also neglect to indicate the difference between surfaces such as mud and quicksand, both of which will eagerly swallow any vehicle up to its axles.

While exploring the unknown peaks of the Aksai Chin West, the team will have limited contact with the outside world.  A decision was made to leave the laptop behind, so while there will be no live coverage with photos and video, we will be sending messages from our Iridium satellite phone for text coverage right here on EverestNews.com

 

 

2004 Expedition to Kunlun Shan

It is with intrepid spirit of adventure and respect that the Kunlun 2004 expedition is being planned.  What started out as a harebrained idea discussed over breakfast in the English Lakes will become a reality when we drive across the edge of the Taklimakan Desert to be dropped off for almost a month's worth of unsupported exploration.

For nearly a year, we have been researching the possibilities of an expedition to more remote regions of the world to summit unclimbed peaks. Research has shown that there are 230 peaks over 6000m in the Kunlun Shan and that fewer than 50 of those have ever been climbed!

The goal of the Kunlun 2004 expedition is to explore several unknown peaks of the Aksai Chin plateau with the motives of first ascents of 6000m peaks and scientific research in the form of geological survey data collection.

After purchasing several political maps of Xinjiang Province, eventually the correct aviation charts for the area were found. These Operational Navigation Charts (ONC's) are at a scale of 1:500,000, and Tactical Pilotage Charts in the same series are at 1:250,000. Though one would never consider such a scale for something like Denali or Rainier, it the best information that is publicly available for such an unexplored region. The charts are quite detailed but meant for aircraft flying over the region rather than mountaineers on the ground. As they are based entirely on satellite data, they have disclaimers that peak heights may be off by as much as 1000 feet!

Our project is original because of our climbing style, and the remoteness of the goal. We will drive overland nearly 1000km from the nearest airport in Kashgar, and once we are dropped off at base camp, we will be completely unsupported for nearly three weeks. Because of the altitude and isolation, there are no options of retreat, and though we will have communications, any rescue would be nearly a week away.

 
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