Marked in red are Karakul Gringos (D+, 900m) on Point 6355m (on left, renamed Manse) and Petite Mountain Sickness (D+, 500m) on Point 6013 (on right, renamed God Tang), Kunlun Massif, western China. The seven member Finnish team climbed four virgin peaks in the range this August. [Photo] Lauri Hamalainen
On August 4, having waited for two days in a small Tadjik village in western China, our donkeys arrived. Our seven-member team of Finnish alpinists set off for a twenty-four day assault on virgin peaks of the Kunlun massif, which enters China from Tibet’s high plateau to form the Qin Ling range and the Daba Shan. We set up basecamp at ca. 4500 meters and spent six days on the nearby glaciers, spotting possible lines to climb in alpine style on the area’s 6000-meter peaks. Our main objective was to make the first ascent of Point 6355m. But our reconnaissance of the area indicated that vast numbers of enjoyable lines are awaiting first ascents throughout the massif.
Henri Arjanne downclimbing Karakul Gringos (D+, 900m), the team’s first ascent route on Point 6355m (renamed Manse). [Photo] Lauri Hamalainen
On August 11, we started our assault on Point 6355m. Our full backpacks and the nightmarish nature of travel on the Kokosel Glacier resulted in two full days of hiking to complete the eleven-kilometer approach to the base of the peak. During the approach, a heavy thunderstorm raged on the mountains, but when we arrived at our advanced basecamp (ABC) at 5450 meters the weather changed for the better. On August 13, Henri Arjanne, Veli-Matti Helke, Rauno Ravantti and I started our ordeal on the southwest ridge of Point 6355m. After climbing the crux section of the climb, a continuous 400-meter ice wall at 65 degrees, Veli-Matti and Rauno decided to head down because of the fierce cold and high winds that hit us at 6000 meters. Henri and I continued to climb along the ridge in waist-deep snow. Just a few meters before the summit, Henri took a 15-meter fall down the west face after a massive cornice broke under his weight. After the fall we made it safely to the summit and returned to our ABC. We named the peak Manse, and the route Karakul Gringos (D+, 900m).
The next day our whole team (Arjanne, Helke, Ravantti, Teemu Saarikivi, Kalle Berg, Mikko Piironen, Andrey Ershov and I) set off for the west face of Point 6013m, one kilometer southwest of Manse. After a 300-meter snow slope we encountered a steep 20-meter rock band (M5), which proved to be the climb’s crux. We climbed the first part of the route in light snow showers and whiteout conditions, but we were too excited to turn around. The final 150 meters to the summit was rather easy (60 degree snow/ice), and the entire team reached the summit at 2 p.m. There we enjoyed blue skies for a moment, but on the descent the weather turned again, and we had some problems finding the way back to our tents on the glacier. Finally safe at camp, we decided to name the peak God Tang and the route Petite Mountain Sickness (D+, 500m).
The author, Lauri Hamalainen, on the summit of God Tang. The excellent weather seen in the picture turned sour almost immediately after the descent began. [Photo] Mikko Piironen
Slacklining and card playing at basecamp got us through the next four days of bad weather. The nearest peak to our base camp, Point 6046m was a stunning look-a-like of the Matterhorn, though ca. 1500 meters higher, and to climb it became my obsession. On August 19, Henri and I started for the massive south ridge of Point 6046m. After climbing 1100 meters of easy ground (PD) on the ridge to 5650m, we realized our map had a serious mistake: in the place of a 400-meter snow slope there were 400 meters of vertical rock. We returned empty-handed to our basecamp and enjoyed our cook’s delicious lunch.
It started to look like there was no easy way to the top of Point 6046m, but after browsing through our photo material we spotted a new possible line on the steep west face. On August 21, Henri and I packed our rucksacks and headed to the glacier under the west face. The next morning we started climbing couloirs (60-70 degrees) on the face. We reached a small col in the upper part of the south ridge after 650 meters. From the col our route followed the ridge for 300 meters through steep snow and some rock walls. Although the weather continued to worsen, we pushed on. After nine hours of continuous climbing A Man who Dances Like a Tibetan (TD-, 950m) we celebrated the proudest summit of our trip, which we named Peak Ye Zi. A blizzard arrived as we began the descent, and some falling stones in lower couloirs convinced us to hurry.
The Matterhorn-like Peak 6046m, renamed Mt. Ye Zi, drew the author and Henri Anjanne to complete its first ascent via A Man Who Dances Like a Tibetan (TD-, 950m). [Photo] Lauri Hamalainen
While Henri and I were climbing Peak Ye Zi, Veli-Matti, Rauno and Mikko started their own project on Point 6045, about three kilometers west of Point 6046. They set up their tent below a long couloir under the south face of the mountain on August 22, and started the climb early the next morning. The first 500 meters were easy 50-degree snow that led to 450 meters on the moderately angled southwest ridge. Island Couloir (AD, 950m) took nine hours to the summit of the peak, which they named Peak Lazio, and perfect weather greeted them–a rarity! The whole team returned safely to their tent by late afternoon, and to basecamp the next day.
Point 6046m, with Island Coulior (AD, 950m), a first ascent of the line and the peak (which was renamed Lazio by the Finns), drawn in red. The more direct line up the face was deemed unsafe by the team due to a hanging glacier. [Photo] Mikko Piironen
All of our expedition members ended up in basecamp on August 24. After some serious partying and donkey shepherding, we started our journey back to Finland.
[Although the American Alpine Journal records visits to the Kunlun since 1983, the hostility of the landscape and, historically, the difficulty in obtaining climbing permits from the Chinese government conspired to limit the number of visitors to this 2500-kilometer-long range to but a handful until very recently. As a result, many peaks above 6000 meters are both unclimbed and unnamed. The potential for new alpine climbs on technically demanding peaks in this region is great. –Ed.]