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Jarjinjabo’s Highest Peak Gets First Ascent

Garrapunsum (5812m), the highest summit of the Jarjinjabo Massif, Sichuan Province, China, as seen from the south. A primarily British team made the first ascent last autumn, discovering a previously unknown and relatively straightforward glacier and ridge route to the northernmost and highest top. [Photo] Hamish Rose

Proving once again that not all new routes in Chinese Sichuan have to be difficult, a small group of primarily British alpinists have made the first ascent of the highest summit of the Jarjinjabo Massif above the Zhopo Pasture. This peak, featured on Tamotsu Nakamura’s well-known sketch map to the region (that is, known well to the climbers who have visited these mountains in the past, and those who have looked longingly at the peaks in the Japanese Alpine News), taken from the 1:100,000 Peoples Liberation Army map, is designated Pt 5812m and loosely has been referred to as Jarjinjabo. In fact it has a local name: Garrapunsum. This is actually the phonetic spelling of the Tibetan Khamba name for the mountain, which means Three Blacksmiths’ Brothers. Other Chinese phonetic spellings have been recorded as Kalabingsong, Galabison and Garapinsung.

There appears to have been no serious attempt prior, though in 2005 Pat Deavoll and the late Karen McNeill, after their successful first ascent of Xiashe (5833m) in the neighbouring massif to the south, managed to establish a high camp below the southern flanks of the mountain, whereupon a big storm pinned them down for fifty hours and wrote off any possible attempt.

Theresa Booth, Charles Kilner, Simon Mills, Evelyn Mullins, Hamish Rose and Basil Thompson originally hoped to attempt the unclimbed Kawaluori near Ganze but on arrival in Sichuan found permission impossible due to unexpected religious celebrations in the area. Their liaison officer, the redoubtable Chen Zhenglin (aka Lenny), who has assisted so many foreign teams to Sichuan, suggested the Jarjinjabo Massif and without any prior information on the mountain, and they established base camp at 4300 meters on September 26, pretty much at the same spot as Deavoll and McNeill. The three summits of Garrapunsum lie on a ridge oriented southwest to northeast, and the team, which operated in generally good weather throughout its stay, discounted any lines on the impressive South Face due to heavy rockfall in the prevailing warm temperatures. Moving to the northwestern flanks, a large and reasonably angled rock buttress followed; they had to presume from their vantage point, via a snow ridge leading to the summit, a route of ca. 1200 meters in height. After a bivouac at 5200m, Mills and Rose made two attempts over very loose mixed ground, making only 200 meters of height before deciding it was too dangerous. In the meantime the remaining team members made the ascent of a straightforward peak on the opposite side of the valley, naming it Man Chu Gangri (5434m). From this climb they spotted a much easier, alternative line, which lay further north and had been invisible from the valley floor, to the summit of Garrapunsum.

After placing an advanced base camp at the head of the valley, at ca. 4600m, all members left on October 6 and headed southeast, reaching a glacial cwm northeast of the summit. The final section lay along the east ridge, which proved exposed and corniced. Half the party stopped on reaching the crest but Kilner, Mills and Rose continued to reach the northernmost summit.

Fortunately, clear weather allowed them to see that the central summit was distinctly lower, while the southern summit seemed to be “slightly lower.” All returned safely to camp after a twelve-hour day.

Having been blessed with unusually good weather for this part of the world, three days later a large storm put snow down to 4000 meters. Fortunately, the job was done.