At the end of October, Joseph Puryear and Peter Inglis climbed this route (seen from the southeast) on Peak 5965m in the Genyen Massif, Shaluli Shan, Sichuan Province, China. in honor of Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff, who perished nearby. It is likely that the peak has never been climbed before, despite its moderate terrain; the pair roped up minimally for the easy rock and mixed climbing. [Photo] Courtesty of Joseph Puryear
This fall I had the chance to explore a number of mountainous regions of western Sichuan, China. In mid-October, Jay Janousek, Michelle Puryear, Peter Inglis, Julie Hodson and I made our way toward Mt. Genyen (6204m), in the Shaluli Shan Range. Following the extensive research of Tamotsu Nakamura, our objective was the unclimbed peak of elevation 5965m just west of Mt. Genyen, the second highest peak in the massif. Peter and Julie were good friends of Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler (who both were killed on Mt. Genyen the previous fall) and wanted to venture into the area to pay tribute to them.
Peter Inglis in the initial couloir. [Photo] Courtesty of Joseph Puryear
After bumping along on a three-day ride by hired van from Chengdu, we arrived at the small town of Sanla, southeast of the Genyen massif. With only a rough map provided by Mr. Nakamura and a picture of his taken from far away to the west, we were able to guess our way up into a hidden, remote valley that concealed the peak’s southeastern aspect. Having already acclimatized from earlier weeks of attempting other peaks, we made quick progress and established basecamp within three days, thirty miles beyond Sanla. The trip took us through a vast wilderness, where we made friends with the nomadic people and generally took a step back in time on this distant region of the Tibetan plateau.
We set up basecamp at 4200 meters on October 19. The next day, Peter, Julie and I left for high camp, which we established at 5000 meters, below a glacier on the mountain’s southeastern aspect. We climbed high into the basin below the peak to discover–for certain–that we were looking at the mass of rock, ice, snow and hanging glaciers we had set out for.
On October 21, we made an attempt by taking the path of least resistance up an easy glacier south of the peak. We made quick progress but eventually came to a major impasse, where a cliffy sub-summit impeded our progress. We retreated to high camp to scout out an alternate route. In retrospect, we could have ascended an easier route by approaching via the next major valley to the west, but such are the tribulations of first ascents.
We had seen two rocky couloirs (which we had hoped to avoid) that led to the ridge crest on the other side of the sub-summit. One looked easy, one hard. After much thought and discussion, we decided that the easy one didn’t go anywhere (in hindsight, a very good assumption). So we decided to take the more challenging couloir. Early the next morning, October 22, Peter and I began climbing. Temperatures were cold, and the weather was unsettled but not threatening. Because of the short days and the length and unknown nature of what was ahead, we mutually decided to solo as much terrain as possible for the sake of speed, which translated to safety. Luckily, most of the chossy gully was frozen in place, and we quickly gained elevation. Just past mid-height, some 5th class rock and moderate mixed climbing provided some entertainment; above, some steep snow led us to the crest of a ridge, which took us to a steep snow headwall and the final east-trending summit ridge. We continued up over a large snow hump and were forced to down-climb exposed 60-degree snow on its backside. This led to a flat col where we took a small break.
Peter Inglis on the final summit ridge. [Photo] Courtesty of Joseph Puryear
We continued up an avalanche chute to the bergschrund below the upper south-facing headwall. Snow conditions on the entire climb had been perfect so we continued un-roped up the 55-degree headwall for about 200 meters to the ridge crest. The summit ridge was quite a surprise; it was very sharp and slightly corniced to the other side–very Alaskan in style. We decided to rope up for a 200-meter traverse to the small summit. We arrived just before noon, said a prayer for Charlie and Christine and began the uneventful descent. We carefully retraced our steps along the summit ridge, down-climbed the headwall, and climbed back to the top of the gully. In the gully we made four double-rope rappels down the steeper sections and downclimbed the rest. We had made the probable first ascent of the peak (moderate 5th class and mixed, ca. 1765m), the second highest peak in the massif. Once back in high camp, we rushed our packing so we might reach basecamp before dark.
The climb was a tribute from all of us to Charlie and Christine. As Peter said to me on the summit, “They died in the most beautiful place in the whole wide world. And we miss them dearly.”
We spent another four days trekking, exploring around the north side of Mt. Genyen and visiting the 600-year-old Lengo Monastery before returning to Lamaya. In all, it was a prime ten days with striking mountains, excellent weather and great friends.
Joe Puryear, triumphant, on the summit of Peak 5965m. [Photo] Courtesty of Joseph Puryear