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Chinese American Team Makes First Ascent of 6060m Mt. Yangmolong

The north face of Yangmolong 6060m. According Jon Otto “Yangmolong was the last unclimbed 6000m peak in the area.” Otto, Liu Yong (Daliu), Su Rongqin (Asu), and Tim Boelter made the first ascent of the peak on October 20, 2011 via the north face. [Photo] Jon Otto

Daliu leading on the first ascent of Yangmolong.[Photo] Jon Otto

On October 20 (2011) Jon Otto, Liu Yong (Daliu), Su Rongqin (Asu), and Tim Boelter made the first successful ascent of Mt. Yangmolong (6060m) in western Sichuan province of China. The conditions were better than hoped for and the was route fun and sustained.

This peak is part of the Shaluli Shan Range and is on the border with eastern Tibet. This entire region is known as Kham and is ethnically Tibetan.

Most of Yangmolong’s north side is covered in unstable hanging glacier seracs high up on its face. The safest route is down the middle where the north face is divided in two by a rock buttress and ridge lower down. The team got onto the ridge by climbing a frozen scree and snow slope, then traversed the top of the ridge followed by several pitches of mixed rock and snow. The rock was very loose and blocky and it was impossible not to send chunks down on your buddies below. This was followed by over 500 vertical meters of sustained ice and snow slopes to the summit. These slopes were in good condition and we were able to do running belays, which made for efficient climbing. It took the team three days up to the summit and one day down and they just made a weather window between two storms.

This summit was the accumulation of a three year effort. In 2009 the team made an attempt on Yangmolong’s south side. Unseasonably warm conditions made the climbing unsafe as rocks and ice rained down on the party from the summit ridge, forcing a hasty retreat. (The team did do a new route on nearby Mt. Dangjie Zhenla (5833 m) as a small consolation prize). Afterwards, they were inspired by photos of the mountain’s north face published by Dave Wynne-Jones and team on their September 2009 trip to the mountain. The north side looked attractive but there was one small problem… locals were stopping climbers from going up the main northern valley, preventing direct access to the mountain’s eastern and northern sides.

The author on the descent. [Photo] Liu Yong

The team decided to forge a new approach to the mountain’s north side, which they did the following year by coming in from the east and traversing a 5080 meter high pass. It was a long approach to Yangmolong’s north side coming in over the pass, but proved worth it.

A Litang monk demonstrates his hacky sack skills. [Photo] Jon Otto

For this climb it took over 20 hours of driving from Chengdu on dirt roads that were in constant repair and two long days of walking up over the pass, down a ways, and then up again to the base of the route. In many ways it turned out getting to the mountain posed more challenges than the actual climb. In Chengdu Tim became deadly ill with a supposedly blocked intestine and was in the hospital on an IV for three nights. This delayed the team’s departure by a week, but Tim was miraculously still with them when they finally departed Chengdu. A couple of days later a large sand truck lost its breaks and smashed into the front of their jeep, causing further delays. Near the trailhead Jon got into an accident while catching a ride on a local’s motorcycle which almost put an abrupt end to his climb. (The driver was waiving to his friends and forgot to steer). These were just some of the incidents on the way to the mountain. Needless to say, the team started having serious doubts about the climb and contemplated turning around several times. But in the end… something kept them going forward.

The team below the summit. [Photo] Jon Otto [Photo] Tim Boelter

In hindsight going forward was the right decision as the climbing went smoothly. “Seemed all the bad things happened and were out of the way and we were in line for some good luck.” Daliu enjoyed leading up through the mixed rock sections, Jon route-found and led up most of the snow/ice slopes and glacier sections, and even Asu, who enjoys being in the back collecting the gear, took the lead up the steepest section above the bergshcrund on the way to the summit. All the while Tim determinedly and tirelessly filmed the entire ascent.

Liu Yong (Daliu) and Su Rongqin (Asu) the morning after their successful summit. [Photo] Jon Otto

Quick background on the climbing team. Daliu is one of China’s most prolific alpinists and big wall climbers. He is presently studying high-altitude nutrition at Sichuan University. Asu grew up on China’s coastal province of Fujian, but calls the mountains and ski resorts his home. He is one of China’s top ski mountaineers and a strong and competent alpinist. Tim is a climber and film maker who lives in Minnesota. He runs Media Ventures and has produced several mountain documentaries, including those on Aconcagua and Mt. Cho Oyu. Jon has lived in China for over ten years climbing and doing adventure tours. He ran a mountaineering school based out of Chengdu for several years. He now splits his time between San Francisco and China, is a dad, and works for BlueSheep Adventures.

For more information on the area check out this newswire from 2010 where Tamotsu Nakamura describes Yangmolong as, “Yangmolong, perhaps one of the toughest peaks in Sichuan, remains unclimbed despite repeated attempts by a Japanese party and British parties” Also, Jon Otto writes that, “The height of the mountain is listed differently depending on your source. Some have it as 6060m, others 6066m and our gps read 6080m on the summit for whatever that’s worth.” In his report Otto uses 6060m as the height. -Ed

Su Rongqin, Jon Otto and Liu Yong on the summit of Yangmolong 6060m after making the mountain’s first ascent. [Photo] Tim Boelter

Tim Boelter, the photographer, on the summit. [Photo] Jon Otto